Roy Ayers ‘Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981’ 2LP Repress (BBE Music) 4/5

Everybody loves the Roy Ayers. I’ve yet to meet a single person that doesn’t. I wouldn’t trust anybody who doesn’t. My daughter, Jessie, knows that if she ever showed signs of not loving Roy she would no longer be a financial beneficiary. He’s a vibraphonistical Santa, a sunshine loving Michael Palin, a dippy-doo-run-run-run Ian Wright. Everybody loves him.

Roy will be 80 in September (pause for audience applause) and if you’ve ever experienced him live; either incapable of standing still in a field on a summer’s day or sweaty-as-hell in a club/tent late at night, you’ll know why he’s so important. He was an essential element in the reawakening of cool that was Acid Jazz, Jazzmatazz and Nuyorican Soul as well as being sampled to infinity. He’s known as The Godfather of Neo-Soul (don’t worry D’Angelo/Omar, people can have more than one Godfather); that’s how important he is.

‘Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981’ was initially released back in 2004 and is now being given a brand new feeling by BBE. It consisted of 13 previously unreleased recordings from Roy’s vintage Polydor period and is a subset of BBE’s Roy holdings (there’s a Virgin Ubiquity II amongst others). It was also given a successful remix by a host of biggies: Kenny Dope, Joey Negro, Basement Jaxx etc. in 2006.

The comp kicks off with Carla Vaughan’s formidable, never-one-to-fear-a-dynamic, Minnie who?, gymnastic pipes, demanding that we ‘Boogie Down’ via a tight-as Dennis Davis (drums) and William Allen (bass) disco rhythm and a funk-punchy keyboard/guitar riff that attacks in waves. You know it’s proper boogie when it rhymes ‘I got a notion’ with ‘your magic potion’…pour yourself on me, obvs.

Merry Clayton takes over the vocals for the next three tracks. ‘What’s the T?’ is some synth-line led, dirty yet polished funk, with horn stabs and Clayton’s shiny-uptown-Betty Davis delivery that is just dirty enough to demand you pull stank face but slick enough to get you hovering confidently down the Soul Train line. ‘I Really Love You’ is a gorgeous, lush lovemaker’s soul duet where Clayton leads Roy in the schmooziest of harmonies but also belts out some specific requests including “come meet my family”. Ser-i-ous.

‘Oh What A Lonely Feeling’ is a winner. It’s a two-parter: the ‘Oh What A Lonely Feeling’ half, a hi-drama Minnie’s ‘Inside My Love’ soul diva affair; and the ‘Love Of My Life’ half, a hi-joy, deepest of the deepest, deep groover with Allen’s heavy bass mercilessly prodding Chano O’Ferral’s congafest. It cries out to be two separate songs. ‘Love Of My Life’ is truly what it is and Clayton is breathtaking.

‘Sugar’ is archetypal happy times Roy. Sweet, loved-up, dancefloor buoyant with those Tommy-Cooper-just-like-that electric piano shoved chords. ‘Mystery Of Love’ is silk-sheeted, honey-dripped soulfulness while ‘Green and Gold’ is all about upbeat funky vibes and a proper bassline – just how we like it.

Majestic ten minuter, ‘Brand New Feeling’, has Clayton and Sylvia Fox battling it out on fierce vocals with Steve “click track” Cobb supporting Roy’s Sunshine chords and sprinkled magic dust, while Justo Amario’s blesses with a smooth, unhurried tenor solo. ‘I Did It In Seattle’ is a 5 mates bar jam with Roy chatting over fluent, seductive vibes and Peter Brown’s spanking bass. The vibes-sprinkled smooth jazz of ‘Mystic Voyage’ highlights the flawless Carla Vaughn’s rich-hued voice and some beloved, low-in-the-mix, Roy scatting.

‘I Just Wanna Give It Up’ has main-man, Harry Whitaker, on the ivories, Roy on the electric and Clayton on vocals all bringing the groin-led flourishes while Allen and Cobb hold it down true. The Vaughn led duet ‘Together Forever’ is juicily sensuous while album closer, ‘I Am Your Mind’, is a thumping, bass-heavy Roy free-your-mind manifesto; not sure what I’m meant to take from it (apart from minds and unity and souls) but it has a trippy epic-ness that I DIG.

This comp is delicious and it’s worth the entrance fee for ‘Oh What A Lonely Feeling’ alone. The production is lush and saturated with Roy-ness sunshine throughout; the vocals are powerful and occasionally excessive, which is a happy indulgence; and, although most of these recordings may not quite be top-3-Roy, they are still essential-Roy. So, it’s a big thanks to BBE from me and all humans everywhere because…everybody loves the Roy Ayers.

Repress link here

Ian Ward