New Music Archive

RUBEN STUDDARD – UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
 
Ruben Studdard will be releasing Unconditional Love, his first studio album in two years, it was announced today by his label, Verve Records.
 
Along with beautiful standards, Unconditional Love contains two original tunes, one of which is the first single, “Meant To Be” which will be released tomorrow, November 19th simultaneous to Studdard’s appearance on ‘The Biggest Loser.’ 16 time Grammy winning producer and Verve Records Chairman David Foster is one of several producers on the CD.
 
“Silky, classy, sexy, romantic–bring you to your knees–this is how I describe the incredible voice of Ruben Studdard. He feels every note and every word he sings. He is a man with an extraordinary voice,” commented Foster.
 
Unconditional Love is filled with some of the most romantic songs Studdard has ever recorded including “My Love” by the Beatles, The Carpenters classic, “Close To You” which includes Stevie Wonder on harmonica and Bonnie Raitt’s poignant, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Additional tracks include a steamy version of Teddy Pendergrass’ ”Close The Door” which was produced by singer Eric Benet who also produced Studdard’s breathtaking version of the Boz Scaggs hit “Look What You’ve Done To Me.” The album also contains a soaring duet with Laylah Hathaway of “With You I’m Born Again” which was originally recorded by Syreeta Wright and Billy Preston.
 
Unconditional Love is my most romantic album yet. I’ve wanted to record many of these love songs for a really long time. It’s the most heartfelt album I’ve ever recorded and includes many of my favorite songs from all different eras,” commented Studdard.
 
Fans of Ruben–and they are legend–will get to see him perform in February during several shows scheduled including one at NY’s Beacon Theatre on February 15th Studdard will also be going on tour with Laylah Hathaway – dates to be announced.
 
It’s been a decade since Fox Television’s ‘American Idol’ crowned Studdard, a Birmingham, Alabama native, its 2003 winner after he pulled in 24 million votes. In the years since, the “Velvet Teddy Bear” (as Gladys Knight nicknamed him) has had a string of gold and platinum records, top ten albums and r&b and pop singles. Along with performing around the world, he has toured as Fats Waller in the national stage tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin” and managed to pick up several Grammy and American Music Award nominations along the way.  - PRNewswire.com

THE VIEW FROM HERE
 
Bassist Kyle Eastwood frequently integrates a cinematic contour into his body of work. And true to form, he’s contributed music to eight of his famous father, actor, and director Clint Eastwood’s films. The bassist’s output can be characterized by tuneful hooks, calmly soaring opuses, and countered by odd-metered time signatures, clement flows, and passionate soloing spots. Indeed, his meticulous composing skills create intriguing propositions.
 
With handclaps and a prominent bass ostinato on the Flamenco-tinged “Sirocco,” the band fuses an expansive rock pulse with subtle North African cadences and trumpeter Quentin Collins’ flirtatious lines, and is one of several works integrating a world-music vibe. The musicians’ tender an international flavor, comprised of festive world-beat thematic forays, disseminated within a transparent modern jazz framework.
 
Eastwood’s arrangements are interspersed with his fluidly pumping lines and the quintet’s harmonious modalities, spiced with the hornists’ fervent soloing jaunts. He varies the pace on the promiscuous “The Promise,” imparting a moody and introspective motif, featuring profound and articulately expressed phrasings from Collins and saxophonist Graeme Blevins. Here, vivid imagery is sparked by the self-analytical storyline, reinforced by the leader’s nimble execution and subdued counterpoint of the primary melody. The divergent aspects of the album continue via the piano trio workout “Summer Gone,” framed on a reflective theme, the frontline’s gliding notes, and beefed up by Eastwood’s Jaco Pastorius influenced electric bass support.
 
Putting his sophisticated technical skills aside, the artist’s multi-purposed methodology transcends the perimeters of what might be considered old-hat or blasé within many jazz-centered stylizations. He’s not just another kid out of music school trying to impress by groping through difficult time signatures and inharmonious themes. On the contrary, Eastwood is an artiste. His mode of jazz expressionism tenders a multitude of gripping substructures, as he acutely transmutes these qualities into a highly entertaining form-factor.
 
Track Listing: From Rio To Havana; For M.E.; The View From Here; Sirocco; Luxor; Une Nuit Au Senegal; The Way Home; The Promise; Mistral; Summer Gone; Route De La Buissonne.
 
Personnel: Kyle Eastwood: double bass, electric bass; Graeme Blevins: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Graeme Flowers: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andrew McCormack: piano, electric piano; Martyn Kaine: drums. – allaboutjazz.com

BOB JAMES – ALONE
‘Having had the good fortune over the years to make jazz recordings with many great collaborators, I felt a responsibility to express my innermost musical thoughts directly through the piano; with no production, rhythm section or electronics, just the piano. Making this music I felt a variety of emotions: power, freedom, fun, control, relaxed, nervous, lonely. Most of all I felt a burning desire to express myself in a direct way through the majestic instrument that I sat in front of my whole life. Sharing with you the sounds that inspire me when I’m Alone…at the piano.’ – Bob James

Track listing:

1 – Restoration
2 – I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
3 – My Heart Stood Still
4 – Never Let Me Go
5 – Wild Stallion
6 – Karesansui
7 – Scarborough Fair
8 – It Never Entered My Mind
9 – Lover Come Back to Me
10 – Garbo Redux
11 – Medley (Westchester Lady / Touchdown / Nautilus / Angela)
12 – Put Our Hearts Together

HIROSHIMA – J-TOWN BEAT
With melodies as exotic and mystical as Japan itself, one of the most iconic cornerstones in contemporary jazz, Hiroshima, is back with a new set of hypnotic tracks that immediately capture your heart and imagination. This time, the gift of exoticism comes in the form of their new release J-Town Beat, a totally refreshing approach to the genre that offers a different direction for the band in some ways but still maintains the essence of their attractiveness.  As leader Dan Kuramoto (saxes, flutes, shakuhachi, keys, percussion, and composer/co-composer) says: “J-Town refers to Japan Town USA. It’s a microcosm of all the multi-cultural communities that make America the most diverse country in the world, and how best to reflect that than in music?” When you listen to this latest project from the longstanding group (original instrumental members still intact, by the way!), you clearly understand what the always musically passionate and creative Kuramoto means.

Here, you will find dreamy, soulful lyrics sung by vocalists Terry Steele and Vinx De’Jon Parrette, the magical storytelling koto of June Kuramoto, and the compelling Far Eastern landscape offered up by her husband’s writing and others in the band who’ve lent their hand to the compositions.  Not to be ignored, the up-tempo funky vibe of more typical contemporary jazz has a place here, as well…but that has always been Hiroshima’s way. You can hear that, as well as that awesome Japanese influence in pieces like “Cruisin’ J-Town.”

The album opens with an up-tempo and irresistible journey straight into the heart of Japan called “Red Buddha,” then goes a bit bossa nova with “Lost in Provence.”  It then steps into the low romantic light of seduction with “State of Mind,” turns on the mid-tempo funk with “Da Kitchen,”  and unleashes the powerfully caressing baritone vocals of Parrette (aka Vinx) on the sweet “Lady of Mystery” (and he does a remarkable job of painting a portrait of this mysterious lady for us). Equally effective are the magnificent and riveting vocals of Terry Steele on the deliciously lazy and soulful “Days Gone By.”  This gem of an album ends with the beautiful track “To Say Goodbye,” written by June Kuramoto and keyboardist James “Kim” Cornwell.

