Harvey Mason – 1977 – Funk In A Mason Jar

Smooth soulful jazz from Harvey Mason – one of his strong 70s winners for the Arista album, and a record that really brings a new level of class to his sound! There’s less of the grit in the grooves than you might expect from the down-home reference of the title – and in a way, the record’s a similar shift to well-produced R&B as Michael Henderson or Norman Connor’s work from the same time – a soaring, fluid groove that’s still supported by solid jazz instrumentation, but which also has a nice dose of soul in the mix!

Players here are a real all-star lineup – with talents that include Dorothy Ashby, George Benson, Ronnie Foster, Bob James, and Phil Upchurch – and most cuts have vocals, by The Waters and others. But possibly best of all is the production – which is by Harvey, and really wonderful – sophisticated and smooth, but never slick – a really careful balance that really puts him right up there with Norman Connors or Roy Ayers! 

Tracks
A1 Pack Up Your Bags 5:11
A2 Till You Take My Love 3:38
A3 Space Cadets 3:34
A4 Freedom Either Way 3:36
A5 Funk in a Mason Jar 1:53
B1 What’s Going On? 8:25
B2 Set It Free 5:50
B3 Phantazia 4:26
B4 Liquid 4:38

By Howard Dukes

The name Harvey Mason means different things to different music fans. Some listeners associate the drummer with the group Fourplay due to Mason’s two-decade stint with the group. Others might yell out the name Headhunters or “Chameleon” in honor of the 1970s era jazz-fusion band he played with and the classic tune he co-composed with Herbie Hancock. Somebody else might say “Breezin’” because Mason played on that great George Benson album or “Westchester Lady” because he played on that record with Bob James. You get the idea. Mason’s gifts on percussion instruments made and continue to make him an in demand musician. 

Still, “front man” might not be the term that comes to mind for Harvey Mason, but in the mid-1970s Mason led a band that released a series of jazz fusion albums. Records such as Funk in a Mason Jar will provide fans of jazz/funk fusion with a welcome look back. The record also provides a way to chart the musical path that Mason forged over the last three and a half decades.

Funk in a Mason Jar is a mix of 1970s soul, stratospheric funk and instrumental jazz. In that way, Funk in a Mason Jar shares qualities with albums of that era released by The Blackbyrds, George Duke and Benson. The LP opens with an up-tempo track “Pack Up Your Bags,” which features lead and backing vocals that will remind many of the tunes released by The Spinners during the same time period. Instrumental tracks such as a jazz cover of “What’s Going On” combine the creativity and improvisation of jazz with R&B’s emphasis on smooth melodies. The instrumental tracks hint at the direction that Mason would follow throughout his career on tracks like the aforementioned “Westchester Lady,” as well as his work with Fourplay.

Funk in a Mason Jar can serve both as retrospective and a welcome return to an underappreciated musical genre. The record is also glimpse into the future as listeners with foresight get a chance to hear Mason craft his recognizable musical identity. Perhaps that curiosity will lead fans to explore the other records that are a part of this very worthwhile reissue.

Notable Tracks: Freedom Either Way, Till You Take My Love, Set It Free, Phantazia


Bonus

Harvey Mason 1976 Earthmover

A lot of this album is Mason getting out of the way of his sidemen. Drums are still prominent, but the balance is excellent. 
“K.Y. and the Curb” is a pop-jazz, happy song, but as performed it sounds like the theme to a late night talk show where the announcer and the host both failed to show up … So the band kept on vamping.“No Land Man” is Mason at his best, and soloing, with complex but accessible drumming and the unison playing of a very funky bass and synth. He’s showing off, but he’s still playing within the established rhythms of the song. It’s not full-on, go-wild, time-signature-be-damned, free-form soloing … and it retains its musical appeal because of that.

“When I’m With You (Live)” is not so much live as it has small audience effects added. They are enthusiastic, but are there only for effect. The bells are light ‘n’ bright, and make that track more of a jazz-pop tune.

I used to play this a lot. I had forgotten how much I liked this album (dubbed to cassette) in the 70s.

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