#2330 – Quincy Jones – Q’s Jook Joint
(CD, 1995) (Discogs tracklisting)
Six years after Back On The Block, an album which I loved and played a great deal, came its sequel: another journey through diverse styles of black music, both old and new, which was equally crammed with guest appearances from artists of all generations.
On the 92-second intro, Jones’s guest roster reaches surreal proportions; 29 voices are heard, ranging from Marlon Brando to Queen Latifah, Dizzy Gillespie to Bono. We get the picture; he’s a well-connected guy. The trouble with this approach, though, is that the names threaten to distract from the music. You end up forever checking the sleeve notes, just in case a historic collaboration (Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder!) passes you by.
Clocking in at 70 minutes, the album suffers from a certain amount of mid-Nineties fill-up-the-CD bloat; some tracks drag on too long, particularly the closing pair of “quiet storm” wind-downs, and some of the interludes could have been cut. The shiny, brittle, over-separated production also screams “Nineties CD” – you couldn’t ever imagine this on vinyl – but such were the times, and perhaps it’s unfair to slate a Nineties CD for sounding just like a Nineties CD.
There’s also the issue of Sequel Syndrome, and diminishing returns. Where Back On The Block dazzled you with its scope, Q’s Jook Joint sometimes feels too worthy, too cosy, too respectful, too respectable. That said, there are, of course, plenty of delightful moments. With a cast this strong, how could there not be?
I was reading only yesterday, in David Toop’s 1984 history of hip hop The Rap Attack, about the vocal freestyles that Eddie Jefferson created from jazz improvisations, and so was particularly struck by Brian McKnight’s fine update of Jefferson’s vocalese style on a reworking of James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood For Love”, complete with a sax solo from Moody himself. Later, I watched Phil Collins performing “If Leaving Me Is Easy” on a 1981 Top of the Pops, and found myself marvelling, quite despite myself, at the quality of the vocals, songwriting and arrangement. Collins guests here on Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” – backed by a large brass section, with great solos from Joshua Redman on sax and Jerry Hey on trumpet – and he acquits himself commendably, which is a big surprise. Elsewhere, there are enjoyable covers of The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and Jones’s own “Stuff Like That”, the latter voiced by its composers Ashford & Simpson alongside Brandy, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan and The Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson.
This must have been a massively demanding project logistically, but it’s also manifestly a labour of love, and you can feel that love shining all the way through. These are all people who Jones admires, from living legends to brand new talents, and no-one other than Jones could have brought them all together. Perhaps inevitably, the whole doesn’t exceed the sum of its parts – but you can only applaud its ambition and spirit.