Michael Olatuja – Speak

January 01, 1970





The deceptively complicated grooves on D’Angelo’s masterpiece Voodoo never had quite the impact that
they should have. In particular, neo-soulsters didn’t embrace the album’s dark,
muted Afro-Caribbean touches or its exquisite sense of time; in the end, maybe
D’s stretched-out song forms seemed too much like jazz. Surprisingly, some of
that album’s mojo finds its way to Michael Olatuja’s Speak, the British/Nigerian bassist’s solo debut. The fact that
he’s a session guy — a musician’s musician — maybe has something to do with


Speak is unfailingly
bright-sounding, so in that aspect, it’s not a direct descendant of
“Voodoo,” but tracks such as the 
gospel-ballad “Altar Call” (sung by Eska Mtungwazi) and the
subtle, off-time funk workout “Hold On” (sung Lynden David Hall and
Andrew Roachford) each flow toward the 5-minute mark without seeming overly
dense or forced. The same care, the same general vibe, is there. And Olatuja
himself shows admirable patience as a bassist — he always buttresses the
groove and never noodles. “Little Sister” (sung by Terri Walker) and
“Le Jardin” (sung by Onaje Jefferson) likewise have their moments.


The second half of Speak feels slightly more cluttered and more overtly musical — the final two
compositions, “Walk With Me” and “Mama Ola,” have
full-blown jazz-combo arrangements. Olatuja offsets them with
“Speak,” a hip-hop track that features unfussy rhymes by TY, who
sticks to the positive tip (“self-elected/and self-protected”). If
anything, those songs prove that perfect restraint — the Voodoo kind — is an awfully tough thing to maintain.


Standout tracks: “Altar
Call,” “Hold On” JOE WARMINSKY


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