Jimmy Earl – Stratosphere

Jimmy Earl
Stratosphere
Pacific Time Entertainment

John Barrett

Stratosphere He played bass for Chick Corea, but that’s the last thing you hear. Hovering through the mix are synths, gentle guitars, effects — and quite a few samples. The techno sounds point to the future, adorning the spy music of the ‘Sixties. There’s funky bass, skittering rhythms, ever-changing moods — a bubbling cauldron of sound. And, while not exactly spacy, the best tunes are out there.

“Stellalike” moves on her own accord, floting with synth and guitar, then strutting with the fat bass. A boulevard at night a lounge (a Fender Rhodes out of the ’70s) and stop to dance. Pino Daniele drifts tenderly on languid notes; a delight wherever he appears. Now to the movies: “The Scorpion” strikes as the keys hint Jan Hammer. The spy groove is firmly in place; Jimmy races nervously through dark alleys. All we need is a TV show to go with it. I’d watch.

Drum machines go berserk; the bass booms, but at a distance. It sounds like a loud whisper, and the voice says “Be Xtra Careful”. Jimmy gets his first bass solo, swift and mellow; elsewhere his brittle notes ring out with snap. Soft effects come from the spaceport, but this is a dancefloor, modern and fast. “For Joe (sample)” reminds us that Jimmy played with the Crusaders; a gorgeous mood, if close to “Stellalike”. Pino returns for a brief solo, a ray of light among the night moves. Hear it drift as the embers glow — you feel romantic, hardly expecting what comes next.

The record static grows, a snaky wah-wah comes forward, and a macho voice says “Hit me.” It’s called “Private Eyes” but forget Hall & Oates; this is James Bond, complete with a bad bass and a hint of Bond’s theme. The Rhodes comes in like a B-3, and Jimmy strides wickedly. The exotic woman asks “Who are you?” Jimmy doesn’t answer, and doesn’t need to — his presence is certainly felt. “Better Believe” is a different kind of power: a hum from the synth, a coo from Josie Aiello. She’s soft and sexy, stepping close — and the drums hit it hard. It’s late-night R&B; she says “Give in to me”, and you could hardly resist. Any more than you could resist the groove.

“Papillion” nearly spells the French word for butterfly — this doesn’t flutter as much as it floats. The keys lay it thick. and Jimmy muses high — the sound of a guitar, blossoming in the surroundings. Deron Johnson stirs funk at the Rhodes, and there’s a light whoosh in the background: the butterfly’s flapping his wings. “James T.” soars: the synth shuffles fast, and ships rush forth at the speed of light. There’s also high chatter; kids maybe, or creatures from beyond. The most spacy of the tracks, we don’t know if James T. is Mr. Earl or Mr. Kirk. Both are pretty far out.

Rating: *** 3/4. Marvelous melange, decidedly on the modern side. The smoothies are good, the dance tracks better, and I love the spy bits. Samples are used cleverly, without excess; standouts are Pino and Josie. I like “The Scorpion”, “Stellalike”, “Better Believe”, “Be Xtra Careful”, and especially “Private Eyes”. Songs: Stellalike; The Scorpion; Be Xtra Careful; For Joe (sample); Private Eyes; Better Believe; Papillion; Destructive Machinery; James T.; The Scorpion (reprise).

Musicians: Jimmy Earl (bass, keyboards, guitar, sampler); Mitchel Forman or John Beasley (keyboards); Deron Johnson (Fender rhodes piano on “Papillion”); Pino Daniele (guitar, vocals); Josie Aiello (vocals on “Better Believe”).

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