Richard Tee was certainly more respected and noteworthy among the New York jazz and session scene than he was by any popular fanbase. His solo success never took off here in the U.S yet was admired and respected deeply. In fact, until Inside You, the Brooklyn-raised keyboardist hadn’t much support for his solo efforts nor a release stateside of his discs, even though they were handled by Bob James’ Tappan Zee label in the early 90’s.
The Bottom Line is a relative obscurity in Tee’s solo catalog and another New York recording only released in Japan under King Records’ subsidiary fusion label Electric Bird Records airs on the side of easier listening, pop-centric of Tee’s releases to date. With a down-sized band of what would become his regulars John Tropea (electric guitar), Steve Gadd (drums), Marcus Miller (bass) and Ralph McDonald (percussions) with divided support by Will Lee (bass) and Dave Weckl (drums) with vocalists Bill Eaton and Zack Sanders.
Unlike his previous Strokin’ (1975) and Natural Ingredients (1980), no strings or horns this time around, and no Tee-related puns reflecting the sleeve arts. Scaled back musician support and soloing a la jazz leanings, Tee focused on a mostly pop-direction with some vocal-led pieces that mostly stray from his usual bluesy-gospel and southern influences of past. A different direction that may have been tailored to appeal to Japanese audiences and radio-friendly at that, further reflected by trimmed track lengths, tightly kept around 3 to 4 minutes.
In a way, The Bottom Line is Richard Tee’s first solo album for the target audience (and on CD at this time for that matter).
Though Tee was most proficient for his elegant bluesy soul on piano with signature accompaniment by his unmistakable pioneered phaser Fender Rhodes, there’s a satisfying plenty on here along with vocal pieces that ramped up on his solo efforts outside of Stuff, which are still lyrically awkward at times and simplistic, yet upbeat and feel-good even when Bill Eaton takes over on Miss-Understanding.
As per tradition, there’s a steady mixture of instrumental and vocal numbers on here with Tee’s soulful and gospel cadence. Nippon Lights is the disc’s real star instrumental, flavored for ethnic Japan, providing rich nightlife imagery with regard to cultural clashes of East and West, with some spikey electric soloing by Tropea. What Can I Say is a companionate instrumental to the former with like distorted guitar fills and obligatory Linn drum claps on each. Though the Linn drum was mostly retired if not defined and confined by the heart of 80’s sound, it’s accepted use on various tracks works despite its cheese, even on the disc’s soulful opener If You Want It which may just have you clapping along.
Faulted by lyrical blunder and staccato flow, which is just something you come to accept when admiring Tee’s playing, some tracks fizzle out, seemingly hitting a wall while looped verses rove on on a few tracks including the title The Bottom Line. Soloing lacks in turn for vocals here by Tee himself, handled mostly by Tropea’s well-placed guitaring, whose jazz-rock touches still only appetize jazz ears.
The Bottom Line will mostly appeal to Tee fans only, there’s no denying that there were some fine ideas here paired with a wealth of variation: prime fusion-styled hooks and melodies that were some his best yet that sadly wound up half-baked. Whether it’s Weckl’s cymbal taps and lead in on Moving On or the doorbell-like Rhodes melody on the bouncy Spring Is You, nothing has been repeated on any other releases. Album outliars No Real Way is a down-tempo tribute to doo-wop balladry, while a solo piano duel with Gadd’s rhythmic support on a speedy take of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. McDonald’s percussions are just the right touches on each.
The Bottom Line? A pleasing and catchy effort for enthusiasts that manages to invite repeat listens with its care-free appeal that shines on all Tee’s works despite its desparate play to commercial radio. (thedigital-master.blogspot.de)
Steve Gadd (drums)
Will Lee (bass)
Ralph McDonald (percussion)
Marcus Miller (bass)
Richard Tee (piano, vocals)
John Tropea (guitar)
Dave Weckl (drums)
Background vocals on 06.:
William Eaton – Zack Sanders
01. If You Want It (Tee) 3.42
02. What Can I Say (Tee) 4.39
03. The Bottom Line (Tee) 4.17
04. Nippon Lights (Tee) 4.22
05. Rhapsody In Blue (Gershwin) 3.33
06. Miss Understanding (Tee/Eaton) 3.54
07. Spring Is You (Braxton/Dupree/Tee/Zackana) 3.51
08. No Real Way (Heath Jr./Tee) 3.58
09. Moving On (Tee) 3.11