The translation of Ihsaan Khatim's name is "Excellence, Finally", a wry sobriquet bequeathed by his uncle and an apt one. This 3-cut EP is a pre-release showcase for a forthcoming full-length CD traveling back to the glorious old Stevie Wonder / Marvin Gaye / Donny Hathaway / Curtis Mayfield era. Khatim's supple voice embraces a wide range, often climbing from trademark Motown soul to passionate urgency to melodious falsetto. From what can be discerned (the EP and promo lit aren't too specific here), he also handles the keyboards—which more than once dip into the magic colorations Cecil & Margouleff created for Stevie—and guitars, subtle but solidly jazz and soul based, occasionally reminiscent of subdued early George Benson.
The EP brims over with true soul music from the days of lions—including the Temptations, Chambers Bros., Smokey Robinson, Isley Bros., even a touch of Isaac Hayes here and there—revivifying a good deal of what's been lost as acid jazz and other current modes have corrupted elder spirits into forms that will not so easily accommodate the transition. Khatim shows precisely why: the music has to be human or it's lost. Then there are the angelic female refrain vocals beside the singer's own dubbed backing vox, smooth as silk, warm and ambiant. In fact, every element here seems as though crafted by bygone greats, but the singer is way too young for that and obviously born to the terrain.
My only criticism has to address the mix, in that it's not as balanced as it should be, especially when Pump Our Brakes has the flavor and milieu of a lost cut from the Innervisions or Talking Book albums Wonder made into landmarks in music but here isn't fully supported by the engineering. Only a truly honed ultra-precise job could've fully complimented Khatim's vocals in the manner they deserve. That wasn't quite achieved. Nice despite, but the guy needs those last crucial degrees of perfection to emerge fully.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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