James Mason was a guitarist and keyboardist who in the late 70’s was a member of Roy Ayers Ubiquity band name he chose because ubiquity means a state of being everywhere at the same time. Mason made his most prominent appearance on the 1977 LP Lifeline and its Mason showcase cut "Running Away."
That same year, Mason recorded his debut solo album, Rhythm of Life, for the tiny New York independent label Chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro Records is a jazz record company and label founded by Hank O'Neal in 1970. The label's name comes from the art term for the use of light and dark in a painting. O'Neal got the name from his friend and mentor Eddie Condon, a jazz musician who played in what were called Chiaroscuro Concerts in the 1930s. O'Neal also got the name from a store that sold only black and white dresses.
Rhythm of Life featured some of the best session musicians around, including drummer-singer-songwriter Narada Michael Walden, who'd later go on to produce Whitney Houston's early smashes in the '80s, and the charming, cascading vocals of Clarice Taylor.
The song 'Sweet Power Your Embrace' is the kind of song you will never get tired of hearing off Rhythm of Life. When asked about this masterpiece, Mason says:
"I used an ARP Odyssey. I wanted to use an ARP 2600 but didn’t have access to one at the time. I spent a good deal of time programming that sound but fell short of the nuance I might have achieved with the 2600. I worked out the composition using the Arp for the Bass, and a Fender Rhodes for the harmony. I filled in the rest via overdubs. I know I was influenced by Weather Report and the introduction is similar to Birdland, but the groove and harmonic approach I wanted was very different.
When I developed the song I was working with Dwayne Purdue, but when it came time to record he was unexpectedly unavailable. Narada Michael Walden had a different style and was not able to give me the groove I was looking for. I was so set on achieving a different feeling for that song that we did it over and over — and I almost wiped the performance that ended up on the record. Phil Clendeninn literally jumped in front of the multitrack and refused to let me record over it.
Ultimately, what Narada did was so spectacular, especially with the ending, that it was fortunate that he rather than Dwayne was on that session."
The ARP Odyssey is an analog synthesizer introduced in 1972. Responding to pressure from Moog Music to create a portable, affordable (the Minimoog was $1,495 upon release) "performance" synthesizer, ARP Instruments, Inc. scaled down its ARP 2600 synthesizer and created the Odyssey, which became their best-selling synthesizer model.
While the Minimoog proved to be a runaway success as the first compact studio synthesizer, ARP responded with a compact and user-friendly studio synthesizer of their own with the Odyssey in 1972. An almost equally legendary machine itself, the Odyssey was ARP's highest selling synth back then, and still is to this day in the second-hand market.
The Odyssey essentially gives you a simplified hard-wired ARP 2600 in a much smaller and affordable package. The Odyssey is a 2-oscillator analog synth (with duo-phonic capability); the Minimoog has three oscillators and is capable of thicker sounds. The Odyssey comes well equipped with all the tweakable features and analog goodness you'd expect: a resonant low pass filter, ADSR envelopes, sine or square wave LFO, and a sample-and-hold function.
The Odyssey also added a few new features such as a high pass filter that could be used in series with the low pass, oscillator-sync capability, and pulse-width modulation. It is a very professional and expressive machine that can create nice analog basses, interesting leads, great effects and sweeping sounds.
Rhythm of Life went out of print in an extremely short time, and Mason never recorded another one, pretty much disappearing from sight. However by the '90s, Rhythm of Life had attained near-Holy Grail status among acid jazz enthusiasts, partly because of its rarity and partly because its music, even more rooted in funk than Ayers', seemed to perfectly epitomize what the rare-groove revival was all about. Finally, in 1999, England's Soul Brother Records acquired the rights to the master tapes and reissued Rhythm of Life on CD, allowing the album to claim its rightful status as a lost classic.
“Basically I fell in between two categories: the jazz radio stations wouldn’t play my music because it was too funky and the R&B stations wouldn’t play it because it was too jazzy… I guess the business didn’t want me. I didn’t have the credentials nor the resume for a second record deal… One thing I have to thank the people of Chiaroscuro for, is that they weren’t like the rest of the music business. They gave me the smallest possible budget for “Rhythm Of Life”, but they didn’t tell me anything and stayed out of my way – that’s pretty much the only time that ever happened.” - James Mason
In the early 80’s, Mason recorded a demo to try to get another LP released. The record is both beautiful and forward thinking. "I Want Your Love" is a sublime slice of future soul that oozes emotion and sounds totally timeless. "Nightgruv" could very easily pass as an early Larry Heard masterpiece yet was penned some 3-4 years prior to the emergence of house music's first big tunes. Mason never went on to release another official album. As the interest in him grew into the 00s, unreleased material surfaced including the proto-house tune "Nightgruv" and the Recollection ∈ Echo LP.
From “I Want Your Love” liner notes: "Although these recordings were never meant to be released, I hope you will enjoy them. If you have enjoyed my work in the past, I believe, perhaps, you will. These recordings were made for record industry decision makers to judge the worthiness of my efforts versus their risk in financing another album recorded by me. I had always thought that, if my effort was found worthy, these recordings would be redone. Except for this release by Mighty Fine Records, for which I am grateful, neither of these dreams have come true, and, therefore, this labour of love is being forwarded to you as is. Please do not take this message as an encouragement to pass this recording by. It is not. I have put a great deal and effort and hope into these songs and sincerely hope you enjoy them". - James Mason