Q - p.1264 stars out of 5
- "[A] long-forgotten jazz excursion into big-band covers and reworkings of Brown originals....An unearthed treasure."
Mojo (Publisher) - p.1104 stars out of 5
- "[A] truly coruscating marriage of dynamic big band jazz and searing funk power....Brown is in irresistible form....SOUL ON TOP is undoubtedly a lost masterpiece."
Personnel: James Brown (vocals); Bill Pitman, Louis Shelton (guitar); Ernie Watts, Joe Romano (alto saxophone); Maceo Parker, Pete Christlieb, Buddy Collette (tenor saxophone); Jimmy Mulidore (baritone saxophone); Al Aarons, John Audino, Chuck Finley, Tommy Porello (trumpet); Jimmy Cleveland, Nick Dimaio, Kenny Shroyer, Bill Tole (trombone); Frank Vincent (piano); Ray Brown (bass guitar); Louie Bellson (drums); Jack Arnold (percussion).
Liner Note Authors: Francis Davis; Leonard Feather.
Arranger: Oliver Nelson.
SOUL ON TOP is one of the more unusual entries in the James Brown catalog. On this 1969 album, the Godfather of Soul is backed by jazz drummer Louie Bellson's big band, with arrangements by famed jazz orchestrator Oliver Nelson, for a program including numerous jazz standards, a country tune, and jazzy reworkings of classic Brown songs. Brown was a jazz fan and admirer of Bellson, and finally approached him to do an album, at which point Bellson suggested bringing Nelson aboard as arranger.
The results ostensibly take Brown out of his comfort zone. However, he sounds no less assured on a jazz boogaloo version of Hank Williams's "Your Cheatin' Heart" and a funked-up, horn-heavy take on Kurt Weill's "September Song" than he does on reinterpretations of his own "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Brown brought longtime saxman Maceo Parker along for company, so there's a bit of JB's flavor here, but for the most part it's a strange-but-happy marriage of Brown's gritty R&B voice, Bellson's hard-charging big band, and Nelson's harmonically rich horn arrangements. If you never thought you'd hear a soulful version of the Anthony Newley tune "What Kind of Fool Am I?," SOUL ON TOP will change your mind.