DOWN TO THE BONE

"Spread Love Like Wildfire"

Narada Jazz

Down to the Bone's latest offering is up to here in vintage jazz-funk, steeped in percolating rhythms, jabbing brass accents, tinkling keyboard tones and wah-wah guitar-driven splashes. If the opening tune, "Memphis Groove," featuring guest flutist Jeremy Steig, sounds like an excerpt from a blaxploitation film soundtrack composed by Herbie Mann, well, that's hardly a coincidence.

Stuart Wade, the British ensemble's arranger-producer, often deploys guest musicians to give the tracks a contemporary slant or to underscore his retro passions. "Angel Baby," for instance, is a slinky, radio-geared showcase for erstwhile Erykah Badu backing vocalist N'Dambi, while guitarist Tony Remy, who frequently pops up, supplies the requisite jazz-funk array of clipped chords and tonal effects. The new emphasis on horns vibrantly offsets Neil Cowley's sly keyboard contributions -- he plays both Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3 with soulful assurance -- and the two cameos by Steig colorfully illustrate the ensemble's ties to Mann's legacy.

Wade, who wrote or co-wrote all the tunes but doesn't play an instrument, also indulges his affection for Brazilian rhythms, on "Mystic Samba" and elsewhere. His collective wears its influences lightly enough to keep the arrangements from becoming overly derivative, and even at its most familiar, the music leaves most of the band's pop-jazz peers sounding rather listless by comparison.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at the Birchmere.