The #1 Remixes (EP) (Arista 19012)
Lisa Stansfield deserves better from us.
Perhaps the finest English soul singer of her generation, Stansfield has had tremendous success in Europe, Australia and Japan. In those markets, her powerhouse voice and deeply expressive delivery has made her a star on the order of Toni Braxton or Mary J. Blige.
Here in the States, however, she has never quite clicked with pop listeners, having cracked the Top 10 only once, with the 1990 single "All Around the World." In America, Stansfield is a bona fide star only in the dance clubs, where her singles have consistently crowded the floors and topped the charts.
There's a certain justice, then, in the release of "The #1 Remixes (EP)." Aimed squarely at her club constituency, the disc is built around four chart-topping dance singles -- "People Hold On," "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up," "Never Gonna Fall" and "I'm Leavin' " -- and shows her at her soulful best. In the process, it gives pop listeners a chance to get down while they catch up on what they missed.
Don't worry about the disc's EP status, by the way; with 65 minutes of music, "The #1 Remixes" doesn't stint on playing time. It offers two versions each of "I'm Leavin'," "Never Gonna Fall" and "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up," as well as remixes of "People Hold On," "The Real Thing" and "The Line."
But because the remixes are radically different from one another, even the songs that get repeated don't seem repetitious. For instance, Hex Hector's radio mix reworks the groove to "I'm Leavin'," supporting the whispered intensity of Stansfield's vocal with soft-focus synths and a gently percolating pulse, giving the song a lightly simmering feel that's both sad and celebratory.
Hector's club mix is another matter entirely. Kicking off with an insistently staccato percussion pattern anchored by a deep-thumping bass drum, this version keeps the synths at a minimum, putting the emphasis instead on the track's deep house beat. At the same time, he plays up the breathy intimacy of Stansfield's singing, mixing her voice so high that it's almost as if she's whispering in your ear as the drums thump. It's an incredibly sexy effect and one that completely changes the emotional impact of the lyric.
Nor is "I'm Leavin' " the only song on the EP to benefit from multiple mixes. Stansfield's cover of Barry White's "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up" is given a lush, jaunty house treatment by Frankie Knuckles that harks back to the sound of White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, while Hani reinvents the song completely, stripping the harmonies down to the bare minimum, the better to pump up the beat. If it weren't for the chorus, most listeners would be hard-pressed to recognize the two as being the same song.
Yet as radically as these singles are reimagined, Stansfield's strengths always shine through. It isn't just that her voice has power enough to cut through the densest mix; there's also an unmistakable sense of personality to her singing, an emotional immediacy that inevitably draws the listener in. It's true diva power, the sort of thing that makes a dance record amount to more than a hook and a good beat.
Frankly, pop fans don't know what they're missing.
Hot House (N2K 10023)
These days few bandleaders can afford to keep a big band on payroll. With "Hot House," Arturo Sandoval finds a way around that -- overdubs. Thanks to the miracle of multitracking, he stretches six players into a full 13-voice horn section, giving the album all the brassy bite of a classic big band date. Nor do the performances ever seem pieced together, thanks to a lively and supportive Afro-Cuban rhythm section and first-rate solos by guest stars Michael Brecker, Tito Puente and Patti Austin. Still, it's Sandoval's bravura trumpet and lyric flugel horn that steal the show, burning brightly in bebop numbers like the title tune and adding spice to Cuban jazz workouts like "Tito" and "Funky Cha-Cha."
The Jazz Messengers
The Legacy of Art Blakey (Telarc 83407)
For four decades, Art Blakey ran the University of Hard Bop from his seat behind the drums of the Jazz Messengers. The graduates of his traveling conservatory include Horace Silver, Wynton Marsalis and Keith Jarrett. It is fitting that his contributions to that hard-driving style are remembered by some of his students in "The Legacy of Art Blakely," a muscular, swinging six-tune disc. All but one of the six musicians played with Blakey, who died in 1990, but that man, drummer Lewis Nash, drives the band just as the professor did. Listen to these guys chew up and spit out notes in the swaggering "Oh, By the Way," or the soulful "Blues March," and know that Art Blakey and his jazz message will never die.
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Play Ball (Telarc 80468)