As I implied above, the pleasantly uncanny thing about Hiroshima is that they can change moods, styles, etc., all while maintaining that signature sound that always includes June Kuramoto’s beckoning and ever-attractive koto…the vehicle we ride into that colorful Hiroshima world.

For Hiroshima fans, you already know what makes this group so incredibly magical. Well, it’s all here and more on J-Town Beat. I strongly suggest that you not let this one escape your ears and its ability to reach your soul and places in your mind that you may have thought couldn’t be touched. Trust me: You will think again. For those few who may be unfamiliar with the supergroup, now’s a great time to get acquainted. Two thumbs up to this remarkable band that always seems to make it happen time and time again. – Ronald Jackson

DAVID LANZ – MOVEMENTS OF THE HEART
The latest release by pianist/composer David Lanz is called Movements of the Heart, and that title accurately sums up the tone and tenor of the CD. These thirteen songs reflect the variety of emotions and feelings that accompany being in love. Fittingly enough, two of the compositions are co-written by David’s new romantic interest, Kristin Amarie. From top to bottom, this is an absolutely lovely work.

Opening with “Love’s Return”, with its plaintive and elegant feel, is a perfect strategy, offering up a hopeful melody that’s both catchy and emotional. The next track, “La Luna dell’Amante”, swirls and cascades, suggesting a passionate dance between lovers. The gorgeous “On Rainbow Way” is followed by the hymnal-like “To Touch the Sky, which neatly segues into the pensive “Rainlight”. Lanz’s initial collaboration with Amarie, “I Hear You in a Song”, an evocative and dynamic piece, is up next, and then we’re treated to “The Way Home”, a bouncy, happy little tune that serves to end the first half of the CD.

“Movements of the Heart” continues the album, and it expresses in musical form the kind of yearning we’ve all felt inside, and it also acts as a kind a touchstone for the entire experience this work offers the listener. The mystical “White Horse” comes next, and the moody “In the Moonlight” follows. Lanz’s dedication to his new found love, “Midnight Adagio (Amarie’s Theme)”, is a delicate and thoughtful song, and “Here and Now” has the sound of a man who’s finding his place in the world again. His second collaboration with Amarie, “I See You in the Stars” closes out the album on a splendid note of positivity and light.

David Lanz is a consummate professional as both a pianist and composer, and this album allows us a window into his personal life as well. His playing throughout is both superb and delicately nuanced, indicative of someone pouring their heart and soul into their work. The production by David and Gary Lanz is exceptionally clear and sparkling, which enhances the overall experience. Perhaps that’s part of the aural payoff of recording at A-444 tuning instead of the standard A-440. In any event, this is a beautiful CD that’s currently available from www.Shanachie.com, as well as other outlets, including www.DavidLanz.com. – broadwayworld.com

HERB ALPERT – STEPPIN’ OUT
Grammy®-winning jazz great Herb Alpert is Steppin’ Out on November 19 with a new album on Shout! Factory. Combining pop instrumentals and timeless jazz along with Latin-influenced rhythms reminiscent of the Tijuana Brass, Steppin’ Out explores standards from the American Songbook as well as Alpert’s own catalog, and features his wife, the Grammy®-winning vocalist Lani Hall, on several tracks.

Steppin’ Out includes 16 songs, including a contemporary version of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a video for which has just been released. The music has an undeniable charm coupled with an energetic and intricate dance routine choreographed by the Emmy® award-winning team from So You Think You Can Dance, Napoleon & Tabitha D’umo, creating a magical pied piper-like scene. The video features musicians Lani Hall, Bill Cantos, Hussain Jiffry, Michael Shapiro and dancer Vincent Noiseux alongside corps dancers like Kherington Payne and others from So You Think You Can Dance USA, America’s Best Dance Crew, Dancing with the Stars, This is It, and Step Up. The video follows the lead dancer in one single seamless camera shot, without any edits, on a musical journey, motivating everyone he passes to join the promenade.

Also featured on Steppin’ Out is Alpert and Jeff Lorber’s “Jacky’s Place,” with lyrics by Bill Cantos, featuring vocals by Lani Hall, Art Pepper’s ballad “Our Song,” the chill Alpert/Lorber/Cantos composition “Green Lemonade,” Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “I Only Have Eyes For You,” featuring vocals by Hall, Ruben Fuentes Gasson’s “Good Morning Mr. Sunshine,” from the Tijuana Brass’ 1969 album The Brass Are Coming, the commanding ballad “Oblivion,” written by Astor Piazzolla}, Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” featuring vocals by Hall, the Alpert/Lorber/Cantos composition “Cote d’Azur,” a fresh version of {{Edith Piaf’s perennial favorite “La Vie En Rose,” Carl Sigman and Charles Dawes’ “It’s All In The Game” featuring Hall, Carlos Santana and Thomas J. Coster’s “Europa,” Ziggy Elman and Johnny Mercer’s “And The Angels Sing,” which originally appeared on Alpert’s Going Places, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” and Alpert and Jeff Lorber’s “Migration,” with lyrics written by Bill Cantos and vocals by Hall. Closing out the album is the 50th Anniversary version of “The Lonely Bull,” composed by Sol Lake and first released on Alpert’s debut album on A&M Records.

Steppin’ Out features Herb Alpert on trumpet and vocals, Lani Hall on vocals, Bill Cantos on keyboards, Michael Shapiro on drums and percussion, Hussain Jiffry on bass, Coco Triuisonno on bandoneon, and Ramon Stagnaro on acoustic guitar. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall produced the bulk of the album, while “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was produced by Randy “Badazz” Alpert and Herb Alpert. “Jacky’s Place,” “Green Lemonade,” “Côte d’Azur,” and “Migration” were produced by Jeff Lorber and Herb Alpert, and co-produced by Lani Hall, with additional guitar from Paul Jackson Jr

Herb Alpert is a true Renaissance man and known as a world renowned musician, record label co-founder, music producer, composer, arranger, visual artist, Broadway producer and philanthropist. After early success composing “Wonderful World” with Sam Cooke and Lou Adler, Alpert went on to co-found A&M Records in 1962 with Jerry Moss, which grew from Alpert’s garage in West Hollywood into the largest independent record label in history. Alpert introduced the Tijuana Brass phenomenon with a signature sound that propelled him to global fame. In 1966, when the TJB craze was unstoppable, he achieved the unmatched accomplishment of having 5 albums, at the same time, on Billboard’s Top 20. He has sold over 75 million records, with 15 certified platinum and 14 gold. Alpert’s many music honors include 7 Grammy® Awards, the prized Trustees Grammy® Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. He is the only artist to have a #1 record as a singer, “This Guy’s in Love with You” and as an instrumentalist, “Rise” in 1979.

Alpert explains, “There is a certain satisfaction and energy that comes from playing the horn – a feeling that I am really in the moment.” Herb Alpert has never stopped making music and in addition to his musical accomplishments, he has spent more than half his life as a respected, abstract expressionist painter and sculptor, whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world.

Herb Alpert and his wife, singer, Lani Hall, have been performing together, with their band, since 2006 and have previously released two CDs, Anything Goes and I Feel You.

