Gene Page ‘Hot City’ / ‘Lovelock!’ CD (BGO) 4/5

Arranger and producer extraordinaire, if you have listened to classic soul music from the likes of The Supremes or The Temptations, or pop music by Cher and Barbara Streisand, there is a very good chance that the production credits and the warmth of sound has some kind of input from Gene Page. he is one of the behind-the-scenes musicians, without whom the music scene could simply not operate. He only recorded four albums under his own name, of which BGO have wisely opted to select the first two (a future offering might want to include Page’s arrangements on the blaxploitation film ‘Blacula’ from 1972) which came out on Atlantic. First up is the 1974 vintage, ‘Hot City’, complete with a suitably attired mademoiselle, and this is noteworthy for the collaboration with none other than soul messenger Barry White. In fact, the two musicians were long-time friends and White was just hitting his creative peak in 1974, both as a lead singer and with his off-shoots, Love Unlimited and the Love Unlimited Orchestra. A who’s who of studio musicians makes this an instrumental feast to savour, with Wilton Felder on bass, Ray Parker Jr., Dean Parks and Wah Wah Watson sharing guitar duties, while Ernie Watts takes care of the reeds. Page and White both play on keyboards. If there is one ingredient missing here, it is the lack of vocals, at least some background voicings would help, and thus even the wonderful intro build ups tend to go a little flat in mid-section. That said, there is still much to admire, with the smooth, silky mid-tempo soul of ‘All Our Dreams Are Coming True’, ‘Gene’s Theme’ and the funkier-tinged ‘Satin Soul’, that features some classic 1970’s wah-wah guitar licks.

The second album, ‘Lovelock!’ from 1976, and this time co-produced between brothers Page, Billy and Gene, thankfully remedies the pitfalls of the first with a slew of female and male vocalists collectively, including Merry Clayton, all gloriously illustrated on the classy strings and reeds accompaniment to a number such as ‘Together – Whatever’. There is something of a Philly International feel to the mid-temp groove of ‘Wild Cherry’, which was co-written by Ray Parker Jr. and Billy Page. On the jazzy with a funk element, ‘Organ Grinder’ (not to be confused with the Jimmy Smith classic), Page manages to evoke the then in-vogue Quincy Jones sound. The onset of dance mania in the form of disco is alluded to with the final number, ‘Escape to Disco. Full marks for excellent packaging with full discographical details and an insightful fifteen page essay by Mojo writer, Charles Waring. Gene Page is a musician who most certainly deserves his own place in the limelight and this re-issue affords him that opportunity and is recommended to genuine soul fans and lovers of atmospheric instrumental soul alike.

Tim Stenhouse