ON LAST YEAR'S intoxicatingly salacious single, "Juicy Fruit," James Mtume stripped funk down to a slow, lean groove. With all the busywork removed, a sensually undulating synth-and-bass line made funk seem a more private, late-night affair than ever before. Mtume, the quartet named after its founder, extends that approach to even slower, even leaner grooves on this year's "You, Me and He." Though it is sometimes so minimal that one starves for some variety, the cuts have just enough melody and small touches to become hypnotic.
The title cut has Mtume and Tawatha Agee singing as a husband and wife who agree to save their marriage by incorporating the wife's boyfriend. A very spare drum-and-bass track is colored here and there by brief splashes of synthesizer, allowing quiet spaces to define the song as much as the notes.
Agee has a spectacular voice that cuts loose in a falsetto gospel shout on "Prime Time" and "C.O.D." The one up-tempo dance tune, "Tie Me Up," is a clever steal of Parliament's "Aqua Boogie." A Miles Davis alumnus, Mtume uses his father Jimmy Heath and Sonny Fortune to provide authentic jazz touches.
New Edition, a Boston quintet of 15- 16-year-old boys, was the vehicle for East Coast hip-hop producers Maurice Starr, Arthur Baker and Michael Johnson, who came up with last year's bubble-gum soul hit "Candy Girl." This year the quintet was turned over to a Hollywood consortium of mainstream soul producers for an even-sweeter brand of bubble gum. On "New Edition," the boy soprano harmonies are as frothy as ever, but the material suggests a romantic naivet,e that even their peers will find hard to swallow. Ray Parker's "Mr. Telephone Man" is a sugary confection, but the lyrics are too cute to be believable. Except for a lame bit of rap on "Cool It Now," the production by Parker, Michael Sembello, Richard Rudolph, Vincent Brantley and Rick Timas scrubs New Edition clean of its funky street roots. Too bad. MTUME -- "You, Me and He" (Epic FE 39473); NEW EDITION -- "New Edition" (MCA 5515); New Edition, Mtume, Kashif, and the Force M.D.s appear Saturday at the Washington Convention Center.