NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN: ‘Awakening’ and ‘The Dance Of Life’ (Label: Edsel)

  • Home
  • Reviews
  • NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN: ‘Awakening’ and ‘The Dance Of Life’ (Label: Edsel)
NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN: 'Awakening' and 'The Dance Of Life'

Given that Narada Michael Walden started out as a jazz drummer and cut his musical teeth playing for the ’70s jazz-rock-fusion behemoth, Mahavishnu Orchestra – as Billy Cobham’s replacement no less – and then played on Weather Report’s classic ‘Black Market’ LP, it probably surprised a lot of people that he ended up as a pop producer helming chart-topping records for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Starship and many others. But Walden’s desire to move from cerebral prog-jazz to mainstream accessibility began many years before he was an ‘A’ list producer – back in 1976, in fact, when he began a solo career for Atlantic Records and started scoring big chart hits with disco funk nuggets like ‘I Don’t Want Nobody Else (To Dance With You)’ and ‘I Shoulda Loved Ya.’ Both those addictive dance floor grooves – featuring great bass lines, percolating percussion and punchy horn charts – are contained on this 2-CD compilation which brings together the albums ‘Awakening’ (1977) and ‘The Garden Of Life’ (1979). The former is a strong set of slickly-played R&B grooves that factors in plenty of disco-era elements (slurping hi-hat figures and dancing string lines) and features production from Wayne Henderson and contributions from Carlos Santana, the Brecker Brothers, the Pointer Sisters and keyboardist Bobby Lyle. Even so, Walden’s fusion roots are still evident on the overblown instrumental, ‘Awakening Suite Part 1.’ 1979’s ‘The Garden Of Life’ followed the album ‘I Cry, I Smile,’ which appeared a year earlier, and finds Walden holding the production reins himself – again, like ‘Awakening,’ it’s comprised of fizzing, pop-slanted dance grooves with catchy choruses in abundance. The killer cut is undoubtedly the sleek mirror ball groove, ‘I Shoulda Loved Ya,’ which arguably boasts one of the best bass lines of all time. Also noteworthy are ‘Tonight I’m All Right’ – another US chart hit – and ‘Crazy For Ya.’
(CW) 3/5