Gilles Peterson Digs America
(Luv 'N' Haight)
Gilles Peterson deejays vintage jazz and soul sounds on BBC radio in London. Known for his legendary segues where jazz selections crossfade into rare funk, the man has a record collection so vast that he needs a separate house to store it. But for this disc, Peterson left the funk nuggets behind, deciding to stick with the mellower sounds. Peterson's crate-digging skills are impressive, but we have to call the album exactly what it is—smooth jazz with an attitude. More than once a potentially funky groove or an avant-garde intro will kick off a song, but the Broadway-showtune vocals quickly mess up the whole program.
Gilles Peterson Digs America gets off to a decent start with Bay Area soul balladeer Dorando idolizing Al Green, guitarist Moses Dillard channeling Wes Montgomery and Marva Josie offering some assertive soul-jazz vocals, but the set loses its edge pretty quickly. The female singers sound straight out of a piano bar, while the genteel male vocalists have a bad case of Al Jarreau–itis (even though Jarreau was probably still unknown when these songs were recorded). J.R. Bailey cut some great soft-soul sides in the early '70s, but his track here (1974's "Just Me 'N' You") follows up a promising fuzz-guitar introduction with tacky scat singing. Blues singer-songwriter Ellen McIlwaine comes close to raising holy hell on a relatively docile set; she doesn't better Stevie Wonder on a cover of his "Higher Ground," but her slick, three-handed guitarwork steals the show.
Peterson's anthology is likely aimed at the usual rare-groove crowd, but if it also catches on with Kenny G's audience, we saw it coming.—James Porter