Will Downing’s Jazz Odyssey

Will Downing’s string of three fantastic albums from 1990 to 1995 (A Dream Fulfilled, Love’s The Place To Be and Moods) are almost completely forgotten now – a real oversight.

Downing came out of the New York mid-’80s session scene, singing on countless jingles and short-lived studio projects, but hit on a formula of sorts when he got a deal with Island Records and immediately had a minor UK hit with his update of Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, featuring a guest spot from Stanley Turrentine on tenor.

The 1989 followup up Come Together had its moments (‘Closer To You’, ‘I’ll Wait’), but it was ’91’s A Dream Fulfilled that really got him on his way. He gathered some great jazz players to perform some really strong material, alot of which he co-penned.

His take on Angela Bofill’s ‘I Try’ should have worked on paper but didn’t quite come off, but he adapted Paul Davis’s MOR ballad ‘I Go Crazy’ brilliantly, turning it from a limpid 4/4 into a swooning 6/8 and adding a killer chord change in the chorus.

‘No Love Intended’ featured a masterful trumpet cameo from Eddie Henderson, while Victor Bailey and Kevin Eubanks lit up the Rod Temperton-like ‘She’. And you won’t find better bass playing than Anthony Jackson’s brilliant commentaries on ‘Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long’ and ‘The World Is A Ghetto’.

The hits had dried up by the early 1990s but, artistically, Downing was on a roll. 1993’s Love’s The Place To Be was his masterpiece and a decent seller to boot. It featured a sublime duet with Rachelle Ferrell, ‘Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This’, featuring more brilliance from Jackson and Eubanks, plus a gorgeous updating of Lieber and Stoller’s ‘Hey Girl’.

There’s yet another great cover version, this time the Philly classic ‘Break Up To Make Up’. There are also uplifting, surprising medium-tempo love songs ‘Sailing On A Dream’ and ‘One Moment’, and the soulful, downbeat ‘Do You Still Love Me’, featuring some fine synth sculpting from Jason Miles.

’95’s Moods also had its masterpieces, including a fantastic take on ‘Where Is Love’ from the musical ‘Oliver!’, plus intimate Bryan Loren ballad ‘Just A Game’, featuring Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith on drums, and a gorgeous Ronnie Foster arrangement of ‘Stella By Starlight’ featuring Harvey Mason’s kit work. Elsewhere, Omar Hakim superbly marshalled ‘That Good Morning Love’ and ‘Don’t Wait For Love’.

’97’s Invitation Only was patchy but had a few gems: Foster’s composition ‘Island’, featuring Marcus Miller on bass, ‘These Things’ featuring the Yellowjackets and a gorgeous take on Fisher & Segal’s standard ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’ featuring Dave Carpenter on bass and Mason on drums.

Downing’s Motown debut All The Man You Need (2000) was a move into modern R’n’B grooves, but it did deliver the superb ‘Share My World’, with Anthony Jackson overdubbing himself, courtesy of a sample from Noel Pointer’s ‘Superwoman’.

Downing’s ’90s work seems somewhat overlooked these days – a shame, because this excellent run of albums is surely ripe for reappraisal.

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