Shout! Factory! Factory, LLC is a diversified multi-platform entertainment company devoted to producing, uncovering, preserving and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos have spent their entire careers sharing their music, television and film favorites with discerning consumers the world over. Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-Ray™ offerings serve up feature films, classic and contemporary TV series, animation, live music and comedy specials in lavish packages crammed with extras. Shout’s audio division boasts GRAMMY®-nominated box sets, new releases from storied artists, lovingly assembled album reissues and indispensable “best of” compilations. In addition, Shout! Factory maintains a vast digital distribution network which delivers video and audio content to all the leading digital service providers in North America. Shout! Factory also owns and operates Timeless Media Group, Biograph Records, Majordomo Records, HighTone Records and Video Time Machine. These riches are the result of a creative acquisition mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. Shout! Factory is based in Santa Monica, California. – allaboutjazz.com

JOSE JAMES – NO BEGINNING NO END

In Harlem back at the dawn of the last century, there was a dance called the Messaround. To do it, you’d bounce on your toes, shimmy your middle and keep your shoulders as still as possible. It was more a show of dexterity than a choreographed routine. It was sexy but playful, hard to define, yet easy to blend with other dances. The Messaround made the hybrid soul of popular music into a physical thing; it showed how discipline and release, fun and serious skill, complement each other.

The vocalist Jose James makes utterly contemporary music more grounded in neo-soul and hip-hop’s Native Tongues movement than in the dance crazes of the 1920s. Yet in his elegant, cerebral, seductive way, James is definitely doing the Messaround. His fourth album skirts categories with ease, fitting in with current R&B innovators like Frank Ocean or Miguel, yet maintaining a strong awareness of a lineage that stretches from Ray Charles to Marvin Gaye to Lou Rawls to Maxwell.

Eclecticism is, in some ways, the very subject of No Beginning No End (out Jan. 22)James strategized his approach after conversations with Leon Ware, the Motown-era songwriter who expanded soul’s palette working with Gaye, Quincy Jones, Minnie Riperton and many others. Pino Palladino, the Welsh bassist who’s worked with classic rockers like The Who and John Mayer and jazz stars like Roy Hargrove, is a co-producer. Robert Glasper and Kris Browers, both trailblazing young jazz genre-busters, make key appearances. Interacting with this top-notch crew, James goes beyond what’s expected from an “alternative R&B” singer who splits the difference between Bill Withers and D’Angelo. James finds his own voice by paying deep attention to technique without compromising passion — sultry one moment, commanding the next, he holistically heals the rift between radio-friendly songcraft and virtuoso flair.

Surrounded by these outstanding male players, James found himself wanting more “female energy”, he’s said. He cultivates that yin in remarkable duets with the New York singer-songwriter Emily King and the Moroccan chanteuse Hindi Zahra. These rich exchanges form the heart of the album, and again show James’ eagerness to go beyond his comfort zone: “Sword & Gun” takes on the North African flavor of Zahra’s music, while in “Heaven on the Ground,” James explores King’s instrument — the guitar — giving the duet multidimensional intimacy.

A few years ago, the scrupulously eclectic James seemed like something of an outlier, too sensually inclined for straight jazz and too contemplative for R&B or pop. Now, though, he’s a young lion within a growing community that includes Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Janelle Monae, Gregory Porter, and Lianne La Havas. His slow and sultry Messaround makes sense for this moment. Won’t you let him have this dance? – npr.org

LEBRON – SHADES
This new Trippin N Rhythm artist, saxophonist Lebron, not only brings us another level of freshness with his debut release Shades, but the Lebronsaxman has some pretty profound and pleasantly to-the-point opinions and observations.

When asked about his music, he responds, “Sound. It’s all about the sound.” His sound has been described simply as sweet and smooth. He adds, “To me, it’s never been about playing a bunch of notes as fast as I can or being too technically complex. The average listener can’t relate to that. Sometimes all that’s needed is the RIGHT note. I’m a strong believer that you can say more musically with less, just as long as it sounds pure.” I couldn’t agree more. He goes on to say, “I want people to leave my shows feeling better than they did before they arrived. If I play a love song, I want them to feel the love. If I cry through my horn, I want them to cry with me.” Say it louder, my young brother. Reaching the depths of one’s soul is obviously this artist’s focal point and main objective.

With Paul Brown, Nicholas Cole, and Darren Rahn providing some potent support for the artist by contributing to a few tracks, I suspect this powerfully charged saxman is on his way.

From the hot opening track, “Groove City,” featuring Paul Brown, this young man sets the tone for a blistering project…and he doesn’t disappoint. Go ahead: After hearing the lead track, try sitting down in the middle of it. Can’t do it, right? But wait, there’s so much more. The stompin’ bottom-heavy and soul-shakin’ track immediately following the lead track, “Turn It Up,” starts another sweat fest for the dancer in you. Can this young cat bring the heat? You’d better know it.

With Rahn co-writing most of the tracks with Lebron, as well as producing the album, Shades is a clear display of how to bring down the house while shining as brightly as a supernova.

Playing as if his life depended on it, Lebron lays out emotion and sensitivity that clearly states how much he loves this music. This is not a project thrown together overnight. No, there is too much of a sense of fastidiousness and a genuinely serious approach to what he’s producing. Like he says…it’s all about the sound, and he obviously covets that as part of his identity.

Tracks like the previously referenced butt-kicking lead track, “Turn It Up,” “Double or Nothing” featuring saxman Darren Rahn, and the soothing, soulfulness of tracks like “Kiss and Tell,” which features the super-proficient keyboardist Nicholas Cole, are about as indicative of the entire project as anyone could want.

From start to finish, I was hard-pressed to find one problem piece. If you like your jazz with that heavy jam edge along with some softer tracks that call to you seductively, here is your man. Welcome, Lebron! – Ronald Jackson, thesmoothjazzride.com

NAJEE – THE MORNING AFTER
Imagine living a life filled with the beauty of Europe, Asia and Africa, one of romantic intrigue and memories of a musically enriching career that started as a young musician tutored by the finest teachers in jazz. Najee is one who has lived this enviable dream for over twenty-five years. From playing with giants like Prince and George Duke to enchanting audiences all over the world with love songs galore, the multi-saxophonist has earned the right to become a contemporary jazz ambassador. Frankly, Najee has far from woken up from the dream of such rare industry success since it first began in the late ‘80s.

As one of the few smooth jazz practitioners who unashamedly brought an R&B attitude to his music while also throwing down some occasional be-bop, Najee honored his inspirations by such mentors as Dr. Billy Taylor in his genre blurring approach to music. Through he’s received skepticism at times from critics and other jazz purists, proof of his quality musicianship and the key to his longevity can partially be found on such recent classics as Najee Plays Songs in the Key of Life (a solid jazz tribute produced by George Duke paying homage to another hero, Stevie Wonder) and Najee’s 2012 release for his new label home, Shanachie Records, on The Smooth Side of Soul. Now on his sophomore turn for Shanachie, The Morning After: A Musical Love Journey, Najee shifts in a slightly different direction, one focused on storytelling and illustrating the high points of his memorable career and carrying listeners along his international journey.

