Listening to Zo!’s SunStorm is much like taking a bite out of a Proustian madelaine. After just a few minutes of exposure, a veritable floodgate of memories and associations appears: Songs in the Key of Life, Atlantic Starr, Soul Train, Breezin’, Deodato, ’70s Philly Soul, Donny Hathaway–you get the idea. All such associations might suggest that SunStorm is thus a retrograde or ‘old-school’ recording, but I’d prefer to call it timeless. Music of such quietly celebratory sincerity and soulfulness never goes out of style and if anything we could do with a whole lot more of it. Hip-hop is part of SunStorm’s stylistic mix but the album’s primary focus is soul music of the delectably funky and sexy kind (sometimes directly so, as in the love jam “Make Love 2 Me,” which–consistent with its make-out vibe–unspools for ten oh-so-amorous minutes).
Zo! isn’t, by the way, a vocalist but Detroit-area born, DC-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Ferguson, who contributed to The Foreign Exchange’s recent Leave It All Behind. Consequently, he’s the man behind the songs themselves along with their rich, finely crafted arrangements, while members of the Foreign Exchange Music family (Darien Brockington, Carlitta Durand, YahZarah, and Phonte, among others) are responsible for the lush vocals and harmonies that grace all but one of the album’s dozen songs (the lush, flute-driven instrumental “For Leslie”).
The opener “Greater Than The Sun” establishes the uplifting vibe when elegant pianisms lead into Phonte’s early morning ruminations and a swaying hip-hop groove. Carlitta Durand and Phonte pair up for the romantic duet “Say How You Feel,” Sy Smith elevates the strings-laden ’70s soul of “Greatest Weapon Of All Time” with a silken vocal that nicely complements the breeziness of the tune’s swing, Rapper Big Pooh drops rhymes alongside the vocalisms of Eric Roberson and Darien Brockington during the breezy two-stepper “This Could Be The Night,” and YahZarah takes the lead on the labryinthine title track, where the crisp soul-funk of the verses is offset by male shout-outs and Moog synthesizer patterns. With the spotlight on Phonte’s airy vocal harmonies, piano, trumpet, and Latin percussion, “Flight Of The Blackbyrd” pays homage to the kind of ’70s smooth jazz-fusion one associates with George Duke and Bob James. Much praise to Zo! and The Foreign Exchange crew for giving us another positive and community-spirited recording refreshingly free of misogyny and hate.