A fascinating invite to another of Kool & The Gang’s party jams.
Daryl Easlea 2012
Kool & The Gang had been together for over a decade before they enjoyed their first UK hit single in October 1979 with Ladies’ Night. Even though there was just one addition to their line-up (vocalist James "JT" Taylor), the smooth grooving disco-friendly band that became a fixture in the charts for the next decade seemed to have little to do with the Afrocentric jazz-influenced funkers that had been US R&B stars throughout the 70s.
Formed in New Jersey as the Jazziacs in 1964, Kool & The Gang made some of their most interesting music on the 12 albums preceding their UK breakthrough. Spirit of the Boogie – their eighth – offers proof of their mastery of the gritty urban groove, and is the apogee of the group’s earlier incarnation.
It’s a very familiar, warm sound. The title track showcases Claydes Smith’s tight, crunchy guitar grit and occasional member Donal Boyce’s "Boogie Man" vocals, as well as the Gang’s trademark group chants. Ronald Bell’s wayward synth gives it the requisite in-era cosmic edge.
Ride the Rhythm features great horn parts, underpinned by Robert "Kool" Bell’s bass. The break at the start of Jungle Jazz – the wild and crazy reworking of their 1973 hit Jungle Boogie – was later enshrined in popular culture as the key beat in Pump Up the Volume by M|A|R|R|S.
Ancestral Ceremony references their previous work and reiterates the claim, first made on their 1973 album, Wild and Peaceful, that they are indeed “scientists of sound”. Another nod to their past, Winter Sadness is the divine sister song to their earlier Summer Madness. Closer Caribbean Festival takes a swaggering sunshine-kissed rhythm and stretches it out over nine minutes of joyous improvisation.
Spirit of the Boogie was another US top five R&B hit and was Kool & The Gang’s last album that contained truly gritty funk and jazz. It would not be long before Open Sesame graced Saturday Night Fever, which was to pave the way for the Celebration that their later work became. This album remains, like all of their early releases, a fascinating listen.