Q (12/99, p.128) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...may yet succeed where others have failed, due to a thankful characteristic: above-average ability....there's a genuine bonhomie to this set, which makes it hard to resist..."
Personnel includes: Norman Brown (vocals, trumpet, guitar); Phajja, Vesta Williams (vocals); Herman Jackson, Rayford Griffin (keyboards, synthesizer): David Woods (keyboards, drums); Tim Heintz, David Torkanowksy, Rick Braun (keyboards); Alex Al, Larry Kimpel (bass); Paul Brown (drums); Lenny Castro, Munyungo Jackson (percussion); Lil' John (drums); Lynne Fiddmont, Tim Ownes, Sue Ann Carwell (background vocals).
Producers: Norman Brown, Paul Brown, Oji Pierce.
The funk-jazz guitarist's new two album deal with Warner Bros. is definite cause for the title of his label debut, Celebration. His continued growth as a writer is clear, as the hooks of all nine originals stick immediately to the ears yet offer spaces for improvisations that sometimes border on his bebop days. "Together At Last" brings both worlds together, with Brown building a strong melody by altering his Ibanez's high and low tones over a subtle, rising bed of horns before breaking for a crazy flurry of notes which jump beyond the melody. His cherished vocalese style marries perfectly with trademark warm, percolating string notes on "Out'a Nowhere," which also throws a tonal twist into the mix; he'll begin a melody line on a happy high register and then conclude it on a tone so low it sounds like a bass. One of the benefits of his crossover success is working with two of the best possible producers in smooth jazz and R&B-Paul Brown and Oji Pierce (Coolio, Montel Jordan). Paul Brown has had a tendency to make many of his cuts sound like Boney James tunes, but on his five cuts here, he simply creates an atmosphere for Brown's own style and groove to come alive. His best contribution is the dreamy vibe behind the falling drops effect of the guitar on the ballad "Rain." The guitarist rises to Pierce's challenge to grow his lead vocal chops with a lush rendition of "You Make Me Feel Brand New" that rivals the Stylistics' original. Ironically, however, some of Celebration's best produced tracks are those Norman Brown did himself; on "Breaking Out," her surrounds his galloping guitar-voice tandem with the disc's most exotic percussion and soundscaping, including hypnotic drum and cymbal flourishes by Rayford Griffin. ~ Jonathan Widran
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