DISCO RECHARGE-ULTIMATE-ULTIMATE AND ULTIMATE II.

DISCO RECHARGE-ULTIMATE-ULTIMATE AND ULTIMATE II.

All too often, history repeats itself in music. This is as true in music as life. There are many examples of this, but a good example of this is the story of Bruce Weedon. Bruce who was one of the most innovative and creative disco producers of the late-seventies. No wonder. He’d learnt from one of the founding father’s of Euro Disco, Boris Midney. Before Boris taught him everything there was to know about producing and engineering, Bruce was a session guitarist. Indeed, his guitar playing graces USA-European Connection’s Come Into My Heart. To repay Boris, Bruce helped build him build Alpha International Studios in Philly. Then after deciding to become a producer in his own right, Bruce headed to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Back in 1979, Philly had been producing some of the best music of the seventies. This was the perfect place for a new, hungry producer to launch his nascent career. One of Bruce’s collaborations was Ultimate. They released two albums, Ultimate and Ultimate II in 1979, which will be released as Disco Recharge-Ultimate-Ultimate and Ultimate II on 15th October 2012, by the Disco Recharge label. The story behind Ultimate has similarities with two other Bruce Weedon collaborations, Tangerué and Strange Affair. However, before I tell you about the music on Ultimate and Ultimate II, I’ll tell you how the story of Ultimate is similar to other Bruce Weedon’s collaborations. 

Back in 1979, Bruce Weedon and Ed Strauman, two proteges of Boris Midney headed out on their own as producers. Their first collaboration was in Philadelphia, where they put together a studio band, Tangerué. They released just one album, Tangerué, on Unidisc in 1979. It was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. Instantly, it became a disco classic. By the time Bruce Weedon returned to the studio, this time with a new collaborator, disco’s bubble had burst. 

Bruce and his new collaborator Giuliani Salerni decided to create another studio band Strange Affair. Again, they only released one album, their eponymous album Strange Affair. It was released on South Philly Productions in 1979, but sadly,  Strange Affair wasn’t a commercial success. It suffered from a lack of promotion in the post-disco landscape. Obviously, disco’s waning popularity was a factor, but the lack of promotion made success even harder. As a result, Strange Affair remains a hidden gem in disco’s back-catalogue. Tangerué wasn’t Bruce Weedon’s only collaboration and sadly, it would be a case of history repeating itself. 

The story of Ultimate has parallels with the story of Tangerué and Strange Affair. Before Tangerué came Ultimate, a collaboration between Bruce and Philly-based producer Giuliani Salerni, who’d founded Ultimate. For Ultimate’s debut album Ultimate, Giuliani wrote the six tracks on Ultimate. It was then recorded at Boris Midney’s Philly studios Alpha International Studios. With Bruce playing guitar, Giuliani added keyboards and synths. Strings came courtesy of The Ultimate Players, keyboards Ed Strauman and percussion by Miguel Fuentes. With Ultimate’s debut album Ultimate set for release in 1979 and Bruce’s career was about to get of to a great start.

On the release of Ultimate, it reached number 157 in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US Dance Music/Club Play Charts. Touch Me Baby was released as a single in the US Billboard 100 and reached number eighty-two. So popular was Ultimate, that each of the four tracks were regular features of the US Dance Music/Club Play Charts for over four months. It seemed Bruce Weedon was set to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Boris Midney given the success of Ultimate. However, history would repeat itself by the time Ultimate released their sophomore album Ultimate II.

By the time Ultimate returned to Alpha International Studios to record their sophomore album Ultimate II, the musical landscape was very different. Suddenly, disco’s bubble had burst. Not only had popularity waned, but now disco sucked. The disco backlash had hit hard. Since then disco artists, records and labels weren’t popular. Record companies that previously had embraced disco, shunned it. This is what would happen with another of Bruce’s collaborations Strange Affair. However, this wasn’t the only change. Bruce had a new production partner.With Giuliani not involved in what became Ultimate II, Michael Forte became Bruce’s production partner. Michael wrote three of Ultimate II’s songs, and along with some familiar faces, and Philly legends, headed to Alpha International Studios with Bruce. Joining them were old friends that included The Ultimate Players who added strings, keyboardist Ed Strauman and percussionist Miguel Fuentes. Philly legends included guitarist T.J. Tindall and percussionist Larry Washington. Among the other musicians were bassist Ron Caesar, drummer Garfield Williams, guitarist Ronni James and John Demartino on keyboards. Adding vocals were Barbara Hernandez, Deborah McGriff and Riti Saunders. Together, they all played their part in giving Ultimate II a different sound to Ultimate. Would this prove as successful?

On the release of Ultimate II by Casablanca Records in March 1980, there are further parallels with Strange Affair’s album. Casablanca didn’t promote Ultimate II sufficiently, and with disco no longer as popular, Ultimate II failed commercially. Bruce Weedon was musical proof that lightning could really strike twice in the same place. Two albums, Strange Affair and Ultimate II are proof of this. Since then, Ultimate II has remained a hidden secret among disco fans….until now. Now like Disco Recharge did with Tangerué/Strange Affair, they’ll be releasing Ultimate and Ultimate II as part of the Disco Recharge series. They’ll be released as Disco Recharge-Ultimate-Ultimate and Ultimate II and I’ll now tell you about each album.