Utilizing his vision as a romantic and world class jazz player, Najee’s conceptualization of The Morning After is a fantasy soundtrack come alive with inviting jazz/R&B grooves, world music treats and his saxophone dexterity. The opening twenty-two second skit, “Anticipation,” finds Najee waiting patiently on his special woman companion. Here starts the “Rendezvous,” running on an in the pocket groove with a few bass guitar pops, acoustic piano trimmings and Najee’s relaxed, soulful tenor sax. Giving props to the French Riviera, “San Tropez” is a soft Latin-rhythmic affair, shifting midway into a gospel-like breakdown where Najee lets his tenor sax fly at will. Simmering African/reggae beats lay the foundation for “Mafalala,” as Demonte Posey’s explosive piano and Najee’s fluttering tenor sax paint a vivid picture of those oppressed in Mozambique. Of relevant note and in a completely different frame of mind, “Shinjuku” pays a delightfully funky homage to Najee’s touring days with George Duke in Japan.

While this Morning After worldwide fantasy is enticing and entertaining on many counts, there are a few distractions. “Paseo Nuevo” and “Trip to The Moon” provide decent smooth listening but miss the usually stimulating creative juices for which Najee is known. The arrangement on Najee’s salute to Paris, “Champs Elysees,” lapses during the first half before he wisely detours onto that electrifying Minneapolis Sound for a classic Prince/The Time-esque climax that should uplift the club devotees.

A welcome friend returns to The Morning After in Meli’sa Morgan, who accentuates the right balance of power and sultriness for the second single, “In The Mood to Take it Slow.” Reflecting Najee’s diverse moods, “W72 and Broadway” marries funk and be-bop, highlighted by ardent adlibs from Najee and a trio featuring Brian Bromberg. Though The Morning After journey lasts only under an hour, Najee plays a fairly compelling tour guide while sharing significant memories with his fans and anyone who just digs a fabulous fantasy. Recommended. – Peggy Oliver, Soultracks.com

 JESSY J – SE CHANCES
It was in 2008 that sax player Jessica Spinella, aka Jessy J, released her debut CD ‘Tequila Moon’. A range of factors combined to make it one of the most hyped events of the year and less than a year later she was back with her sophomore effort ‘True Love’. It moved Jessy J closer yet to her Latin heritage while drawing heavily on Paul Brown’s talents as a writer, producer and performer. Brown also played a major part in her 2011 project ‘Hot Sauce’ so it is something of a surprise that ‘Second Chances’, which hit the streets September 10 on the Shanachie label, finds her with new collaborators and new influences. In fact the recording represents a change of direction for Jessy as she sets out to blend her love for jazz and Latin rhythms with an R & B groove.

Take for instance the mellifluous yet urgent title cut, which includes distinctive guitar from Norman Brown or the whimsical ‘Mambo Gumbo’ that is Jessy’s homage to the city of New Orleans and was co-written with Joe Sample and Johnny Britt.

Another formidable writing partnership, Jeff Lorber and Jimmy Haslip, co-wrote and feature on the romantically inclined ‘Tango For Two’ and these two ‘A-List’ performers are also around for ‘Listen 2 The Groove’ that is a tune of which smooth jazz radio listeners will already be familiar. Another song where Lorber and Haslip provide an input is the jazzily complex ‘Double Trouble’ while elsewhere Jessy uses the Roberta Flack classic ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ as an opportunity to utilize her often-underused singing voice.

Talking of classics, Sergio Mendes’ seminal ‘Magalehna’ fits perfectly with Jessy’s Latin roots. Throughout her career she has drawn musical inspiration from her Mexican-American heritage. In fact Jessy’s Mexican born father and mother have always filled the family home with festive, live Latin music and another number that maintains this ‘south of the border’ feel is ‘La Luna Feliz’ which as well as being a top notch slice of contemporary jazz also allows Jessy to handle vocals in Spanish.

Rounding off her quota of Latin inspired music are two of what could arguably be described as the best tracks on the album. Co-written with Johnny Britt the understated ‘Twice’ is a mellow pleasure but just shading it as Smooth Jazz Therapy favorite is ‘Dos’ where Jessy shifts effortlessly between flute and soprano sax. – Smooth Jazz Therapy

JONATHAN BUTLER – MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU

Santa Claus has a special treat to stuff in the stockings of all the good Jonathan Butler fans this Christmas: the first Christmas album by the two-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter-guitarist. Butler produced and arranged “Merry Christmas To You,” which will be released October 1 by Artistry Music. Two singles will be shipped to multiple radio formats this holiday season: an instrumental take on “Sleigh Ride” decorated with hallmarks from the South African native’s homeland, and the album’s title track, which is a retro-flavored R&B/adult contemporary ballad penned by Butler.

Butler recorded eight Christmas chestnuts for the collection and penned a pair of new songs, including “Happy Holidays,” an ardent urban groove ornamented with riffs of cool jazz guitar. High-profile hornmen Dave Koz, Rick Braun and Paul “Shilts” Weimer contribute to the festivities on a couple of tracks as does Butler’s daughter, vocalist Jodie Butler, and bassist Dan Lutz, who plays upright on a tune, but the heart of the intimate recording is Butler solo pouring his impassioned voice and acoustic guitar into the seasonal songs. His arresting performances and sparse production captivates, fostering an air of freshness to the evergreen material.

“These songs are beautiful on their own so I felt they didn’t need a lot of instrumentation. Plus I wanted my fans to have a personal Christmas message from me. That is why the CD has very little production and plenty of voice and guitar. It’s a very proud moment for me to finally have a Christmas record, which has been a long time coming. I hope fans feel blessed and uplifted when they play it at home or in their car or wherever they may be. I truly thank God for giving me the strength and the opportunity to make this album,” said Butler, who lives in California’s San Fernando Valley with his family.

The “Merry Christmas To You” album opens with an energizing version of the Donny Hathaway soul classic “This Christmas.” Butler applies South African vocalization, chanting and rhythmic percussion to “Little Drummer Boy.” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night” and the lesser known “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” are presented starkly featuring show-stopping performances by the devoutly inspired man with his guitar.

Beginning November 30, Butler will venture out on a three-week U.S. concert swing performing on the Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour during which he will share the stage with the charismatic sax star as well as keyboardist Keiko Matsui and vocalist Oleta Adams.

A former child star, Butler was the first black artist played on radio stations in South Africa. The hint of grit in his expressive voice reflects the pain he endured growing up under Apartheid, the youngest of 17 children. A true artist who refuses to segregate his music, Butler’s recordings consist of vocal and instrumental hits and enduring fan favorites spanning R&B, contemporary jazz, gospel, adult contemporary, pop and world beat stylings. The natural-born performer’s radiant spirit shines brightly through his beaming smile and twinkling eyes. – Mack Avenue Records

KYLE WOLVERTSON – “DON’T STOP THE MUSIC”

‘Since early 2012, Kyle and the crew have been busy writing and recording the music for the new release.  It has been a wonderful process and the band has grown tighter through the process.  The debut CD ” Soul Groove” enjoyed wonderful success both in the US and abroad.  Kyle and his all-star band were welcomed to the stage by the music community with open arms.

Critics and listeners alike agreed that there was something very unique about the project as it layered together so many different musical genres in a seamless and pleasing fashion.  “Don’t Stop the Music” picks up right where “Soul Groove” left off.  Strong melodies with New Orleans second line style brass, combined with a hard driving funk flare are sure to keep audiences dancing in the days ahead.

