Jeff Oster, featuring Nile Rodgers, Chuck Rainey + Bernard Purdie – next (2015)

This review originally appeared at Something Else!

Jeff Oster is a New Age artist of a different sort, as his brand of downtempo had long brandished chugging groove while maintaining that airy, celestial, out April 14, 2015 on Retso Records, does more of the same for the flugelhorn player. And then some.

Oster, as noted back in December, enlisted the services of a fabled rhythm section to hop up the funk factor for five of these tracks. Chuck Rainey and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie turned many of Steely Dan’s songs into dance-beckoning groove constructions starting with The Royal Scam and forty years later they’re sprinkling magic funk dust on Oster’s tunes.

No more so than on the leadoff title track, which features a third old school icon of the rare groove, guitarist/producer extraordinaire Nile Rodgers. Though no one will mistake “next” with, say, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” or even the new Chic tune, there’s no mistaken Rodgers’ signature rhythm guitar nor the Rainey/Purdie slinky shuffle. Oster’s notes bellow out and dissipate over the all-star groove machine.

Rodgers’ cameo lasted for only that song but the Rainey/Purdie ride continue for four more songs. Rainey’s highly melodic bass line competes with Oster for attention on “Turn Left At San Pancho,” and Purdie’s signature shuffle (along with Todd Boston’s tasteful guitar) gives “Avenue D” a lift much as he elevated “Home At Last” nearly forty years ago. The preciseness of both vets on all of their five performances is reason alone why they still live up to their mythical status in studio circles.

Elsewhere, Jeff Taboloff’s soaring tenor on “Heroes” saxophone provides an alternative horn voice to Oster’s smooth-edged expressions, and the acoustic guitars of Grammy-winning producer/Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman on the concluding ballad “And We Dance” is another way Oster pushes back against any notion that New Age is about programmed, artificial sounds. And soulless? The organ and piano-enhanced “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is overflowing with that vintage kind of soul.

By retaining all the soothing qualities of New Age while making it groove naturally, Jeff Oster has quietly pioneered an organic kind of downtempo — he calls it “New Age Ambient Funk” — that sets it apart from everyone else operating in that space, and in the process has made it more interesting and compelling. With the help of some unlikely contributors, next is the best demonstration of Oster’s homegrown genre thus far.