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Soul On Top

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Album Review

If Count Basie had hired James Brown to replace Joe Williams as his featured male vocalist, what would the results have sounded like? Brown offers some suggestions on Soul on Top, which finds the Godfather of Soul making an intriguing detour into jazz-minded big-band territory. Recorded in 1969 and reissued on CD in 2004, Soul on Top unites Brown with the Basie-influenced orchestra of jazz drummer Louie Bellson — and stylistically, the results are somewhere between soul-funk and the funkier side of big-band jazz. This Brown/Bellson collaboration isn't straight-ahead jazz; nor is it typical of Brown's late-'60s output. But if recording a big-band project with Bellson was a surprising and unexpected thing for the Godfather of Soul to do in 1969, it was hardly illogical or bizarre — Brown, after all, grew up listening to jazz (as well as blues and gospel) and was well aware of the legacies of Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and others. Besides, jazz and R&B are closely related. While some jazz snobs would have listeners believe that jazz and R&B have little if anything in common, the fact is that they're close relatives that get much of their energy and feeling from the blues. So it makes perfect sense for Brown to combine soul, funk, and jazz on this album, which finds him revisiting some major hits (including "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World") in addition to embracing "September Song," "That's My Desire," and other standards that one typically associates with jazz and traditional pop. Although not among the Godfather's better-known efforts, this fine album is happily recommended to anyone who holds R&B and jazz in equally high regard.

Customer Reviews

Essential JB

I strongly disagree with the posted review. This is one of my top 50 albums in my collection, and I've played it loads of times. My vinyl is getting worn out from That's my desire alone! If you have ever seen JB in concert, you would know the strong Jazz influence in his music, and this is a one of a kind album with one of the best arrangers of the era (Oliver Nelson) with an unreal cast of Maceo Parker, Jimmy Cleveland, Ray Brown, Louie Bellson etc etc.... I'd recommend this strongly if you love vocals, if you love JB, or if you just want to hear a classic album!


Born: May 03, 1933 in Barnwell, SC

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

"Soul Brother Number One," "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Mr. Dynamite" -- those are mighty titles, but no one can question that James Brown earned them more than any other performer. Other singers were more popular, others were equally skilled, but few other African-American musicians were so influential over the course of popular music. And no other musician, pop or otherwise, put on a more exciting, exhilarating stage show: Brown's performances were marvels...
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