Reviewed on this page:
Prelusion - Before The Dawn - Shout It Out - Patrice - Pizzazz
- Posh - Straight From The Heart - Now - Watch Out! -
Anything But Ordinary - Signature
Patrice Rushen has broken a lot of barriers in the music business:
she's the first woman to be musical director for a major awards
show (the Emmys), was musical director for a Janet
Jackson world tour, produced movie soundtracks and has succeeded at
other traditionally male activities. She's also a recording artist,
writing and producing her own recordings since 1978. Rushen's not
as groundbreaking from an artistic perspective, but she does do a
number of things very well, including playing piano (she tends to
sound like Herbie Hancock in his
60s/early 70s period), singing, composing, and producing sexy-
sweet soul and funk. Personnel varies, but she usually has "Ready
Freddie" Washington on bass, and he's worth hearing.
Since the late 80s she's spent most of her time working on
television and film scores, guested on a number of jazz and pop
albums (including a fine appearance on piano on the Babyface-
produced Waiting To Exhale Soundtrack), and even produced an acoustic
album for Sheena Easton, No Strings. (DBW)
Rushen first appeared on vinyl on Msingi Workshop, which documents the graduation performance of her high school class. Around this time she was using Mumbi (Swahili which can be translated as "one who creates") as a middle name, and had an Afro rather than the braids which would become her trademark.
Released on Prestige Records when Rushen was just 20, this is an instrumental acoustic jazz album featuring Rushen on
piano and Joe Henderson on tenor sax. She wrote all the tunes, and they show a firm grasp of current trends: the spacious "7/73" is a nod to Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi period, while "Shortie's Portion" has pleasant echoes of Wayne Shorter's pre-fusion work. Still, the most successful cuts are more pop-flavored ("Puttered Bopcorn," curiously missing from the CD reissue; "Haw-Right Now"), as the straight jazz numbers tend to ramble (the 11-minute "Traverse," despite a nice main theme). There's a full horn section - George
Bohanon, Oscar Brashear and Hadley Caliman - plus Tony Dumas (bass), Ndugu Chancler (drums), and Kenneth Nash (percussion).
Worth looking into for fans, as long as you're not expecting another "Forget Me Nots." Produced by Reggie Andrews, the director of her high school music program. (DBW)
Before The Dawn (1975)
From the opening notes of "Kickin' Back" - a rhythm guitar lick from Lee Ritenour - you know you're heading to fusion country, and when Rushen's funky Moog jumps in you know the neighorhood is Hancock circa Headhunters (Harvey Mason's even on drums). Holdovers include Bohanon, Brashear, Caliman, Dumas and Nash, amplified by Hubert Laws (flute) and bassist Charles Meeks. The tunes, again by Rushen, are enjoyable (though the Latinized "Jubilation" is a bit corny) and less longwinded. The big story, though, is that her electric piano is far more assured, as both solos and comping exhibit a new sense of structure and direction: the languid title track points the way to future mellow gold like "Givin' It Up Is Givin' Up."
Rushen isn't singing yet; guest Josie James belts out the audacious R&B number "What's The Story?" and everything else is instrumental.
Available on a twofer CD with (most of) the previous disc.
Shout It Out (1977)
The third and last Prestige LP is less jazz-influenced than the first two:
a collection of atmospheric, mostly instrumental mid-70s funk (the fascinating "Roll With The Punches") while other tracks feature Rushen's first recorded vocals ("Let
There Be Funk"). It's
more experimental than most of her later work, and often more
enthusiastic, but her singing and piano playing aren't yet fully developed.
The band is Meeks on bass, Al McKay on guitar, James Gadson on drums, and Bill Summers on percussion.
Shifting to the major label Elektra, Rushen reinvented herself as an R&B singer.
She sticks with a pop-R&B sound on side one, complete with
drippy but heartfelt love songs ("When I Found You," "Wishful
Thinking") and snappy guitar hooks ("Music Of The Earth"). Also the
uptempo "Changes (In Your Life)," with keyboard lines recalling Stevie Wonder's "Higher
Ground." Then she goes for her funk on side two, showing off her
talent for crafting simple, propulsive grooves ("Hang It Up," "It's
Just A Natural Thing," "Play!"). Overall it sounds like a slightly
mellower Earth Wind & Fire - it's no
accident that EWF guitarist Al McKay guests here. Rushen produced,
wrote most of the music and plays piano, drums and guitar, but
there are plenty of well-known musicians including Summers, Gadson, Syreeta Wright, Marlo Henderson and of course Paulinho Da Costa.
Reggie Andrews produced his "Let's Sing A Song Of Love," which
sounds like any other late 70s soul offering. The sparely-used
horns are played by Larry
Williams, Kim Hutchcroft, Oscar Brashear, Bill Reichenbach,
Marice Spears and Raymond Lee Brown. (DBW)
A lot of formula pop here in both ballad ("Settle For My Love") and
perky ("Call On Me," "Keepin' Faith In Love") modes. This strategy
did get her a hit single ("Haven't You Heard") but it's not as
affecting or solidly grooving as most of her other work. The silly
album opener "Let The Music Take Me" doesn't help matters much. I
do enjoy the record, and other fans probably will too, but it's not
the place to start getting acquainted with Rushen. The one
excellent track is the slow, sexy "Givin' It Up Is Givin' Up,"
featuring Wah Wah Watson on
guitar. Session players include Paul Jackson and Ndugu Chancler, besides holdovers
McKay, Wright, Washington, Summers and the horn section. (DBW)
The tunes here aren't complicated, but they're very effective, from
breathless uptempo numbers ("Time Will Tell," "Never Gonna Give You
Up") to the aching "Don't Blame Me" (if that keyboard solo doesn't
do it for you, you may have a problem). Another standout is the
extended, aptly-titled "The Funk Won't Let You Down." The weakest
track is the unconvincingly optimistic "Look Up," but it's no
disaster, with a pretty melody and a nice middle. Finishing strong,
she really turns her voice loose, for once, on the gospel-
influenced closer "This Is All I Really Know." The record is
distinctive for featuring horns and rhythm guitars more prominently
than her other work, and has some excellent rhythm breakdowns.
Straight From The Heart (1982)
The big hit "Forget Me Nots" is here, and so are two of her
greatest songs, "Tired Of Being Alone" and "Remind Me" (with a
sneaky keyboard hook and an incredible piano solo). There's also a
funky instrumental workout ("Number One"), and the acoustic "Take
You Down To Love" - by all rights this should have been Rushen's
finest album. But there are a bunch of formula love songs ("If
Only," "All We Need") and another hokey inspirational tune
("Breakout!" written with Brenda
Russell). The musicians are mostly longtime associates like
Gadson, Washington, Henderson, Da Costa, and Paul Jackson - the sax
solo on "Forget Me Nots" is by Gerald "Wonderfunk" Albright. This
is the only one of Rushen's early albums to be released on CD, as
far as I know, and if you're curious about her, you won't go wrong
picking this up. (DBW)
Rushen wasn't immune to the mid-80s synth trap: the sound is
bombastic and techno-heavy on tracks like "Gone With The Night" and
the designed-to-be-a-hit "Get Off (You Fascinate Me)." But even so
there's a lot to like: her vocals still have that
heartbreaking-sincerity quality, and she comes up with two lovely
minimalist numbers, the gently funky "Perfect Love" and the
soothing "High In Me" (lyrics by Syreeta), and a wild keyboard
solo on "Superstar." The band is much smaller, with several tracks
featuring just Rushen, Washington and guitarist Greg D. Moore.
Watch Out! (1987)
Rushen moved to a new record company (Arista), and according to her, the problems started immediately when Clive Davis wanted to review each level of her creative process, a total contrast from the no-questions-asked support she'd gotten at Electra. When the smoke cleared,
formula popmeisters Jerry Knight and Aaron Zigman produced nearly half the
tracks. Even the songs she produced with longtime associate Charles
Mims lack her usual warmth ("Breakin' All The Rules"), and she soon took a lengthy break from recording as a leader.
The personnel is the same as
usual, and she does come up with two fine songs: "Burnin'" features
an amusing pseudo-guitar solo, and "Tender Lovin'" is another
tuneful, carefully-produced wonder. But mostly this is an exercise
in wasted talent. (DBW)
In 1991 Rushen did a one-off jazz record called The Meeting
with Ernie Watts, Ndugu Chancler and Alphonso Johnson.
Anything But Ordinary (1994)
After a long time spent on behind-the-scenes work, Rushen
returns, recapturing her smooth early 80s sound on "I Do" (which
cleverly samples "Forget Me Nots") and the irresistable "Top Of The
Line." She even gets experimental on the spoken-word acid jazz
"Whatcha Gonna Do" (written by Teri Lynne Carrington). There
are a few tacky love songs (the failed anthem "My Heart, Your
Heart") and a couple of formulaic uptempo numbers (title track, "I
Only Think Of You") but there are enough fun tracks like "Caravan"
and the uncharacteristically political "State Of Mind" to make up
for it. Start with her earlier records, but if you like them, pick
this one up. (DBW)
In 1995, Rushen appeared on the Waiting To Exhale Soundtrack and also cut a followup with The Meeting, Update.
Rushen's jumped labels again, this time to the jazz label Discovery,
and this is her attempt to tap into the Cool Jazz market without
compromising her integrity. She already worked with low-key, gentle
moods, jazz-soul hybrids and synthesizers, so she is able to make the
transition sound relatively natural. The only vocal numbers are covers:
Sade's "Sweetest Taboo" and the Stylistics' "Hurry Up This Way Again,"
unimaginative but inoffensive unless blatant pandering to radio
programmers bothers you. All the other tunes are by Rushen, and
several numbers are so quiet they barely catch your attention ("Almost
Home," "L'Esprit De Joie"), but "Softly" with Ray Brown on trumpet is
lovely, and a couple of times she gets close to the funky, playful sound
of her late 70s records ("Wise Ol' Souls," "Oneness"). Throughout, her
live piano playing is pleasant but her synth programming sounds a bit
rote. Thankfully the emphasis is on Ndugu Chancler's
live drumming and Paulinho da Costa's percussion, with just a little
drum programming. Fans are likely to miss Rushen's sweet singing and
regret the reduced role of Freddy Washington, but should still pick this
up: it's about as good as Adult Contemporary Jazz gets. (DBW)
In 2001 Rushen co-led the album Jazz Straight Up (a.k.a. Standards) with Chancler and Stanley Clarke.
In 2005 Rushen co-led a sort of follow-up, Piano, Bass and Drums with Chancler and bassist Derek Oleszkiewicz. In addition to a long list of standards - "Red Clay," "Mr. P.C." - the trio also remakes Rushen's "Shortie's Portion," originally recorded in the early 70s. (DBW)
Rushen released "Love Was," a slow electronic track that sounds nothing like anything in her catalog, in 2020.
Let there be funk.