When I was a budding young music collector, I would often endlessly wander around any record store I could find, exploring. Sometimes I had things in mind, and usually I would just check out specific artists and see if there were any recordings I didn’t have or hadn’t heard of before. When major chain record stores still existed (I can’t believe I can actually say that), oftentimes CDs would have accompanying stickers or tags that advertised their specific awards and/or accolades. Being a relatively knowledgable collecter even in my high school years, I often was already aware of the important or ‘famous’ records. But when I came across a copy of Idris Muhammad’s Power of Soul record, I was dubious to the fact that an album I had never heard of could be coined “One of the greatest jazz-soul recordings of all time.” I had actually never even heard of Idris Muhammad. But then came the obligatory ‘flip’ of the CD to see who else was in the band. Grover Washington Jr. and Randy Brecker were already obvious names to me, and I knew Bob James only because he was on one of my favorite Chet Baker recordings (my discovery of his production abilities was yet to come). This made me curious enough, and while I didn’t buy the album that day, it did soon enough end up on my computer (somehow).
“Loran’s Dance”, composed by Grover Washington, Jr.
The “sticker” did not lie. I myself would likely suggest this album to anyone looking for a quintessential soul-jazz recording. While there is no shortage of heavy production on this album, its beauty really lies in its simplicity. The first track, “Loran’s Dance”, is the standout. James’ rhodes intro is still haunting after hearing it 1000 times, and when the band comes in there is nothing but the heaviest, most in-the-pocket groove you have ever heard. This is what Muhammad is known for: turning the simplest, most basic groove into something moving and addictive. Muhammad’s idea to move the downbeat of each new phrase onto the previous measure’s 4 is a perfect example of his expertise in subtelty; it takes the song to a whole new level. Other than the basic arrangement, this song was blessed with an amazing take, and the trumpet and tenor solos are highlights of Brecker and Washington’s careers, respectively.
“Piece of Mind”, composed by Bob James
Still, this album really is all about Muhammad’s unstoppable groove. He is not known solely as a funk/soul player, he has been a member of Ahmad Jamal’s trio as well as in the groups of Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Eric Alexander and Pat Martino, but this is where he really shines. Even at the most unsuspecting (but perfect) times, Muhammad will dig as deep into the groove as possible, bringing more and more out of each soloist and rhythm member. Check out soprano solo on James’ “Piece of Mind” (the track on the album most influenced by James’ production flair) and how Muhammad pushes the band to get as much as possible out of the form.
The other two tracks, Joe Beck’s ballad “The Saddest Thing” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Power of Soul” keep the consistency up. Power of Soul is one of those albums that knows its good. Just like Headhunters and Mister Magic (two other legendary albums from the same decade), only 4 tracks were necessary to convey its message. Not too little, not too much, but just the right amount to make an almost perfect album.