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by Jo-Ann Greene
"Step into the Future"

allmusic guide 4 1/2 stars out of 5

Singer/songwriter/pianist Scott Fisher's background is in jazz fusion, a style he's never left behind, even as he's moved further and further into the pop and rock world in recent years.

Rock critics grabbing for comparisons have latched onto artists as far afield as Joe Jackson and Billy Joel, Coldplay and Dave Matthews, Ben Folds Five and Maroon 5. But none of those begin to capture the unique beauty of Step into the Future. To do so, one has to look in an entirely different direction, towards the SoCal reggae scene, and perhaps to Sublime at their most sublime.

Famously, ska (reggae's earliest form) was a mis-step by veteran Jamaican big band musicians attempting to play R&B. Accepted wisdom, but still a giant leap if you play the two genre's records side by side. But on this set, Fisher provides a clutch of missing links, beginning with "Step into the Future", a gently infectious jazz-pop number, with an exacting rhythm and prominent bass line, that with slight shifts in emphasis step straight into the syncopation that defines reggae.

The societal battering lyrics shout roots to the rafters, while surely the reference to "rebel music" is a nod to the Bob Marley song of the same title.

"Step" provides reggae's origins in jazz, "Shades of Blue" its debt to R&B. The backing female vocalists and the exuberant trumpet solos evoke both Motown and Kingston, while the instrumental break swirls in a touch of British invasion. This is 60s pop at its genre bending finest.

R&B evolved into funk in the late 60s, which simultaneously saw the birth of true reggae, and "State of Mind" celebrates both with a musical marriage, with best man, guitarist Bob Dunham, bringing a gift of progrock to the ceremony. Dunham sidles into psychedelia on "No Remedy", a number that continually swings from prog to deep roots, and whose lyrical plea for unity to build a better world is ripped right out of the roots and culture songbook. And lyrically, "3,000 Years", "This Song", "Chains of Time", and with slight alteration "See the Day" all echo of classic cultural songs, while on the latter Fisher sounds to be channelling Stephen Marley.

But Fisher isn't Jamaican, nor is Steps, for all its island elements, a reggae record, but an inspired, and subtle cross- over. For at its core, this is a set of exquisite songs, whose themes, both cultural and romantic, are thoughtful and universal, never diving into the all about me and my feelings that currently define the singer-songwriter genre.

The music is overwhelmingly gorgeous, with the entire set showcasing Fisher's fabulous musical talents, from rollicking jazz to dreamy passages his piano work is exquisite, his vocals stunning throughout, with "Android Love" arguably best showcasing his luminescent falsetto. A beautifully crafted fusion set that every reggae, pop and jazz fan should adore.

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