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Roy Ayers - Virgin Ubiquity II

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Artist: Roy Ayers

Album: Virgin Ubiquity II

Label: BBE

Review date: Jun. 23, 2005

Enough critics have put “Roy Ayers” and “underappreciated” together in sentences that the great ’70s vibraphonist and band leader has at least reached “appreciated” status. While his collective discography laid the foundation for acid jazz and hip hop – the Coffy soundtrack, “Running Away,” the smash “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” – his records were largely hit-and-miss affairs, an inevitable if regrettable side effect of a career spent in constant evolution. Virgin Ubiquity II, the second BBE compilation of unreleased Ayers recordings from his commercial heyday of 1976-1981, is unsurprisingly scattershot, with some dated tracks and some pure failures. In other words, it’s another lost Roy Ayers classic.

Standing on the corner of Slick and Cheese, the 13 songs here sometimes fall over the edge into the worst of the disco era. “Third Time” is an edgeless celebration of love that is the sonic equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off dunked in strawberry milk. When the sweetness is structured, however, such as on the irresistibly interlocking “Kwajilori,” the silly but nevertheless deeply grooving “Liquid Love,” or “Come To Me” – a testament to an era when a R&B string section could save any song – the results are irresistible, no matter how strong the ironic impulse.

There are unqualified jams on this set too. “Funk In The Hole” is as strong an instrumental as any from Coffy. The manically uptempo “Tarzan” is like a lost b-side to “Jungle Boogie.” “Holiday,” a song recorded to echo Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” and to call for the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, makes up for the rather Jesse Jackson lyrics with a deeper-than-deep synth bassline and shimmering percussion that trembles under your skin.

For all the unearthed gems of the collection, however, the best still may be a demo version of his best-known tune of all, “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.” It sounds slower and even more relaxed than the summertime classic it would become, and Ayers’ raspy vocals, substituted later for a chorus of females, lazily warble around the “bees and trees and flowers” just like a summer walk. In spanning Ayers’ many sounds while still maintaining cohesion, the Ubiquity compilations may be second only to the Polydor compilation Evolution as a retrospective of not just Roy Ayers, but the era of black pop from which he grew.

By Josh Drimmer

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