The collaboration of talent on this project is really a big coming of age for Kyle and his legendary band.  The inter-twining of talent with artists like Nick Colionne, DW3, and more has resulted in an album that is like no other.  “Don’t Stop the Music” is poised to be the breakout surprise of 2013. – kylewolverton.com

SPYRO GYRA – THE RHINEBECK SESSIONS

In April 2013, Jay Beckenstein and the members of Spyro Gyra entered a recording studio in Rhinebeck, NY, a small town in the Hudson Valley not too far from Woodstock. Beckenstein and his bandmates set out to do something that they had never done before in their nearly forty year history – improvise with each other over three days and in the process write and record an entire new album.

“As I thought about doing another record, I asked myself, what is it that makes Spyro Gyra special?” Beckenstein explains, “I decided that it was the fact that we have been together so long that the communication between us has become almost mystical. Our ability to improvise on the fly has become so strong because we have played together so much. It was time to go into the studio with very little planned and see what might come out of it.”

Beckenstein concedes, “It was a bit of a gamble but we’re lucky to have a loyal fan base who are probably going to be interested in what we’re doing. I was also fairly confident that whatever came out of it would be pretty close to the way we have approached our live shows for years.” – spyrogyra.com

STEVE COLE – PULSE
Yes, its official, big hooks and big horns are very much in vogue and as if to confirm the fact ‘Pulse’, the new CD from powerhouse sax-man Steve Cole, will hit the streets on September 17. Produced and substantially written by Cole with fellow saxophonist David Mann, its muscular horn section and soul-powered grooves are very much in contrast to Cole’s 2011 project ‘Moonlight’ that placed Cole in a lavish orchestral setting. Yet it could be argued that ‘Pulse’ finds Cole back to his roots and with the sort of groove that characterized earlier projects such as ‘Stay Awhile’ and ‘Between Us’. Not only that it finds him right on top of his considerable game.

‘Pulse’ is up and running in the way it intends to continue with the easy grooving title cut (that Steve composed with the unrelated but highly rated Nicholas Cole) while elsewhere the David Mann penned ‘Slinky’ proves to be a total rhythm fest and then some. Here Bernd Schoenhart on guitar really grabs the spotlight and the tune is further enriched by flashes of Hammond B3 from Ricky Peterson. Another rhythmic number is the big and brassy ‘Believe’ and when Cole finds a more reflective disposition for the romantically inclined ‘Looking Up’ the result is just as good.

The gospel flecked tones of ‘Looking Up’ are a total delight and a wonderful counterpoint to the streetwise attitude of ‘Maximum Cool’ that is as appealing as it is different. Both tracks serve to illustrate the light and shade that Cole crams into this fine collection and he extends this breadth with two well-chosen covers.

His heartfelt rendition of The Friends Of Distinction 1969 classic ‘Going In Circles’ underpins his status as the most soulful player on the scene today and another impeccable re-imagining comes in the form of Bobby Bland’s iconic ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’. As covers go this is as good as you will hear this year and in terms of personal favorites, the term ‘spoiled for choice’ has never been more appropriate.

Already making waves at smooth jazz radio is the velvety ‘With You All The Way’ that, with a horn section of Cole and Mann on sax, Trevor Neumann on trumpet and Dan Levine on trombone, sounds just like a Steve Cole song should whilst the hugely infectious ‘Minty Fresh’ is also right up there with the best that ‘Pulse’ has to offer. However, all things considered, what Cole does best is perfectly demonstrated by the superb ‘Do Your Thing’. Resonating with a soulful sixties vibe and a horn enriched hook that is totally to die for this is what smooth jazz should be all about and is a certainty for my top twenty of 2013. -smoothjazztherapy.com

EARTH, WIND & FIRE – NOW, THEN AND FOREVER

No matter what gender, genre or generation one aligns themselves with, you would be hard-pressed to find a music lover who remains unmoved by Earth, Wind & Fire. For nearly half a century, this self-contained band has enthralled audiences around the world with sophisticated arrangements heavily steeped in jazz, funk, soul, gospel and even African influences that turned messages of love, unity, self-awareness and spirituality into timeless hits (“September,” “After The Love Is Gone,” “Devotion,” “Shining Star,” “Be Ever Wonderful,” “Reasons,” etc.). Today, as EW&F is one of popular music’s longest-enduring acts, and countless awards, astronomical unit sales (90 million and counting) and measureless impact on other performers remain a testament to the band’s vision and legacy.

With its leader publicly retired (founder Maurice White still contributes behind the boards but left touring due to Parkinson’s Disease) and the other original members Ralph Johnson, Verdine White and Philip Bailey well into middle age, no one would fault the trailblazers for exiting stage right altogether. Fortunately for their fanbase, though, to celebrate their 40th Anniversary – and four years after the Grammy-Award-nominated CD Illumination – the band wanted to return to their signature style with the release of their latest studio album, Now, Then & Forever.

In comparison to its predecessor, Now…. has less outside contributors lyrically, vocally and production-wise, a calculated move to showcase the main ingredients that put them on top to begin with. In fact, with the exception of two tracks, all songs were written or co-written by a group member and/or Philip D. Bailey (named after his famous falsetto-singing father), resulting in numbers that are entirely new but brimming with the lush sophistication and lofty themes that listeners have long associated with the band:”Sign On,” the only duet, kicks off the set with a crisp smattering of horns, the re-emergence of Larry Dunn on keyboards and Mr. Bailey’s elastic range trading verses with a competent Daniel McClain about the importance of action-fueled agreement in a crumbling world—”Everytime I seem to look around, I can see the people crying out/Cause the fear, hate and power/and that good ol’ mighty dollar/Time to unite and make it right/Within us.”

Other magnanimous moments include a neo-soul-infusing jam, “Got To Be Love” and the upbeat and rollicking single “My Promise” (co-penned by Siedah Garrett) recalls the groove of “Getaway” and confesses a heady and eternal love. “Guiding Lights” features a fluid pace and is both soothing and spiritual, tenderly entreating a timid soul to face fears and heal from within. But the most infectious of them all is “Love Is Law,” perfectly paced for the stepper set, sung angelically and deftly co-written by an increasingly-prolific Lee Hutson Jr: “Let love surround us, don’t it feel so good/love the feeling, it’s understood/keep believing and love endures.”

What remains of Now…incorporates touches of come-hither, cool-out jazz (“The Rush”), a fluidly-resplendent instrumental with horn play by Terence Blanchard (“Splashes”) and a pair of fast-paced cuts that take you back to the disco era whether you wanted to go back in time or not (“Dance Floor” and “Night Of My Life”). Unfortunately, the liveliness and pristine production values (chiefly assembled by Neal Pogue) aren’t enough to stop comparisons to the earlier classics that obviously inspired them, “Let Your Feelings Show” and “I’ve Had Enough.”

After accumulating 20-odd studio recordings and dozens of baby-making and booty-shaking grooves, Earth, Wind & Fire has already demonstrated their artistry and excellence. But what the icons still accomplish here, however, is an enthusiastic expansion of their time-tested blueprint over assorted new melodies and material, which will intrigue a newer audience, gratify their original one and remind everyone of why EW&F still reigns as one of the world’s baddest-ever entertainment ensembles, Now and Forever. – soultracks.com

PIECES OF A DREAM – IN THE MOMEMT

R&B/Jazz icons celebrate their 20th release! The great Grover Washington, Jr. discovered, nurtured and produced Pieces Of A Dream while they were teenage phenoms still in high school. Since then they have toured the world, sold over a million albums, scored both Smooth Jazz and R&B radio hits and gar- nered legions of dedicated fans.

