Wednesday, December 2, 2020
New Music: From Roy Ayers, vibes sovereign, a lost...

New Music: From Roy Ayers, vibes sovereign, a lost 1977 jam

"Reaching the Highest Pleasure" shows the vibraphone master floating from improvisational jazz to the dance floor.


While it’s proper to acknowledge the current global ballyhoo of a Tik-Tok (if you will) generation of acolytes newfound obsession in jazz, let’s be clear. This is not the first time a hybrid of America’s classical music, with contemporary accents, snuck up into the cultural zeitgeist.

Once Miles Davis, back in the day, understood that playing a stadium gig, filled with longhaired youths, financially beat out a week’s worth of gigs in a dusty jazz club repeat playing Kind of Blue every damn night, he changed his band, clothes, and the music. Again. Upon receiving the check for his 1969 landmark fusion album ‘Bitches Brew”—a career lane-changer melding electric acid rock textures with deep pocket funk, which sold more copies than any other jazz album in history at that time—he remarked with a smile, “I feel like a thief.”

Roy Ayers, the LA-raised vibes sovereign, who was bestowed with a set of mallets by the foremost master of the instrument Lionel Hampton at age five, has constructed several mini-career lane changes by pushing the edges of jazz forward since the ’70s. Forming the group Ubiquity, which literally means the fact of being everywhere, allowed him to pursue all the connections that jazz has to soul, R&B, funk, and disco. Connectivity that later in the ’90s would give him proper credit as being the godfather of neo-soul, house, acid-jazz, and a canon that provided the building sample blocks for the boom-bap era of hip-hop.

“Running Away” the breakout disco hit from his 1977 album Lifeline, an unrelenting danceable intermixture of jazz and funk, by Roy Ayers Ubiquity, fueled the record peaking on the Billboard 200 album chart at No. 77. Ayers’s third-highest showing on there to date, behind 1976’s “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” which peaked at No. 51, and 1978’s “Let’s Do It,” which hit No. 33. Notably, Lifeline lasted the longest of any of his albums on the Billboard 200, ultimately enjoying a twenty-five-week run.

Loaded with multi-vocal conversations in flight, Ayers vibraphone work hustling in a 4/4 tempo, muted organ phrasing, and percussive attack enhanced by guitar picking, “Running Away” was and still is a bombastic, gallant groove. Dapped-up by the younger generations—Ayers’ discography has served as an extensive sample source for numerous artists including N.W.A. and Kendrick Lamar—”Running Away” eventually garnered hits for A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and Big Daddy Kane by way of sampling.

Discovered among the 1977 acclaimed Roy Ayers “Virgin Ubiquity” studio session tapes is a rich jazz reminder: “Reaching The Highest Pleasure,” a previously unreleased gem capturing Ayers and his band perfecting a straight-ahead jazz moment. Clocking in just under six minutes, it allows Ayers to feature those mallets at a refined pace. Floating in one stretch, and tingling in another, without a second of dance floor scheming. Following a steadfast bassline and methodical pattern circling in, the studious moment references earlier works, prior to the bankability of disco.

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

More by this author

Out of the Crate: Deluxe reissues offer fond looks back

Staple Singers, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, J Dilla, Paul Weller, more slide into holiday season with big-time packages

An Oakland Black Jazz reissue is a revelation—and comes with questions

A Black-empowering label's catalog from the 1970s is re-released. Should Black people helm its return?

Now Watch This: 4 new music videos for nostalgic November feels

The Safdie brothers directed Oneohtrix Point Never's "Lost But Never Alone," and an Oakland creative turned Brijean's "Daydreaming" into an immersive psychedelic world.

Music, life, and racial justice at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival’s ‘Creative Voices’

Samora Pinderhughes, Marcus Shelby, Ukulenny, the Curtis Family Cnotes, more featured in lively online series.

New Music: On ‘Ways,’ Xyla expands euphoric electronic visions

Trippy yet somehow measured, the Sunset District artist's debut album counts influences from French horn to footwork.

Most read

The sleaze reaches high tide at City Hall

How can this level of seemingly endless corruption have happened -- and how high does it go?

The last time an SF cop was charged with killing a Black man

It was 1968. The trial was a sensation. The outcome was a disaster.

The cops, cannabis, tracking landlords — and are we just done with Zuckerberg?

Plus: a new committee on African American reparations. That's The Agenda for Nov. 30 to Dec. 6

State auditor attacks local land-use authority

Study of housing agency finances veers into politically disputed territory.

You might also likeRELATED