KOOL & THE GANG
There can hardly be a more imposing resumé to an exceptional and long-standing career as this: to this day, Kool & The Gang have sold more than 70 million albums throughout the world, have won two Grammy Awards, seven American Awards, and can look back on dozens of gold and platinum albums. With unforgettable disco hymns such as “Celebration” and “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Get Down On It,” they have for several decades brought euphoric feelings to the international dance scene. Now, “Still Kool” is at hand, in ten years their first studio album with new material. The new album by this legendary formation, featuring a host of fabulous guest musicians, was recorded by Robert “Kool” Bell; his brother Ron Bell, who now calls himself Khallis Bayyan; George Brown; Dennis “DeeTee” Thomas; and Claydes Charles Smith, the band’s guitarist who deceased last year and to whom the European edition of the new album, now published by EMI Music Germany, is dedicated. All of these five musicians are amongst the founding members of Kool & The Gang, who debuted in the US in as early as 1969 and with their excellent blend of soul, funk, jazz, pop, and disco were to become one of the most influential acts of their kind
Unlike the American version of “Still Kool,” this edition includes two exceptional bonus tracks. “Party People,” the first radio single release of the album, is an excellent reminder of the energy and lust for life that bubbles up when it’s time to create a party atmosphere on the dance floors, and that is so typical of Kool & The Gang. The same holds true for the hit medley of their three classic tunes, “Celebration,” “Get Down On It,” and “Ladies Night,” which the band has recorded exclusively for the new edition of their comeback album. But “Still Kool” also has on offer a number of tracks in the classic format. The opener, “Dave,” already thrills one with its well-tempered vocal harmonies that have turned Kool & The Gang into unrivalled grandmasters of the art of ballads, further proven by the fact that they have had twenty-five hits in the American R&B charts. In this genre, the album features beautiful rhythm’n'blues tracks such as “Made For Love,” “Miracles,” and “Too Low For Zero.” Equally touching is the short but profound homage to Marvin Gaye, “What’s Happening,” a counterpart to “What’s Going On,” followed by “Is What It Is,” a song no less grandiose that proves that Kool & The Gang are carved from similar precious timber as the legendary soul singer himself.
However, Kool & The Gang not only know how to come up with vocal parts that are smooth as butter, in other aspects they also display themselves as unrivalled masters of solid arrangements that can easily keep up with the zeitgeist. Like numerous US productions, “Living In The 21” dances on the narrow ridge between HipHop and R&B, with guest rapper Eisha Powell lending the track extra drive. In mid-tempo pearls such as “America” and “Stepping Into Love,” the band, that often plays up as abundantly as a big band, finds plenty of opportunities to give free reigns to their fine sax solos and guitar play rooted deep within the genres of jazz and funk. “Give It Up” on the other hand, with its maddeningly puckering bass and the bouts of Latin brass could well make it into the highest heights of the pop charts. And while the band lets the seventies — the decade in which Kool & The Gang had their first major hits — live up again with their fat funk rock tune “Bang Bang With The Gang,” the instrumental version of the evergreen by Christopher Cross leads us further back in our voyage through time. The story of the most long-lived existing still active band of its kind goes back to their beginning as a purely instrumental combo.
When in 1964 the two brothers Robert Bell (bass) and Ronald Bell (sax), originating from Youngstown, Ohio, decided to found their first band, The Jazziacs, in Jersey City, New Jersey, they were still teenagers, but highly talented ones. They were even given the chance to play as openers for the likes of renowned jazz stars such as Pharaoh Sanders. Having tried out several band names, in 1969 they finally settled on Kool & The Gang, which goes back to Robert Bell’s nickname Kool, and in the same year released their debut album, titled after the band. The title song, purely instrumental, also became their first hit in the Billboard R&B Charts. In the seventies, Kool & The Gang released a whole dozen of excellent albums — an entire series of hits made them famous in the USA and beyond. “Funky Stuff,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie” (a platinum hit which years later was honored anew in the score for “Pulp Fiction”), and “Higher Plane” cemented their excellent renown as a colored act with mass appeal, similar to James Brown and Nina Simone. Two more of their evergreens originating in those years are closely connected with the scores they were used in: “Summer Madness” was featured in “Rocky” and “Open Sesame” in “Saturday Night Fever”.
In 1979, Kool & The Gang inaugurated a new era in the band’s history with “Ladies Night” produced by Deodato, featuring James “J.T.” Taylor who had just signed up as lead vocalist. Kool & The Gang finally turned into living legends with their world-wide smash hit “Celebration,” which reached the top of the US charts in 1980. This gigantic hit has to this day lost none of its magic and attraction and will probably animate people to frolicsome high spirits from here to eternity. In the following years, hits such as “Get Down On It,” “Joanna,” “Cherish,” and “Fresh” proved the band to have found the recipe for success. The immense influence of Kool & The Gang shows even today in the fact that only James Brown is used more for samples in HipHop tracks. Indeed, there can be no doubt that their canon of disco hits, which has been added to by the new “Party People,” has something right for every DJ on this planet. Even the name of the band sounds archetypical for youth slang. In spite of their age, Kool & The Gang have kept a remarkable freshness — Still Kool after all these years. Hardly was anyone ever more entitled to this predicate.