In The Moment represents Pieces Of A Dream at their creative peak. Joined by superstar guitarist Rhon Lawrence and up and coming saxophonist Tony Watson Jr., the group has composed 10 brilliant originals that run the gamut from the ‘in the pocket’ R&B to the kind of sensuous Smooth Jazz jams that have made them legends.

Lead producer and founding member James Lloyd, who has been a go-to hit maker and accompanist for such artists as Mary J. Blige, BB King, Wayman Tisdale and others, is at the top of his game here with such highlights as the funky “Steppers “D” Light” and the romantic ballad “Misty Eyed.” Additionally, co-founder Curtis Harmon’s composition, the title track “In The Moment,” is a joyful celebration of Pieces Of A Dream’s 20th album and their brilliant career! – Shanachie Entertainment

JEFF LORBER FUSION – HACIENDA
Keyboardist/composer/producer Jeff Lorber, heralded as “one of the founding fathers of fusion” (Keyboard), returns with his GRAMMY®-nominated power trio the Jeff Lorber Fusion, featuring bassist/co-producer Jimmy Haslip and saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Since the late 1970s, this contemporary jazz collective has blended elements of jazz, funk, rock, R&B and world music into a distinctive sound that has connected with audiences from a variety of continents, cultures and generations.

In more recent years, the group’s studio efforts such as their 2010 release, Now Is the Time (2010) and Galaxy (2012), influenced by extensive touring throughout Europe and Asia, have been colored with vibrant shades of dance and house music.

These same colors are at the forefront of Hacienda, the new album from the Jeff Lorber Fusion scheduled for release August 27, 2013 on Heads Up, a division of Concord Music Group. Co-produced by Lorber and Haslip, Hacienda spotlights eleven tracks, including a brilliant take on the Frank Zappa composition “King Kong,” with Jean-Luc Ponty on violin. Other guests include Larry Koonse, Paul Jackson, Jr., Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Lenny Castro, David Mann, and more.

The album title – the Spanish word for house – is partly inspired by the club in Manchester, England, with the same name that fostered an exciting dance music scene that eventually came to be known as house music. Lorber, who explored the style earlier in his career, revisits it in various places on Hacienda.

“Eric and Jimmy and I had done a lot of touring in 2011 and 2012,” says Lorber. “By the time we were back in the States in the fall of 2012, and we realized that Vinnie Colaiuta was available, the whole thing came together very spontaneously. Hacienda takes what we started on some of our previous records and puts it into a tighter focus. It also reflects the excitement of doing a lot of touring and discovering what really worked – funky rhythms, unusual chord changes – for international audiences that really understood where we were coming from.”

The offbeat and funky are immediately evident in “Corinaldo,” the complex opening track that consists of multiple sections. “It’s not simple at all,” says Lorber. “It’s unusual, and it goes to some unlikely places – which is what helps the track maintain a level of excitement. Eric, who is known primarily as an alto sax player, takes a tenor solo on that song that is just incredible.”

“Solar Wind” features an L.A.-based guitarist named Larry Koonse, who “kind of takes it outside a little bit, but in a way that the average listener can still enjoy,” says Lorber. Koonse reappears several tracks later in the midtempo “Playa Del Falco,” a melodic ballad in 6/8 which Haslip describes as “very modal, very polyrhythmic, with a little bit of a Latin vibe.”

Lorber and company’s intriguing rendition of Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” – featuring Jean-Luc Ponty and Ed Mann on marimba – is the only cover on the record. “It’s a song I’ve always loved,” says Lorber. “What you hear on the record is actually just a really quick arrangement that I put together, but a lot of stuff happened spontaneously in the studio that became part of the arrangement. It was almost an accident, but it came out great, and it became one of my favorite songs on the record when Jean-Luc Ponty, who also used to work with Frank Zappa, and Ed Mann, who was a member of the Mothers of Invention, both agreed to play on it.”

Unlike the uptempo tracks at the front end of the album, “The Steppe” settles into a quieter groove that focuses more on melody than intensity, with the help of a fine sax solo from Marienthal that rounds out the track. “That was Eric’s first take,” says Lorber. “He’s the kind of guy who likes to play things over and over again until they’re perfect, but I told him, ‘Man, that first take, that was it. Don’t waste your time playing any more solos.’ He insisted on recording it several more times, but eventually we went back to the first take.”

The swing-flavored “Raptor” was one of the first tunes that Lorber played for Haslip and Marienthal when the idea for the album was just beginning to take shape. “It was just a loose jam at the time,” says Haslip, “but I thought, ‘Wow, what a cool tune.’ I knew it was an indication of what was to come, because I could see that Jeff was on a roll. He was inspired, and I could see that he was writing a lot of material.”

The set closes with “Dragonfly,” a track written by Haslip that features guest drummer Dave Weckl. “We knew we wanted to do something kind of special with this track, so we got Dave,” says Lorber. “He played an incredible drum part on that song. Also, Dave Mann, who does a lot of the horn parts and horn arranging for this record, stepped up on this track and delivered a really interesting bass clarinet solo.”

In the end, Hacienda is the culmination of several years’ worth of exploration in the studio along with several thousand miles worth of self discovery in live performances around the globe. At the end of that journey, Jeff Lorber Fusion is exactly where it should be – in the house, and deep in the groove.

“Hacienda is a bit more focused than some of our previous projects,” says Lorber. “The writing is more original, the playing is better, the overall vibe is more exciting. And we had a blast bringing it all together. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. If you want people to enjoy the music, you have to put the good vibes in when you make it so people can get the good vibes out when they hear it.” – theurbanmusicscene.com

JEFF GOLUB w/BRIAN AUGER – TRAIN KEEPS A ROLLING
Jeff Golub always has one up his sleeve to grab you. His upcoming release, Train Keeps A Rolling (due out on Aug. 13), is a return to the guitarist’s blues and rock roots with lots of bluesy licks topped off with keyboardist Brian Auger’s oh-so-funky and right Jeff Golub & Brian AugerHammond B3 and powerful compositions.

Golub’s spirit, strength, and conviction to stay firmly in the mix since his unfortunate loss of sight (which I still pray is temporary) are outstanding, to say the least. Helping him and Auger with this project are heavies like Ambrosia’s David Pack, sax lady Mindi Abair, a few of Auger’s Oblivion Express band: drummer Steve Ferrone and vocalist Alex Ligertwood, percussionist Luis Conte, and vocalist/songwriter Christopher Cross (wow, haven’t heard from him in ages).

This mix of jazz, blues, and rock captures so much of what was, what is, and embraces all in between. Golub’s fiery blues and rock licks are unforgettable as Auger’s driving style and power fully complement the guitarist. These two should have done this a long while ago. It’s full of phat grooves, gutsy blues, and energy off the charts.

Blues, jazz, or rock fans will find something palatable with this one. When you listen to the likes of the lead track– the pumped up cover of Lalo Schifrin’s bluesy “The Cat”—then, swing on over to the cool remake of Ace’s “How Long,” stroll over to Auger’s “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend,” check out Golub’s lead track (co-written with Chris Palmaro), and witness the cover of The Police’s “Walking On The Moon,” you’ll get the full-blown picture of the bite of this album. Hot ‘n’ ready stuff.

