HARVEY MASON: ‘Funk In A Mason Jar – Expanded Edition’ (Soulmusic.com)

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Regarded as a bona fide cult classic by discerning soul and funk aficionados, Harvey Mason’s collectable third solo foray for Arista from 1977 finally gets reissued on CD. Hailing from Atlantic City, drummer Mason made a name for himself as a first call session player on the US West Coast in the early ’70s and featured on Herbie Hancock’s seminal jazz-funk-fusion LP, ‘Head Hunters,’ in 1974. Such was Mason’s notoriety in the jazz and R&B world that he was offered a solo deal by Clive Davis in ’75 and issued two albums (‘Marching In The Street’ and ‘Earthmover’) with a jazz-funk emphasis. In ’77, though, Mason added a piquant pinch of soul seasoning to his funky jazz broth and delivered ‘Funk In A Mason Jar.’ Though created when the disco inferno was burning at its brightest, ‘Funk In A Mason Jar’ only occasionally doffs its cap to the sound of the mirrorball epoch; the breezy opener ‘Pack Up Your Bags’ (featuring vocalist Art Wilson) boasts slurping hi-hat patterns and a four-on-the-floor beat while the Merry Clayton-fronted ‘Till You Take My Love’ also has its eye on the dance floor (a 12-inch mix of the track is also present as a bonus cut on this reissue). Even better is the frantic funk of ‘Space Cadets’ with its heavy bass motifs and Parliament/Funkadelic-style chanted chorus. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for with its wild enthusiasm and hypnotic groove.

Hewn from a different cloth is a lovely instrumental rendition of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ spotlighting George Benson’s guitar and featuring Harvey Mason on vibes as well as drums, bringing a jazzy tint to the proceedings while Charles Veal’s string arrangement gives the track a sense of luminosity. Tom Scott’s saxophone takes centre stage on the aching ballad, ‘Set It Free’ – featuring Mason’s future Fourplay compadres, pianist Bob James and guitarist Lee Ritenour. Then it’s back into a frenetic jazz-funk workout with the pulsating Dave Grusin-penned ‘Phantazia,’ built on Anthony Jackson’s sinewy bass line and showcasing the digital dexterity of keyboardist, Ronnie Foster, who delivers a manic Moog synth solo. Mason’s self-penned ‘Liquid’ – a Headhunters’ style instrumental with a subtle funk undertow – rounds out an album that vividly illustrated that Harvey Mason was much more than a super-talented sticks man: he could compose, arrange and produce too, all with aplomb. This is an essential purchase for fans of ’70s soul-infused jazz-funk – and look out for reissues of all the drum maestro’s other Arista albums via the soulmusic.com label.

(CW) 4/5