[17 April 2014]
By the mid-1970s, jazz was facing a bit of an identity crisis. In order to remain a commercially viable form of popular music, it increasingly looked to urban styles to expand its musical vocabulary and, more importantly, listener base. While not necessarily expanding the form itself in any sort of revolutionary manner (early entries like Bitches Brew and Headhunters notwithstanding), it did prove mildly successful in bringing in R&B, funk, and, with fusion, rock audiences that had all but abandoned jazz in the mid-1960s. But this commercialization of jazz was met with critical derision and seen as the neutering and homogenization of the form in favor of commercial sales over artistic integrity. Admittedly, by decade’s end, it had become nearly impossible to establish any sort of clear stylistic delineation between more urban-centric offerings and jazz, the two having become so heavily enmeshed as to have become one in the same. It is from this miasmatic stylistic mixing that Stanton Davis’ Ghetto Mysticism sprang forth: a jazz band playing funky R&B, a funky R&B group playing jazz.
Sounding very much of its time, with echoes of post-Headhunters funky fusion (“Delta Six/Brighter Days”, “Funky Fried Tofu”) and R&B-infused clavinet grooves (“Things Cannot Stop Forever”), Stanton Davis’ Ghetto Mysticism’s Isis Voyage features a series of previously unreleased recordings and alternate takes from 1977’s Brighter Days, reissued by Cultures of Soul last year. Throughout, synth washes compete with polyrhythmic drumming and gently melodic horn lines while funky, muscular bass grooves propel the proceedings. With “High Jazz”, “Odwalla” and “Space-A-Nova”, repetitive vocal chants enter the mix, adding to the hypnotic quality of the heavily groove-centric music itself and further blurring the stylistic lines. Sure it’s all been done before by bigger names, but Isis Voyage is still a worthy installment in the jazz funk canon lionized by crate-diggers and groove-lovers alike. All in all there’s plenty to enjoy here and enough stylistic diversity to make it a more-than-worthwhile and wickedly funky listen for anyone enamored of any of the above-mentioned sounds or styles.