NO PRODUCER has reconciled the emotional singing of old-fashioned soul with the technological rhythms of modern funk better than Luther Vandross. Last year Vandross applied his approach to the great soul singer Aretha Franklin on the album "Jump to It." He gave her the best material, arrangements and band she'd had in years, and she responded with her best singing in a long time.
And now Vandross and Franklin have extended their collaboration into an even more consistent, more rewarding album: "Get It Right" (Arista AL 8-8019).
For Franklin to sing her best, the arrangements must leave room for her instincts; the band must provide a sure, steady point of gravity for her vocal excursions; the songs must have the raw material of feeling and melody for her to refine. Vandross supplies all these thing to "Get It Right," and Franklin responds with inspired singing.
On the techno-pop number, "Every Girl (Wants My Guy)," her voice dips in and out of the compelling dance track as she addresses the preying women. One moment she lies below the crackling rhythm to make a low, simmering threat; the next moment she's soaring high above everything with a quivering falsetto plea.
On the uptempo workout of the title tune, Franklin's shouts hit every rhythmic accent squarely even as she improvises quickly between beats. For her remake of the Temptations' classic "I Wish it Would Rain," her voice shoots up in sudden cries as if all attempts at self-control had broken down. On "I Got Your Love," she echoes the title chant of her backing singers but gives each echo a different, personal twist. On "Pretender," she reproaches a false lover with a faltering wail that hints at regret as much as anger.
Vandross wrote five of the album's eight cuts--four of them with his bassist and co-arranger, Marcus Miller. They write mobile, memorable tunes with the melodic accents firmly connected to the rhythmic accents. Vandross' group of Miller, keyboardist Nat Adderley Jr., guitarist Doc Powell, drummer Yogi Horton and singer Fonzi Thornton are quickly becoming one of the legendary studio bands in pop history; they keep impeccable time and keep a steady fire under Franklin without taking up any of her room. With their help, Vandross has reawakened Franklin's slumbering talent and has ushered her into a second period of greatness.
Marcus Miller, who plays for Miles Davis and David Sanborn as well as Vandross, has released his first solo album: "Suddenly" (Warner Bros. 23806-1). Though Sanborn, Vandross and a few others make guest appearances, Miller has done almost all of the playing, singing, writing and producing.
While the love song lyrics are a bit hackneyed, the melodies are strong throughout. Miller has a surprisingly appealing voice for a session player, but it still sounds a bit tentative; he nudges notes instead of grabbing them. As one of the top bassists in pop music, Miller shows he's adept at other instruments, too, and this album is more interesting for the potential than for the music.
Fonzi Thornton, a singer with Chic and Luther Vandross, has borrowed musicians and ideas from both organizations and transformed them into a most impressive debut solo album: "The Leader" (RCA AFL1-4433).
With the light, romantic tenor of a Smokey Robinson and the big beat swagger of modern funk, Thornton has a distinctive vocal personality. Never too overbearing nor too laid back, Thornton romps through his eight cuts with a happy-go-lucky enthusiasm. He wrote seven of them--six with his coproducer, Robert Wright, and he transmogrifies Phil Spector's "Be My Baby" until it's barely recognizable in its slow, funk, come-on revision.
The Chic team of bassist Bernard Edwards and guitarist Nile Rodgers supply their patented rhythm arrangements to "Perfect Lover" and to the title track. Thornton's sharp phrasing fits the tricking syncopation perfectly and his jingly melodies are fresh enough to balance out the bottom. Kashif contributes an arrangement and synthesizer to "(Uh-oh) There Goes My Heart," which sounds like a Marvin Gaye song with its catchy chorus, romantic asides and intoxicating mood. The best song, though, is the sunny love ballad, "Sha'n'Da (Happy Love Song)," with Thornton scatting with contagious joy and infectious melody over Marcus Miller's stuttering bass.
"Glad to Be Here" (Atlantic 80079-1) is presented as Chic co-leader Bernard Edwards' first solo album, but it sounds very much like another Chic album. Co-leader Nile Rodgers plays guitar on five out of seven cuts, and Chic regulars Blondie Thornton, Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin, Tony Thompson and Ron Sabino help out. As always, the innovative Chic rhythm arrangements are the strong point; Edwards keeps coming up with new ways to make a dance beat sound original.
Because it's a solo album, Edwards takes most of the lead vocals, and his low, gruff voice minimizes the melodies. The album's highlight is a pop-funk remake of Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." Edwards gives the rhythm a stop-and-go twist; Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown fill out the call-and-response vocals; and Lenny Pickett breaks the song open with a wild sax solo.