Sounds Of Blackness – Optimistic (Perspective Records)
1991 pretty much happened to be a key year for Sounds Of Blackness. This while making their return with a new album – ‘The Evolution Of Gospel’ – after 13 years of silence. Teaming up with producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis who signed them on their own Perspective label. And also joinin’ forces with Ann Nesby. As many reasons to be optimistic regarding this new association back then. With ‘Optimistic’ opening this album in the nicest way while reachin’ an enviable #3 position in the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Meanwhile its follow-up, ‘The Pressure Pt. 1’, would top the U.S. Dance charts…
A quick listen to ‘Optimistic’ suffices to realize we’re in front of some undeniable maestria. Vocally speakin’ with Nesby impressively takin’ the centerstage along with a massive choir. Meanwhile outstandingly served with stellar arrangements courtesy of Jam & Lewis.
What an ambitious project speakin’ of which we’ll probably never pay enough props to its producers.
A vocal and instrumental ensemble whose work bridged gospel, R&B, dance, and jazz, Sounds Of Blackness remained more of a local combo during their 15 first years of existence. Finding their origins in the Russel Knighton formed group The Macalester College Black Chores back in 1969 at St. Paul, Minnesota’s Macalester College.
They would come to higher recognition though when establishing a fruitful partnership with Minneapolis-based production pair Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis by the end of the 80’s. And, in the meantime recruiting Ann Nesby.
A Chicago, IL native, Nesby has pretty much gotten herself into the First League. The one of divas such as Martha Wash, Jocelyn Brown or Patti LaBelle for instance.
She began makin’ some noise with girl group The Sensations. But her religious father would put an abrupt end to this 14 years old secular experience. Ann makin’ her first real industry break aged 32, therefore proving unstoppable from then.
It all (re)started from a Nashville songwriters’ contest which led her to the role that would propel her to fame. A lead singing role along with Gary Hines for Sounds Of Blackness. This union engendering a string of classics. From ‘Optimistic’ to ‘Testify’ and ‘The Pressure’ which Frankie Knuckles brilliantly reworked. But also ‘Joy’ and ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’. This in addition to ‘I Believe’ and ‘I’m Going All The Way’. As many gems that saw the light during the heydays of Sound Of Blackness and their partnership with Ann Nesby. The band, athough still in activity, unfortunately unable to solidify their position from then on. Then their departure from Jam & Lewis’ Perspective Records label after the release of their 1997 ‘Time For Healing’ album.
Nesby made her solo debut back in 1996 with ‘I’m Here For You’. Adding extra goodies to her repertoire such as the boiling hot ‘Can I Get A Witness’. If not the soothing ‘This Weekend’ and its classy title cut, in a vein somehow reminding of Anita Baker. Then firing things up the year after with ‘Hold On’ delivered with remixes courtesy of Mousse T and Blaze.
She then jumped on Disco/House vibes with her cover version of Brainstorm‘s ‘Lovin’ Is Really My Game’, teamin’ up with producers Brian Alexander Morgan and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley. Then on some more in yer face House tip with the hypnotic ‘Love Is What You Need’ which Mousse T also happened to remix. Eventually joinin’ Jasper Street Co. 2 years after on ‘Praisin’ His Name’…
Then how not to think of her electrifying performance with The Basement Boys in charge of the production on ‘Shelter’? Meanwhile she would join forces with Kenny Bobien on the Louie Vega produced ‘Spread Love’ back in 2004. Then, more recently with Zepherin Saint on her cover version of ‘Optimistic’. And DJ Spen on ‘I Feel’. Her latest delivery for Quantize Recordings seeing her partnering with upcoming producer EmKayBe on the uplifting ‘Jam’.