The Salsoul Orchestra
Vincent Montana, Jr. had a vision: assemble a disco-soul orchestra so massive and highly polished that Love Unlimited and MFSB would sound like four-piece garage bands in comparison. When Salsoul gave him the green light, the ensuing creation of the Salsoul Orchestra drew in dozens of musicians — some numbers point to as many as 50 — including some of the best the R&B world had to offer (like the original core of the aforementioned MFSB). It was this all-star team that would anchor dozens of the biggest soul and disco classics of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and while their sound added an additional degree of separation from R&B tradition — a bit less brass, and a lot more strings — they never sacrificed the all-important matter of not just keeping a groove going but putting it at the forefront. The Orchestra’s first album is a bit funkier than subsequent disco-heavy releases, but it’s still as melodically breezy and light as it is rhythmically insistent and intricate. A boogie-down take on WWII-era big band standard “Tangerine” charted well, and its lighthearted frivolity is a sign of kitschier things to come, though it’s pretty hard to resist its charms once the solos start flying. Instrumentals like the cheery “Salsoul Hustle” and “Chicago Bus Stop (Ooh, I Love It)” capitalize on dance-craze familiarity without sacrificing a sense of purposeful drive and big-band musicianship; the latter cut even seems to pick up where the big-band euphoria of MFSB’s “Love Is the Message” left off (complete with joyful sax solo). And a couple numbers — the saucy “You’re Just the Right Size” and the instrumental chops-showcase “Tale of Three Cities” — add a bit of welcome deep-funk oomph into the mix, with some gnarly fuzz guitars and Montana’s subtly tense string arrangements giving a subtle nod back to the increasingly distant echoes of Norman Whitfield’s psychedelic soul.