Seawind’s ‘Reunion’ CD hits all the right jazz notes

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rom the first note of a horn-heavy, big-band-sounding explosion in “Everything Needs Love,” it’s clear that Seawind is back and better than ever. The mid-1970s jazz-fusion group from Hawaii have come up with new arrangements for their old hits — “Devil Is A Liar,” “Follow Your Road,” “Free,” and “He Loves You,” as well as some new tracks that groove and flow with a maturity and a controlled, loose rhythm.

Reunion isn’t just a greatest hits album, designed as some last-ditch effort to recapture the glory days (the path of many a hair band resurgence). In many ways, it sounds like a brand-new album from a brand-new band, still reinventing a chop suey-brand of music — borrowing from the laid-back island style (lead vocalist Pauline Wilson is from Hakalau, on the Big Island), some funk-R&B (the horn section would go on to help produce tunes for Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and George Benson), and of course, jazz.

In fact, jazz plays heavily throughout the 12 tracks, especially on the instrumentals, “Liquid Spies” and “Pearl.” “Liquid Spies” is a medley of horns teasing and darting forth, daringly, and “Pearl” is an exquisite ode to the piano, with the intermingling of the soprano sax.

The Reunion CD actually took form shortly after a 2005 L.A. reunion concert and received worldwide acclaim this past spring. Word of mouth is fast turning this effort into another monster, cult hit, as well as an impressive foray into everything that makes jazz the highest form of creative expression.

Jazz also permeates in the much-improved hits from the past, especially “Follow Your Road,” “Devil Is A Liar” and “He Loves You.”

In the original version, “Follow Your Road,” opens with electric guitar and a tentative, quiet soprano voice by Pauline Wilson, almost as if she’s afraid to break the mood of the spare music set. In the updated version, acoustic piano takes over, a little more aggressively, suggesting the melody to come — this makes the song actually sound more like a jazz standard than a pop-ballad. Then, Wilson just takes over, more confidently than before, and so much clearer, as if she is sitting on top of a baby grand just a few feet away from the audience. She takes her time too, as in all the other vocal tracks, measuring her notes and each word’s meaning, showing off a control only earned through years of experience and perhaps, some of life’s pain. She knows when and where to stress, and just how to turn a phrase at the end of a verse. She does so much more with this song today than she did yesterday.

“Devil Is a Liar” still maintains that ominous bass; however, the original one was scarier, wilder somehow. You never knew what Wilson would do vocally, she could easily lose control and go scatting off hysterically, violently (and she did, brilliantly). You also took the original version more seriously, because Wilson never played up the spooky devil theme more than she should, other than a slow, lazy “ah ha ha” chortle. And particularly disappointing, she doesn’t hit the high note at the key bridge when singing, “He tells us, there’s no God above, and only foolish people fall in love, …” In “love,” she’s up there in the hemisphere. In the newer version, she tones it down at a lower register. Her voice, in the newer version, sounds more cynical, more self-aware, like she’s just half-heartedly repeating the lyrics. And the whole, “Give me your soul, give me your soul,” isn’t near as frightening as that laughter or as insanely unaware.

But that’s the only misstep on this album.

“He Loves You” is a wonderful use of the late Al Jarreau’s scatting. It’s worth noting that he lends his vocals to the new “Hold On…”

Word on the street is that Seawind’s back together still cooking up the horns and the unearthly vocals, minus one longtime band member. Will we see another reunion album and tour? Time will tell.

(This Reunion CD review originally appeared in Examiner Oct. 28, 2009. Examiner disbanded last year.)

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