Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ronnie Foster "The Racer" (1986)

Ronnie Foster built most of his success behind the veil of George Benson's CTI sessions. A session keyboardist, Foster had a few solo stints under his belt, mostly of the funk orientation. After a seven year hiatus, Foster joined up with Electric Bird Records (by way of Pro Jazz in the U.S.), a Japan subsidiary of King Records, to produce The Racer. It's another unmistakable era recording that has an 80's sound though remaarkably fresh even when looking back 30 years.

An entirely different recording than anything he's done prior, Foster's The Racer pits the project with an array of sequencers and synthesizers this time around, shelving the organ entirely for the acoustic piano amongst layers of electronics and other synthesizer keys and programs. In a nearly solo stage, Foster stands confidently without much audible musician support here either (reminiscent of a Jean-Luc Ponty recording around this time). 

That's not to say his vocal title cut The Racer couldn't have used more out of the guitar talents rhythmically supported by (Fowler Brothers regular) Mike O'Neill, but even the triple drum threat Ndugu, Harvey Mason and John Moffett's cymbal obscures in the jungle of synthesis. Fill-ins of acoustic pianos are a nice bridge to jazz and forecast the album's fuse of jazz elements mixed electronics.
The Racer doesn't aim to sophisticate with its synthesizer indulgence of breezy, exotic streamline of Foster's soundscape through mountainsides, beaches, cities and other exotic imagery which grooves from start to finish line, with the occasional vocal for the self-title and Love Will Last. Night Life ends with slower, yet simple groove while Squirt may be a little too jovial in contrast to the rest.

Festival Do Brasil fuses danceable rhythms and electrifyingly speedy light pianos, Linne's Theme pays celebratory balladry to the (the 80s!) Linn drum and Impanema Walk shakes with scratchy calypso video game-like groove. Europe invites some welcomed touches of latin percussions by Paulina Da Costa to complete the exotic voyage.

The Racer may not have hit pole position with critics or listeners, falling under the radar of obscurity. Foster's fusion experiment with electronica fares well even though he made this his last and most different solo effort, making it an interesting listen and perfect companionate disc for the road as it segways easily track-to-track. Though musician support on guitars by Phil Upchurch and Mike O'Neil went tragically faceless (as the worst of the 80's had its way), the album is freshingly aged far better than most of its ilk all these years later despite its undeniable underdevelopment by that same simplicity that drives The Racer.

The Racer will be re-released on December 10, 2014 as part of Electric Bird Records Best Selection 1000 in Japan, can still be found (inexpensively) widely on Pro Jazz (U.S.).


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