Review by Brad Walseth
Something funky this way comes. Recorded at the 2004 Detroit International Jazz Festival, this album features the NYC super-group performing a crowd-pleasing live set. Toph-E is drummer Chris Parker, and the Pussycats are keyboardist Clifford Carter, bassist Will Lee, percussionist Ralph MacDonald and saxophonist David Mann. The Chicago-born Parker has played drums with everyone from Paul Butterfield to Paul Simon, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, the Brecker Brothers and Miles Davis; while first-call bassist Will Lee has played with a similiarly wide ranging cast of artists (including Frank Sinatra), but may be best known as an original member of the David Letterman Late Night house band. David Mann was lead tenor for Tower of Power and has played with people like Luther Vandross, Pat Metheny, and Bob James; while Carter has played keyboards with James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Michael Franks and Herbie Mann. And or course, Ralph MacDonald has played too many sessions to count and may be the best known percussionist in the world today. These are some heavy (Pussy) cats, indeed.
With an all-star cast like this, one can hardly go wrong, and the song choices are strong as well. This joyful set blends elements of R&B, Jazz, Soul and Funk and runs from the Duke Ellington opener - "Rockin in Rhythm" (with a killer soprano sax solo by Mann) through to a wonderful encore of Ralph MacDonald's "Mister Magic" (made famous by Grover Washington, Jr.). In between there is a steamy Parker original - "Minky, Don't You Weep" with Parker's intense drumming and Macdonald setting his congas on fire. On this song, as on the others, the interplay between the rhythm section members is stellar. "Tee" - a tribute to the late great pianist Richard Tee follows - with Carter channeling the gospel-inspired style of the big man over Lee's warm bass tones.
A charming cover of Macdonald's "Just the Two of Us" - a big hit for Grover Washington Jr., and co-writer (along with William Salter) Bill Withers is a welcome inclusion; while the brilliant keyboardist Don Grolnick (Dreams, Brecker Brothers, etc...) - whose life ended much too early due to non-Hodgkins lymphoma - is given his due on his intensely driving "Human Bites." With jazz funk credentials such as these, as can be imagined, the playing by all members is first rate, and here, as throughout, the rhythm section is masterful in allowing space for Carter and Mann to solo. Meanwhile Miles Davis is given a reggae-treatment on "All Blues" where Lee takes a delightful solo turn in the spotlight.
Perhaps the highpoint of the recording however, is the high-powered, anti-war version of Gene McDaniels' Eddie Harris/Les McCann soul classic - "Compared to What" that had the audience dancing wildly and gleefully shouting along. A fine live recording of a group of top-flight musicians playing the music they love for an appreciative audience in the Motor City, "Live in Detroit" is a true pleasure for fans of funky, soulful R&B flavored jazz.