An album by an artist with titles like "Echo De Amor," "Bolerino Bella" and "Piano Sinsual" on an R&B and soul music website? Did you scroll down and miss something? Nope, folks, the self-titled new GRP/Verve Music Group album by piano virtuoso Freddie Ravel most decidedly belongs right here if only because Freddie's impressive credits dictate that it does. R&B fans will know him as a touring keyboardist with Earth, Wind & Fire and most recently as musical director for Al Jarreau and the co-writer of "Tomorrow Today," the title track for Jarreau's 2000 GRP debut album.
The L.A. native's last album, 1995's PolyGram set "Sol To Soul" featured a number of cuts produced by EW&F founder Maurice White and like Freddie's current set, also included musicians like Verdine White on bass and boasted such great tracks as "Slip Into The Gap," co-written by metaphysical teacher and author, Dr. Deepak Chopra. Freddie's latest record is noticeably more Latin in flavor and that, he says, is by design: "This has much more focus on that energy. It's natural for me. It's in the DNA - I grew up on a whole stew of music from south of the border since my mother is from Colombia. Those rhythms have been inside of me for a long time and with the explosion of interest in Latin music, people's ears are much more open to it on much more of a mass level."
Freddie's new album includes special guests Peter White and Marc Antoine on guitar and Eric Marienthal on saxophone and he describes it as "a record that made me feel like I could run free with the Latin sounds and percussive instruments like the congas and bongos. Before I felt like I was sneaking that in there. My last record was about letting my R&B side show. Working with Maurice, it was about keeping the 'soul' part of what I do alive; this new one is about the 'sol' side!"
Although this is Freddie's third album, this is the first one to gain major U.S. release. He explains, "My first record "Midnight Passion" was made with Polydor in Japan and it was at the time I was working with Sergio Mendes. Maurice [White] came to me with a deal for the second record and again, it was for the Japanese arm of PolyGram. Touring with Al [Jarreau] for the past three years certainly helped with getting my deal with GRP/Verve. Al's manager Bill Darlington is also my manager and he got some new music I was doing to Bud Harner at GRP and Tommy LiPuma (President of GRP). It's been like night and day working with the folks at GRP and Verve. It's one of the last great labels and I feel like I have a family and team with me on this record."
The difference is evident: the track, "Sunny Side Up" - which features Verdine and EW&F alumni Al McKay on guitar - rose to No. 1 on L.A. smooth jazz radio and Freddie says, "it feels like a dream! I'm flabbergasted at the way everyone is reacting to the record. We've been getting calls from the U.K. - Jazz FM has been playing "Sunny Side Up" and we're getting responses from Germany and Spain. This is the first of my albums that's getting an international reaction."
Still touring with Al Jarreau, Freddie has also been doing some gigs of his own and having witnessed him in person at an L.A. night spot, I can testify that he's one of the most exciting and energetic instrumentalists I've seen in a long time. It's no surprise that when I take a little break from listening to classic soul and R&B (either via compilations I make for my friends or through frequent trips down memory lane with artists like Leroy Hutson, Anita Baker, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack and The Stylistics), I put on some Freddie Ravel (and some Nestor Torres, the excellent Puerto Rican flautist) to groove to!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.