Trumpeter Christian Scott over in the summer to play the Sligo Jazz Festival, the Unity Group bassist Ben Williams, and José James keyboardist Kris Bowers, are among the great coming together of jazz talent here on Chameleon, with guitarist Matthew Stevens, trombonist/singer Corey King, West Coast Get Down saxophonist Kamasi Washington, vocalist Chris Turner and broken beat leading light keyboardist Mark de Clive-Lowe joining the much revered jazz-funk drummer Mason (Head Hunters, Sunburst, etc) more known these days for his work with smooth jazz supergroup Fourplay.
Taking his cue from his time recording on Herbie Hancock’s seminal jazz-funk album from 1973 Head Hunters when Mason joined the Herbster, Bennie Maupin, Paul Jackson and Bill Summers for one of the most groundbreaking jazz albums of the 70s, Chameleon opens with a Bob James/Grover Washington Jr number ‘Black Frost’ one that Mason appeared on originally and a feature now for saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
Mason also appeared on Bobby Hutcherson’s Montara in the mid-1970s not long after Head Hunters and the title track of that album is also featured with Summers also joining. Mason’s own tunes ‘Looking Back’, ‘Either Way’ and ‘Mase’s Theme’ (the latter co-written with de Clive-Lowe) as well as ‘Chameleon’ (co-credited to Herbie, Paul Jackson, Mason and Bennie Maupin arranged in this version by Kneebody’s Ben Wendel) and bonus track ‘Looking Forward (Breaking Bad)’ are also among the album’s selections.
Recorded in LA at Mason’s producer son’s Mason Sound Studios there’s a constant journeying to and fro between jazz-funk and smooth jazz, the latter manifesting itself more on ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ from Quincy Jones’ Body Heat here featuring Chris Turner. But Chameleon steers away from hitting whatever genre it lands on head on and getting stuck, managing somehow to embrace neighbouring sounds without making too many compromises.
Mason of course has great imagination and thrives on the input from Mark de Clive Lowe on ‘Looking Back’ one of the best tracks here where Mason is also reunited with Paul Jackson from Head Hunters. Williams teases out a very organic bass intro to a very laidback ballad featuring Christian Scott initially in a Donald Byrd-like space on Patrice Rushen song ‘Before the Dawn’ the trombone solo from King making the mood even more mellow.
With a little ‘Studio Life’ segment left in for authenticity purposes I suppose the version of Donald Byrd’s ‘Places and Spaces’ (again another record Mason was on back in the 1970s) is another firm highlight, Corey King’s Lonnie Liston Smith-like vocal and fabulous Rhodes support from Bowers definitely expand the horizons of the record. If it has a flaw it's that there’s just too much to absorb here, inventive soul and neosoul entering the picture via a reimagining of the 70s but sounding very much of the here and now.
The flute-like sound of Bowers’ keyboards on Mason’s tune ‘Either Way’ is an inventive touch against Mason's beat displacement while ‘Mase’s Theme’, a sophisticated duo between Mason and de Clive Lowe, moves into new territory edging closer to out-and-out funk a logical lead-in to ‘Chameleon’ with Jimmy Haslip playing bass rather than Jackson but Summers is here among the band, Kamai Washington’s sax keeping it mellow.
The infectious bonus hidden track (after four short silent tracks) with guest sax player Guillaume Perret, Jackson back, and also featuring a solo from John Beasley is the party piece at the end. So, all in all, a big reminder of the sheer talent, ideas and spirit of Mason connecting past achievement with current artistry. SG
Released on Monday 28 April