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Kevin Jenkin's "Step Inside" Reviewed

Bill Withers? Curtis Mayfield

At Shemekia Copeland’s Iridium gig last month all eyes were on the great blues singer and when you could tear em away from her, you were probably admiring her guitarist Arthur Neilsen. BUT if you kept on travelling right you’d have reached Kevin Jenkins, a perfect session and group bassist: always at service to the work at hand, always professional, self-effacing and holding down the groove.

In the past year or so I’ve seen Kevin on stage several times and usually he seems to fold himself into a groove, he sizzles to a simmer so you less see him and more feels his presence. He is like a sun where you are more aware of him because of his gravitational pull. Hugely respected by his fellow musicians and much loved by his bandleader Tomas Doncker, Jenkins is a musicians musician, a professional whose resume includes  playing with every one from Cyndi Lauper to Roberta Flack.

And that was that until the Tomas Doncker’s Band’s gig at the Blue Note last month, when Kevin took over lead singing for two songs and it became clear that there was more to the bassist than being a bassist. Tomas has regaled me with stories of Kevin playing these terrific songs Kevin had written at impromptu sessions yet refusing to record them until, a couple of years later, Kevin capitulated and recorded Step Inside, a superior soul album.

Step Inside doesn’t work because of the voice, Kevin has a good voice for sure, and it doesn’t work because of the bass, though the band as a whole goes song after song of strength and determination, it works because the songs are killer.

Top most are two duets, “Take This Ride” with Shemekia and “Walk Away” with Doncker band stalwart Marion Meadows. “Walk Away” is a full blooded ballad with a touch of country in the slide and jazz in the mellotron, and “Take This Ride” is just about the greatest blues groove around, it shuffles hard and settles down into the song, before Arthur Neilsen’s Hendrix impression blasts it up and Shemekia’s singing blasts it down.

“Wichita Lineman” sounds a lot like the recent recording by Glen Campbell, and the first song on the album “Flying” is a feint of the best sort. On stage at the Blue Note it seemed a little out of place, quiet enough to grab you in contrast but opening Step Inside, it is an invitation and an exposition. It sounds very 1980s, a little Phil Collin-sy but in a good way. Certainly the raucous very next track “What Comes Round” sounds like it should be on a soundtrack to “Miami Vice” or being sampled by Kanye. Tomas mentions Bill Withers, but it is Curtis Mayfield who comes to mind here… and elsewhere.

Far from a vanity project by a team player, it is an introduction to the next   level in Kevin’s career. A marvelous album and a fine first step inside.

Grade: B+

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