As dynamic and infectious as the hits that made composer, keyboardist and producer Skinny Hightower a force in urban jazz are, the deeply emotional, multi-faceted story behind his extraordinary new album Blue Moon lets us know that the artist himself was destined for bigger, funkier, more soul-satisfying realms.
His fans can certainly delight in the vast, 70’s influenced fusion of R&B, funk, jazz, atmospheric Curtis Mayfield-Isaac Hayes sensuality and blaxploitation craziness without knowing the long version of his musical and spiritual transformation. In a nutshell, Hightower was doubting the meaning of his life and his creative purpose. Digging into his wife’s collection of 70’s soul albums helped cure his depression, stopped his self-questioning in its tracks and set his soul free. Channeling these muses and fusing them into his own, gospel and jazz grown sensibilties, he wrote over 100 songs and developed 24 of them into a double CD (unheard of these days) that is more like an inspiring musical event than just an album release.
Blue Moon is probably best experienced as a continuous immersive flow that captures the stream of consciousness Hightower experienced when he felt his spirit unshackling. Yet for fans old and new who prefer consumption in smaller doses, a few remarkable entry points present themselves along the way. The most logical of these is “Bittersweet,” the high energy, hard grooving, horn-fired (and super melodic) retro-keyboard jam (and first single) that captures the overall relentless jubilation of the project. The thick bottomed “Mr. Sims” and skin-tight, boisterous and gospelly, organ fired “Holy Funk”” similarly capture this nonstop wild key and hi-hat abandon with punchy horn accents.
Yet despite the torrents of emotion sweeping through Hightower as he opened the floodgates on the next phase of his musical life, some of his most compelling moments are the more subtle, atmosphere filled ones that demand a closer, pin drop listen. Those who prefer their retro soul tunes dreamier and with touches of jazz can ease into the laid back, multiple shades of amazing Roy Ayers-styled vibraphone breezes of “Midnight Madness.” Though not all of Hightower’s song titles match the flavor of their songs, the name of another Ayers-inspired gem, the lush and liquid-y “Ain’t Gotta Go Nowhere,” is a spot on reflection of its chill vibe.
Another one with just the right title is “This Joy,” which simmers on the strength of Hightower’s fanciful Rhodes melody, a light thumping dance groove, synth “pop” and some atmospheric coloring. Hightower brings in a touch of exotic soundscaping and percussion on the hypnotic mid-tempo organ and vibes tune “Strollin’ In,” which comes across with strutting badass attitude.
Though Hightower is essentially a one-man band – playing keys, bass, drums, vocoders, piano percussion and some guitar, he brings in a few well-placed friends to take a few songs to higher emotional places. Longtime associate Almon Johnson rocks the funk out of the groovaliciious party tune “Now or Never” with a blazing guitar solo. Trippin N’ Rhythm labelmate, keyboardist Oli Silk adds his fanciful fingers to the bass bubbling, horn-drenched, wordless vocal enhanced flow of “Force,” while the sexy, Isaac Hayes/Curtis Mayfield influenced atmospheric rock/blues/soul ballad “Sky Blues” features the slow burning axe of Christone Kingfish Ingram.
By design and with renewed purpose, with Blue Moon, Skinny Hightower transcends his previous smooth jazz success and explores endless new musical vistas filled with the sounds of spiritual renewal and a soul in empowering transition.