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Universal Togetherness Band, A Forgotten Gem Of Chicago Soul

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 27, 2015 5:30PM

The Universal Togetherness Band

The Universal Togetherness Band was the house group for the Columbia College audio recording program between 1979 and 1982. Apparently they tracked a huge chunk of what is described as a sprawling songbook with students of the school over those years, and a posthumous collection put together by Numero Group that was just released is most people's first chance to hear the band.

The band was led by Andre Gibson, who grew up in the Washington Park neighborhood, and the lack of constraints on these sessions—aside from providing opportunities for young audio engineers to get recording experience—allowed the Universal Togetherness Group free reign to experiment and stretch the boundaries of their music.

This is party music of the first degree, mixing disco with rhythms both Latin and Caribbean at times, with the strong bolt of soul running through to hold everything together. The bass playing is fluid and liquid, and there are moments where it and the keys decide to nod into a few measures that teeter on the edge of jazz exploration before jumping back into a four on the floor groove. What's perhaps most remarkable is how so both of and ahead of its time the music sounds.

This leads the listener to wonder just how many riches lie buried in Chicago's musical past. Obviously there are plenty of talented acts that come and go, often leaving memories of their music in the heads of only a handful of fans. But when you stumble across evidence like this, and the understanding that this particular collection of eight songs merely scratches the surface of the hours and hours of material the Universal Togetherness Band recorded, it is actually pretty mind-boggling that the band has been relatively undiscovered until now. No offense to the current recording program at Columbia, but this is obviously the best thing their audio engineering program ever captured, so how did it stay hidden for so long?

No matter, the music of the Universal Togetherness Band is finally out in the wild, in force. A previously released single (you can hear it in the video above) showcased the band, but a single can often run the risk of only highlighting an off moment of brilliance. This collection proves that moment is no fluke when it comes to the Universal Togetherness Band, instead showing that brilliance is maintained throughout this collection. In fact the biggest question we now face is this: if there's hours of music in this band's vault, why isn't this a multi-disc box set? Maybe we'll get one in the future. Until now, this handful of grooves will have to do.