'Evolution' Roy Ayers Ubiquity (Mystic Voyage, Polydor, 1975)

From beginning to end, Mystic Voyage from Roy Ayers Ubiquity is pretty much perfect for me, but take this track ‘Evolution’ as an example of the alchemy that takes place when musicians are perfectly in-synch and it all makes musical sense. 

Speaking personally, I’m not so keen on a lot of the more extravagant funk offerings (with all those costumes and pyrotechnics) because it’s just too showy for me, but this music from Ayers has such a graceful aspect because of the way it holds back, with no space for excess. There’s a kind of humour, or joy to it as well. (Just love the 30 second section in ‘Evolution’ starting from around 2’40 where it slowly builds, intensifies and the various sounds work perfectly together. The way the different sounds come in, as if to say, hey don't forget about me ...)

This album has received some of the funniest reviews I’ve ever read that make manifest the territorial style displayed of fans bothered by the development of a favourite artist; exhibit for the prosecution this off-the-wall example from AllMusic’s Alex Henderson: 

Depending on who you talk to, 1975’s Mystic Voyage is either a classic or an example of a talented musician lowering his standards in order to make more money.
Many funk and soul aficionados consider Mystic Voyage a classic, and the album has been sampled extensively by hip-hop and acid jazz artists.
But jazz snobs have about as much use for Mystic Voyage as they have for George Benson’s Breezin’ and Patrice Rushen’s Pizzazz, both of which found artists who used to specialize in straight-ahead jazz burning up the Billboard charts with more commercial music.
Mystic Voyage doesn’t pretend to be jazz; its primary focus is R&B, and it must be judged by R&B standards instead of jazz standards. Judging Mystic Voyage by jazz standards is like ordering a pizza and complaining that it doesn’t taste like Vietnamese food; pizza isn’t supposed to resemble Vietnamese cuisine, and similarly, Mystic Voyage isn’t meant to impress jazz’s hardcore.
The only tune on the album that has anything to do with jazz is the title track, a laid-back pop-jazz instrumental that became a favorite with the quiet storm crowd. But Mystic Voyage is dominated by vocal-oriented R&B, and that includes gritty funk items like “Funky Motion,” “Evolution,” and “Spirit of Doo Do,” as well as Ashford & Simpson’s mellow “Take All the Time You Need.”
Although Mystic Voyage is a favorite among Ayers fans, it isn’t the best R&B-oriented album that he recorded in the 1970s — Vibrations and Everybody Loves the Sunshine are actually stronger and more essential. But it’s definitely enjoyable and pleasing if you fancy 1970s soul and funk and aren’t a jazz snob.

‘Judging Mystic Voyage by jazz standards is like ordering a pizza and complaining that it doesn't taste like Vietnamese food; pizza isn't supposed to resemble Vietnamese cuisine …’ indeed. 

And then another poster on a fan's site got tied up in knots getting worried about how to rate the record. (Why do people even bother with this, as a way to show dominance over the artist you’re meant to respect? It’s perverse and backward, it seems to me; just listen to the music. You don't rate a painting, or a novel, or a sculpture or dance performance. Be simple, honour the work).

This is the sort of album that makes me wish you could rate an album on more degrees than just whole and half stars. This album is squarely a 3.3 for me, because it is a good album and worth listening to on a semi-regular basis, but it also has a decent amount of filler that makes not a great or even very good record. Thus, 3.0 is too low; 3.5 is too high, but I’m giving it a 3.5 because I find for myself the closer an album gets to being rated 3.0, the less inclined I am to purchase it. 

So, all of this said, what is good about this album? Well it is generally funky, even if in sort of a pop-commercial funk kind of way. Generally I don’t dig commercial funk but the thing about Roy Ayers that I dig is that it has a sexy smooth edge to it that although it is commercial I still get enjoyment out of. My fave song the the album has to be The Black Five, which was sampled on one of my favorite tracks by hip hop artist One Be Lo on his best album s.o.n.o.g.r.a.m.. For this, I dig and i’m being generous and giving a 3.5 to keep it alive.

(But this fan, AndyD gets it, as he writes: 'Possibly Roy Ayers' most consistently funky effort, 'Mystic Voyage' is a high light of Roy's catalogue. The basslines are just that little bit bigger than normal, the breaks tighter, and the signature vibe fills are just too funky.')

There's a really great interview on YT, which I can't put up for the moment, but I recommend to any other Ayers fans (it's called 'Roy Ayers Interview 2, A life in Vibes').

In this very very low-key, relaxed, ‘non-professional’ chat, put up in 2013, Ayers shares his recollections of other musicians: Cal Tjader (a ‘cool cat’ and wise musician, who liked to drink a lot of Scotch; Lonnie Liston Smith – ‘his sound is very cosmic’ and Fela Kuti with his very many wives: 'the African way’ apparently).

Ayers also talks about the feud between Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk that led Monk to stop playing any chords behind Davis when they performed together and the motivation behind his writing his, perhaps most famous piece of music, ‘Everybody loves the sunshine’. 

I especially liked the part in the interview when Ayers emphasises: ‘It’s all about the sound; it’s all about capturing the sound, getting a style within the sound …’     
 

(From the liner notes to Mystic Voyage: this album is dedicated to the memory of Julian "Cannonball" Adderly and to his musical contribution to this world. – Roy Ayers)