Richard Elliot is a Scottish born Contemporary Jazz saxophone player, who continually delivers musical treasures. His successful formula involves weaving a rich tapestry of melodic oceans by tapping springs of diverse influences. These influences include deep reservoirs of funk and soul, placid lakes of smooth grooves, and straight ahead rivers of inspirational moving music. His time spent as a founding member of the band Tower of Power endowed him with a higher education in the School of Funk. You could pick any of Richard Elliot’s releases as essential ones, but 2009’s Rock Steady is my favorite. It’s a soulful sensation filled with all the heartfelt emotion that one expects from one of the top tenor saxophone stylists ever, and one who has been called the reigning merchant of Soul/Jazz.
Rock Steady follows on the heels of the very successful CD and subsequent tour behind R&R, his collaboration with Rick Braun. Its release continued the relevant artistic momentum Elliot developed during his ever growing and evolving prestigious musical career. It’s packed with an energy and vigor that doesn’t let up for a second. Every single song included is an inspired artistic statement by marvelous musicians having fun making music that captivates.
Elliot makes the most of his genuine knack for restructuring classics, putting his own unique stamp on them, while still maintaining a respectful reverence for the original. Three such remakes are included here, alongside eight new compositions. One restructured classic, the joyful soulful strut “Move On Up,” written by the incomparable Curtis Mayfield kicks off the disc. The superb instrumental treatment is an upbeat delight, and received massive radio play. It set the tone for the songs contained on Rock Steady; a quality of excellence so superior to the norm, that it’s difficult to adequately describe.
Some of contemporary jazz’s brightest stars adorn “Straight Up.” In addition to teaming with Elliot for composition credit, alto saxophonist supreme Gerald Albright, keyboard wizard Jeff Lorber, and trumpet master Rick Braun lend their brand of sparkling performance magic to this special track. The song affords Richard and Gerald a chance to team up, stretch out, and get funky with tons of class and sophistication. A mid-tempo, call and response type song, “Straight Up” lands directly in the pocket, with an excellent arrangement by Jeff Lorber. Driven firmly and securely with a steady insistent beat by drummer Ricky Lawson and the support of percussionist supreme Luis Conte, it’s an all-star affair that oozes stylish flair.
“Yaquala” is one of five songs on the CD in which Rick Braun shares co-writer credit; this time along with Elliot and keyboard artist Tim Gant. It’s a beautifully lush and seductive ballad, the kind that Elliot pours his heart into. The richness and deep warmth that he achieves from his instrument is his trademark; and those distinctive qualities are displayed throughout Rock Steady in abundance.
An old school sway consumes “Restless,” a romantic song that invokes the lustful spirit of Marvin Gaye at his invitingly tempting best, sans vocals. Elliot is assisted on this mid-tempo funk tune by the other band members, who push Richard to lofty heights. The unforgettable melody is classic, to say the least. The band members I refer to are his customary stellar cohorts: Ron Reinhardt on keyboards, Dwight Sills on guitar, and a rhythm section consisting of Nate Phillips on bass guitar, Ricky Lawson on drums, and Conte again adding percussion. All of these skilled players are noteworthy for anchoring the foundation and providing the solid support necessary to make this CD the winner that it is. I give additional kudos to Reinhardt for helping write this exquisite tune.
The song “Retro Boy” draws on Richard’s rhythm and blues roots, recalling an era when music tugged relentlessly at your heart and soul, while generating a need to hit that packed dance floor to show your stuff. To call the song funky is purely an understatement. “Retro Boy” also received a lion’s share of radio airplay.
An aptly titled composition, “License To Chill,” features Elliot, Braun, and Jeff Lorber creating a cool contemporary masterpiece of grabbing hooks. Richard floats his poised tenor above the silky ambiance and ultra-smooth arrangement of Lorber. Like many of the songs on this CD, it seems to end much too soon. The reason being that the groove is flowing so effortlessly, it could continue infinitely.
Yet another triumphant collaboration with Braun is “Candice Dance,” named for one of Richard’s daughters. It is possible that the classic song “Sunny” may have been a launching pad for this endearing song. It has that classic song’s same “feel good” quality and catchiness, and is testament to the power that Braun and Elliot realize when they combine their conspicuously impressive talents.
Aretha Franklin secured her well-earned designation as the Queen of Soul with songs like “Rock Steady.” It’s an unabashed call to the dance floor, with a rhythm that moves and grooves non-stop. Elliot uses his tenor sax to scream the lyrics with sweat dripping conviction. The backing vocals by Lynne Fiddmont, like the cherries on an ice cream sundae, spice the song with pizzazz. This song was destined to become a concert classic.
The masterful Philippe Saisse co-wrote “The Preacher,” as well as adding his expertise on production, arrangement, and ever-soulful keyboards. Saisse again displays his King Midas touch; it seems that anything his skillful hands touch turns golden, and this track slowly simmers. Elliot gushes out molten lava from his sax, and the unrushed magnificent bass playing of Phillips works in sweet harmony with Saisse’s righteous Hammond B-3 organ tones.
The hard-driving “Spindrift” was co-written by longtime Elliot bassist Nate Phillips, and features some nice percussion offerings by Luis Conte to give the song a trace of a world beat. It would be hard to resist forming a conga line if this song was played at a party. Its flavor differs from the balance of the other songs, but provides a most refreshing side-step, and Elliot nails it.
Richard chose to end his soulful opus with another fantastic R&B cover filled to the brim with sax swagger. The finale is Eddie Kendrick’s “Keep On Truckin’,” which was a number one hit for Kendrick after he went solo, leaving the security of being a member of The Temptations. It mirrors the path chosen by Richard Elliot; leaving the refuge of a legendary band (Tower of Power) to achieve greatness on his own terms. All three cover tunes selected include the dynamic horn section of Elliot on sax, Rick Braun on trumpet and Nick Lane on trombone; and fit in seamlessly beside Elliot’s new exciting compositions. The easy flow on Rock Steady leads to an enjoyable listening experience, time after time.
Rock Steady has a consistent excellence that places it amongst the best recordings of all time. Elliot’s beloved career has already fashioned numerous #1 hit singles and albums. In his passionate exploration of his own R&B and funk roots, while nurturing those roots with updated contemporary touches, Richard Elliot once again demonstrated with Rock Steady that quality music is timeless.
Artist / Group Name: Richard Elliot
CD Title:Rock Steady
Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
Year Released: 2009
Record Label: Artistry Music
Tracks: Move On Up, Straight Up, Yaquala, Restless, Retro Boy, License To Chill, Candice Dance, Rock Steady, The Preacher, Spindrift, and Keep on Truckin’
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. Based in Nevada, he can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com