ULTIMATE.

Opening Ultimate’s debut album Ultimate is Love Is The Ultimate Medley. This is a medley of Love Is The Ultimate, Dancing In The Night and Touch Me Baby which lasts an epic fifteen minutes. It’s a musical journey with surprises and subtleties aplenty in-store. Thunderous drums grab your attention, while stabs and flourishes of synths and keyboards add a space-age sound. Quickly, the drama builds. Suddenly, it’s all change. The arrangement takes on a different sound, when the funky rhythm section, keyboards and guitars unite. Think a Euro Disco beat. elements of funk and classic US disco. When strings float in accompanied by growling horns and heartfelt harmonies that all have Philly Sound written all over them. There’s even a nod to the Sweethearts of Sigma and Salsoul, albeit the beat is stronger. By now the harmonies take charge, teasing and tantalising, helped no end by the strings and horns. Then the medley changes, with the second part when the arrangement is stripped bare. Just percussion and pounding beat remain. Gradually, cinematic strings and horns add to the drama as funk and disco combine. As the harmonies return, their sassy, tender sound and the interplay between the strings, horns and harmonies is key to the track’s sound and success. This continues during the final part of the medley. Dramatic, swirling strings, growling horns and Ultimate’s harmonies play their part in making this a true fifteen-minute feast of the finest disco.

Ritmo De Brazil is quite a different track, one with a Latin influence as percussion and a samba beat combine to build up the drama. Still the pounding beat is present. Keyboards and strings give the arrangement a wistful sound before punchy harmonies enter. The harmonies become heartfelt, accompanied by rasping horns, a  myriad of percussion and wah-wah guitars. Meanwhile, strings wistfully float in and out. As pounding drums create the arrangement’s heartbeat, strings, horns and percussion create a genre-sprawling track. This sees Ultimate fuse Latin, funk, Euro Disco and soul flawlessly.

Music In My Heart is a track where influences are everywhere. Pounding Euro Disco beats are combined with Chic styled guitar licks and funky bass. Growling horns, cascading strings and choppy harmonies enter, while keyboards and synths add to the Euro Disco influence. Suddenly, the arrangement loses its drama and takes on an elegant sound. From there, Ultimate tease and tantalize. They veer between flourishes of drama from blazing horns, keyboards and frantically swirling strings to bursts of elegance. This elegance is provided by sweeping harmonies and swathes of strings.  Whether delivering dramatic or elegance, Ultimate do it their way, which means with style and panache.

Closing Ultimate is Take Me To Chinatown another musical journey with Ultimate as your tour-guide. Using a myriad of percussion, keyboards and emotive strings they add an authentic oriental sound. Meanwhile, thunderous drums, guitars and soaring harmonies provide the track’s disco sound. It’s a compelling, dramatic combination. As the track progresses, the drama builds and builds. Growling horns, keyboards and thunderous beats are key to this, while strings and percussion are responsible for the track’s Eastern influence. This track reminds me of Voyage’s album Let’s Fly Away, where Voyage sampled each continent of the world’s music. Like the music on Let’s Fly Away, this has a similar innovative and imaginative sound. This seems a satisfying way to close Ultimate, an album produced by two innovators of disco Bruce Weedon and Giuliani Salerni .

Although there are only four tracks on Ultimate, they’re four of the finest disco tracks you’ll find. They were produced by two innovative, creative and imaginative producers, Bruce Weedon and Giuliani Salerni. What makes this even more remarkable is that Ultimate was Bruce Weedon’s first outing as a producer, since heading out on his own. Bruce had found the ying to his yang in Giuliani. They were both innovators, looking to get onboard the disco bandwagon. Not only did the climb onboard, but brought a new twist to disco. Together, they fused elements of numerous musical genres, including disco, Euro Disco, funk, Latin and Philly Soul. When this was combined, the result was one of last critically acclaimed commercially successful disco albums before disco’s bubble burst. Ultimate spent four months in the US Dance Charts, and got Bruce’s nascent career of to a successful and critically acclaimed start. By the time Ultimate released their second album Ultimate II, things had changed, both in terms of music and personnel.

ULTIMATE II.Not only did Ultimate II see a change in Ultimate’s sound, but featured a new production partner for Bruce Weedon, Michael Forte. This new sound is apparent on This Time I’m In Love which opens Ultimate II. It has a real rocky sound from the get-go. Powerful harmonies are accompanied by searing guitars, keyboards and a driving rhythm sections. Strings sweep and swirl furiously, as the vocal is central to the song’s sound and success. It has a presence, grabbing the song and with the interplay between the harmonies gets Ultimate II of to a dramatic opening.

