Those nine jubilant figures on the cover of Joyous - Pleasure’s brand-new album - have ample cause for high spirits. Pleasure’s first two LPs firmly established the Portland, Oregon group as purveyors of a distinctive, soul/jazz sound. Now, Joyous,a sublimely self-assured work, is certain to make Pleasure fans out of a lotof people.
Joyous is a widely diversified album that reflects the band’s idea of presenting "360 degrees of music,” all the way from straight-ahead jazz to disco rock. Pleasure is simply a band that’s talented enough to play anything, and they’ve incorporated many influences into their music. And since they’ve been together for about seven years now, they are a remarkably cohesive unit that can breathe their music together.
Pleasure was "discovered" almost three years ago in the unlikely place of Portland by former Crusader Wayne Henderson. Wayne brought them to Fantasy Records and has since served as their producer and mentor, guiding them both musically and business-wise. He’s made use of their services on some of his other productions as well, for instance, on Ronnie Laws’s Fever and on the steamin’ Side Effect single, "Always There."
Such experience has made the band much more studio-wise than when they became a recording band for the first time in 1974. In fact, the tracking sessions for Joyous were a good indication of just how much progress the group has made. "We laid down rhythm tracks for five tunes in two days," exclaims group leader Marlon the Magician, "and believe me, it never used to be like that!"
Any of the individuals in the group could successfully pursue careers on their own if they so chose, but what they’re intent on is making Pleasure work. The only change of personnel they’ve undergone in their seven years together was when keyboardist Michael Hepburn recently rejoined after a two-year absence (he’d been with the group when they were the Soul Masters). Over that length of time most groups would have succumbed to the pressures of finances, egos, or public fickleness. But the dues-paying time that Pleasure’s put in has made them stronger and more determined to get themselves across.
Marlon, Dan Brewster, and the Hepburns are credited with writing most of the tunes, but as Marlon says, "we all kind of work everything out together."
Choice cuts on Joyous include the jazz-tinged title cut, a Michael Hepburn composition; Marlon’s "Dance to the Music," a self-explanatory gem; and "Let Me Be the One," a strong pop tune written by Dan Brewster.
All the members of Pleasure were born and raised in Portland and have known each other since they were kids. The group’s acknowledged leader and guitarist extraordinaire is 21-year-old Leo, Marlon "The Magician" McClain. Also in the front line is 25-year-old Sherman Davis, a Pisces, whose smooth and soulful vocal style is somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Kendricks.
The horn section is comprised of two very talented musicians, Dan Brewster and Dennis Springer. Springer, at 27 the oldest in the group, is an outstanding jazz tenor saxophonist; trombonist Brewster, a 24-year-old Taurus, is really coming into his own as an arranger (he did all the charts on Joyous).
On keyboards are the brothers Hepburn-Michael, a Gemini, and 26-year-old Donald, a Cancer-both of whom are also very fine songwriters.
The bedrock foundation of the group’s sound is provided by Capricorns Nathaniel Phillips (he’s 21), and 20-year-old drummer Bruce Carter, the youngest member of the band. Twenty-six-year-old Bruce Smith is an exceptional conga player who also adds some intriguing percussion colors.
Pleasure is a constantly working, self-sustaining unit that has gigged primarily throughout the Northwest and Los Angeles, a Pleasure-mad city that has helped break their records. Although Portland remains home base, the group has been getting into more touring. Last fall, when their second LP, Accept No Substitutes,and the single, "Ghettoes of the Mind," were really taking off, Pleasure ventured East and met with warm receptions in cities like Baltimore, Boston, Washington, Rochester, and Chicago. They were opening for top acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, War, Natalie Cole, Bill Withers, and B.B. King, and of course they benefited enormously from the experience and the exposure.
Pleasure will be heading back East this spring just as Joyous is getting into people’s ears. "All that work, all those gigs," Marlon points out, "just makes you better. It’s the only way to do it!" And when you’re dealing with a group of musicians as serious and straight-ahead as Pleasure, you know the dividends just haveto pay off handsomely.