Tom Schuman hails from the megasmash jazz group Spyrogyra, and all I have to do is mention both names for you to know his chops are in order. For Designated Planets, his latest solo, he covers all keyboards and then plays or programs bass, drum, and percussion lines save where bringing cats in to add more individualized zest to the mix. Then there are the vocalists, guitarists, and horns players filling out the landscape. Don't for a moment think, though, from the intergalactic cover art and title, that this is progrock, space music, or quasi-New Age a la John Serrie, it ain't. That's the territory one of the other Spyrogyra alums, Kim Stone, has been covering in Dark Chocolate (here), albeit in a more gentrified and quite tasty fashion. What Designated Planets is, is jazz, funk, fusion, soul, and so on. Think extensions of the old Kudu, CTI, and kindred labels as well as George Duke, some Lonnie Liston Smith, and that sort of thing.
'Funky' and 'nightclub celestial' are the operative words here. Steve Oliver can wah and diddy-bop alongside stringbenders like John Tropea and Eric Gale, while Julian Tanaka and Skip Martin tackle the horns in a late Miles / Hubbard / Washington Jr. fashion. Schuman steps out frequently for solos that here echo Jan Hammer, there show Bob James influences, and elsewhere fit him in with cats like Tom Grant while laying down foundation colorations and getting bass and drum licks in. This is contemporary mainstream material, very well done, slick and hoppin', a soundtrack for the after-hours office crowd tired of being button-down and graduated from disco but not ready for Mingus or Steve Coleman. In concert with the Pointer Sisters, Mahattan Transfer, and ilk, this would go down smooth as a good merlot.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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