One day, Roy Ayers — best known as the soul/jazz creator of the universal groove “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” — will get his due as one of the finest composers and artists of the postmodern era. Virgin Ubiquity brings that day ever closer, with thirteen songs that sound so good, it’s hard to believe they were hidden in a vault somewhere for almost three decades.
Ayers’ jazzy R&B fusion was obviously well ahead of its time, because these tracks don’t sound dated at all. The slowly unwinding groove of “Brand New Feeling” instantly recalls “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” and features soaring female vocals that sound sped up at first, like the hook on Kanye West’s recent rap hit “Through the Wire.” Sylvia Cox’s vocals are actually in real time, but they contain so much energy and exuberance, it seems like a studio trick: “I just had a brand new feeling/It came up on me in the night.” Whereas most R&B songs these days would tail off at about the three-and-a-half-minute mark, Ayers keeps building on the groove, adding a resplendent horn solo, then overlapping the vocals as the tune reaches its climax almost ten minutes after beginning.
Ayers’ trademark vibraphone lines are at their best on the tight instrumental “Green and Gold,” backed by an insistent, funky bassline. Other tunes make today’s R&B producers seem like tired hacks in comparison to Ayers’ versatile arrangements. These aren’t just chestnuts from the disco era, but songs that hold their own (and then some) with any contemporary urban sound you’d care to name. Chalk up another quality release for England’s BBE Records, who may be barely breaking even, but continue to break new and interesting musical ground. Or, in this case, exquisitely preserved old ground.