Life by Robin Duhe – reviewed by Chris Mann
If you look in your music collection and pull out a Maze
album, listen to it and let the groove take you over. In the
middle of that groove you’ll hear the funky and very soulful
bass playing of Robin Duhe.
After three decades of recording and touring with Maze, Robin
stepped out in 2004 to embark on a solo career. This is his
second solo album, following ‘Do it Duhe’ and it really is a
labour of love as he fell dangerously ill while recording it.
The title has taken on a deep significance.
So what’s Robin’s sound like in 2009?
‘Heavy Traffic’ grabs me from the opening bars. The bass
sounds are more high-tech than those 70’s and 80’s recordings
but make no mistake, that groove and that soul is there. This
track manages to be deeply funky, moody and incredibly catchy
at the same time with some great horns and a kind of whistling
effect that you’ll be copying by the end of the song. Play it
loud!! You’d expect Robin’s version of Maze’s ‘Happy Feelin’s’
to capture the sunshine that was central to the original song
and so it does. The bass takes the melody but delivers it
gently, in the way that Frankie Beverly did. This is a gem for
radio and bridges the gap between classic soul and what’s
happening right now – DJ’s get hold of this please!
‘Life (Gets in the Way)’ is a smooth mid-tempo vocal song and
both lead and background vocals are very classy indeed. I like
the autobiographical lyrics in this song and the production is
elegant enough to place them centre stage. Listen well to this
song: it’s very thought-provoking. Duhe is clearly close to
the R&B and contemporary jazz listener because on ‘Déjà Vu’ he
delivers a groove that deserves to be played in hip clubs and
on radio everywhere. High-register bass melodies and sweet sax
bring fellow Californians, The Braxton Brothers, to mind.
Like your funk heavy? ‘1133 Funk-a-Donk’ certainly brings a
smile to my face. If you can listen to this gut-bucket bass,
clicking rhythm guitar and slightly sinister rock guitar lick
and not think of Funkadelic, then your music collection is
probably very different from mine. In contrast, ‘Where you
Are’ unfolds like a ballad that any of America’s top soul
bands would have produced in the 70’s. The instrumentation is
bang up to date but the feel is heavenly retro. It makes me
unashamed to use the word ‘soul’ instead of the marketing
man’s term ‘R&B’. Some people didn’t forget why the music had
the name it had…
Skip Scarborough’s ‘Don’t Ask my Neighbors’ receives a lovely
instrumental treatment here and the lyrical side of Duhe’s
playing is to the fore. Keyboards, percussion and sax complete
the picture. Highly romantic.
Whoa - ‘Beginnings’ launches you straight into Stanley Clarke
territory. It has a brooding synth drum track underpinning
layers of bass soloing. He’s seriously stretching out here…
On ‘Say It’, the funk is light, tight and utterly addictive.
The bass bounces, the snare snaps and the male vocals are very
gritty. I miss the days when FM radio stations played music
this good and I pray for the days when they’ll play it again.
I’ve always liked the term ‘tone poem’ and for me, the
gorgeous ‘Sunset’ with its swathes of percussion and fretless
bass is just that. Close your eyes – it’s the only way to let
this fully wash over you.
From ‘Sunset’ to ‘Tequila Sunrise’. Songs with a Latin flavour
are often a nice surprise for me on contemporary jazz albums.
This gently keyboard-led song shifts moods more than most
Latin songs but it won’t throw you off balance and, at a full
seven minutes long, it will draw you in. There are layers of
bass soloing on the interlude ‘Me, Myself & I’. A clever
title, now I come to think of it.
Robin Duhe makes no secret of his Christian beliefs and ‘He
Will See you Through’ speaks of those. Again, the lyric is
autobiographical and it’s a reminder of how he found the
strength to push through and complete this recording. The
lyric is spoken over a bed of bass fills and almost whispered
background vocals. An instrumental version of the title track
allows Duhe’s tenor bass to sing, in a way fans of the late,
great Wayman Tisdale will be familiar with. There’s a deep
groove underlying the deep message on ‘Put Your Guns Up’. The
lyric is spoken again and though the subject is serious, I
swear Duhe is smiling. This would be a great song to put a rap
to. The arrangement is so sparse, there is room to go crazy
with this song in a live setting.
So, this is really a landmark album for a player who’s closely
associated with a band cherished by soul fans. He’s built on
that sound but his technique and production have taken him
beyond that into serious contemporary jazz territory – and I
don’t mean ‘smooth jazz’, even though his music can be silky.
The trauma that Duhe went through while making this album has
made it a vehicle for praise and great optimism.
There is so much here to like, to be honest I can’t wait for
the next recording.
To find out more, go to:
Blaise Two Enterprises Producer – Robin Duhe