Friday, December 12, 2014

Richard Tee "The Bottom Line" (1985)

Light listening and pop grooves with a slice of J-fusion from Tee across the sea, and that's The Bottom Line.

Richard Tee was certainly more respected and noteworthy among the New York jazz and session scene than he was by any popular fanbase. His solo success never took off here in the U.S yet was admired and respected deeply. In fact, until Inside You, the Brooklyn-raised keyboardist hadn't much support for his solo efforts nor a release stateside of his discs, even though they were handled by Bob James' Tappan Zee label in the early 90's.

The Bottom Line is a relative obscurity in Tee's solo catalog and another New York recording only released in Japan under King Records' subsidiary fusion label Electric Bird Records airs on the side of easier listening, pop-centric of Tee's releases to date. With a down-sized band of what would become his regulars John Tropea (electric guitar), Steve Gadd (drums), Marcus Miller (bass) and Ralph McDonald (percussions) with divided support by Will Lee (bass) and Dave Weckl (drums) with vocalists Bill Eaton and Zack Sanders

Unlike his previous Strokin' (1975) and Natural Ingredients (1980), no strings or horns this time around, and no Tee-related puns reflecting the sleeve arts. Scaled back musician support and soloing a la jazz leanings, Tee focused on a mostly pop-direction with some vocal-led pieces that mostly stray from his usual bluesy-gospel and southern influences of past. A different direction that may have been tailored to appeal to Japanese audiences and radio-friendly at that, further reflected by trimmed track lengths, tightly kept around 3 to 4 minutes. 

In a way, The Bottom Line is Richard Tee's first solo album for the target audience (and on CD at this time for that matter).

Though Tee was most proficient for his elegant bluesy soul on piano with signature accompaniment by his unmistakable pioneered phaser Fender Rhodes, there's a satisfying plenty on here along with vocal pieces that ramped up on his solo efforts outside of Stuff, which are still lyrically awkward at times and simplistic, yet upbeat and feel-good even when Bill Eaton takes over on Miss-Understanding

As per tradition, there's a steady mixture of instrumental and vocal numbers on here with Tee's soulful and gospel cadence. Nippon Lights is the disc's real star instrumental, flavored for ethnic Japan, providing rich nightlife imagery with regard to cultural clashes of East and West, with some spikey electric soloing by Tropea. What Can I Say is a companionate instrumental to the former with like distorted guitar fills and obligatory Linn drum claps on each. Though the Linn drum was mostly retired if not defined and confined by the heart of 80's sound, it's accepted use on various tracks works despite its cheese, even on the disc's soulful opener If You Want It which may just have you clapping along.

Faulted by lyrical blunder and staccato flow, which is just something you come to accept when admiring Tee's playing, some tracks fizzle out, seemingly hitting a wall while looped verses rove on on a few tracks including the title The Bottom Line. Soloing lacks in turn for vocals here by Tee himself, handled mostly by Tropea's well-placed guitaring, whose jazz-rock touches still only appetize jazz ears.

The Bottom Line will mostly appeal to Tee fans only, there's no denying that there were some fine ideas here paired with a wealth of variation: prime fusion-styled hooks and melodies that were some his best yet that sadly wound up half-baked. Whether it's Weckl's cymbal taps and lead in on Moving On or the doorbell-like Rhodes melody on the bouncy Spring Is You, nothing has been repeated on any other releases. Album outliars No Real Way is a down-tempo tribute to doo-wop balladry, while a solo piano duel with Gadd's rhythmic support on a speedy take of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. McDonald's percussions are just the right touches on each.

The Bottom Line? A pleasing and catchy effort for enthusiasts that manages to invite repeat listens with its care-free appeal that shines on all Tee's works despite its desparate play to commercial radio.


NOTABLE TRACKS: Nippon Lights, Moving On, Spring Is You
GREAT variation and approaches with regard to fusion, somethings are different while keeping the Tee sound richly intact
INTRODUCING: guitarist John Tropea, whose balance of jazz-rock textures would become a regular Tee member throughout the 80's and beyond
LYRICS are simplistic and often awkward sounding at times as if they were penned by/for Japanese audiences

>>> About The Release
Richard Tee's albums demand price tags of around $30 and up with the exception of Inside You which was his only official U.S. release. It can really only be explained by way of Japan's marketplace where releases don't lose their value as much as CDs anywhere else in the world. On that note...

The Bottom Line was originally released by Electric Bird Records in 1985 on CD and LP. In 2002, re-issue label Roving Spirits was licensed to reprint the album (RKCJ-9001/RKCJ-6011) under its Electric Bird Super Fusion Master Series. The original is a little more difficult to find these days. The re-issue also demands a pretty hefty tag as well from around $35-50 used and higher for a sealed one, as it remains one of the most elusive of Tee's solo albums due to its Japan-only release. We managed to grab a copy of the re-issue direct from an Amazon Japan seller, which was remarkably cheaper than Amazon U.S.

Roving Spirits advertises this as a remaster, whose bassier mixing qualifies in the loudness-war variety

The booklet's rear mimicks the original LP artwork. While missing some of the original musician portraits, inside the book  contains a multi-page reflection of jazz-fusion, the album's production and Tee's biography sadly unintelligable without knowledge of Japanese. 

The booklet credits are mostly bi-lingual, mirrored completely in English on the back of the orange-clad inlay, which is certainly more budget-oriented and different from the original print.

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