On a wintry night in 1983, two musicians left a recording studio in Atlanta...
They were headed back to the airport. They had been in town to produce two songs for a reputable local band. They were on their way to San Antonio where, alongside their own bandmates, they were scheduled to open for a major recording artist. But they never made it. As fate would have it, while recording, a severe weather front had swept in over Georgia from the North East, grounding all air traffic in heavy snow. It was a night that would forever change their lives.
When they were finally reunited with their band, the musicians were summoned to a small, crowded room for a meeting. Brought together by Prince in 1981, as part of his own initial record deal with Warner Bros., The Time was made up of high school friends, 7 in all, formed from two local Minneapolis groups. As the band's de facto founder and talent promoter, Prince accused the two musicians of moonlighting while under a strict edict to neither write nor produce outside of the band. Despite not being encouraged to write or produce for the band, the judgment was unequivocal, if far from unanimous: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were fired.
Unable to convince any others to follow them out the door and with little more than a four-track tape recorder, a bass guitar and a Fedora full of songs, the two musicians left for Los Angeles.
"Wait and see," Prince is said to have remarked at the time, "...you'll never hear from those guys again."
Replacements were soon enlisted to support debonair frontman Morris Day and the remaining members: Jellybean Johnson, Monte Moir, Jerome Benton and Jesse Johnson. Prince continued to press ahead and fame quickly followed for the band in 1984 when they were featured in his film debut Purple Rain, a cult classic that would see The Time enjoy crossover success. Subsequent singles Jungle Love and The Bird propelled their third album, Ice Cream Castles, to #24 on the U.S. chart, eclipsing their first two releases.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta-based S.O.S. Band had already reached #2 on the U.S. R&B Chart with Just Be Good To Me, written and produced by a little-known production partnership called Jam and Lewis.
Seven years later, Jam and Lewis briefly returned to The Time for Prince's Purple Rain sequel, Graffiti Bridge, and to record a new album. Certified Gold by the RIAA in 1990, Pandemonium became their most successful release, topping Ice Cream Castles and spawning the US R&B Chart No.1 single Jerk Out. But the reunion was short-lived. In 2008, rumors of a new album surfaced once more after Rihanna joined the original seven members onstage for a blistering performance of Jungle Love/Umbrella at the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony.
30 years after they first came together and 21 years since they last recorded as a group, they've finally reunited on their own terms as The Original 7ven (the band formerly known as The Time). Their new album, Condensate, is accompanied by a new film documentary on the group's history -- premiering this week at The Grammy Museum -- and an international tour schedule planned for 2012.
For their part, since their first stint with The Time, Jam & Lewis have earned plaudits as one of the most prolific production duos in music history, working with the likes of Janet Jackson, brother Michael, Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Usher, Mary J. Blige and countless others. Throughout their partnership they have registered millions of sales on over 100 albums that have exceeded either gold, platinum or multi-platinum status. To date, they have notched up an incredible 15 No.1 pop hits and 25 No.1 R&B chart-toppers and bagged more Grammy Awards than even Prince himself. Of their relationship with Prince, the two producers are characteristically sanguine and their bandmates all remain clearly upbeat in interviews when quizzed about their friend and former partner. The Time's own toxic history with the prolific star is complicated, well-documented and better explored elsewhere. Yet, suffice to say, it is laden with long-standing baggage on both sides, only some of which perhaps remains on an Atlanta airport carousel.
Nevertheless, The Time are considered worthy successors to their funkadelic forebears and remain synonymous with the very Sound of Minneapolis: that infectious hybrid of funk, rock, pop, soul and New Wave that, according to the Rolling Stone Album Guide, "...loomed over mid-'80s R&B and pop, not to mention the next two decades' worth of electro, house, and techno."
That this supergroup have reformed under a new name speaks volumes. Whether Prince claimed his rights and refused them the option to return as The Time will feel academic to most fans, particularly if the searing bass-line and infectious hook of their first single #Trendin' is anything to go by. The new track opens The Original 7ven's account with a solid airplay contender as the #1 added song this week on U.S. urban radio and a sure-fire resolution not to rest on past successes. With its timely, tongue-in-cheek reference to the baying twitterati, the new track fizzes with the fresh energy one can always expect from accomplished live musicians who are clearly having fun on their first record in 20 years. No, this isn't will.i.am 'phunk', it's morris.e.day and Funk with an 'F'.
An essential refresher to the genre, the new album opens in flawless and familiar color: Strawberry Lake is a bright, upbeat fanfare that welcomes back old friends doing what they do best. Title track Condensate, introduced in classic skit style, struts confidently and delivers on that trademark cocktail of humour and swagger only Morris Day and Jerome Benton can serve up. If I was Your Man and Faithful sparkle as genial additions to the oeuvre, fashioning warm and accessible counterpoints to Sick, an axe-driven funk jam which finds Jesse Johnson in rude health, relishing every lick and 'kissing the sky' in the process. Conversely, Cadillac is a low-riding gem which sizzles with subtle, yet playful, energy and sass. The swinging One Step and equally rowdy Toast To A Party Girl are tremendous fun, vividly alluding to the band's live promise in the months to come. Naturally, one cannot expect The Time purists to immediately fall-in behind the more modish tracks such as the lead single and Hey Yo but, crucially, it is through these very songs that The Original 7ven offer insight into their new identity and relevance.
The Original 7ven's updated sound is still masterfully rooted in the band's trademark Minneapolis signature which their older, primary audience will appreciate and recognize instantly. Younger newcomers will feel a greater affinity to the more contemporary tracks on the 14-song release, while spotting a leitmotif that pervades the repertoire of later artists from Outkast to Snoop Dogg. In short, Condensate marks a mighty return to the fore for a beloved ensemble that has rightfully earned its own status as music royalty.
'Condensate', the new album
by The Original 7ven
Released October 18, 2011
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