JAMES REESE & THE PROGRESSIONS: ‘Wait For Me: The Complete Works (1967-1972)’ (Now-Again)

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  • JAMES REESE & THE PROGRESSIONS: ‘Wait For Me: The Complete Works (1967-1972)’ (Now-Again)

                               A trombonist, bandleader, arranger and producer from Spartanburg, South Carolina, James Reese is one of soul music’s more esoteric figures whose work is only known to those that consider themselves among the genre’s cognoscenti. Reese recorded a couple of lowkey indie 45s in tandem with his band, The Progressions, for his self-funded Najma label during the late ’60s and early ’70s and then quietly slipped into obscurity. That was until Now-Again’s founder and this album’s curator, Egon (aka Eothen Alaplatt) chanced upon some Reese 45s when he was working as the manager of Stones Throw Records. He tracked down the South Carolinian musician and licensed two cuts for the much-lauded Stones Throw compilation, ’16 Funky Corners.’ Now, under the aegis of his own label, Egon unveils 14-track LP/CD of James Reese’s music sourced from the original multi-track masters. Mixing the group’s singles with a cache of previously unissued material, ‘Wait For Me’ proves to be an astounding compilation that illuminates the prodigious talent of a musician whose endeavours deserved a wider audience.

Reese and his band straddled the divide between soul and jazz. They were able to serve up a combination of funky, jazz-infused instrumentals that channelled The JB’s – the wonderfully breezy ‘Let’s Go (It’s Summertime),’ and the super-propulsive ‘Jody’s Freeze’ – with more R&B-oriented vocal material. The standouts include ‘One Girl,’ a gutbucket soul ballad fronted by a raspy-voiced male singer and ‘He’ll Never Go,’ a Marvin Gaye-esque number. Then there’s the more strident Motown-style soul anthem, ‘A Fool For Love,’ with its earworm chorus.  Engaging, too, are ‘I’ll Find A True Love’ and ‘It’s Not But So Much Love Can Do,’ which, with their falsetto male vocals, both come across like a jazzed-up take on Philly’s Delfonics. The killer cut on the set is the Kenny Dope-mixed ‘Throwing Stones,’ a simmering groove ballad featuring Rosalyn Foster whose sweetly soulful vocals are framed by yearning string lines.

There’s much to appreciate, then, on this lovingly-curated album, which brings James Reese & The Progressions out of the obscurity of the soul shadows into the light of recognition. A revelation.  (Release date: January 17, 2020)

(CW) 4/5