Deon Yates – School Of Funk

12068430_879537392101145_1449690324586778215_oWoodward Avenue Records is pleased to announce the October 29, 2015 release date for School Of Funk from saxman Deon Yates!

From his days studying music at Oakland University through his recent studies for a Master’s in Communications and Public Relations, versatile composer, saxophonist and recording artist Deon Yates is all about bettering himself through education. While he’s recently become an educator himself – lecturing on the history of Detroit jazz at a local community college – he’s not limiting the learning process to quiet classroom settings.

With his explosive, melodically infectious, soulful and grooving debut on Woodward Avenue Records, Yates opens a hands-on School of Funk to show young players and contemporary urban jazz lovers of all ages how it’s done. More specifically, with the in-the-pocket assistance of producer, co-writer and keyboardist Nate Harasim – who plays Fender Rhodes and organ throughout – Yates offers a spirited refresher on classic soul-jazz funk and a primer on where the genre is heading in the future. Yates also brings a wild bunch of guests to the class to help illustrate certain principles – including two time Grammy winning guitarist (and label mate) Paul Brown, guitarist and producer Nils, keyboardist Brian Simpson, trumpeter Lin Rountree, guitarist Gerey Johnson and bassists Roberto Vally and Takashi Iio. The vocal track “Satisfaction” also features one of the last recorded performances of legendary drummer Ricky Lawson.
Yates has been making music in and around his native Detroit his whole life and finds the perfect way to introduce the never-ending funky possibilities of the city than “Motor City Strut,” a high octane alto driven blues infected jam featuring a hypnotic electric guitar solo by Brown, twinkling old school jazzy keys and a ferocious swirl of horn textures. Showing that funk can also be sly and sensual, the saxman pulls back into a mid-tempo soulful groove on “Wise Guys,” with his bright, wistful soprano melody fronting Harasim’s elegant piano and moody Fender Rhodes. This is also one of six tracks on School of Funk to feature Nils.

Yates, swirling his tenor powerfully into bright horn blasts with Rountree’s fiery trumpet, gets to the core of the curriculum on the title track, wild, energetic old school soul jazz funk romp also featuring Harasim’s spirited piano and simmering, moody Rhodes. The three take the funk to the limit in a section mixing Harasim’s lush piano magic and percussive horns. Moving into a more specifically R&B/gospel realm, “Satisfaction” (featuring sensual lead vocals by LaRonn Dolley) offers lively, infectious classic soul, colorful horns and a spirited vocal chorus – with a groove courtesy of the late great drummer Ricky Lawson. Who better to capture the spirit of another late great, Joe Sample, than pianist and artist Brian Simpson, whose lively ivories interact splendidly with Yates’ whimsical, edgy alto melody. The track also features a touch of “crying” wah guitar by Nils.

With its sly reference to his new label and the forward momentum of his career and musical direction, “Cruisin’ Woodward” is all hypnotic funk and simmer, as Yates doubles his tenor for off the charts emotional impact over a classic drive time groove as Harasim’s Rhodes percolates. Nils shows the more rockin’ side of his artistry on a crackling solo. Opening with a seductive trumpet intro and finger snapping grooves, an inviting cover of Beyonce’s hit “Luv on Top” is all about retro dance floor cool, with a thumpin’ groove and low toned alto leading the way. Its buoyant production values include a section where Yates’ lead sax and the backing horns of Rountree engage in a whimsical dance. If you’re listening to this another time of year and really miss the warm weather, let Yates take you back to the lighthearted, breezy “First Day of Summer,” a perfect top down driving tune featuring Harasim’s bluesy key harmonies and trippy electronica atmospheres.

School of Funk’s other excellent cover tune is Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z’s irresistible “Suit & Tie,” rendered here as a cool, moody easy flowing low toned tenor tune leading to a more spirited chorus section which has that “old school” spirit. The final tracks on the funky syllabus are the wistful, atmospheric, tenor led “Step By Step” – which swings into high gear on the wings of Yates’ clever, soaring horn doubling – and “For Hosea,” a sweet, graceful tribute to a late teacher and mentor that needs only Harasim’s lush piano, a gentle groove and Yate’s lush soprano texturing to pay its last respects.

Usually, everyone looks forward to the end of the school year, but Deon Yates makes learning year round a treat for everyone who is groove inclined on School of Funk – one of the most exciting urban jazz albums of the year. Class dismissed! – Jonathan Widran

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