Robert Damper – “D” Tales
Robert Damper has lent his skills on the 88s to the smooth jazz of Kenny G and Najee, the straight ahead jazz and sophisticated pop of Brandford Marsalis to the synthesized funk of 1980s era Fatback Band, and just about everyone in between. So we know that the Seattle native has skills, even if we didn’t know him by name or face because his contributions came on another artist’s work.
That changes with the release of “D” Tales, Damper’s debut with his name on the album cover as well as the album credits, and a record that seamlessly fuses all of the elements of Damper’s background into a coherent yet varied project. Damper worked as Kenny G’s keyboardist and music director for more than 30 years, and he definitely has a knack for capturing melodies that are pleasing to the ear. However, Damper also learned something from his time with Fatback, along with his work with the likes of Najee, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and jazz greats such as Marsalis and Roy Haynes.
Damper has performed for many people and in almost as many places. His publicity for the latest album boasts that Damper is working on his fifth passport, and “D” Tales” does have a something for everybody feel to it. The 14 track record includes three covers along with and two versions of the jazz fusion cut “Goblins.” In addition to the fusion of “Goblins,” there is the funk/jazz fusion of “OJ (Oldskool Jam),” a breezy remake of Jobim’s “Wave” that features flutes, harmonicas and Damper’s light touch on the keys.
Fans of sophisticated, adult oriented R&B will gravitate toward “D” Tales’ four original ballads, “Feel So Good,” “Make a Wish,” “I Don’t Need to Know” and “Win or Lose.” The first finds Damper recruiting Kenny G. to add alto sax flourishes to the soaring vocals of Skyler Jett to a tune that pays homage to a woman’s spiritual and physical beauty. “Make a Wish” is largely an instrumental tune and features Damper’s piano creativity over a simmering and sensual funk foundation. “I Don’t Need to Know,” absolutely swings with an inspired minute and 20 second instrumental introduction featuring Damper’s deft and creative piano work before Roger Happel’s baritone takes the track to another level, while the marriage of vocals and musicians on the duet “Win Or Lose,” adds a level of virtuosity to a track about a couple trying to decide whether to stay together or separate.
There is a risk in creating a record that seeks to give everybody a little something. The album might have a jack of all trades master of none sloppiness that results in unfocused effort that sounds like it was put together a lab by a bunch of corporate suits. However, Damper easily avoids those risk on “D” Tales. Each track is well-crafted and connected by the element of jazz improvisation and high quality instrumental or vocal performances that mark the best of jazz and R&B. Damper took a lot of notes during his three plus decades backing up jazz, soul and pop legends, and those lesson yield stellar grades on his debut project. Highly Recommended
By Howard Dukes