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Blacks And Blues (1973)

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Chuck Rainey

Bobbi Humphrey scored her biggest hit with her third album Blacks and Blues, an utterly delightful jazz-funk classic that helped make her a sensation at Montreux. If it sounds a lot like Donald Byrd's post-Black Byrd output, it's no accident; brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell have their fingerprints all over the album, and as on their work with Byrd, Larry handles all the composing and most of the arranging and production duties. It certainly helps that the Mizells were hitting on all cylinders at this point in their careers, but Humphrey is the true star of the show; she actually grabs a good deal more solo space than Byrd did on his Mizell collaborations, and she claims a good deal of responsibility for the album's light, airy charm. Her playing is indebted to Herbie Mann and, especially, Hubert Laws, but she has a more exclusive affinity for R&B and pop than even those two fusion-minded players, which is why she excels in this setting. Mizell is at the peak of his arranging powers, constructing dense grooves with lots of vintage synths, wah-wah guitars, and rhythmic interplay. Whether the funk runs hot or cool, Humphrey floats over the top with a near-inexhaustible supply of melodic ideas. She also makes her vocal debut on the album's two ballads, "Just a Love Child" and "Baby's Gone"; her voice is girlish but stronger than the genre standard, even the backing vocals by the Mizells and keyboardist Fred Perren. Overall, the album's cumulative effect is like a soft summer breeze, perfect for beaches, barbecues, and cruising with the top down. ~ Steve Huey