This excellent concert will be relished by fans of jazz-funk music.

PX Records PXRCD1005

Matt Johnson (keyboards and vocals); Andrew Smith (guitar); Ernie McKone (bass); Derrick McKenzie (drums); Valerie Etienne (vocals); Hazel Fernandes (vocals)

Recorded PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Soho, London 21 November 2022

Keyboardist Matt Johnson has been a member of the band Jamiroquai for one than twenty years, composing many songs and taking on the role of the band’s musical director. Jamiroquai has achieved great commercial success by mixing acid jazz with funk, disco, soul, house, and R&B, and this has enabled Johnson to pursue another musical love of his: the jazz-funk music of the 1970s, made popular by artists such as Roy Ayres, George Duke and Lonnie Liston Smith. Johnson’s other musical influences include Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Lyle Mays and Jimi Hendrix. Having said all that, this is no mere tribute band, simply regurgitating the sounds of the seventies – think of it as being the sound of today mixed with the spirit of yesteryear

This album was recorded live at the PizzaExpress in London and playing alongside Johnson were two other members of Jamiroquai: drummer Derrick McKenzie and vocalist Valerie Etienne. The record consists of seven tracks, with a total running time of around 50 minutes. Five of the seven tunes were composed or co-composed by Johnson, with four featuring on his 2022 debut album With The Music. Be warned that there is a mismatch between the track listing on the album cover (and the metadata, if you import the CD into a digital library like iTunes) and the actual running order on the disc.

The two opening tunes are covers, kicking off with Roy Ayres’ anthemic ‘Our Time Is Coming’ (a tune also covered by Jamiroquai live, although with the accompaniment of a digeridoo). This ten-minute version has a slow, atmospheric intro, with a two-minute keyboard solo that features shimmering lines and an ethereal wash of sounds, incorporating piano, electric piano and synthesiser.

Then, a funky electric piano riff kicks in and the song turns into a driving uptempo piece, with McKenzie playing a four-on-the-floor beat – drummer and bassist are right in the pocket. Johnson plays a long and energetic synth solo, followed by a tasteful, bluesy guitar solo from Smith. Ernie McKone’s slick slap bass solo reminds me of Chuck Rainey’s playing on Steely Dan’s ‘Peg.’ The vocalists’ chant of ‘Get on up, get on down,’ is really rousing and it’s easy to hear how this song galvanised the audience on a cold, November evening.

Next up is the classic Lonnie Liston Smith song ‘Expansions’ with its unforgettable bass riff. The original singer on this song, Donald Smith, is a hard act to follow, but the band strike up an excellent cover. ‘Laluna’ is a gorgeous midtempo song and Johnson plays an extended piano solo (courtesy of a Yamaha Montage synthesiser). ‘Goddess’ opens with funk bass riff and it’s a chance to hear some impressive harmonizing from Valerie Etienne and Hazel Fernandes, as well as a soulful solo and some fine rhythm playing from guitarist Andrew Smith.

‘Venus Rising’ has Earth, Wind and Fire/George Duke-like wordless vocals floating over a tight funk groove, and Johnson plays a rich palette of aural tones and textures on the keyboard. ‘Interstellar Love’ is another energetic four-on-the-floor number, with the vocalists to the fore. The closing number, ‘With The Music,’ is a fast, jazz-funk number that has Johnson’s vocals processed by a vocoder, reminding one of Herbie Hancock’s ‘I Thought It Was You.’ Smith plays a guitar solo with a wah-wah pedal in tandem, and Johnson shines again, with a flowing solo on electric piano. This excellent concert will be relished by fans of jazz-funk music.