Roy Ayers ‘Searching for Sunshine 1973-1980’ 2CD (Raven) 5/5

roy-ayersAustralian revival specialists Raven come up with yet another winner on this excellent triple helping of Roy Ayers’ vintage period, and as an extremely generous bonus, adds another eight bonus tracks that amounts to a mini ‘Best of’. The first CD kicks off with a terrific and very different interpretation of Sam Cooke’s classic ‘You send me’. However, whereas the original was a gospel-tinged affair albeit with secular lyrics, the elongated mid-1970s reading from Ayers is in a relaxed Latin Jazz groove with gorgeous female lead vocals that sound a tad like Deniece Williams, with Roy doubling up on lead vocals. This also served as the title track of an album recorded at Philly International’s home of Sigma studios. A terrific dance number follows on in ‘Can’t you see me’ and this is the full length version and a percussive masterpiece at that with electric piano vamp and vibes solo. Disco and jazz never sounded so good when juxtaposed within a single song. Funk-tinged bass and strings lend something of a classy disco feel to ‘Get on up, get on down’, but Roy Ayers was always on the margins of mainstream dance music. His jazz credentials are underlined on the gentle slow jam, ‘I wanna touch you baby’, with joint lead vocals once again working a treat. Fast forward two years in time to 1978 and ‘Fever’ was released when disco was at his height, but what is of interest here is that the album, unlike its predecessors, was not packed with hit singles, and therefore (re)discovering the project reveals some lovely lesser known material. These include the looked over gem, ‘I wanna feel it (I wanna dance)’ which might sound like a title more becoming of mid-1980s Whitney Houston, but in the very capable hands of Ayers becomes a trademark piece complete with minor chords and thunderous bass. The title track is another re-reading of a standard and in this case the song that Peggy Lee immortalised way back in the 1950s. Here Ayers marks his own distinctive imprint with clipped rhythm guitar and strings that update the evergreen tune. An original, ‘Love will bring us back together has become a firm favourite on the UK soul/funk revival scene and for a left-field number to end the album, the mid-tempo and brassy ‘If you love me’ is a minor gem. The second CD focuses on the final album Roy Ayers recorded in the 1970s, ‘No stranger to love’ from 1979 and this features the minor club hit, ‘Don’t stop the feeling’, and a fine re-working of Bobby Caldwell’s blue-eyed soul number, ‘What you won’t do for love’. Of the bonuses, some stand out as definitive examples of the Ayers sound and the stunning’ Love from the sun’ from 1973 is probably this writer’s favourite, though one could make an equally compelling case for ‘Searching’ while’ ‘Everybody loves the sunshine’ is right up there with the Isley Brothers’ ‘Summer breeze’ for anthemic ode to the summer months.

Tim Stenhouse