O’Donel Levy – Simba (LP/CD Reissue) [Mr Bongo MRB296]
Proudly presenting a new series of Mr Bongo reissues exploring the incredible back catalogue of Sonny Lester’s iconic Groove Merchant record label.
First up, the spellbinding funk-fuelled, soul jazz album ‘Simba’, by guitar maestro O’Donel Levy. Baltimore-born, Levy was already well regarded as one of the best up-and-coming jazz guitarists at the time of Simba’s release. Having toured with George Benson and Jimmy McGriff, as well as featuring on McGriff’s Black Pearl album on Blue Note, he went on to sign with Sonny Lester’s Groove Merchant.
The album features the legendary studio drummer Steve Gadd, Cecil Bridgewater on Flugelhorn, bass by Tony Levin and arrangements by Manny Albam. A masterclass in tight yet effortlessly funk-driven rhythms, the tracks showcase these musicians at their zenith. Album opener ‘Bad, Bad, Simba’ wouldn’t have been out of place on a Lalo Schifrin ’70s car chase soundtrack.
Levy’s playing is brilliant, bright and slick, with an infectiously exuberant energy that is complimented perfectly by Gadd’s supreme drumming. ‘Playhouse’ serves up another vibrant offering, Wah Wah guitars, horns and futes duelling it out in a fast-paced fashion. The cinematic thread continues throughout, yet with the tempo taken down a notch. ‘Sierra Lonely’ and ‘Sad, Sad, Simba’ head into lush ballad territory, with superb arrangements by Albam and beautiful playing by Collins and Bridgewater on Flugelhorn.
Here Levy shines without taking any limelight, as the players synergize to a relaxed perfection. ‘Nigerian Knights’ closes the album flawlessly, showcasing once more Levy’s understated yet magnetic flow on the guitar. Every track on ‘Simba’ is a winner. As with CTI Recordings of the same era, the feel and textures of Sonny Lester’s productions have that pre-emptive, hip-hop aesthetic, which later producers would rework and reimagine.
This album is expertly balanced, deftly arranged and magically executed, ebbing and flowing with a cool buoyancy that just grooves and grooves. Classic 70’s funky soul-jazz goodness by the guitar maestro O’Donel Levy. Produced by Sonny Lester and featuring a who’s who list of 70’s session players. Launching a new series of choice reissues from the iconic Groove Merchant label.