Sir Gant & The Invisible Force may be a new name on the scene, but its orchestrator, the keyboard virtuoso, writer and producer Dean Gant should be familiar with serious soul fans. As co-producer and arranger of Anita Baker’s classic Rapture album in the 80s, Dean Gant has undeniable soul chops. His CV reads like a veritable who’s who of the great and good in soul and jazz over the past forty years having worked with Keni Burke, the O’Jays, Anita Baker, Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Donny Hathaway, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ramsey Lewis, The Stairsteps, Deniece Williams, Peabo Bryson, Outkast, Wayne Henderson, Bill Withers and even Madonna, among others. His debut ‘solo’ album, The Journey, is undoubtedly a labour of love for Sir Gant as it winds its way along the musical path of his myriad influences from the past forty years or so.
The first track is a modern stepper, Let Me See You Work It, featuring the smooth vocals of TiO (Tim Owens), the in-demand LA-based singer most recently celebrated for his involvement on the Tom Glide and the Luv All-Stars project. It’s a mature groove, blessed by some slap bass work from the legendary Marcus Miller. Indeed, the project is full of many of soul, jazz and funk’s greatest musicians of the past 30 years or so, including Omar Hakim, Steve Ferrone, Ricky Lawson, Al McKay, David T. Walker, Gerald Albright, Rahmlee, Dr. George Shaw, Marcus Miller, Nathan East and Paulinho da Costa.
The album’s centrepiece is I’m Gonna Miss You, a cut that sounds like a well-worn classic soul groove from the mid-Seventies, delivered in a vintage Lamont Dozier or Leroy Hutson vein. It’s a lush, understated groove complimented perfectly by Boyz II Men founding member Marc Nelson’s vocals. There’s warmth in the production and a cohesiveness in the instrumentation derived from the tracks legendary musician line-up incorporating Nathan East (bass), Steve Ferrone (Drums), Dean on keyboards and David T. Walker on guitar. Already Number 1 on the UK Soul Chart, this track will certainly feature in many Modern Soul Best of 2011 lists come December.
The Journey is mature and refined, however that’s not to say that it isn’t diverse. Soul is not the only path travelled on this particular journey. Hangin’ With Q is, of course, a tribute to Quincy Jones, Dean’s musical production mentor. Dean has attempted to capture the mood and feel of the legendary Q’s work on this track. It’s a fantastic jazz instrumental centered on a stellar saxophone solo from Gerald Albright (working in a non-smooth mode), complimented by Charles Owen and Rahmlee Michael Davis on flute and trumpet respectively. The track is an appropriate tribute to Quincy Jones with Dean harnessing the different musicians in pursuit of the groove, allowing enough space for them to perform without ever forgetting to make it accessible, never losing the audience, in line with how Q might produce the track.
Les Bleu is ostensibly a piano-led instrumental highlighting Dean’s playing. Based on the blues, or pentatonic, scale, the groove has a feel of that classic Roy Ayers tune, ‘Searching’. The Journey combines African rhythms (with both Steve Ferrone and Omar Hakim on drums) with Sitar, African vocals and more European melodic elements to produce an interesting instrumental that further highlights Dean‘s wide ranging tastes. However, the title track is perhaps my least favourite cut on the album. It builds nicely, and its fusion of styles is engaging from a purely musical perspective, but it fails to reach the emotional intensity initially promised, moving the project slightly into the realms of the smooth, albeit briefly.
On The Dancefloor, however, is a real highlight which plays as another tribute to Dean’s production mentor, Quincy Jones. The track starts with some kalimba percussion, recalling Earth Wind & Fire (Dean also plays in Al McKay’s All Stars), before moving into a delightful slice of sophisticated dancefloor soul clearly inspired by MJ’s Off the Wall period and those late 70s / early 80s sophisticated productions that effortlessly fused soul, disco and pop. It features strings arranged by the legendary Benjamin Wright, an arranger renowned for his work on classics such as Boogie Wonderland, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, The Dude and countless others. It’s a sophisticated track that works for the dancefloor, but also provides enough interest within the arrangement to provide greater depth to the listening experience. Marc Nelson, who co-wrote the song with Dean, excels on this track, the vocal arrangement recalling the legendary Michael Jackson but delivered in his own sweetly soulful style. Following their work on On The Dancefloor and I’m Gonna Miss You, I would love to see a full album of material from Marc and Dean as their indubitable chemistry that would lend itself to a full vocal album with ease. It’s a timeless soul sound that would undoubtedly find favour with the legions of soul music fans crying out for authentic music.
So Much in Love is a wonderful, ethereal piece of jazz fusion, reminscent of the The Crusaders, built around the interplay between Dean’s piano, Omar Hakim on drums and the exemplary percussive work of the legendary Paulinho da Costa. Peace is a short, dreamlike instrumental with Dean playing all instruments. While the track is ostensibly a tribute to the legendary arranger and producer Charles Stepney, the vibe nonetheless calls to mind the soundscape achieved by Stevie Wonder in the seventies, particularly the atmosphere of Taking Book and Fufillingness First Finale. It’s a beautiful, serene and engaging track whose only crime is its brevity.
The Journey is a diverse and impeccably produced album of mature soul and jazz from one of the scene’s true legends. Given Dean‘s pedigree, we wouldn’t have expected anything less. Here’s hoping that Dean Gant has many more stories to tell as he continues forward on life’s path.
The Journey is available on iTunes, Amazon and Dean’s own Bandcamp site.