If you thought Jimmy Earl's debut disc (here) was larded up with righteous studio cats, you're right, it was, and he here carries over Mitch Forman and Pino Daniele while picking up Simon Phillips, John Beasley, and Deron Johnson, later Josie Aiello to replace David Batteau…on a cut co-written by Batteau (and it wouldn't hurt ya to go back and listen to the old '73 Batteaux LP with brother Robin, nor that '76 solo slab, Happy in Hollywood, especially the memorable Orphee track). One of the most noticeable upgrades in this gig, which first released in 1998, is Earl's greaty sharpened use of computers and machines for looping, sequencing, and such. What hits ya second-most, though, is how close some of these tracks correspond to Lonnie Liston Smith's work…with whom Earl has sat in.
The Scorpion is one such cut, For Joe (Sample) even more so, while of course simultaneously reflecting the famed Crusaders keyboardist's romantic side. While Scorpion isn't quite as luxuriously suffused of eros as Lonnie's own stuff (for which I harbor a truly fierce weakness and have for decades), Earl brings it into the mellifluous side of Passport or Group 87's territory, with more than a few progressive overtones, occasionally even kinda like Brand X by way of Klaus Schulze as the CD gets more and more out there. In fact, thinking upon it, Stratosphere is akin to a spacier Lonnie release in many respects, one of 'em punched up with adrenalin and a sporting Zawinul sense.
Normally, I'd never say that a fusion release is for everyone, but there's so much here that crosses myriad boundaries that it's hard to imagine progsters, jazzheads, nu-instrumental aficionados—hell, even Sade adherents—or much of anyone having any problems whatsoever getting into Stratosphere. It's killer nighttime driving music for a mellow road trip to Venus but also absorbing head music and mind theater. Not a lot of that comes out any more, and after all the headbanging, jitterbugging, and psychedelic brainfrying, it's rather nice to able to just sit back, trip out, and smile. Especially now.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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