A fusion of jazz-influenced late-night soul delivered with élan.
Daryl Easlea 2010-05-11
Like fellow percussionist-turned-bandleader Roy Ayers, Norman Connors has always been a favoured choice of the UK soul cognoscenti. A former Julliard music student, by the time Connors released This Is Your Life in 1978, he’d already recorded with jazz mavericks Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Herbie Hancock. After taking an R&B direction with his fifth album Saturday Night Special in 1976, his solo work was, by now, quality-rich jazz-funk.
While punk thrashed around and rock was searching for something new, here was a record that signposted the finer things. We find Connors on a beach on the cover, walking his steed alongside a beautiful woman, with him resplendent in jodhpurs and scarf. It emphasises the “super bourgeoisie” that Ashford and Simpson were soon to write about in the Gladys Knight hit Bourgie Bourgie.
This Is Your Life is possibly Connors’ greatest album, a fusion of jazz-influenced late-night soul delivered with élan. It’s a sound that involved some 45 musicians, with orchestra and horn sections; yet it never sounds cluttered or over the top. With vocalists Jean Carn and Eleanor Mills in tow, this album epitomises the quiet storm genre. This is intelligent music – Connors frequently rejects the obvious (possibly coming from his time with characters like Shepp and Sanders). For example, album opener Stella is saved from being a generic light funk by Lee Ritenour’s aggressive electric guitar solos.
Yet it is not a difficult jazz-fusion record; the choice of material and the reliance of female voices see to it that it’s not. Connors’ cover of You Make Me Feel Brand New is never mawkish, and the take on Hancock’s Butterfly is inspired. Its lazy bossa nova and trickling Rhodes piano emphasise the album’s effortless groove: beautifully laidback with Carn, Connors and Mills in sweet vocal harmony. Connors is no outstanding vocalist, but he creates something unique together with his chorus.
This Is Your Life typifies Connors’ innovative, opulent sound. The album made the Billboard R&B Top 20, and the Pop Top 100. Although overlooked in 2010, it certainly chimed a chord with the UK soul scene and was a key influence for the Brit funk movement.