Norman “Jeff” Bradshaw is an acclaimed US session man. A trombonist extraordinaire, his talents have graced albums by the likes of Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Jay-Z, The Roots, Kirk Franklin, and for a time he was musical director for British soul duo Floetry. The trombone may be the instrument that Jeff has most embraced but he plays an array of instruments such as piano, drums, trumpet, sousaphone, baritone, and tuba and all were effectively deployed on his 2003 debut solo album ‘Bone Deep’. The well-received album created an overnight fan base but personal problems (marriage and subsequent divorce) along with constant demands on his time as a session player have meant that the much anticipated sophomore set has been delayed until now. The wait, though, has been well worth it…. this new musical menu, you see, far surpasses his debut and without wishing to make too grandiose a claim for it, I’d be surprised if we see and hear a better new, modern soul collection this year.
Why? Well, though he’s first and foremost a trombonist this isn’t an album led by that instrument. Bradshaw shows his instrumental versatility throughout switching with ease to the instruments we’ve listed above – but, again, none of those instruments dominate. Indeed it would be quite wrong to call this an “instrumental” album. Vocals predominate, and the man’s standing in the modern soul world is such that he can call in some big hitters to help him create his sounds. So amongst the featured guests are Raheem DeVaughn, Kindred the Family Soul, Maysa Leak, Coko of SWV, musician/producer PJ Morton of Maroon 5, Hip-Hop diva Ms. Jade, Christian rapper TWyze, and his old Floetry pals – Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie “The Floacist.” Equally, Bradshaw takes vocal lead himself on a number of cuts and even in such exalted company he more than holds his own. Between them all they create a groove packed 20 tracker that has been put together with passion, committment and soul.
Standouts abound… but the most immediate grabber is the magnificent modern soul dance groove that is ‘So Rare’. Tight, crisp and melodic it features the incomparable Maysa and it ranks amongst her very best recordings. ‘Searching (Prelude)’ is another great dancer if a little more subtle; it’s only problem being its brevity – clocking in at a mere one and a half minutes. The Marsha Ambrosius–vocalised version of Janet Jackson’s ‘Got Till It’s Gone’ is packed with interest too while ‘Til Tomorrow’ (with the voice of Raheem DeVaughn) is beefier but still a great modern soul confection.
You want ballads? OK – ‘All Day Lovin” (with the Kindred Family involved) is a delight (hints of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Let’s Do It Again’); then, ‘So Thankful’ is sultry while ‘Girl I Love You’ is maybe the sweetest.
For instrumentals go straight to covers of Tony, Toni, Tone’s ‘Put Your Head On My Shoulder’ or Frankie Beverley’s ‘Happy Feelings’. In truth, though, none will disappoint – you’ll be spoilt for choice as you will with the buying options – it seems you can purchase digitally in two separate volumes (iTunes, Amazon) or as one 2-CD set… discerning collectors, though, must go for the full Monty. They’ll be delighted with what they discover.