Mtume

Mtume

6 albums with Mtume saw the light but only the last 5 are mentioned here. They included a great amount of smooth soul and funk music with a touch of jazz. The founder and master behind it was James Mtume, the son of a famous jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath. Together with the outstanding, excellent and classy vocalist Tawatha Agee, jazz guitarist Reggie Lucas, drummer Howard King, keyboardist Hubert Eaves and bassplayer Basil Fearington James Mtume formed Mtume in 1977 and released their first album titled “Rebirth cycle” followed by their second album “Kiss this world goodbye”. And it’s here this story starts.

The drop gorgeous Tawatha with a voice and face worth giving up everything for! Her full name is Tawataha Agee and was called Mighty T on the second and third album.
The second album was a good release with a mix of rock, funk and jazz, all presented in a pleasant way. Although some tracks included deep rock and funk influences it never became hard and aggressive, it always kept its smoothness that became a sign of all Mtume’s productions. The album opened up with a short and sensitive prelude followed up by the funky “Just funnin'” The first side also included the average funky title track “Kiss this world goodbye” but the two most excellent tracks came at the end of side one. First, the perfectly singed “The closer I get to you” appeared, a masterfully gentle and soft track made to perfection by Tawatha’s God blessed voice. The final track, maybe the strongest one, was the jazzy, soft and dreamy “Love lock” that let you experience maybe a ride in a car a sunny day going to the beach, a fantastic production. Side two is maybe not as good, but do still present some competent music. Especially the ballad “Closer to the end” has all the stuff you’ll ever need for a perfect song experience. Once again, Tawatha’s unmistakably sensual voice brings the gods to the top-notch level. Also, the rockish “Day of reggin” is an instrumental masterpiece of highest excellency.

On a whole, Mtume delivers a good debut that, despite being a 70’s production is surprisingly modern in its music language on most tracks and keeps the momentum going all across, from the first to the last track. The lyrics, almost entirely written by Mtume and Lucas also presents some great material with a criticism against the high life of the time, good! The album cover did also bring some smile on your face with its futuristic, hilarious and self-ironic front.

James Mtume and Reggie Lucas that wrote almost all the tracks were also they creators of the production company Mtume / Lucas productions that produced the great Stephanie Mills album “What cha gonna do with my lovin'” in 79 as well as the two following ones among others.

All the members had an impressive musical background. James himself had participated as conga player and percussionist on different jazz or jazzfunk recordings during the 70s like Lonnie Liston Smith in 73, Miles Davis in 72 and 74 and on his father Jimmy Heats album in 72. Tawatha had worked as background singer on David Sanborns album in 75. Reggie Lucas, an excellent jazz guitarist had performed on several Miles Davis albums in the 70’s, Lonnie Liston Smith album in 75 and many others.

In 1980 their second release, called “In search of the rainbow seekers” hit the market including the same line up. It’s a good album, characterized more by disco then the earlier album and that got much in common with the mentioned Stephanie Mills 79 album. Best track is maybe the ironic “So you wanna be a star”, a decent disco track that easily would have fit on that Stephanie Mills album the year before, which was produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas. Also melodic and relaxing “She’s a rainbow dancer” is worth a closer look. On a whole the album can be described as a smooth, clean and professional mix of jazz, funk and disco.

After this album the fans had to wait until 83 for their third release, “Juicy fruit” on Epic records. In the mean time, Mtume had produced two average albums with Marc Sadane. Tawatha was well used as background singer on Luther Vandross album in 81 to 83, Diana Ross’ two albums in 82 and on Aretha Franklin’s album in 82. Phil Field, on his hand had played keyboards on Aurra’s classic dancefunk album “Send your love” in 81. Raymond Jackson had played bass on the rare, most-have-album “Official business” by Dunn & Bruce Street in 82 including the hit “Shout for joy”.

When Mtume finally released their third album almost all the old members had left. Among them was the highly experienced musicians of Howard King that left for several other projects as well as the highly regarded producer and songwriter with a massive amount of fantastic hits with acts like Stephanie Mills and Madonna. The new Mtume included James Mtume, Tawatha Agee, Philip Fields, Raymond Jackson and Ed Moore. The new members musical background was interesting. Raymond Jackson had produced The Emotions album in 77 and played trombone on Sonny Criss’ album in 76 and played bass on the two brothers Dunn & Bruce Street’s funky “Official business” debut album in 1982. Interestingly he also joined the rare band of Network in 84 as their bass player but they only released the much sought after album “I need you” before the disappeared (see Network’s full biography here).

