Tuesday, 13 October 2015

"Live: Stompin' At The Savoy" by RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN (2015 Big Break Records CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Ain't Nobody Does It Better..."

After one whole decade of superb Soul/Funk hits including no less than four US R&B No.1's ("You Got The Love", "Sweet Thing", "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)" and "Do You Love What You Feel" – all of which are included on this reissue in live form) – Rufus and Chaka Khan decided to bury the hatchet on their acrimonious split and get together for one more Funky hurrah in 1982. Out of three incendiary shows came this legendary double album released in the summer of 1983 (three sides live – the fourth studio – four brand new tracks). The 2LP set even produced a fifth number one in the monster smash in "Ain't Nobody" - a song now considered their 'anthem'.

In truth I'd forgotten just how good Rufus was as a functioning live band and just how complete this release is. What an utter barnstormer – whether they're slap-bassing the Hell out of Soulful tunes or just harmonizing on those gorgeous and sexy ballads – Rufus was a formidable machine on stage with two hugely talented voices out front – Chaka Khan and Tony Maiden. These guys were tight - almost uncannily so. And now with superlative new Audio and Presentation – once again England's Big Break Records (BBR are part of the much respected Cherry Red) have stepped up to the Reissue/Remaster plate and stumped up a classy CD that will have fans dancing in the aisles (the whole double album is fitted onto one disc). Here are the sweet things...

UK released August 2015 (September 2015 in the USA) – "Live: Stompin' At The Savoy" by RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN on Big Break Records WCDBBRX 0313 (Barcode 5013929061330) offers fans the full double-album onto 1CD (no bonus tracks) and plays out as follows (77:59 minutes):

1. You Got The Love
2. Once You Get Started
3. Dance With Me
4. Sweet Thing
5. Tell Me Something Good [Side 2]
6. Stop On By
7. Pack'd My Bags
8. I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone)
9. At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)
10. Ain't That Peculiar [Side 3]
11. Stay
12. What'cha Gonna Do For Me
13. Do You Love What You Feel
14. Ain't Nobody [Side 4 – Studio Recordings]
15. One Million Kisses
16. Try A Little Understanding
17. Don't Go To Strangers
Tracks 1 to 17 are the double-album "Live: Stompin' At The Savoy" – released August 1983 in the USA and UK on Warner Brothers 9-23679-1. Sides 1, 2 and 3 were recorded live February 12, 13 and 14 of 1982 at the Savoy Theatre in New York City and Produced by Russ Titelman. Side 4 is four new studio recordings (recorded digitally) – two of which were released as singles "Ain't Nobody" and "One Million Kisses". The 2LP set peaked at number 4 on the US R&B Album Charts and No. 50 in the UK Rock & Pop Charts.

RUFUS was:
CHAKA KHAN – Lead Vocals
TONY MAIDEN – Lead Vocals and Guitar
KEVIN MURPHY – Keyboards
DAVID "Hawk" WOLINSKI – Keyboards

Addition Musicians Live:
Lenny Castro – Percussion
David Williams – Rhythm Guitar
Jerry Hay – Trumpet
Ernie Watts – Tenor Saxophone, Flute and All Saxophone Solo’s
Larry Williams – Alto Saxophone and Flute
Greg Herbig – Tenor Saxophone and Flute
Stephanie Sprull – Tambourine and Backing Vocals
Lee Maiden and Julia Tillman – Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians for the four Studio cuts on Side 4:
Joe Sample (of The Crusaders) plays piano on "Don't Go To Strangers"
James Newton Howard – Additional Synthesizer
Greg Phillinganes – Synthesizer Bass on "Try A Little Understanding"
Paulinho da Costa – Percussion

You get one of those cute round-corner jewel cases, a 16-page colour booklet with fantastically detailed liner notes from the noted American writer CHRISTIAN JOHN WIKANE which includes interviews several members of the band – Tony Maiden and John Robinson and the legendary Warner Brothers Producer RUSS TITELMAN whose credits include James Taylor, Little Feat, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, Captain Beefheart, Dion, The B-52's and many more. The centre pages features a collage of the band in full flow at The Savoy, there's repros of the two big American 7" singles "Ain't Nobody" on Warner Brothers 7-29555 (with the live version of "Sweet Thing" on the flipside) and "One Million Kisses" on Warner Brothers 7-29406 with "Stay (Live)" on the flipside - as well as other snaps of Chaka smiling alongside her band.

But the big news is new NICK ROBBINS Remasters carried out at Sound Mastering in London that are just fantastic – the whole soundstage alive and beautifully rendered. I can't express enough just how tight this band was – these are not just workmanlike renditions – they're cooking and as he says in the liner notes – Producer Titelman is rightly proud of what he captured on those three nights in February 1982. Fans are going to love this.
"Stompin' At The Savoy" opens with a razor-sharp guitar-funky performance and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser – the first Rufus number 1 single from February 1974 "You Got The Love". Both it and "Once You Get Started" elicit deserved whoops from a clearly 'loving it' audience – and as the brass section and her huge voice kick in – it’s already a done deal. I’m reminded of the AWB’s live double "Person To Person" from 1977 on Atlantic Records – a band on fire and in the groove. "Once You Get Started" is also the first to feature Tony Maiden's great second vocals – the combo of him and Chaka pretty much defining what wicked Soul/Funk should be. The irresistible Funk Boogie of "Dance With Me" hit No. 5 in April 1976 – here the band get 'the hands going' while the gorgeous ballad "Sweet Thing" ends Side 1 with howls of pleasure from the crowd (for me one of their best moments).

Side 2 opens with voicebox guitar on "Tell Me Something Good" – the real breakthrough hit for Rufus in 1974 on ABC Records – a nasty slice of street Funk that has the backing singers, Chaka and that voicebox working it like pros. "Stop On By" (written by Bobby Womack and Truman Thomas) is truly stunning – Tony and Chaka working that duet vocal thing while the brass section anchor it with a sophistication and polish that's lasted 35 years. Things slow down into sweet smooch and then defiance with Chaka and the girls so damn good on "Pack'd My Bags" - while the Lalomie Washington stand-up-for-yourself anthem "I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone)" strikes a guitar groove – the band so perfectly at one as that guitar solos. "At Midnight (My Love With Lift You Up)" brought them their third No.1 R&B smash in February 1977 on ABC Records – here it gets seriously funked-out.

They open Side 3 with a Funkified reworking of Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar" which acted as reminder of the mighty Tamla Motown singer and predated Marvin's return to glory later in 1983 with "Sexual Healing". You wouldn't think something "Stay" would work live but the harmonising vocals and sweet playing makes it another mid-tempo nugget hidden deep inside this double. "...Everybody join in and clap your hands..." Tony urges on "What'cha Gonna Do For Me" which always reminds me of the Average White band who co-wrote it with another unsung 70s hero – Ned Doheny (see my review for his "Hard Candy" and "Prone" albums on a 2011 SuperBird CD Remaster). The live set and Side 3 ends on another David "Hawk" Wolinski winner (he wrote "Ain't Nobody") – the seven minutes of "Do You Love What You Feel" – their 4th No.1 in October 1979 on MCA Records.

The studio side opens with a monster – a song that probably defined them "Ain't Nobody". It was issued in July 1983 (a month before the album) and quickly slaughtered all in its Radio-friendly path rising to No. 1 in the USA and No. 8 in the UK (it was a global hit in fact). "Ain't Nobody" sounds fabulous here - as does the 2nd single off the album in January 1984 - the less inspiring "One Million Kisses" penned by the band's Keyboardist Kevin Murphy as a co-write with Jeffrey Osbourne. Fantastic audio comes into play with the uber-slick Funk of "Try A Little Understanding" written by Chaka and Tony Maiden. But for me the side ends in the best possible way – an inspired cover of Al Martino's 1954 hit "Don't Go To Strangers" (also popularised by Etta Jones in 1960). They apparently recorded it 'live' in the studio with an orchestral arrangement – and after only a few takes of the Jazzy interpretation - Joe Sample of The Crusaders was so moved by the spookily good performance that he said. "The holy ghost stepped into the room on that one!" The combo of Chaka letting rip vocally, Joe plinking away so classily on the keys and the lush melody and strings – it’s beautiful stuff and makes you wish they'd attempted a whole album of standards in this way, but alas...

"Live: Stompin' At The Savoy" by Rufus and Chaka Khan is a prestigious CD release for Big Break Records who have been steadily winning over Soul, Funk, Disco and Fusion fans for years now. Well done to all involved and for me a 'Soul Reissue of 2015' without any hesitation...

Big Break Records (BBR) CD Remasters I’ve reviewed to October 2015:

1. Is It Still Good To Ya – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1978)
2. Stay Free – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1979)
3. Central Heating – HEATWAVE (1977)
4. Hot Property - HEATWAVE (1979)
5. Candles - HEATWAVE (1980)
6. Turnin' On - HIGH INERGY (1977)
7. Harvest For The World - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1976)
8. Go For Your Guns - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1977)
9. In The Heart – KOOL & THE GANG (1983)
10. I Hope We Get To Love On Time - MARILYN McCOO & BILLY DAVIS (1976)
11. I Miss You - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1972) [known as "Harold Melvin The Blue Notes" in the UK]
12. Black & Blue - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1973)
13. Love Is The Message - MFSB (1973)
14. Universal Love – MFSB (1975)
15. All The Faces Of... - BUDDY MILES (1974)
16. For The First Time – STEPHANIE MILLS (1975)
17. I Can See Clearly Now - JOHNNY NASH (1972)
18. In Philadelphia - O'JAYS (1969)
19. Back Stabbers - O'JAYS (1972)
20. Ship Ahoy - O'JAYS (1973)
21. Down To Love Town – THE ORIGINALS (1977)
22. Ebony Woman - BILLY PAUL (1970 and 1973)
23. 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul - BILLY PAUL (1972)
24. War Of The Gods - BILLY PAUL (1973)
25. Platinum Hook – PLATINUM HOOK (1978)
26. Love For What It Is - ANITA POINTER (of The Pointer Sisters) (1987)
27. Live: Stompin’ At The Savoy – RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN (1983)
28. Summernights – SILVER CONVENTION (1977)
29. Smoked Sugar - SMOKED SUGAR (1975)
30. Soul Master – EDWIN STARR (1968)
31. Involved - EDWIN STARR (1971)
32. Switch - SWITCH (1978)
33. Watercolors – THE WATERS (1980)
34. Just As I Am - BILL WITHERS (1971 Debut LP on Sussex/A&M Records)
35. Heartbeats – YARBROUGH & PEOPLES (1983)

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is SOUL, FUNK and JAZZ FUSION - Exceptional CD Remasters - an E-Book with over 245 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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