Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, he has been influenced by that city's musical scene and now is a contributor to that city's great legacy. To reflect that heritage, Matthews has released two and is planning on a third and fourth album called The Fantasy Vocal Sessions. Volume one focused on acoustic sets well volume 2 focuses on soul pop and R&B. Volume 3 is planned to focus on the Blues and Volume 4 will center on Afro Cuban and Brazilian music.
They recorded the first two albums at San Francisco's famed Fantasy Studios. Sadly, that studio closed in 2018. Even though Fantasy Studios may be gone, it remains a fantasy lineup of vocalists and musicians.
Jazz vocalist Amikaeyla Gaston appears on three tracks, beginning with the opening track, For the Love of You by the Isley Brothers. Sweet and soulful with David K. Mathews on keys and backup vocals from Lilian Kane, Kimiko Joy, and Leah Tysse. Carl Lockett is on guitar with Ray Obiedo on rhythm guitar. Lockett gives a cool and laid-back guitar solo. But, as Mathews intended, the focus is on Amikaeyla. And rightfully so.
She also is featured on Superwoman by Stevie Wonder with the same musicians as For the Love of You. Dewayne Pate is on bass, Billy Johnson on drums, and Peter Michael Escovedo is on percussion. Mathews sits the Fender Rhodes and together they do great honor to the Stevie Wonder piece. At just over 10 minutes, the song still seems too short. It’s that good. Lockett contributes another masterful guitar solo but the whole piece—in two parts with a keyboard interlude—is seamlessly beautiful. It doesn’t take long to recognize the amazing contributions made to the Santana bands by Mathews.
Amikaeyla’s rendition of Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Lineman is staggering. The lineup changes a bit with Mathews on Fender Rhodes on Peter Barshay on acoustic bass, Marc van Wageningen on electric bass, and Deszon Claiborne on drums. Exquisite performances from all concerned makes the something extraordinary. The doubling of acoustic and electric basses is worth the price of admission. Mathews’ touch on the Fender Rhodes is splendid.
Tony Lindsay—another 25-year alumnus with the Santana band—appears twice. You recognize the voice the minute you hear it. He first appears on the second track of the album, You Had to Know. Good Lord. His incredible take on the song written and performed by the legendary Donny Hathaway is wonderful. Donny is—along with Marvin Gaye—one of my two favorite vocalists of all time. Set to be critical, I was amazed. Mathews is on the keyboards and his work with the Hammond Organ is warm and moving. And, let me say it, spiritual. The horns (Mel Martin, Joe Cohen, Mike Rinta, Jeff Cressman, Bill Ortiz, and Louis Fasman) add an almost angelic ascendancy to the piece.
Tony’s second vocal contribution is on Ray Obiedo’s So Sweetly. Ray himself is one of the background vocalists—with Lilian Kane, Kimiko Joy, and Leah Tysse, again—and is also on guitars. Marc Russo’s alto sax is beautiful. David K. Mathews’ first musical love is Jazz and he takes all of these various pieces and casts them into Jazz stylings without losing their Soul, Pop, or R&B origins.
One of the great surprises was the appearance of Steve Miller. He takes off on the third track with One Mint Julep and the results are fantastic. The song starts off in a Big Band arrangement (Quincy Jones’ 1961 arrangment) before Blues master Miller works the Rudolph Toombs composition. Mathews is on the Hammond and Miller is on lead guitar. There’s no escaping the Blues when Miller is involved. Leah Tysse is the lone backup vocalist and she is terrific. Mathews is obviously comfortable working with great guitarists and this dueling with Miller is one more instance of that great dynamic. The Big Band returns to finish out the piece. What great fun.
James Brown’s I Got You (I Feel Good) is cranked up with Mathews on the Hammond and Funky Fred Ross taking the vocals. The horns of Joe Cohen, Mike Olmos, and Mike Rinta spice it all up and the funky, funky bass of Marc van Wageningen is so hot. Brian Collier’s drums are tight in with the bass. Talk about in the pocket. Bruce Conte and Ray Obiedo share the guitar responsibilities.
Good God, ya’ll.
Lady Bianca follows on the next track with Giving Up, the Van McCoy song. She has performed with both Frank Zappa and Sly Stone. That means discipline and power. Mathews remarked, “She has the power and believability that reminds me of my beloved Etta.” Chris Cain is the brilliant lead guitarist and his solo is worth hearing over and over. The soulful acoustic piano of Mathews comes off so well on the heels of the guitar solo. Deszon Claiborne’s drumming is understated but so spot on. This song just worked my heart over.
Glenn Walters takes on the Little Anthony and the Imperials 1964 massive hit, Going Out of My Head. Little Anthony’s adolescent-sounding vocals are cast aside for a grown-up version of longing. Mathews is on the Fener Rhodes and synthesizers with cool solos on the Rhodes and a great tenor sax solo from Wayne de Silva. Walters has got the stuff.
Paul McCartney’s Yesterday features Kenny Washington on vocals and Mathews on the Rhodes again with Ray Obiedo on guitars, Dewayne Pate on bass, and Billy Johnson on drums. They turn to Beatles’ Pop tune into something of profoundly soulful. The chord changes remain mostly intact but the delivery is oh-so-different. Mathews and company turn this into a song into something better than I ever imagined. Kenny just owns this.
Al Cooper’s I Love You More Than You’ll Ever know is one of my favorite songs ever covered by Donny Hathaway. Alex Ligertwood is the vocalist for this song and he does not disappoint. Ligertwood was Santana’s vocalist from 1979-1994. Although the Kooper song was featured on Blood, Sweat, & Tears debut album, Ligertwood follows the trail blazed by Donny. This was my favorite track of this wonderful album.
David K. Mathews has taken a delightful collection of songs from several genres and has given us a masterwork of favorite vocalists interpreting these moving and inspiring and reflective songs in ways that do honor to the originals. Mathews’ playing is incredible and his assembly of supporting artists is appropriate and well-conceived.
I can’t wait for Volumes 3 and 4.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl