Rufus & Chaka Khan Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live Review

Released 1983.  

BBC Review

Contains one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Daryl Easlea 2011

For many in the UK, Stompin’ at the Savoy was the first time they heard the potent rock/soul/jazz hybrid of Rufus. Although lead singer Chaka Khan was no stranger to the British charts, thanks to her enormous 1978 hit I’m Every Woman, her parent band was something of a mysterious delicacy. This set, their final album, changed all that – with three sides live, recorded in New York in February 1982, and four new studio songs, it acted, albeit too late, as a perfect introduction to the group’s smooth sound.

The album cherry-picks cuts from across the band’s career. A beautiful, high-powered rendition of At Midnight from Ask Rufus (My Love Will Lift You Up) is a highlight, as is Khan’s duet with guitarist Tony Maiden on a version of Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t That Peculiar; later, the encore of Do You Love What You Feel is all exuberance and audience participation. Khan is the star of the show, electrifying the band’s occasionally generic grooving. She is fully in control; and although her stage patter is largely clichéd – "Hi New York, how ya doin’?" – it is delivered with such joie de vivre that you feel nobody had ever addressed a crowd that way before.

It’s as if the whole live show is an overture for one of the greatest songs ever recorded, housed on the contract-fulfilling studio-only side four. Ain’t Nobody was written by the group’s keyboard player, David ‘ Hawk’ Wolinski, while he was experimenting with early versions of sequencers and Linn drums. Quincy Jones wanted to use the track for Thriller, which he was then working on. Wolinski, however, had promised it to Rufus. It is a stately, majestic, R&B record that successfully marries new technology with old-school soul. Khan delivers one of her best-ever vocals, at once understated and emotional. It rightfully became a huge US and UK hit, and a Grammy-winner. It also gave Khan a platform for the resumption of her solo career – within a year she would release I Feel for You, one of her biggest hits ever.

The remainder of the new material is fine if a little unremarkable – One Million Kisses was another US hit, and is thoroughly pleasant, but little else. But no matter, Stompin’ at the Savoy gave Rufus one of the highest-profile albums of their career as they finally went their separate ways.

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