Deodato ‘Night Cruiser’ / ‘Happy Hour’ (Robinsongs) 3/5

Better known for his production talents, notably with Kool and the Gang, Eumir Deodato hails from Brazil and first made his name in his native country as a gifted arranger for the likes of Marcos Valle, Milton Nascimento and not forgetting Astrud Gilberto and the late great Tom Jobim. As a performer in his own right, he cut some moderately successful albums, but first caught the eye ans ears of an international audience when he signed for Creed Taylor’s CTI label. A series of critically acclaimed and commercially popular albums ensued, with an unexpected pop hit that went to number two in the charts, ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’. A less successful period with MCA in the mid-1970s was followed by a new contract with Warner, which is where this re-issue fits in. While a more comprehensive Warner Brothers retrospective that included his late 1970s disco hits ‘Whistle bump’ and ‘Shazam’, would have made for a stronger and indeed more cohesive overview, this pairing of Deodato’s two early 1980s albums for the label captures him at the height of his commercial success as a producer and this is reflected in the shift of emphasis from a streetwise end of era disco and lighter from of jazz-funk in the first album to a more avowedly poppier sound in the second.

The keyboardist was still only in his late thirties when ‘Night Cruiser’ was released in 1980 and by this stage he had scored a major disco/pop hit producing ‘Ladies night’ for Kool and the Gang. Their early-mid 1970s funk tinged jazz had been smoothed out with a new lead vocalist. As far as ‘Night Cruiser’ was concerned, this was Deodato’s third album for the label and the one that resonated most with a dance oriented audience. ‘East Side Strut’ contains elements of the Earth, Wind and Fire horns, with strings added by Kermit Moore and a funk-inflected bass, and as a whole comes across as a kind of catchy neo-Bob James composition. Long-time fans of the Brazilian musician will recognise the title pattern since in 1973 he cut ‘Super Strut’ and in 1974 ‘Havana Strut’, and even a ‘Watusi Strut’ from 1975. The title track was a minor hit in the UK and was a classy disco instrumental. of more interest is, ‘Uncle Funk’, which sounds very much like an updated son of, ‘Pick up the pieces’, by the Average White Band, and that includes a rasping saxophone solo from Kool and the Gang horn player Ronald Bell. A much sampled, ‘Skatin’, features a percussive intro and then funky bassline, but both the handclaps and synths sound a tad dated to these ears.

Two years later in 1982, Deodato released, ‘Happy hour’, and this time round female vocals became more prominent in his sound, with the daughter of Latin percussionist Ray Barretto, Kelly taking on the main vocal duties. The first single, ‘Keep on movin’, remains true to the sound of the previous album, but it was the second single and title track, ‘Happy hour’, that fared better commercially and was aimed squarely at the pop as well as the dance charts. Hints of the classic Chic sound and Nile Rogers rhythm guitar emerge on, Keep it in the family’, which is possibly the strongest cut on the album.

In general, Dedoato the keyboardist was less interested in the virtuosity of say George Duke or Lonnie Liston Smith, both of whom became legends in the jazz-funk idiom. Rather, he was more interested in the commercial side and the two albums are testimony to his creative talents of creating a catchy tune and turning it into a dancefloor hit with wider pop potential. He merely repeated the winning formula in his productions of others.

Tim Stenhouse