(CTI, 1972)

Sometimes, in plundering the secondhand record bins, I'll come across something so strange and inexplicable that it leaves me baffled for days. Such was the case when I plunked down three bucks for Deodato's 1972 album, Prelude.

What's strange about it? Well, for starters, the disco-funk version of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," the Richard Strauss piece used as the theme from Stanley Kubrick's 2001. If that's not strange enough for you, how about a Santana-esque take on Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun"?

It sounds like a formula for disaster, but somehow this album is really, really good.

Brazilian-born keyboardist Eumir Deodato is backed here by jazz-funk greats like Billy Cobham, Ron Carter and Stanley Clarke, so the playing is top-notch.

Deodato does tend to over-arrange, and some pieces are cluttered by saccharine-sweet strings and orchestral intrusions. When that happens, the songs cross the line into the realm of elevator music, as can be heard on "Spirit of Summer." But that rarely occurs and, for the most part, Prelude is immensely entertaining.

Driven by Cobham's funky backbeat and Deodato's groovy, lyrical electric piano, "Zarathustra" ebbs and flows for nine minutes and never gets dull. The Debussy piece starts out straight, with quiet strings and graceful piano. Then, in a heartbeat, it becomes a Latin-rock jam session.

Similarly, "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" seems set on a course for Muzak, until it erupts into a blazing guitar solo over a furious conga rhythm. And the album's closer, "September 13," is as funky as anything Herbie Hancock did during the '70s.

But all in all, I'm still baffled. Everything I know about music tells me this shouldn't work.

After Prelude rose to No. 3 on the pop charts and won a Grammy in 1973, Deodato embarked on a brief recording career as a jazz-pop bandleader. The one-time arranger for Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim then faded back into arranging as the '70s drew to a close. But he's still active and apparently pretty cool -- one of his recent projects was arranging strings for Bjork's Homogenic, one of my favorite albums of the '90s.

[ by Paddy O'Furniture ]