4.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
This isn’t your daddy’s Herb Alpert. “Rise” is high flying jazz/funk from a trumpeter previously known as the leader of the Tijuana Brass, an instrumental group in the 60s that scored with mariachi based versions of “A Taste of Honey,” “The Lonely Bull,” and “The Mexican Shuffle,” (an early example of a song used in a commercial. Retitled “The Teaburry Shuffle” it was used in an ad for gum). Alpert was one of those musicians who always seemed to have one of his 45s in the top ten, yet one of his albums, “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” was better known for its provocative cover than the music that was inside. The group’s only #1 hit, “This Guy’s In Love With You,” was a departure, featuring a suave vocal by Herb himself. The band broke up a year later, reforming periodically to rake in the nostalgia cash. Alpert branched out, taking on the roles of producer and talent scout for A & M records. He discovered acts such as Chris Montez (“Call Me,” “The More I See You.”) Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 (featuring his future wife, Lani Hall), The We Five (“You Were On My Mind”) and The Carpenters (listen to “Close To You” and you’ll hear Alpert’s trademark trumpet). Alpert continued to make solo recordings, most notably, 1979s Grammy award-winning album “Rise.” “Rise” has been resurrected and remastered with a sound so clear you’d swear Herb was puckering up only a few feet away from your speakers.
“Rise” arose when Alpert and his nephew, Randy “Badazz” Alpert, set about the task of re-recording “The Lonely Bull” and “A Taste of Honey” as dance tracks. Herb wisely pulled the plug on the project after listening to the desecrated disco versions, but thought his nephew’s composition, “Rise,” might work if the tempo was slowed down. It did, reaching #1 and making Alpert the only artist to have a chart topping vocal and instrumental hit. The single’s success spawned an equally successful album.
“1980” sounds like the intro to a Super Bowl documentary or a Roman Gladiator death match -- mariachi meets “Spartacus.” (It was in fact, written for the 1960 Olympics held in Mexico City.)With reverbed trumpet and gurgling keyboard, the emphatic nature of the song serves notice that the Alpert sound was up to date and in step with the in-your-face 80s.
The big comeback hit “Rise” has skating Billy Preston-ish piano by Michael Colombier, chillin’ guitar and classy, swaying trumpet from Herb. The bass line supplied by Abe Laboriel resembles Kool and the Gang’s “Too Hot,” bopping and dipping behind the noise of a crowd of partying participants. “Rise” is very urban and very cool, especially when Alpert double and triple tracks his trumpet to sound like a platoon of hip hop Herbs. The slight inclusion of a marimba may be a nod to the Tijuana brass, but this is one classy groove that gives rise to Alpert’s new direction.
“Behind the Rain,” penned by Alpert for saxophonist Gato Barbieri, begins with a faraway cry on trumpet. As the tempo picks up, it doesn’t take long to reach the eye of the storm. The strings clash dramatically against the thrashing drums, whipping around the arrangement like a bad intentioned rainstorm battering the roof. Taking a queue from Deodato, Alpert’s solo gives way to a fiery, funky guitar passage. (Deodato used the creative skills of guitarist John Tropea to break up his string and piano solo). Alpert works his trumpet like a greased drain pipe, sliding up and down the scale with sustained brilliance. The only annoyance is the band slipping into a flavor of the day disco beat.
“Rotation” is a title that fits the song’s slow burning circular keyboard groove. Alpert’s trumpet starts out low gear, and just when you think you’ve heard his riff before (you have, in “Behind the Rain”), he picks up the pace enough to hold your interest or drops out of the mix altogether, letting the pulsating synthesizers and barking ditty-bopping Brazilian percussion carry the load. “Rotation” spins with goodtime glee, like dancing with your partner at a late night festival in Rio.
“Aranjues (Mon Amour)” puts Alpert’s trumpet back in a Mexicali meets disco format, anchored by bass lines from borrowed from “Flashdance.” There’s a daring and intriguing Middle eastern-Mexicali break, (a hybrid of the type of music Robert Plant and Jimmy Page would experiment with their “No Quarter” album), where the band breaks out the castanets, which clack dramatically against the friction created by the strings. This is the perfect soundtrack for one of those 80s TV action movies, a bit dated, thanks to Harvey Mason squashing his stick against the high hat to create that dreaded disco beat, and there’s a lot of shift changes, but it still hops.
As a vocalist, I’m loathed to admit there are several instrumental albums that have captured my attention (most notably Jeff Beck’s “Blow by Blow” and “Wired” and the aforementioned Deodato’s “Deodato 2”.). You can include “Rise” with an asterisk. Keeping that in mind he scored his biggest success as a vocalist, Alpert includes Bill Withers’ “Love Is,” backing himself up with short blasts on horn as bass player Louis Johnson goes thumb whacking wild. Like a lot of the cuts its sounds like there’s a party going on in the background, and why not? This is an uplifting, happy tune. The lyrics are a little repetitive, and Alpert’s thin voice is better suited for ballads, but his joyous soloing, the crackling bass and junkyard percussion are contagious.
Alpert takes more of the center stage in “Angelina,” playing the melody to a song originally sung by Gary Brooker (of Procol Harum fame) on his debut solo album “No More Fear of Flying.” Brooker’s version was a drowsy siesta-like ballad. Alpert’s gives “Angelina” some sass with scratchy guitar and pervasive percussion, controlling the tune’s barometric pressure without breaking a sweat.
“Street Life,” written by The Crusader’s Joe Sample (who also appears on piano), is a more sensual version of “Rise,” with Alpert at muted best. The bass pops and is as much of a focal point as Alpert’s trumpet, registering a few bars upfront to help carry the tune. The original was as disco duck as it gets. This one sways with a great deal of class and allure. Alpert uncharacteristically lets go with a few blasts of spittle near the end that cap the song’s celebratory mood. “Street Life” is a hand-clapping, rump-shaking triumphant piece that you’ll want to immediately play again when it’s over.
All “Rise” for the Bonus Tracks
The remastered version of “Rise” is supplemented by two different takes on tracks from the album. “Rotation (Alternate version)” gets a bit more synthesized treatment. The synths are those Thomas Dolby/Flock of Seagulls keyboards that sound as if you landed in the middle of a lava light. Gloopy, bubbly, lazer-like. As a result, this version’s a little bit more far out, with Alpert occasionally sounding as if he in another studio. “Aranjuuez (Mon Amour)” get a 2007 remix, yet surprisingly retains its wood-chopping disco beat.
What makes Alpert infinitely listenable is he doesn’t blast his trumpet and make your ears bleed. He’s crafted a complete recording and his trumpet playing happens to be part of it. Granted, his style is a bit predictable, but if you’re in the mood for jazzy instrumental funk, Alpert’s comeback opus will make your spirits rise.