Now SG7 have just released their tenth album, Red Dress. While some of the original group have moved on to different galactic coordinates, founder and trombonist Lewis has brought together some of Southern California’s hot Jazz players. With Lewis’ trombone are Kye Palmer on trumpet, Mike McGuffey on trumpet, Jeff Jarvis on trumpet and flugelhorn, Glen Berger on tenor and alto sax, Chad Edwards on keyboards and B3, Matt Weisberg on keyboards, Chris Gordon on piano, Steve Gregory on guitar, Jonathan Pintoff on bass, Randy Drake on drums and Scott Breadman on percussion.
The album was produced by Chris Gordon with arrangements by Dave Cushman and contains seven original songs written by Femi Knight, plus two live performances from the Cal Tech Jazz Festival.
Let’s talk about Femi Knight. She is a singer-songwriter, keyboardist and voice-over actor. She may be best known for her years with Sergio Mendes. Her compositions on Red Dress move from sweet Soul to almost-Gospel to smoky Blues to bone-crushing Funk. Her vocals are warm and versatile and Femi and the SG7 make it all come so very alive. Her lyrics keep grabbing your heart and mind. I was fascinated by the religious implications of her lyrics. And why not? She is a seminary professor.
My kind of band, my kind of people, and my kind of album.
The album opens with I’m Going Home Tonight.” Hot horns and cool guitar from Steve Gregory are backed with excellent keyboard from Chad Edwards. Then Femi brings her exquisite vocals to bear. Gregory’s guitar solo takes your attention and Femi is wonderful. Follow those horns.
Give a Little is a fine ballad of expression and exploration of personal intimacy. Producer Chris Gordon helps with the background vocals. The warm horns add so much to the emotion of the piece. Glen Berger’s smoking alto sax gets a cool solo. But without a doubt, the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. The same can be said of the entire album.
West Indian Brown is amazing! It is the song that gives us the album’s title. She gave her heart to Jesus/ and put a red dress on. I can’t get enough of this track with its Gospel-Funk. Popping bass, blasting horns, tight rhythm section creates its own religious experiences. Take that, William James.
When a Woman’s Had Enough (Live) was written by the brilliant Bettye LaVette. Guitarist Steve Gregory adds the steam to an already hot song. Then the relentless bass and drums propel those furious horns. Yeah, she’s had enough.
New Tomorrow turns loose a beautiful Brazilian-themed, spiritually-charged expression that is enlightened by the horns (especially Jarvis’ flugelhorn) and punctuated by the bass, drums, and percussion. The tight arrangement is fantastic. Femi delivers the hope and the power effortlessly.
The Next Big Thing is highlighted by Steve Gregory’s guitars. Always changing religions/Your faith keeps going out of style is a descriptive look at despairing of one’s life and thought. Gregory’s acoustic guitar solo adds to the wandering and wondering and the danger of losing your mind. Berger’s tenor sax creates an emotional depth that captures the reflection of Femi’s lyrics and vocals.
Stranger is, on the surface, a song about meeting someone who has crept into our heart and how to unravel such a mystery. I must confess that the lyrics made me think of CG Jung’s archetype of The Stranger. Gregory’s solo weaves a web of mystery and the horns reveal moments of self-revelation that would make Jung say Amen (or, at least, Jawohl).
Never Make Your Move Too Soon (Live) made popular by BB King (written by Stix Hooper) is a terrific Blues piece done live at the Cal Tech Jazz Festival. You can’t go wrong with BB but Femi and SG7 add a definitive YES! to the piece. Berger’s hot tenor sax solos to perfection and Gregory’s Bluesy guitar is spot on.
The album closes with The Next Big Thing (Radio Edit). Gregory’s acoustic guitar provides the intro this time. It is edited so well that its repeat is welcome.
There are so many elements that make Red Dress the brilliant album that it is. The great arrangements of Cushman with the tight artistry of the San Gabriel 7, the intriguing lyrics and flawless delivery of Femi Knight, and the ease-of-transition between so many genres and styles create a work of beauty and wonder. Red Dress has so many layers to illuminate, comfort, and push the listener that it demands long-lasting listening. And always with an open heart and open mind.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl