I wasn’t cool enough to listen to or appreciate Bobbi Humphrey during my college years. That lack of acumen on my part has been repaired by the passage of time as she is a brilliant jazz flutist who has fused some pop and funky sounds into her music.
Barbara Ann Humphrey was born in Texas and by 1971 was in New York looking for a recording contract. She was rejected by the Atlantic label but managed to sign with the legendary jazz label, Blue Note. Real Gone Music has reissued her second release, Dig This!
Her style veered from the traditional jazz sound of the era. In addition to bass, drums, and guitar, she used strings as a foundation for her music. The strings gave it a pop feel, while the bass and guitar moved in a funky rhythm & blues direction. Her flute playing was the jazz element that bound everything together.
She surrounded herself with a conglomeration of supporting musicians including oboe and English horn player George Marge, cellist Seymour Barab, guitarist David Spinozza, bassist Ron Carter, violinist Paul Winter, percussionist Warren Smith, and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. It was a good unit, as the push-and-pull of their different styles was the perfect back drop for her flute to float in, out, and over the album’s sound.
She was not a songwriter and so had to choose her music wisely. “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” by Bill Withers was a soul song that she moved in a funk/jazz fusion direction. Here she played off the guitar play of Spinozza. Stevie Wonder’s “I Love Every Little Thing About You” is more subtle as she weaved her flute among the other backing instruments.
The Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield composition, “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” has been interpreted in a number of ways but here, it is laden with strings while her clear and distinct notes are suspended above the mix.
Mouzon has been a noted jazz drummer for close to 50 years but at the time, he was a label mate of Humphrey and was her drummer in the studio. The album was recorded in two days and two of his compositions are connectors that kept her firmly within the jazz format. “El Mundo De Maravillas” and “Virtue” not only are fine vehicles for her to explore the jazz idiom but are show pieces for Mouzon as well.
The music has been remastered and has more clarity to it. This is especially true with the sounds her flute produced, which gives the whole affair a good, clean, and crisp sound.
Bobbi Humphrey was still finding her way when she recorded Dig This! Her sound has continued to evolve with the passing of time. Still, Dig This! remains an interesting and creative look to the world of jazz fusion from a many times underappreciated artist.