In only his second release, RJ, first reviewed here in Deceiving Eyes, re-assumes a confidence and prowess that much belies his only-recent presence on the scene. If you wish to hear this Stroke of Midnight project as a inner city concept cycle, well that's my leaning as well, and the intro Midterm serves as admonitory warning to have no preconceptions as, with RJ's work (and in his own words), there are "no rules followed" in what turns out to be a very cohesive flow of sounds dragging trad jazz and its later West Coast mello-hipswing into a new light. The title song proves it: cinematic, club groovin', Lalo Schifrin lite, Miles/Gil Evans tight, garnished with Braziliana percussives, whatever serves to forward thematics and atmospherics is what's dropped in, no explanations, no apologies.
What results is snappin' but also sensual and lyrical, as when he and singer Wendy Kiarigianes tackle Lennon & McCartney's Come Together, Jeff Ray dropping a too-brief Mike Sternsy guitar behind 'em. In fact, more than once, the perspective on the foreground is so well balanced that you forget RJ's even there…until you realize he's surrounding everything with his keyboards, not all that differently from what Stevie Wonder was doing in his prime (Talking Book and that still magical era, to date never quite matched). Kiarigianes was made for a glitzy Hollywood stage amid high production and sweeping set design. RJ's arrangements make that abundantly clear, esp. in cuts like Tight, which is both splashy and intimate, a simultaneity not easy to achieve.
If that take on the Beatles finds you smiling, wait 'til you hear what happens to What You Won't do 4 Love, and pay attention as RJ more than once holds the background in suspended seriality, during the middle eight sax solo (Julian Tanaka) and elsewhere. It's not merely in the very attractive forward elements that the songs here find their successes but just as much in the smaller aspects. In fact, those elements, the true artist knows, very often are the most important, provide the ground upon which the obvious gains its luster and dances. Then mellow out with the Lonnie Liston Smith-ish do-up of Coltrane's Naima crossed with Bob James, bringing a side of Big John out that rarely sees the light of day. In essence, though, just sit back, relax, and let the carousel of soul, jazz, rap, soundtrack, bop, and other factors do their work. The Stroke of Midnight is as much uptown mind theater as it is just plain good music.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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