Esther Phillips ‘Capricorn Princess’ (SoulMusic) 4/5

esther-phillipsJazz and soul singer par excellence Esther Phillips recorded her seventh and final album for the Kudu/CTI label in 1976 when she was still aged just forty and this is the fourth in the series of re-issues of her classic 1970s period that Soul Music have wisely re-issued. With a top line-up of session musicians including the Brecker Brothers and Joe Farrell plus Pee Wee Ellis on various reeds, keyboardist Don Grolnick, percussionists Steve Gadd and Ralph MacDonald, and recorded at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder studios, this is an album that covers diverse territory in keeping with the eclectic approach to music of the lead singer. The newly emerging disco idiom proved to be a fertile terrain for an adaptable singer such as Phillips and the prototype disco of ‘Dream’ features the master drumming of Gadd, who propels the rhythm throughout. Meanwhile there is something of an impromptu jazz jam groove to ‘All the way down’, an Elton John original from 1973 that is reworked to good measure on this occasion. A major bonus on the expanded CD version is the inclusion of the 12″ medley version of ‘Magic’s in the air/Baby I really tied one on’, the former of which was originally composed by soul singer Ronnie Walker and MFSB/Salsoul Orchestra maestro and arranger Vince Montana. The latter song was of course a pop song by Janis Ian from the previous year of 1975. Phillips interest in fusing disparate styles is never better highlighted than on an updated reworking of Jackie Wilson’s immortal, ‘(Your love has lifted me) higher and higher’ which has a funky reggae guitar riff and lovely bass line. The left-field sounding ‘Dream’ has something of a Latin percussive element to it. As ever incisive inner sleeve notes which amounts to a mini essay, this time authored by A. Scott Galloway. The album reached the top forty of the Billboard R & B chart as well as the top thirty of the jazz charts which is testimony to her abiding versatility. Strongly recommended for music fans who like to mix their jazz and soul genres.

Tim Stenhouse