Bobbi Humphrey ‘Blacks and Blues’ 180g Vinyl (Blue Note) 5/5

Bobbi Humphrey’s third album, ‘Black and Blue’, quickly became a landmark crossover album for Blue Note Records. Her 1971/2 albums ‘Flute In’ and Dig This’ had both faired well for the label but it was this classic recording, produced by the Mizell Brothers, which brought the artist more deserved recognition and became one of the label’s best selling records. It was a crossover hit that appealed to many listeners who were more in tune with the r&b/pop songs of that period. This really was a triumph for Blue Note Records and they could not imagine how successful the album would become racking up high sales and support from names including Stevie Wonder, who was a big fan of Bobbi Humphrey.

In 1972 Larry and Fonze Mizell’s Sky High Recordings had acquired the newly introduced Arp pro soloist synthesizer which shaped a particularly sound for their production company that was progressive and appealing across the board. They recorded such seminal albums as Donald Byrd’s ‘Blackbyrd’ and ‘Places and Spaces’, Johnny Hammond’s ‘Shifting Gears’ and of course this timeless Bobbi Humphrey classic, recorded during the summer of 1973 at the Sound Factory in Hollywood.

Over the subsequent years since its release, the album has continued to attract attention and recognition. Artists including Ice T, Common, Eric B, Louie Vega and Madlib have all used their popularity to introduce Bobbi Humphrey to a new audience. The flautist also featured on the highly acclaimed ‘Electric Circus’ album by Common alongside many other female artists including Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.

Throughout the album, there’s a laid back summer vibe and it’s easy to see why the album crosses over to a wider audience. It’s a meeting of minds and a convergence that leads to a tempered flight from each individual, with the result leading towards an overall atmosphere of serenity and warmth. The combination of instruments without a horn section really works well and it’s hard to imagine many other drummers bringing the same feel and sound as Harvey Mason.

Each cut from the album holds something special, yet it’s the beautifully crafted vocal penned ‘Harlem River Drive’ which really stands out. A superb laid back groove with an infectious combination of harmony and effects. The track stands up there with classics such as ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ by Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd’s ‘Think Twice’ with a lighter touch than the social commentary echoed about ‘Harlem River Drive’ by Eddie Palmieri and friends featuring the main vocalist Jimmy Norman.

In 1994 The Digable Planets sampled the title track for their popular cut ‘The Art Of Easin’. They and Madlib were probably most in line with Bobbi Humphrey’s positive and uplifting approach within the hip hop circles. ‘Black and Blues’ is highlighted by the pronounced and emphatic piano lines by the highly esteemed Jerry Peter who is another integral factor in the success of this album. ‘Chicago Damn’ cut is a light and breezy jazz-funk track with Harvey Mason adding more weight and drive alongside the Arp synthesizer effects by Freddie Peren. ‘Jasper Country Man’ is another turned up funk cut that has a Seventies soundtrack feel about it.

‘A Love Child’ and ‘Baby’s Gone’ are more laid back and affectionate pieces that work perfectly for the flute and piano style of Bobbi Humphrey and Jerry Peters. It’s great to hear the flautist’s voice on the former track and artists such as Minnie Ripperton and Syreeta seemed worth a comparative mention. Both tracks also elevate the positive effects of the harmonious background vocals by the Mizell Brothers and King Erisson.

Leaving Dallas in the early 1970s, Bobbi Humphrey stepped off the plane in New York looking to make a career in New York and thankfully she walked into George Butler’s office at Blue Note Records after being turned down by other labels. A great album that is a true classic and this month’s 180g reissue is a welcome inclusion to any collection.

Backing Vocals, Arranged By [Vocal] (Fonce Mizell, Freddie Perren, Larry Mizell), Bass [Electric] (Chuck Rainey, Ron Brown), Clavinet, Trumpet (Larry Mizell), Congas, Backing Vocals (King Errisson), Drums (Harvey Mason), Flute, Vocals (Bobbi Humphrey), Guitar [Electric] (David T. Walker, John Rowin), Percussion (Stephanie Spruill), Piano, Piano [Electric] (Jerry Peters), Producer (Chuck Davis, Larry Mizell), Synthesizer [Arp] (Freddie Perren).

Mark Jones