For fully thirty years Shakatak has remained at the forefront of British jazz-funk and for much of that time the band’s bass player has been George Anderson. Now, brand new for 2010, and with a few of his Shakatak friends around to lend a hand, Anderson has released his debut solo recording, the wonderful ‘Positivity’. When recently I talked to him from his home in Middlesex, England I first asked if he ever imagined that the Shakatak adventure would endure in the way that it has.
"Back then", George explained, "we were really taking it year by year. Soon after I joined the band we released the album ‘Nightbirds’. The title cut became an instant hit and ‘Easier Said Than Done’ also found its way into the UK top ten. I guess we were delivering the right music for the right time. Then we really took off in Japan and for a time ‘Shakamania’ really was the order of the day. Our following remains tremendously strong and just as loyal. When we perform some of our classics we do it for them and in so doing the music may be familiar but is never ever old."
I commented on the new CD ‘Positivity’ and wanted to know if it had been long in the making. "Not really" he said. "It basically happened over an intense period between January and July 2009. Jill Saward had released her own album and I worked on that with her. I thought it might be good to do the same. For me it has been an important part of my musical development."
Written, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Anderson, ‘Positivity’ can truly be regarded as all his own work. I surmised that this must have been a very different experience to when collaborating within Shakatak. "When writing with the band it is very much a collective venture. With my own project there was only me to answer to. I liked that. In music as in life we are the sum of our previous experiences. It’s natural that the creative process taps into this but still comes up with something new."
I inquired as to how the title ‘Positivity’ had been arrived at and George’s answer surprised me. "Those who know me think it is hilarious" he joked. "Heavy with irony you might say as I have from time to time been described as one of life’s cynics. That apart, the collection is meant to convey what is basically a very positive vibe. Hopefully listeners will hear this with songs such as ‘The Wonder Of U’. It is one of several tunes that features vocalist Debby Bracknell and this too has contributed to the positive message that ‘Positivity’ portrays."
I knew Bracknell as a backing vocalist with Shakatak and asked George how he had first become acquainted with her. "Debby first joined up with the band as maternity cover for our regular backing singer" he explained. "In terms of our musical interpretation we clicked immediately. She brings energy and optimism to everything she does so is a perfect fit."
He went on to tell me that Debby had also suggested R & B singer Fil Straughton might be someone worth including. Straughton’s excellent lead vocal on the soulful ‘Lay Ur Hands On Me’ bears testimony to how right she was. It is without doubt one of the CD’s outstanding tracks yet in terms of favorites I had already singled out both ‘Moments’ and ‘Cool Operator’. I wondered what George’s take was on this. "I really like ‘Beauty Inner Smile’. I have worked on giving the number a Stevie Wonder kind of a feel." In fact I had read somewhere that Anderson draws much of his influences as a song-writer from Stevie Wonder and was eager to know why. "That’s easy" he said. "He is totally original, completely unique, and has been a giant influence to an entire musical generation. The chord structure, everything, it sounds like no other music. Everything he does has Stevie Wonder written all over it."
I proffered that Shakatak has long been regarded as a jazz fusion band and queried into which genre George would place his own music. "I know you journalists enjoy labels" he replied mischievously "but I would describe Shakatak as a jazz pop band. As for my own music it has elements of jazz, soul and funk, you might describe it as a light fusion. I am a big fan of George Duke and would like to think my sound also has some of his funkiness." This is indeed the case with the track ‘Herbie’ yet the entire collection can perhaps be best summed up in Anderson’s own words.
"I want it to take the listener on a journey but, like all the best journeys, to include some interesting detours along the way. Music has to come from the heart, not from a formula. Artists should be out there, writing and performing for the sake of the music, because it matters."
Maybe it has taken a while for ‘Positivity’ to come to fruition yet the wait has been completely worthwhile. Not only that, and in everything that he does, George Anderson demonstrates that it does matter, and then some.
For more, and to purchase ‘Positivity’, go to www.gabass.co.uk. The album is also available from iTunes.