Brother Brother is guitarist Thom Douvan’s easy grooving tribute to Detroit’s legendary sessions band members, heralded in the 2002 documentary, Standing in the Shadow of Motown, The Funk Brothers. Douvan began playing with the Brothers around 1985 and stayed with them until 1992, a tenure that gave him an education in soul. And if this new album, dedicated to Funk Brothers drummer Richard “Pistol” Allen and keyboardist Johnny Griffith is any indication, it is an education that has stuck with him. Now based on the West Coast, Detroit still calls to Douvan, and Brother Brother answers that call.
Working with saxophonist Tony Malfatti, Hammond organist Duncan McMillan on all but one track, and a gaggle of five different drummers, including the recently deceased Ralph Penland, Douvan leads his ensemble through a jazz-infused set of funk and soul music. It is one that moves from the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. In something of a musical triumph, he manages to transform the songs while remaining true to their spirit.
Highlighting a wealth of fine performances are their swinging take on the traditional “The Water Is Wide,” with some swinging give-and-take between the organ and the sax, and a dynamite tempo-busting rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” They do soulful readings of ballads like the Hall and Oates hit “Sara Smile” and the Isley’s “For the Love of You.” Both give Douvan opportunities to step up, and he takes them.
Soul is the key to the album: “What’s Going On,” “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” and ”You’re Welcome, Stop on By.” Song after song fairly reeks with soul, and come to think of it, that’s perhaps the best thing about it.
Brother Brother is Douvan’s second album as leader. It is due for release April 29.
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