Feel So Fine has a much more understated sound. Gone is the rocky sound, with a much more soulful vocal accompanied by an arrangement where the rhythm section, lush strings and keyboards combine to give the track a quite beautiful sound. Three part harmonies are accompanied by a disco beat, which doesn’t overpower the vocal. Instead, this results in something First Choice might have recorded. Not is it soulful and dance-floor friendly, but it’s a very beautiful song and one of the highlights of Ultimate II.

Get To The Top is a much quicker track, featuring a much louder, stronger disco beat. It accompanies the harmonies while strings cascade as the rhythm section drives the arrangement along in the direction of Euro Disco. Percussion and rasping horns punctuate the arrangement, and with a funky bass and dancing strings replace the vocal and then accompany it. Later, rocky guitars are added as Ultimate fuse musical genres aplenty in creating an irresistible catchy dance track.

Secret Agent Man is another fusion of genres, with R&B, soul, funk and disco combining. Here, the rhythm section combine funk and elements of Chic before a sassy vocal enters. Blazing horns add drama, while cinematic strings are like something out of the soundtrack to a spy thriller. All the time, harmonies weave in and out the track, adding to the drama and energy. Chiming guitars, percussion and rasping horns add a funky sound, and sometimes, jazz-funk influence. The vocals are soulful, and sometimes have an R&B influence. Other times they sweep elegantly in and out, with string, horns, percussion and rhythm section for company. Regardless of which style they are, they play a huge part in the success of this dramatic, catchy and soulful song.

Back Together sees the tempo increase and the Euro Disco influence return. A pounding Euro Disco beat accompanies keyboards before flourishes of dramatic strings enter. They give way to tight, punchy, impassioned harmonies. Joining them are some of the best guitar licks on Ultimate. Soon, some of the harmonies that played such a vital part in previous songs take centre-stage. They prove the perfect accompaniment for the vocal. Later, the arrangement takes on a Latin twist, thanks to the percussion. A vibes solo is unleashed before the tight, deliberate harmonies return, and the rhythm section drives this hugely catchy slice of Euro Disco to its close.

Now And Forever closes Ultimate II and is very different sounding track. Parts of this track could only be made in one place…Philly. Keyboards, woodwind and strings create a wistful sounding arrangement. This is perfect for the heartfelt vocal and the soaring harmonies that accompany it. By now the thunderous Euro Disco beat is augmented by growling horns, lush strings and chiming guitars as Philly meets Euro Disco. The Philly Soul sound comes courtesy of the vocal, which is the best on Ultimate II. There’s even a slight Three Degrees’ style to the vocal and harmonies. Later, the wistful woodwind returns, adding to the emotion and beauty of an arrangement which is one of the best on Ultimate II, and indeed, a perfect way to close this post-disco album.

When you compare Ultimate II to Ultimate, it’s a very different album. That’s no surprise, given the musical landscape was very different. By the time Ultimate II was released, it was the post-disco era. So, rather than release an album that was similar to Ultimate, what Bruce Weedon and Michael Forte created was a real fusion of genres, sounds and influences. There was everything from disco, Euro Disco, funk, Latin, Philly Soul and rock on Ultimate II. Having said that, there’s still a Euro Disco sound. On Ultimate II it’s combined with many other styles. They’re mixed together in one musical melting pot. Of these influences, one stands out on several tracks… and that’s the Philly Soul influence. Key to this was the harmonies of Barbara Hernandez, Deborah McGriff and Riti Saunders. Their vocals and harmonies bring Ultimate II To life, adding drama, beauty and emotion. Along with the lush strings and rasping horns, they give the track a real Philly Sound. Some tracks have a First Choice influence and sound, while Now And Forever sounds similar to The Three Degrees. When these vocals are added to the Bruce and Michael’s arrangements, the result is just the finishing touch to this post-disco hidden gem. While Ultimate II wasn’t released to critical acclaim and commercial success, it has two things in common with Ultimate, its quality and innovative sound. Sadly, the Ultimate story has many similarities with other Bruce Weedon projects, Tangerué and Strange Affair.

Like Tangerué, Ultimate was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. A year later, Ultimate II and Strange Affair both failed commercially in the post-disco era. Both weren’t helped by a lack of promotion. Yet another similarity is that Tangerué and Strange Affair were rereleased by the Disco Recharge label as Disco Recharge-Tangerué/Strange Affair. Now just a few months later, Ultimate and Ultimate II will be rereleased by Disco Recharge on 15th October 2012 as Disco Recharge-Ultimate-Ultimate and Ultimate II. This gives everyone the perfect opportunity to either rediscover, or discover for the first time some more of Bruce Weedon’s innovative and imaginative music, this time from Ultimate who like Tangerué and Strange Affair, released some of best music of the disco and post-disco era. Standout Tracks: Love Is The Ultimate Medley, Music of My Heart, Feel So Fine and Now and Forever.

DISCO RECHARGE-ULTIMATE-ULTIMATE AND ULTIMATE II.

Disco Recharge: Ultimate/Ultimate II

 

 

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