This collaboration was a stroke of genius, and it shows. The will and drive of both of these men and their supporting band speak volumes about their dedication to good music, and it makes you wish every single musician alive had that focus and dedication. Many, many do, some don’t. Let’s consider ourselves very blessed and a little lucky that what we’re used to hearing still thrives robustly in the hearts and souls of musicians such as you’ll hear on this project. – Ronald Jackson, thesmoothjazzride.com

CHUCK LOEB – SILHOUETTE

Guitarist Chuck Loeb is well known as jazz guitarist in groups such as Metro, Steps Ahead or Stan Getz’s band. But he became popular by his solo albums as smooth jazz guitarist. His participation in the group Fourplay is a fruit of this popularity.

Exploring different facets of jazz might be joyful, but to earn money with smooth jazz is the real deal. On the new album we discover Chuck’s companions like David Mann, Eric Marienthal, Andy Snitzer (sax), Mitchel Forman (keyboards), but also his family members Carmen Cuesta and Lizzy Loeb.

On Silhouette Chuck easily adapts the style of Fourplay, he has helped shape who also influenced him. Chuck follows this exciting joy ride on Silver Lining. Listen to Fourplay’s Bali Run and you know what I mean. David Mann adds some Smoothness on sax.

When you love Metro’s Month of Sunday’s then Present Sense is the right continuation. Loeb and Mitchel Forman showcase on this piece all their prowess again. On Appreciation Loeb drifts in the Contemporary Jazz, where Mitchel with his brilliant contributions provides the best template. JT is a tribute to James Taylor, one of Chuck’s all time favorite artists. The melodious song features Eric Marienthal on sax.

The driving tune Lockdown presents the new discovery, pianist Oli Rockberger and trumpet player Giulio Carmassi. A swinging tune with some edges. Stompin‘ showcases Chuck’s collaboration with organist Pat Bianchi in the tradition of Montgomery and Jimmy Smith.

On the final part of his album Loeb features his wife Carmen Cuesta with a rendition of Esta Tarde Vi Llover (English version “Yesterday I Heard the Rain”), a composition by Armando Manzanero, his daughter Lizzy Loeb on My One and Only Love, a jazz standard by Guy Wood and Adam Makowicz and his daughter Christina Loeb on Las Eras, inspired by their summers in Northern Spain. Christina plays the Ukulele, while Chuck is accompanying her on acoustic guitar.

Chuck Loeb’s Silhouette is a colorful compendium of all that Chuck is currently epitomizes. Smooth Jazz, Jazz, Contemporary Jazz and Spanish folklore are not contradictions but different sides of his musical personality. – smoothandjazz.com


KEIKO MATSUI – SOUL QUEST

Since the 1989 release of her first US album, ‘A Drop of Water’, Japanese keyboard player Keiko Matsui has been carving out her own special place in the annals of contemporary jazz. Now, with over twenty CD’s to her name and an extravagant tour schedule that in the last twelve months has taken her coast to coast across America as well as to Japan and Eastern Europe, she is back with her latest project ‘Soul Quest’. A sophisticated collection with far more to offer than that merely defined by the limited confines of radio acceptability, it is characterized by ten original compositions and sumptuous collaborations with chart-topping producers Chuck Loeb and Narada Michael Walden.

‘Soul Quest’ opens with ‘Dream Seeker’ that has already been described elsewhere as being both transcendental and majestic. Co-written by guitarist and producer Chuck Loeb it features his flamenco style playing and is added to in no small measure by soaring sax from Andy Snitzer. Loeb is also around for ‘Top Secret’ that, with a bluesy undercurrent and a rhythmic pulse, benefits from cool muted trumpet from Giulio Carmassi. It’s a tune with a decidedly catchy quality and in this respect is in the good company of Matsui’s own composition ‘A Night With Cha Cha’ for which Loeb again makes a contribution.

Keiko joined up with Narada Michael Walden in a studio in San Francisco and had originally planned to record just one song with him. In the event, the synergy they developed let to a total of three. The atmospheric “moving ountain’ was recorded in a single take, while ‘Antarctica – A Call To Action’ highlights the catastrophe of global warming and how the progressive melting of Antarctica threatens not only the region’s wildlife but also the planet as a whole.

In complete contrast, ‘Stingo’ finds Keiko and Narada paying tribute to Sting who, as well as being Matsui’s all-time favorite musician, also happens to be a close friend of Walden. This mid tempo charmer has much to commend it and indeed the same can be said of the expansive title cut that totally begs to be united with a movie score. It is one of two tunes produced by long-time associate Derek Nakamoto with the other being the wonderful ‘Black Lion’. Despite taking its name from a restaurant Matsui and her band visited in Georgia, the song was actually evoked by a painting she saw there by the artist Niko Pirosmani. It is the first single to be serviced to radio and combines sophistication and commercial appeal in the way that Matsui seems routinely able to do.

Another personal favorite is the understated, brass driven and hugely soulful ‘Two Hearts’ yet, all things considered; the Smooth Jazz Therapy top track has to be the chilled out ‘Proof’. Written by Loeb with something of a quiet storm thing going on, this is a number certain to make it into my top twenty of 2013. – Smoothjazztherapy.com

EARL KLUGH – HANDPICKED

Guitarist Earl Klugh is often referred to as one of the main progenitors of what is often called contemporary jazz. Since releasing his first recording in 1976, the Detroit-born master of the acoustic-classical guitar has become one of the most imitated icons of the instrument. He has issued at least 23 recordings that have been on Billboard’s top-10 list of jazz albums and is the recipient of 12 GRAMMY nominations.

Handpicked, which is Earl Klugh’s first release on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group, reveals his impeccable technique on 16 gorgeous covers of some of your favorite pop, jazz and rock standards. Included are such timeless compositions as: “Lullaby of Birdland” George Shearing’s classic composition; a duet with guitarist Bill Frisell on “Blue Moon;” and Klugh’s own “In Six,” a composition written in the 6/8 time signature that progresses nicely as a danceable melody, among others.

A second duet with Jake Shimabukuro occurs on “Hotel California.” Klugh’s guitar and the virtuoso’s ukulele share different but very complimentary ranges and registers which makes this song one of the more memorable on the recording. Klugh also duets with Vince Gill on “All I Have To Do Is Dream” before seguing into “Going Out of My Head,” the 1970s hit made famous by Little Anthony and the Imperials. All of the songs selected for this exceptional recording deserve the many accolades Earl Klugh is receiving but his fans are sure to enjoy his cover of The Beatles’ lovely composition, “If I Fell.” The song is very beautiful because of its moving melody and inspired lyricism. Earl Klugh reinterprets this great standard with sensitivity and respect that the original composers would definitely enjoy.

When all is said and done, Earl Klugh has delivered a true masterpiece affectionately known asHandpicked. After four decades and over thirty recordings later, the GRAMMY Award-winner and 12 time nominee now shows in a mosaic of pop, rock and jazz standards that he is truly one of music’s most original guitar virtuosos. – Paula Edelstein, examiner.com

LAWSON ROLLINS – FULL CIRCLE

Prodigious guitarist Lawson Rollins’ Full Circle, a riveting 12-song aural adventure crammed with culture and masterful musicianship that was released July 16 by Infinita Records, is like traversing the world without the hassles of modern travel. Rollins’ fourth album, which he produced with multi-platinum producer Dominic Camardella (Ottmar Liebert, Flora Purim, 3rd Force), explores the borderless expanse of captivating melodies and fascinating global rhythms while discovering multicultural sounds that play like the ideal soundtrack for an intriguing National Geographic expedition. The first radio single, “Momentum,” paced by a driving groove, frenetic fretwork and hints of Japanese folk music, has consistently been one of the most added tracks on the Billboard BDS for more than a month.

