Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mizell brothers at their most Sky High, 21 Sep 2008
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This review is from: Gears/Forever Taurus (Audio CD)
Great value this. Two LPs on one CD, teaming up Johnny Hammond's Larry & Fonce Mizell-produced "Gears" from 1975 with his subsequent "Forever Taurus" album produced by Wade & Ralph Marcus.

The Mizell brothers wrote and produced a string of ground breaking LPs in the early 1970s that took the kind of multi-layered orchestral soul music typified by Isaac Hayes and Barry White, fused it with a jazz sensibility and raised it to a completely new level. I've found that you can't go far wrong with any of their work from this period but along with "Places and Spaces" by trumpeter Donald Byrd (also from 1975), "Gears" probably saw the Mizells at their creative zenith. The music is full of lightness and free space and, for me, always evokes the sensation of flying - as alluded to in the name of their production company, Sky High Productions Inc. Lost and buried in the era of Philly soul, disco, glam pop and prog rock, this was the left-field, avant-garde dance music of its day. There is still a small but dedicated band of enthusiasts out there but the music has oddly never received the critical acclaim it deserves.

"Gears" blends the trademark Mizell sound - a yin/yang balance of spaced-out disco music soaring high over complex, funky rhythms - with Hammond's driving piano and B3 organ. Singling out an individual track is difficult because they are all great but "Fantasy" is sailing so close to absolute musical perfection that it just does stand out. It opens with a chunky bass riff and stabs of rhythm guitar, rapidly augmented by Hammond's driving piano. As the pace quickens, waves of solo instruments appear in the mix - notably the flute and a strange bluesy violin sound. Towards the end, Hammond exchanges piano for the B3 organ and rides the rhythm to its close. I first heard this song about twenty years ago - I was stunned by it then and it has never lost its potency.

Whilst I have singled out "Fantasy" as the star of the show, many people feel equally passionate about "Los Conquistadores Chocolates". It has a similar spacey (europhic?) mood but with a faster tempo and is probably even more spaced-out. However, the strange minute long introduction before the rhythm kicks in was a mistake in my book!
"Shifting Gears" is much funkier. Of Bobbi Humphrey's "Blacks & Blues" (another almost flawless Mizell production), one Amazon reviewer described the sound as "pimpish" and this song also fits that bill, brimming as it is with potent hip hop breakbeats. You can probably deduce from the title what happens during the song and there are indeed several `gear' or tempo changes, suggesting the sensations aroused by controlling the speed of a fast car. "Tell Me What to Do" has a similar sound but this time with a jerky, stop-start rhythm. Again, both songs have the same, spaced-out Sky High feel.

"Gears" is such a great album that "Forever Taurus" inevitably suffers in comparison. It lacks the same peerless consistency and often veers into the fatal `cheesiness' that nails so many otherwise potentially great jazz-funk records. Despite this criticism, there are some superb tracks, particularly the heavily Mizell-influenced "Cosmic Voyage". And seeing as you can pick up this CD for the same price as "Gears" on its own, you can't really argue can you?
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