If Lonnie Jordan's 2007 long-player War Stories is to believed -- that and a couple of thousand other 12" singles and albums by other artists around the globe -- the era of nu soul has given way to soul, and acid jazz has given way to genuine jazz-funk once more. It's not so much that he makes a claim for these things, it's that the evidence is in the grooves themselves. Jordan is, of course, a founding member of Bay area legends War. His singing and keyboard playing helped to define that group's brave (and very successful) ...
If Lonnie Jordan's 2007 long-player War Stories is to believed -- that and a couple of thousand other 12" singles and albums by other artists around the globe -- the era of nu soul has given way to soul, and acid jazz has given way to genuine jazz-funk once more. It's not so much that he makes a claim for these things, it's that the evidence is in the grooves themselves. Jordan is, of course, a founding member of Bay area legends War. His singing and keyboard playing helped to define that group's brave (and very successful) attempts at combining jazz, funk, soul, Latin groove and polyrhythmic pop. War Stories is Jordan's third album as a leader, and his first since 1982. It is also easily the best of his own recordings. Of course there are elements of War's sound here and the synthesis that was their trademark is, as expected, all over this 14-song set. Vocally, Jordan is as strong as ever. He has his full range, from falsetto to gritty shout. His writing skills are sharp, and he's not given to the excesses he once was as a solo artist, though he's more adventurous now. There are a number of covers on this set as a well, most notable among them is a slow-burning mambo reading of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" with Jordan's funky Cuban piano leading the charge, and a gorgeous jazz version of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun," complete with acoustic piano and Rhodes, berimbau, and a funky bassline -- yeah, yeah, there are guitar parts too. And before you roll your eyes, these are not gimmicky side tracks; they are visionary re-interpretations that only a master musician could pull off. It might as well be stated that there are a couple of War tunes here as well, including "The World Is a Ghetto," and "Deliver the Word." The former doesn't touch the original (but then, how could it?) the latter reinvents and improves upon the root tune. As fine as these are, however, they are simply parts of a much larger story. The album title reveals what's in store for the listener. Jordan simply recounts through the music his experiences as a musician from running in the Oakland ghetto in the late '50s and '60s to jamming with Hendrix on the night before he passed away, and partying and playing with Bob Marley ("Rock and Roll Days.") Like the best tunes in the genre of socially conscious roots music, Jordan allows the personal into his tunes, as on the soulful opener "Don't Let No One Get You Down" and in the tragic balladry of "Baby Brother," which recounts the shooting of his sibling by police; there's the rent-party funk of "Get That Feeling" and the Fela-centric, James Brown-grit, pop and groove in another War tune, "Get Down," that's much faster than the original version. Love songs, such as "Out of Sight," with its ethereal late night groove, and the closer "Theresa," a paean to Jordan's wife of 32 years all intertwine with the message tunes, and the covers are given poetic weight and become multidimensional by their presentation in this context. Jordan claims that these tunes were recorded in a studio with a live band playing, and that the only thing he really over-dubbed were some layers of keyboards (but backing vocals have been overdubbed to be sure as well). Given the seamless, warm sound of the disc, that feels mostly right; but it is also a testament to the other players on the date, from guitarist JB Eckl and Pancho Tomasselli's bass playing to the polyrhythmic attack of the numerous drummers and percussionists, to backing vocalist Tara Ellis. This feels like Jordan with an honest to goodness band, playing his tunes, not a group of studio hacks. War Stories is a fine recording, period, and deserves to be heard by anyone who was ever interested in War, sure; but more than this, it's an assemblage and directory of roots music -- from R&B, soul and funk -- as it is being made right here and now. War Stories is right now. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi