As you groove to the tight, ultra-brassy, super-funky soul-jazz poppin’ from the grooves, melodies and vibrant arrangements of San Gabriel 7’s nonstop party album Red Dress, it might seriously bug you that the ever-evolving collective – formed by trombonist and JPL spacecraft engineer Jim Lewis in 2006 – has a ton of under the radar releases you’ll now have to catch up on as they, the words of pianist/producer Chris Gordon, “bring our music to a larger audience outside of the (SoCal) region.”
Yet it’s best to let those frustrations go and just jam along with Dave Cushman’s alternately sensual and high-octane arrangements performed dynamically by the seven-piece rhythm section and five-piece horn section comprised of some of the West Coast’s most storied studio and touring jazz musicians. When Cushman took over the arranging from Lewis after the latter did an 18-month stint in Afghanistan ten years ago, he shifted the group’s dynamics to go down two different paths – recording instrumental albums featuring his arrangements and producing compelling vocal albums featuring the compositions and lead vocals of a chosen singer.
On Red Dress, the towering, R&B-jazz leaning singer we’re blessed with is Femi Knight, a well-rounded veteran best known for her long association with Sergio Mendes. When you hear her sashaying over the simmering horns of her jam “The Next Best Thing,” tapping into the punchy, exotic and gospel spiritual energies of “West Indian Brown” (featuring Chad Edwards’ high altitude B-3 ) or telling her lover some hard truths on the simmering funk tune “I’m Going Home Tonight,” you might wonder where she’s been all your smooth soul loving life. Because if she’s been behind the scenes or backing other legends, she should keep on emerging to the center stage she takes here.
Knight also brings her towering and insightful emotional presence to two freewheeling performances she recorded with SG7 at the Cal Tech Jazz Festival – Bettye LaVette’s raw and sassy “When A Women’s Had Enough” and Stix Hooper’s rolling, jangling feel good blues romp “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” It shouldn’t have taken this long or us to discover the high-octane charms of San Gabriel 7 and Femi Knight, but now that we have, let the gratitude swell so that they combine their explosive forces again in the near future.