THE JACK SASS BAND: Sassified (Label: Funky Town Grooves)

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The Jack Sass Band made a name for themselves as an exciting, must-see live attraction in New York during the late-’70s and early-’80s but failed to taste the big time despite releasing a clutch of listenable singles. Indeed, under the name Sass, the Big Apple collective – whose core comprised Mic Murphy, La La (LaForrest) Cope, Vince Vaughan and Liz Chisholm – scored a minor US R&B chart entry in 1977 with the song ‘I Only Wanted To Love You’ released on the 20th Century label. But that single didn’t really reflect The Jack Sass Band’s mutant mix of soul, rock, funk and new wave music, which stylistically paralleled that being created by Prince and Rick James around the same timeframe. And nor did ‘Where Is The Love You Promised Me,’ which was issued a year later on the small Visa label or the smoothly soulful groover, ‘Much Too Much,’ (issued under the name Sass) released in 1982 on another New York indie label, 25 West Records. Sadly, the producers that worked with the group seemed eager to tone down and smooth out the group’s rough rockier edges. Now, for the first time ever, the group’s music gets anthologized thanks to Northampton’s Funky Town Grooves label which has exhumed some of Jack Sass’s rare recordings from 1979 and 1980. The 15 track set features all of the above-mentioned singles – apart from ‘I Only Wanted To Love You’ – as well as tracks like the brash rocker, ‘Midnight Punk,’ the reggae-infused ‘Can’t Get Funky With IRS,’ the excellent ‘Save My Life’ – a slab of brassy, rolling funk – and the soulful ballad, ‘It’s Real,’ the latter with lead vocals handled by La La Cope. Though Sass was never much more than cult band in New York, two of its members went on to greater things – Mic Murphy became one half of the groundbreaking synth-funk duo, The System, while keyboard player/vocalist La La Cope penned a song for Whitney Houston’s debut LP and then cut her own solo album for Arista before briefly joining the roster at Motown. Though the sound quality of some tracks (which sound like demos) might not please audiophiles, this set should be of interest to serious students of ‘late-’70s/early-’80s funk and soul. (CW) 3/5