As a vocalist, Khan is the one of the very few who often doesn't need great material to prosper. Thankfully on What Cha' Gonna Do for Me, that isn't the case. Teaming again with Arif Mardin, slowly but surely the two began to craft an even more successful and innovative sound. This effort not only bests the work before it, but it is Mardin's most fulfilling production since 1974's Average White Band. The cover of "We Can Work It Out" gets a brash and funky Stevie Wonder-style arrangement, with Gregory Phillanganes doing great synth work. The biggest hit here is the melodic title track and has Khan's patented mix of sexiness and intelligent phrasing. The best song here, "I Know You, I Live You," displays the brilliant bass and drum team of Anthony Jackson and Steve Ferrone whose innovation all but rendered Rufus obsolete. Their pounding yet refined sound is also on "We've Got Each Other," a hooky and propulsive duet with Khan's brother Mark Stevens. The ambitious and much loved "And the Melody Still Lingers On (Nights in Tunisia)" had Mardin and Khan creating pithy lyrics that paid homage to '40s jazz legends as well as all other subsequent musical geniuses. The track features a clavitar solo from Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, and an "excerpted" solo break from Charlie Parker. Throughout What Cha' Gonna Do for Me, Mardin seems to get amazing vocals from Khan and has he certainly had fun playing with her voice. What Cha' Gonna Do for Me is arguably the best effort of their partnership.
- Jason Elias (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
It hit me in flight between New York and L.A. with nothing to do but drink and think. Why not update the lyrics to Dizzy Gillespie's "Night In Tunisia" to show our appreciation for the musical pioneers of the mid-forties? It would be a tribute to those inventors of a new musical language, one that met a lot of resistance initially, but that went on to change the shape of contemporary music.
Be-bop. It's still very much a part of jazz today. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Max Roach, Bud Powell, J.J. Johnson, Miles Davis, Ray Brown and many others influenced generations of players.
Time for credit where credit is certainly due. Chaka loved the idea for the new lyrics, so I set out to find an appropriate lyricist. But with deadlines bearing down and no writer imminent, I decided, again, while trapped in my airline seat, to tackle the job myself (a 'first' for me). With Chaka's help we whipped a draft into shape just before the sessions started.
In the meantime, musicians had to be called for the L.A. session and Herbie Hancock had to be contacted in San Francisco. It was also high time to get started with the arrangement. In order to do that, I had prepared a demo tape of the song which included Charlie Parker's famous alto sax break, and when Chaka's manager, Jack Nelson, heard it, he urged me to actually use it on the recording. We did. This amazing four bar solo from Bird's 1946 recording of the song still sounds very modern.
Because of this, I had to rewrite my arrangement of the song, as a change of key was now necessary. When it was all finished, the music looked like a mile-long piano roll containing a Chinese laundry list written in cuneiform. But that proved to be no handicap to the band's performance. Inspired by Chaka, the group blew it out.
"Night In Tunisia," which I had chosen after Bob Krasnow suggested we record a jazz tune, is a perfect vehicle for Chaka's extraordinary artistry. The melody and chords are complex. Right, too, for Herbie Hancock, who contributed a wonderful solo.
From the beginning I had wanted Diz to play on this record. But he was on tour the whole time. Finally I got a call and he said that he loved the cassette I had sent him. Only two days before the album was to be mastered, he came down to Atlantic Studios in New York to say the last word on his song. He said it! Electrified everyone around him! We inserted his solos into the mix. Now all the pieces were in place. This album which was recorded in Switzerland, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco was at last complete.
The melodic riffs traditionally associated with this song are all included, slightly reharmonized and synthesized and wonderfully sung by Chaka in four-part big-band harmony. It's difficult to describe the strength and warmth she brings into this song. The high notes she sings are not in the book.
Her creativity is in full view on this tribute to one of America's most important art forms, Jazz.