Did adult r&b die with Luther Vandross and Gerald Levert? Seems that way. Not to be confused with the “neo-soul” movement—merely the sound of young, inexperienced musicians rifling through their parents’ record collections—what was once a thriving genre is now reduced to hawking soul-karaoke records: Michael McDonald or Vanessa Williams blandly replicating the classics they’re “saluting.” (It’s the uptown version of the Rod Stewart/Barry Manilow career-resurrection strategy.) But who’s the real audience for this sort of thing? It can’t be fans of the originals—the new stuff’s clearly inferior. Nor is it the hip-hop set— not with such stodgy arrangements and dispassionate delivery. No, the true aficionados of soul karaoke are those who merely like to half-listen to their music while they go about their daily activities: smooth-jazz fans, in other words.
Well, then, here’s the record for them. A live recording overseen by producer-keyboardist Jason Miles, Soul Summit has a trio of singers (Maysa, Susan Tedeschi, and Mike Mattison)—backed by a bunch of studio pros who’ve played with everyone from Marvin Gaye to Elvis Presley—doing the familiar “What a Man,” the vaguely familiar “Memphis Underground,” and the designed-to-sound-familiar “Chicken and Waffles.” The question is, Why? Why do a “Shotgun” that lacks the sheer sonic blast of Junior Walker’s sax? Why release a “Son of a Preacher Man” that, despite Tedeschi’s earnest vocals, doesn’t come close to Aretha or Dusty? Why unleash a nearly-12-minute “James Brown Medley” that can’t summon the rhythmic propulsion of Poncho Sanchez’s covers, much less hold a candle to the Godfather himself? Early on, Miles and company inadvertently posited the perfect question concerning soul karaoke, via the instrumental “Can You Feel It?” I can kinda hear it, yeah, but feel it? No way.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 8, 2008