I wasn’t familiar with Cleveland Eaton before seeing this reissue from Real Gone Music when I was looking at grabbing the Kool and the Gang vinyl I discussed a few weeks ago. But the description – a blend of Ramsey Lewis’s soul funk and the swing of Count Basie filtered through the fusion that was riding high in the mid 70s – caught me. The fact that Plenty Good Eaton not only was a fun play on words but was originally on the Black Jazz label was another vote of confidence for a blind buy, so I took the dive…I’m here to report I am now the happier for it.
It’s a little crazy to think of someone who was primarily known for his double bass work with established leaders like Count Basie churning out some ridiculous funk/soul, but the immediacy of opener “Chitown Theme” shows Eaton’s composer skills firmly taking in hand the musical language folks like Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and Isaac Hayes were crafting for seminal soundtracks. But Eaton’s jazz chops are way more prominent in his arrangements, and particularly that double bass – check out the way it wings on “Keena” which bobs and bops as the strings take on sweeping melodies and the sax comes in for a luscious solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on a standard jazz offering.
I can’t help but get that soundtrack feel when I listen to Plenty Good Eaton. The way each song builds and moves feels like a narrative is at play. Checking out the liner notes there’s a brief acknowledgement/post script from Eaton stating his music and business idols are Stevie Wonder and Maurice White from Earth Wind & Fire, which makes the music connect even more if you’re familiar with their work. “Moe, Let’s Have a Party” brings back the party funk vibe before bringing the lights down for some serious 70s sexy time with “Are You Out There Somewhere Caring” which is the first song with actual lyrics. It’s definitely of its time, but I can’t help but tune into the rhythm section and marvel at how makes it interesting, even if the song itself is maybe slightly lacking.
Side 2 starts with “Kaiser 405,” a killer walking bass line opening the track as the jazz again rears its head for an upfront big band shuffle of joy. It’s the most traditional songs on the album, but also the best highlight of how Eaton can kill on the bass. This is just a great put together tune, all the more vibrant because the Black Jazz label allowed Eaton the freedom to mix songs like this next to the 9-minute soul disco inferno of “All Your Lover, All Day, All Night” which takes that signature Blacksploitation guitar work and infuses it with major Parliament funkitude, right down to the background chanted verses.
Concluding with “Hamburg 302” Plenty Good Eaton ends with another standout jazz track, and I come away with a new discovery for a kind of music I’ve been in love with since I was a teenager. Kudos again to Real Gone Music for an excellent reissue, complete with extensive liner notes and a killer colored vinyl.