Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Shakatak — Night Birds


   In seventies all styles of popular music were the subject of deep change. Although many kinds of jazz and rock were still continuing artistic quest in old directions, the wide public and main labels were choosing more dance and rhythmic kinds of music. After all bastions of intellectually ambitious jazz and progressive rock fallen, after jazz rock pave comfortable ways to all regions of popular music and new electronic instruments were giving more and more possibilities for disco and popular song producers, it became clear music is just another kind of product, just like anything else made in industrial facilities. In fact this was the great time for many musicians. After years of some strange ideas basing on invention value, commercial kinds of music gave musicians many chances to develop their careers on basis of virtuosity being a primary quality and a source of recognition. That was the background for the new wave of bands and musicians playing various kinds of smooth jazz mixed with elements of disco, rhythm and blues, or some local folk traditions. And one of most popular in Europe was English band Shakatak.
   The band called Shakatak was formed in 1980 and it’s first recorded tune Steppin’ by Bill Sharpe in August 1980, as well as their first album Drivin’ Hard released in May 1981, were placed on charts. The end of seventies and early eighties was the time jazz lost its momentum. Even most popular jazz rock bands were looking for any exit from stagnation. Many bands have suspended their artistic activities – Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1976 and Return to Forever in 1977, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were developing their individual projects, Weather Report was still active but changing with every album their direction and looking for new possibilities in world music. But wider public was ready for fusion, which was commonly used as an accompaniment arrangements for many popular and disco songs. This was best moment for converting fusion jazz into pop music with high commercial potential. When one year later, in May 1982 Polydor released Shakatak’s second album, Night Birds, the band was already a definition of pop music crossover with funk-jazz and fusion idioms.

Shakatak – Night Birds (1982)

   Easy structures of musical pieces were based on attractive sound. It was possible thanks to band’s recording equipment including collection of acoustic and electronic instruments. Leader Bill Sharpe was playing Bosendorfer grand piano, ARP Odyssey synthesizer, and Fender Rhodes electric piano. Also Nigel Wright, arranger of brass section and producer of the album who played Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and additional trombone. Plus both keyboardists were playing Oberheim O.B.X. and Prophet 10 synthesizers. Guitarist Keith Winter was equipped with Yamaha SG 2000, Gibson 345, Ovation Acoustic, Mesa Boogie amplifier and custom pedal board. George Anderson played Music Man Sting Ray and G&L 2000E basses. Drummer Roger Odell played Sonor and Avedis Zildjian cymbals. Members of the band were singers Jackie Rawe and Jill Saward. This set was augmented by additional personnel including singer Lorna Bannon, percussionist Simon Morton who was also vocalist, trumpeter Stuart Brooks and saxophonist Dick Morrissey.
   Starting from the very beginning of this album, its idea is brightly exposed. Title track Night Birds founded on gentle and careless piano melody has been exposed in soft funky outfit. As an answer for piano theme we hear vocal refrain with uncomplicated lyrics and easy melody. After repetition and synthesizer bridge, we hear one chorus guitar solo and grand piano solo leading to one more repetition of theme and vocal refrain. The concluding piano solo is muted. In second track Streetwalkin' we have almost the same construction plan: saxophone based theme and vocal refrain, saxophone solos and backing vocals on concluding solo. Comparing to typical song construction it was more light and airy, giving listeners more chance to chat, or just listening each other, or even to play or sing with it. Such attitude makes this production as just perfect music for many purposes, from easy listening to weather reports musical background. In next song we have guitar theme and solos and again some voice cast. In rhythmic and melodic idioms this music is related to various styles of dance and popular music from decades of fifties to eighties. Lots of enthusiasm and positive energy is source of its success. Although this is one of classical albums for this kind of music, in my opinion three stars grade on five stars scale is enough good.