They say that if you’re a friend to everyone you’re a friend to no one. Well, in the case of Tarika Blue, here is an album that roundly disproves that maxim. A record that delivers to fusion, soul, jazz and disco aficionados alike, Tarika Blue’s ability to cover all these bases with equal skill is quite an achievement. The balance locked in its grooves are testament to the astonishing musical range found in the artists who perform with such aplomb.
Tarika Blue was formed in 1973 by Phil Clendenin, a keyboard session player and studio engineer from New York, while he was a student at Syracuse University. Centred around the core unit of Clendenin, drummer Kevin Atkins and bassist Barry Coleman, the group was augmented by various passing members that included sax players Marvin Blackman (also worked with Rashied Ali) and Justo Almario, a variety of vocalists including Irene Datcher and Dolores Smith as well as some stellar guitarists who would go on the assume cult status: James Mason and Ryo Kawasaki. It’s interesting to note that around 74-75, Clendenin was also a member of another group called the Big Apple Band, featuring a certain Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards… whatever happened to them?
In 1974 Tarika Blue were signed to New York jazz label, Chiaroscuro Records, founded by Hank O’Neal. Their first album, ‘The Blue Path’ was all instrumental but the eponymous follow-up featured some fine vocal performances from Irene Datcher and Dolores Smith on tracks like the jazz funk burner ‘Truth is the Key’ and the joyously uplifting ‘Love it’. The dance floor is well catered for on the album with ‘Charlie’, a solid disco workout and ‘Things Spring’ featuring a soaring soprano from Justo Almario.
Given it’s sublime musicality, the album gained cult status quickly among jazz and funk fusion fans, not least because of the guitar work from James Mason, a member of the Roy Ayers group. Mason would go on to record and release his own solo album in 1977, ‘Rhythm of Life’, that gained similar ‘Holy Grail’ status among jazz funk collectors as the Tarika Blue album.
The other featured guitarist on the album is Ryo Kawasaki. Born in Toyko, Japan, in 1943, Kawasaki settled in New York in 1973, soon becoming an in-demand player in the vibrant local jazz scene, playing with Gil Evans, Chico Hamilton, Elvin Jones, Dave Liebman and many others. Kawasaki also had a successful solo career recording several classic fusion albums including ‘Prism’ and ‘Eight Mile Road’ before taking an excursion into programming computer games in the 1980s.
The name Tarika Blue was back in circulation again around the millennium when producer J Dilla used a sample from the track ‘Dreamflower’ in Erykah Badu’s Grammy nominated ‘Didn't Cha Know’ - without the band’s permission! There was an out of court settlement but it just proved that Tarika Blue’s music still had currency with the most successful and respected artists and producers. And it’s easy to hear why. ‘Dreamflower’, a diaphanous pearl of a track, floats along like a wisp of perfume on the evening air and it’s easy to hear why Dilla zoned in on it to accompany Badu’s sensuous vocal lines.
After giving the album a listen you too will be entranced by the spell of Tarika Blue.