Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Richard Tee “Inside You” (1989)

The tunes will get inside you...

I think that's the title of Richard Tee's fourth solo effort means...

Inside You compiles the works of the late, great keyboardist Richard Tee from 1983 until its release in 1989 though not a compilation, but an album that cooked for roughly six years in the studio(s).  Though it's unclear as to what was recorded when during the six-year span that results in Inside You, the time span is seamless. While the longer recording span might invite the possibility of sounding dated by now with that 70's sound it has become Richard Tee's signature, though not as adaptable to the times as other keyboardists like George Duke to evolve from that era, Tee's comfortably rolling with it.

Most famous for his “reverb” or echoplex effect Fender Rhodes (or to get more technical using a phase shifter), made famous in the 70's with hits like Grover Washington Jr's “Just The Two Of Us” and even mimicked by Billy Joel on “Just The Way You Are”. That Tee sound was ubiquitous in discofied funk throughout the 70's but the man behind it has gone largely obscure as far as his own fame went. Even though his session work eclipsed his own band Stuff, a stretching resume in the wake of his life, Tee's solo career never really made it.

A shame really, Tee was an icon who often employed vocals on his own works while mainly juggling keyboards on sessions, including 1985's Japan-only Bottom Line were a tad hollow and awkward. Tee even admitted his vocal talents hounded him throughout his career, yet, challenged himself at it until his final release. His successful run in Japan of all places has made way for a skyrocket in out-of-print prices for his recordings.

Inside You made way to the U.S. by way of Columbia Records, as one his more successful, commercial efforts with a mixture of mostly chill R&B, jazz, and funk with a setlist mixed with vocals and instrumentals the Tee way. This may not be the most balanced Tee you might find but the fairweather package for his stylings by this time, or until the 1992 release of Real Time.

Tee brings in a bevy of his closest sessioneers, including Stuff's Steve Gadd on drums, Marcus Miller on basses, John Tropea on (mostly rhythm) guitar and even former Tower of Power tenor altissimo king Lenny Pickett, who by this time is leading his own show on Saturday Night Live. There's also a wonderful layer of separately recorded strings behind almost all the tunes that give it an elegant charm of an old-time movie (as Gordon Lightfoot once sang).

Tee's triad of keyboards command and layer most tracks with acoustic piano, Rhodes and organ accompanied by vocals not only the title Inside You come off as soulful and upbeat but also marred by some lyrical staccato and awkward delivery. Apart from the title vocal, which is all passable until the goofy chorus and dated use of the 80's pioneered Linn drum, Tee succeeds better with others So Hard To Handle which has Pickett buzzing on sax and Changes, featuring a haunting acoustic bass from Eddie Gomez. Chalk It All Up, penned by longtime collaborator Bill Withers has Tee supplying his Rhodes, Linn drums and a fair vocal to an otherwise catchy R&B chorus.

Similarly pitched yet more baritone Bill Eaton makes a return from The Bottom Line, lending his voice on Crying In My Sleep Tonight, a warming, melancholic ballad backed by plush strings and velvety Rhodes for agreeable adult contemporary radio play.

Single-handledly bumping up the slump on the disc is by far saxophonist Lenny Pickett, who woos with soulful, growling and just plain hot (alto and tenor) sax on five tracks, mostly in his tricky high notes and ad libbing, especially on the gospelish Louisiana Sunday Afternoon, which not only has Pickett (rarely captured) on alto but additionally has notable Patti Austin disguisedly supporting the chorus of the disc's most energetic piece.

Will You Be There is a soulful wedding-march style instrumental and one of a few tracks which allows the band to flex a bit as well as the moody Precious Thing. Tee gets a chance to get more personal on the strings intertwined Lullaby and the disc closer, Wishing, which takes you by candlelight and up-close solo piano.

Following the wake of a mostly forgotten Japan-only Bottom Line, which was likely recorded during this time, is a more somber, ballad-centric disc, unlike his debut album Strokin' which had you bouncing on bass a little more. The focal is vocal, less on jammin' out and maybe a tad lighter on solo keyboarding than desired. Though the vocals may take a little warming up but when they get Inside You, it's a pleasing release that surprisingly kept reeling me back in despite a lack of some finer tee-uning.


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