Saturday, 4 June 2016

"Life On Mars" by DEXTER WANSEL (Inside the 'Philadelphia International Records: The Collection' 2014 Sony Music 20CD Mini Box Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...






"…Theme From The Planets…" 

I suspect many Jazz Funk nutters (like me) can trace their obsession to the genre when they 'stumbled' on this Fusion masterpiece in the late summer of 1976 – "Life On Mars" by Keyboardist DEXTER WANSEL. But in some instances it’s become expensive to acquire on CD.

Might I suggest – cheap as the proverbial chip bag – the best and cheapest place to get the song is the magnificent 20CD Box Set "The Collection" given over to that most iconic of American Soul and Funk labels - Philadelphia International Records. Before the album - let's get to the details of the Box Set first...

"Philadelphia International Records: The Collection" offers you 20 Philly Soul albums in single repro card sleeves inside a hard-card box set with a chunky 36-page booklet (5 of the discs even have bonus tracks). UK released May 2014 – Disc 11 with "Life On Mars" by DEXTER WANSEL inside Sony Music 8843055662 (Barcode 88430556621) is a straightforward Remaster of the album and breaks down as follows:

CD 11 (36:40 minutes):
1. A Prophet Named K.G.
2. Life On Mars
3. Together Once Again
4. Stargazer
5. One Million Miles From The Ground [Side 2]
6. You Can Be What You Wanna Be
7. Theme From The Planets
8. Rings Of Saturn
Tracks 1 to 8 are the album "Life On Mars" by DEXTER WANSEL - released August 1976 in the USA on Philadelphia International PZ 34079 (no UK release).

All albums are documented in the lovely 36-page colour booklet with features brief reviews of each title by long-time Soul aficionado DEAN RUDLAND. These are followed by page-after-page of the albums pictured alongside detailed track lists. Each of the CDs is numbered on the label so you know where they're placed in the order of things. There are no mastering credits - but as all of these albums have been available before at one point on Sony/Legacy reissues so those remasters have been used and the sound quality is uniformly great. "Life On Mars" sounds incredible here – chunky and funky to the max...

The album opens on the famous wavering synth funk of "A Prophet Named K.G." – then the strings kick in and about two minutes into it's four BOBBY MALACH hits us with His Saxophone playing ably abetted by AL HARRISON on Trumpet. The swirling magic continues with the title track "Life On Mars" where Philly band INSTANT FUNK soon turn the proceedings into the nastiest groove cleverly made more accessible by the trio of ladies singing along to the Funk – BARBARA INGRAM, CARLA BENSON and EVETTE BENTON. "Together Once Again" is almost Jon Anderson of Yes in its fusion beginning - but soon settles into love song territory as TERRY WELLES takes lead vocals – a very pretty number indeed. Arranged by Jack Faith "Stargazer" is a breakneck-speed instrumental that perfectly mixes his Funk with those Philly Strings.

Side 2 opens with one of my faves - the ballad 'n' strings floater "One Million Miles From The Ground" where Dexter fronts the Lead Vocals (again subtle doubled-vocals from the ladies). I've always thought it a gorgeous tune – a Philly nugget hidden on an album too many people don't know about. They issued it Stateside as a 45 on Philadelphia International ZS8-3606 with "Stargazer" on the flipside but it didn't break the Top 40. One of the albums Big Funk cornerstones is "You Can Be What You Wanna Be" which again features INSTANT FUNK as the backing band. Even sweeter for me is superlative instrumental "Theme From The Planets" – a fabulous piece of slick and smooth Funk that never overdoes it as the synths soar and the Saxophone blows cool and sexy (gorgeous remastered Audio too). It ends on "Rings Of Saturn" – another Fusion instrumental that even has ‘Blade Runner’ vibes in the Sax soloing.

For over 40 years fans of Jazz Funk and Jazz Fusion have had a 'thing' for "Life On Mars" by Dexter Wansel.

"...Hold me real tight when it starts to storm..." – Wansel sings on "One Million Miles From The Ground" and I agree. Embrace this space I say...

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