Like so many other musicians, guitarist and composer Doc Powell paid his dues in the small club setting, churning out set after set, year after year, exploring and experimenting and innovating until his chops were sharpened to a razor’s edge.
But unlike many musicians, Powell keeps himself and his music well grounded by actually remembering those hungry years – the heady, sweaty days and nights when newcomer and veteran played side by side onstage and made music that electrified audiences with an incendiary charge. For Powell, the point of origin was a place called Mikell’s, a Manhattan hotspot located at the corner of 97th and Columbus in the early to mid-1980s.
"Anyone from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and George Benson to your more seasoned studio musicians played in this club," Powell recalls. "The club had entertainment seven days a week. That was the place record companies went to hear who the top studio musicians were."
Two decades later, Powell still remembers, and with the worldwide release of 97th and Columbus (HUCD 3073), he pays tribute to his early days with a strong showing of original compositions punctuated by a few tracks penned by Powell’s heroes from an earlier generation.
And a few friends from the old neighborhood make appearances among the album’s ten tracks. Bassist Marcus Miller delivers the bottom line on the Latin-shaded opening track "The Flavour" (a Powell original), while R&B giant Luther Vandross – who hired Powell as a session player and sideman throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – handles backing vocals and vocal arrangements on the closer, a heartfelt take on the Marvin Gaye classic "What’s Going On." Between these two bookends, Powell covers a wide range of territory, including his tribute to George Benson with the reverent cover of the Bobby Womack tune "Breezin’," and the title track, with its punchy groove underscored by drummer Harvey Mason and accented by Powell’s rich guitar work.
Other highlights include the midtempo "Sun Goddess," with it’s carefully crafted vocal chorus and insistent keyboard work by George Duke, and the smoky "Let’s Jam," a forum for not only Powell’s furtive guitar work but also Patrice Rushen’s engaging acoustic piano.
The album is Powell’s tribute to an earlier era, and at the same time a snapshot of the artist in the here and now. Meet Doc Powell at 97th & Columbus and rediscover the corner of the world where great music comes alive and brilliant young stars ignite for the first time.