Recording information: All Star Sound Studio; Celestial Sounds, NY; Mediasound, NY.
When You Might Be Surprised came out in 1985, Roy Ayers wasn't having as many hits as he had enjoyed in the late '70s. The R&B landscape had changed a lot since the days of Vibrations (1976) and You Send Me (1978). Ayers knew that if he didn't want to be accused of sounding dated, he needed to appeal to the urban contemporary tastes of 1985, so on this album he manages to update his approach without being untrue to himself. The production (some of it by James Mtume, some of it by Ayers himself) is high-tech and hip-hop-influenced -- synthesizers and drum machines are prominent, and there are few horns and no strings. But Ayers still sounds distinctive on material that ranges from the clever single "Programmed for Love," and the funky "Can I See You," to the playful title song (a duet with singer Jean Carn). The opener "Hot" has some Prince/Jesse Johnson/Morris Day influence, but without obscuring Ayers' own identity. This time, there are a few likable, if unremarkable, jazz/R&B/pop instrumentals, which include "Night Flyte" and "Virgo" (a tune that employs Branford Marsalis on tenor sax). You Might Be Surprised isn't among Ayers' essential albums, but all things considered, it was a respectable addition to his catalogue. ~ Alex Henderson