Ed Moore had played lead and rhythmic guitar on Gary Bartz album in 80, BB & Q band album in 82 and both the 82 and 83 albums with D Train. Phil Field’s musical background is unfortunately not known. This is definitely one of the best albums that year, with a very high level all over. Their number one hit on the R&B; chart was still today wellknown “Juicy fruit”. Also “Green light” and “Your love is to good to spread around” was very smooth, tasty and good candypieces for the dancefloor. If the fast tracks were good the midtempo and ballads were as good with, “Ready for your love” as perfect extatic love song. Tawatha really showing her off here, wow!

Now the fans did not had to wait so long, because in 84 Mtume dropped their fourth masterwork, “You, me and he” ones again on Epic, with its high quality press. This record got a more mellow flavor than the last one, but still as solid as the one before. It was more thoughtfull, laid back and reflecting, like a nice and refreshing brize in the morning when you sitting close to the water. But it could also be very intense and powefull but without getting agressive and hard at all. The album showed not a single bad track as far as your eye could reach. The album included the incredible song “Prime time” showing Mtumes great talent to use a minimum of instruments in a very classy smooth soundmix. And as usual Tawatha, with her sensitive efforts makes the songs in to a dream. Also “C.O.D. (I´ll deliver)” is a knocker. A more funky track represented by “Tie me up” are also included to show that the group has no limitations and still know its legacy. The more mellow tracks are also very strong and intense, who can say no to “You are my sunshine”, or “you, me and he” for example, nobody! 😉

Two years later it was time again for their fifth and final album “Theater of the mind”. This is a good album, not as good as the two earlier but still worth listening to. The albums is interesting on several levels, first musically, secondly an equally important the more social aspects and lyrics on this one compared to earlier records, featuring a sometimes direct criticism against society and the decline and fast changes in the musicworld.

The biggest hit was “Breathless”, that reach top ten on the R&B; list, but it was not particularly new in its style. It didn’t have the earlier glow, and exclusive feeling, it’s more a “common” song. Much more interesting song is “New face Deli”, a really funky, tight and crazy track that makes you move, together with the important social and ironic lyrics. The faster tracks however, doesn’t convince on this record, ones again though, Mtume succeed to make great ballads like “I’d rather be with you” and “Body & soul (take me)”. Despite that many well know artist and producers occurred on the album, like Bootsy Collins, Kurt Jones (Aurra), Tyrone Brunson, Vince Henry (Change) and Dr. Jeckyll & Mr Hyde the result didn’t last as the earlier two achievements in 83 and 84 did. It is the lyrics and the great ballads that the album is to be remembered for most of all. This was Mtume last album and the empty place the left behind them was and still is impossible to fill.

After math

The centre piece in everything Mtume had done was James Mtume that decided to end the project, not for musical reasons, but more because he was disappointed on the changes in the musical business. He left Mtume, but not the music. Just one year later he produced Tawathas solo album. Mtume worked after that as musical director on a New York theatre. During the 90’s he came back as a producer of Mary. J. Blidge’s album “Share my world” in 97 and many others. Recently he have produced and played percussion on different soundtracks like “Finding Forrester” in 2000 where he played percussion. Tawatha releases her debut album in 87 (read full review beneath) and worked during the 1990’s as a background singer for several different artists including Tashan in 92 and Celine Dion best album in 96. The old iron horse Howard King worked after his departure from Mtume in 80 with D-train 82-84, became a member of Network in 1984 (see Network’s full biography here) and went thereafter on producing Cheryl Lynn’s album “It’s gonna be right” in 1985, Melba Moore’s album “It’s been so long” in 87 and soul singer Eric Gable’s album “Love has got to wait” in 89 any much more.

The excellent jazz guitarist Reggie Lucas that before Mtume played on several Miles Davis albums developed his writing and producing skills even further and created together with James Mtume a production team. This great combo produced several very successful albums with Stephanie Mills and Phyllis Hyman and Lucas on his own produced several of Madonna’s albums including hits. Raymond Jackson played bass on Network’s rare album “I need you” (see Network’s full biography here) in 84 but he didn’t play bass on Tawatha’s debut album and his further achievements after 86 is not know. Phil Fields played piano on Freddie Jackson album “Just like the first time” in 86, keyboards on Tawatha’s album in 87, and keyboards, background vocals and producer and much other stuff on Freeze factor’s album in 89.