The story of jazz trumpeter Tom Browne’s career is a quite remarkable one. Born in Queens, New York in 1954, Tom’s first choice of instrument wasn’t the trumpet. Aged eleven he’d originally started learning the piano, before being inspired to switch to the trumpet by his collection of jazz albums. By 1975, Tom played his first gig, in Queens, New York, before releasing his debut album four years later in 1979. This was Browne Sugar on GRP Records produced by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. His next album was 1980s Love Approach, which reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. On Love Approach, was Tom’s best known and most successful single Funkin’ For Jamaica. It reached number one in the US R&B Charts. After this, signed for Arista Records who’d distributed all GRP releases. Tom would release three albums for Arista between 1981 and 1984. The first of these albums was Magic, which was rereleased by BBR Records on 16th April 2012. However, could Tom Browne weave his magic again, producing an album as successful as Love Approach? That’s what I’ll tell you, and then tell you what the music on Magic sounds like.
To record the follow-up to Love Approach, Tom decided to use the musicians who’d toured with him, following the success of Love Approach. This meant musicians like bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Buddy Williams, pianist and bassist Sekou Bunch and guitarist Kevin Cummings Adding the vocals on the album would be Toni Smith, who with Sekou Bunch and Kevin Cummings cowrote Let’s Dance. Like Tom’s two previous albums the producers would be Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. Recording of the album would take place in New York, at A&R Studios. Tom and his band would record eight tracks, with Tom writing I Know and co-writing Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move). Producer Dave Grusin wrote one track Night Wind, while Tom one of the most compelling and haunting tracks was a cover version of God Bless the Child. With the eight tracks that would make up Magic recorded, all that was left was for the album to be released.
Before the release of Magic, Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move) was released as a single in December 1980. It reached number four in the US R&B Charts and number twenty-five in the US Disco Charts. This would prove to a good omen for Magic, which, on its release in February 1981, reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Although the album wasn’t as successful as Love Approach, a top ten US R&B album was still a great ways to start his career at Arista. Let’s Dance was chosen as the second single from Magic, reaching number fifty-nine in the US R&B Charts. Overall, Magic with its two hit singles proved a good start to Tom Browne’s career with Arista. However, what does the music on Magic sound like?
Opening Magic is Let’s Dance, co-written by Toni Smith, Sekou Bunch and Kevin Cummings. It’s a jazz-funk track where the rhythm section and blazing horns set the tone of the track when it opens. From there, Toni Smith’s vocal enters, it’s powerful, laden with emotion and passion. Meanwhile, keyboards add jazz to the rhythm section’s funk. Later, Sekou Bunch adds a writhing bass solo, while backing add to the joyous sound of the track, accompanying Toni’s vocal. Together Tom, Toni and the band create a tight, peerless and joyful sounding slice of jazz-funk.
Cliff Branch Jr. takes over the lead vocal on the title-track Magic, a track he wrote. From the the start, it’s a track with a big, bold and ballsy New York sound. Stabs of powerful horns, flourishes of piano and a rumbling juggernaut of a bass line all play important roles in the track, while Cliff’s vocal is uninhibited and impassioned. The rhythm section drive the track along, while handclaps, braying horns, percussion and keyboards combine. Although it’s a hugely catchy slice of jazz-funk, there’s a soulfulness to a track, thanks to Cliff’s impassioned, powerful vocal.
When I Know opens, the first thing you think is Earth, Wind and Fire. Everything about the track screams their sound and style, from the horn lead arrangement and vocals, you’re struck by the similarities. The track has a smooth, polished sound, with plenty of bright, bursts of horns, including a stunning trumpet solo from Tom. It’s the highpoint of the track, although Marcus Miller’s bass playing runs Tom a close second. Here, Tom and Toni contribute vocals, with Tom doing a pretty good Maurice White style vocal. Toni as always, delivers her lyrics with the requisite amount of feeling and fervor. Taken together, this is an irresistibly smooth sounding track, that’s one of the highlights of Magic.
Pat Windham was the guest vocalist on Midnight Interlude, a track when it opens has a moody, melodramatic sound. After this, it’s all change, with a glorious and joyous sounding jazz-funk track revealing its secrets and charms. Key to this are rasping horns, a funky rhythm section and Pat’s vocal. It flits between graceful to a throaty, rasping style, with multilayered backing vocal augmenting her. Sekou Bunch’s slap bass playing is funky and flawless, at the heart of the rhythms that reveal themselves. Add strings, percussion and keyboards and everything is in place for a rhythmic tour de force.
Producer Dave Gruisin a member of Tom’s touring band, joins Tom on a cover of God Bless The Child, most memorably covered by Lady Day, Billie Holliday. Tom’s trumpet playing is haunting, heartfelt and bewitching. He’s just accompanied by merely piano and swathes of slow, wistful strings. These subtle strings produce a contrast to the emotion and power of Tom’s trumpet playing. Combined with just piano and strings, the result is a quite beautiful, bewitching version of a classic track.
Night Wind was written by producer Dave Gruisin is another beautiful, melancholy sounding track. A combination of piano, swathes of cascading strings, reverberating guitars and keyboards give way to a flugelhorn solo. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and percussion join the mix, as the arrangement meanders along. With every note, it reveals even more of its subtleties and charms, before briefly, transforming into a dramatic jazz-funk track. After that, it returns to it previous enchanting, melancholy and beautiful jazz drenched sound.
Thighs High (Grip Your Hips And Move) was the hit single released from Magic, and is a jazz-funk track with a real uplifting feel-good sound. Taking its influences from The Gap Band and Cameo, the track is full of blazing horns, handclaps, funky bass, stabs of keyboards and pounding drums. Toni takes charge of lead vocal, while backing vocalists accompany her, as the track swings along. It’s impossible trying to resist this infectious sounding track, better just to succumb to its charms and groove.
Closing Magic is Making Plans a track that has an Earth, Wind and Fire influence. Here Tom sings the lead vocal, with his voice poignant and wistful. The arrangement is full of strings, dramatic drums, braying horns and soulful backing vocalists. Later, Tom delivers a trumpet solo that’s tinged with a poignancy, that’s reflected in the rest of the arrangement. By then, the arrangement has taken on a dramatic sound, with multi-tracked backing vocalists adding to this. Such a dramatic and poignant sounding track seems a good way to close Magic, Tom Brown’s third album and first for Arista.
For anyone who remembers Tom Browne for his most successful single Funkin’ For Jamaica, then Magic is an album that demonstrates just how much more there is to his music. He’s not just a talented trumpet player, but an equally talented singer and songwriter. On Magic, the eight tracks combine jazz, funk and jazz-funk. They feature singer Toni Smith and a multitalented band that feature some of the best jazz musicians of the seventies and eighties. With two experienced producers in Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen, everything was in place for Magic to become a critically acclaimed, commercial success. This was the case, with Magic reaching number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Although Magic wasn’t as successful as Love Approach, which reached number one in the US R&B Charts, there wasn’t a hit single like Funkin’ For Jamaica on Magic. Instead there were some fantastic tracks, including Let’s Dance, I Know, Midnight Interlude, God Bless The Child and Night WInd. These tracks make Magic, which was rereleased by BBR Records on 16th April 2012, an album that’s well worth discovering. Magic will appeal to anyone who loves jazz, funk, jazz-funk or wants to hear more from the man that brought us Funkin’ For Jamaica. Standout Tracks: Let’s Dance, I Know, Midnight Interlude and Night WInd.