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Off The Record (2001)

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Ronny Jordan

The funkified British-born electric guitarist was there in the early '90s as one of the leaders of what became the acid jazz movement, and he came along in early 2000 to point the way to A Brighter Day, which blended some of those old sensibilities with more modern R&B and some smooth jazz elements. The explosive sense of retro-funk and cool returns here, and if it weren't for a few silly, self-indulgent moments, this disc would be near perfect. On "Get Ready! (Intro)," he jams coolly on wah-wah over a crunchy shuffle groove as rapper Love Child introduces the band and the cross-racial appeal of this music (which is unnecessary given the liner notes and the broad appeal of this sound). No doubt Jordan is just trying to be tongue-in-cheek on "Ronny, You Talk Too Much!," but the feisty track -- on which percussive, high-register piano chords act as accents behind some of Jordan's most aggressive lines -- is distracted by Love Child's cutesy telephone conversation scenario. "No Pay, No Pay" blends Alvin McCray's moody, soft synth harmonies with Jordan's slick update on the Wes Montgomery sound as the Catfish Choir echoes with funky whispers in the background. That flavor also inhabits the all-instrumental "Floor & More," which unnecessarily adds croaking synth sounds in selected spots. Mariah Carey soundalike Fay Simpson leads the forward-thinking "Keep Your Head Up," another atmospheric crunch-funk track on which Jordan takes a soft, supporting role, his guitar often blending with the voices. The bassline of "On the Record" is a playful O'Jays-flavored takeoff, with Jordan then chiming in with dual, high-low, sometimes blending sounds on rhythm and lead guitar. The sound effects-filled title track finds the guitarist kicking back in trip-hop heaven, while "(The Theme From) Underworld" is sort of a hip-hop version of the Twin Peaks theme. "Toe Jam" is a wild, hardcore rap closer that somewhat disrupts the smoother, atmospheric soul vibe of the disc, though its anthemic nature makes it fun on its own. On the record, Jordan keeps on innovating. ~ Jonathan Widran