Soul music is the soundtrack to my life so when I heard that ‘Pleasure Sensitive 2’, the new CD from bass player Tony Whitfield, features not one but two versions of the Van McCoy classic ‘The Hustle’ I wanted to review it for that reason alone. It’s a tune that for me evokes many memories but in checking it out I found that ‘Pleasure Sensitive 2’ is anything but a one trick pony. In fact it’s an excellent collection of edgy smooth jazz and fusion played by a collective of top notch musicians and notable guests.
‘The Hustle’ is obviously special to Whitfield too as he dresses it down and renames it the ‘New York Hustle’ in honor of the 9/11 outrage. In fact his instrumental version is remarkably faithful to the original although he does allow himself to cut loose in its latter stages. When later in the album he reprises the ‘New York Hustle’ with the addition of rap it doesn’t really do anything to enhance the tune but it does demonstrate his love for the city and tangibly tightens the songs link to the twin tower tragedy. Both versions are enhanced by the guest performance of the Jerry Hey Horn Section with their classic blend of two trumpets, sax and trombone. Incidentally, Hey, who has worked with everyone from Paul McCartney to Stevie Wonder, is also credited with introducing producer Paul Brown to his current passion for collecting fine wine.
Whitfield’s sensitive handling of ‘The Hustle’ is wise as the original has iconic status in the annals of 70’s disco and its composer has some remarkable credits to his name. Van McCoy was born in Washington, DC on January 6, 1940 and penned a series of hits for other artists including, ‘I Get the Sweetest Feeling’ for Jackie Wilson, ‘When You're Young and in Love’ for Ruby & the Romantics and ‘Getting Mighty Crowded’ for Betty Everett. With his then-girlfriend Kendra Spotswood, he also wrote, produced, and performed a series of pseudonymous singles, including the Pacettes ‘You Don't Know Baby’ and Jack & Jill's ‘Two of a Kind’. Under the name of Sandi Sheldon, Spotswood also recorded the McCoy-penned floor filler ‘You're Gonna Make Me Love You’ that went on to become a classic of Britain's Northern Soul club scene. Despite all that McCoy found solo success elusive and when his 1972 LP ‘Soul Improvisations’ flopped it did nothing to enhance his prospects. Expectations were similarly low for his 1975 release on Avco titled ‘Disco Baby’. The last track to be recorded for the album was ‘The Hustle’. McCoy wrote it after hearing about the dance from New York City disc jockey David Todd, and the song, written in under an hour, went on to top the Billboard pop charts in July 1975. Despite having a Top Ten R&B hit with ‘Change With The Times’ that same year his solo follow ups never again fired the listening publics imagination in the way that ‘The Hustle’ had done. After going back behind the scenes as a writer and producer Van McCoy died of a massive heart attack on July 6, 1979, exactly six months before his 40th birthday.
With ‘Pleasure Sensitive 2’ Whitfield is helping the McCoy memory endure and sets his version of ‘The Hustle’ alongside nine excellent compositions of his own. It’s a collection that runs the full gamut between smooth jazz and R & B yet, although Whitfield demonstrates an obvious love for big brassy and funky productions, he still finds time to show off his smoother side. ‘42nd Street’, with Saul Miller blowing up a storm on sax, is a half way house between those two extremes and could be classed as smooth jazz with an edge while the only vocal track on the album, ‘Baby Come Home’, is excellent smooth R & B that benefits from another great Saul Miller sax solo.
For the title track, which Whitfield precedes with a nice 34 second bass intro, he uses the Airmen Of Note Horn Section to engender a big band swing then intertwines it with the smooth jazz piano of Onaje Allan Gumbs. Its one of the highlights of the whole CD but even better is ‘Jarreau’s Journey’, a quiet and melodic tribute to one of his mentors.
Throughout the album Whitfield reveals his ability to take a simple hook and then repeat it to sensational effect. ‘Mystic Ways’ is replete with this skill and as the big and uplifting smooth jazz introduction drives on into the heart of the track it is spiced, in degrees, first by the rippling bass line of Whitfield and then by wonderful funky keys from Elliot Levine. He does it again on ‘Sneak’en’ that has the same big smooth jazz beginning that this time Whitfield transforms into a top notch play out track.
Best tune on the CD is the smooth jazz masterpiece ‘Hold On’. Relaxing yet atmospheric, haunting yet understated, this is a track you just might want to put on and play all day long.
Tony’s music is already being heard on WHUR 96.3 FM, Washington DC and a feature on ‘Pleasure Sensitive 2’ appears in the December 17 issue of Billboard magazine. For news of how you can add to his rapidly growing fan base go to www.tonywhitfieldjazz.com.