Rollins composed Full Circle, which mirrors his own artistic journey. On earlier releases, he crisscrossed the world on a quest to amass interesting styles to incorporate into his sonic collages that mine world music, jazz, rock, classical, folk and reggae. Along the way, he unearthed a fondness for Latin, Middle Eastern, African and Japanese sounds and instrumentation. Rollins recorded with the finest native musicians to maintain authenticity. On Full Circle, he decided to travel with a smaller suitcase thus packed fewer layers into the still lush tracks, which places the focus on his ensnaring melodies and body-moving grooves. He uses concise musical statements plucked with passion and precision primarily on his nylon string Spanish guitar although he also played classical, flamenco and electric guitars, keyboards and drum programming on the record. Rollins was accompanied by the same core ensemble that played on his three previous releases: Camardella (keyboards, piano), Grammy-winning violinist Charlie Bisharat, bassist Randy Tico, percussionist Dave Bryant and saxophonist/flutist Richard Hardy. Following a more direct path led Rollins back home creatively recalling his recordings from over a decade ago when he was a member of the hybrid world music duo Young & Rollins that favored flamenco, samba and rumba rhythms – guitarplayer.com

GEORGE DUKE – DREAMWEAVER

With the lead and title track drifting along in a dreamlike state, GRAMMY award-winning master producer/keyboardist/composer/arranger George Duke, an icon for the ages without a doubt, offers his first release since the death of his beloved wife Corine. The CD is entitled Dreamweaver, and Duke says he just had to do this to get back on track after being so unmotivated after the tragedy. He calls this latest work of art his “most honest album in several years.”

The master keyboardist/producer was again stirred in re-entering the music world and the studio while on a Capital Jazz Cruise. For the first couple of days, he didn’t play any music but did check out some of the other bands. On the third day, returning to his cabin at around 4 a.m., inspiration struck. Sitting on the deck as the sun came up, a couple of tunes came to mind, he took to pen and paper, and here we are — Duke in one of his finest moments in life, making that eclectic and soul-stirring music.

Dreamweaver, available on July 16, comes packed with guest talent, such as bassists Christian McBride and Stanley Clarke, vocalists Lalah Hathaway, Rachelle Ferrell, the late Teena Marie, and Jeffrey Osborne; guitarists Paul Jackson, Jr. and the late Jef Lee Johnson, among others.

As is always the case with Duke, the CD is full of everything from soup to nuts. Totally touting diversity, so many tracks are easily my faves. They would include the sweet and light mid-tempo autobiographical “Trippin’,” the strong and funky “Ashtray,” and the inspirational “Change the World,” a tune done much in the tradition of “We Are the World” and the late Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,”  the highly charged, high-steppin’ “Jazzmatazz,” the slick, tongue-in-cheek “Round The Way Girl,” and the drivin’ “You Never Know.”  There are more (this is a generous CD of 15 tracks with one mind-blowing 15-minute track,“Burnt Sausage Jam,”which is  simply a must-hear).

There is also the charming, bluesy ballad from the late vocalist Teena Marie. It’s a track on which Duke worked with Marie to place on her 2009 album Congo Square. Afterward, Marie wanted Duke to produce a full-length jazz album for her. This track was to be included on that album before Marie’s passing. Duke presented the track for inclusion on Beautiful, the 2013 posthumous album from Marie, but the producers declined. So, with the blessings of Marie’s daughter, Alia Rose, and Marie’s estate, he added it here.

Duke fans – and fans of good jazz everywhere – should view this as the consummate Duke, back from so much pain to the inspired artist we have come to know and love. You can betthat Corine smiles upon him just for having worked through the grief enough to present this wonderful work which just has to be therapeutic to him. Two thumbs up. – Ronald Jackson, The Smooth Jazz Ride

ELAN TROTMAN – TROPICALITY

Caribbean saxman Elan Trotman brings to us on Tropicality, his sixth and latest solo album (to be released on Feb. 19), the very rich and tasty melodies of the lands of warmth and serenity. Not only does this CD have character, it has charm and presence that take you gently by the hand and lead you into a world of music that is as noted for these very melodies as it is for its palatable food.

In addition to bringing forth such alluring tracks, he arms the album with some of the talented heavies in the world of contemporary jazz: U-Nam, Peter White, Jeff Lorber, Alex Al, Luis Conte, DC, Paul Brown, Lenny Castro, Terri Lyne Carrington, Lin Rountree, Nick Colionne, and others. They each contribute a bright and delicate sway to this cultural delight in their own way, while Trotman lures you to the islands with the magnificence of his sax and some flute action.

Coming right at you with the reggae-colored Stevie Wonder track “Master Blaster,” Trotman moves and grooves through this project with such fluidity and pride for his home and culture. As he says, “This album is very special to me as I’ve always wanted to showcase my Caribbean heritage through my music. We ‘islanders’ are happy people by nature and that quality has always been evident by the way our music grooves.”

When you listen to his interpretation of tunes like the previously mentioned “Master Blaster” and Bob Marley’s “Wait in Vain,” in addition to his rendering of his own mid-tempo, honey-toned “Always With You,” co-written with and arranged by Peter White and DC, you clearly hear what he means.

Other tracks of note include the catchy, mellow groovin’ “Sunset in Paradise;” the exotically seductive “Danca Ku Mi (Dance With Me),” a tune punctuated by the soft vocals of Emanuela Nadia Alves; “Funkalypso” with Terri Lyne Carrington and Lin Rountree working magic on drums and trumpet, respectively. You don’t need much more than the track’s title to tell you where this track goes, but the smooth merger between the two styles is still more than worth mentioning, as is the great horn action here.

This is a solid project loaded with great tracks from beginning to end. It has drive, exoticism, and more.  – Ronald Jackson, The Smooth Jazz Ride

MAYSA – “BLUE VELVET SOUL”

Blue Velvet Soul, the tenth in a steady stream of delectable CDs by the one-woman jazz and suave soul purveyor, Maysa. With the various projects on which she’s cultivated those dulcet, dusky vocals, Ms. Leak has learned exactly how to select numbers showcasing her immense skills. Listeners who enjoyed the artistic approaches made in 2011′s enjoyable Motions of Love will find Blue to be its just-as-confident counterpart. Maysa’s range proves to be as sprawling as the emotional landscape covered within the fifteen songs—those soothing and smoky pipes turn the loyalty oath, “Be There,” for example, into a siren’s song aimed at a man thisclose to letting the well run dry: “Now Baby I’m your friend, I will love you to the end. Even when you do those things, that I can’t compehend/I’ve been there from the start, and I’ll still be around/when those fancy girls you’re chasing, finally break your heart.” “Put It On Me” is an unapolgetic disco-era thowback, delivered with enough coyness and breathless sex appeal to make Diana Ross proud (see “Love Hangover”).

Whether it’s introspective interludes (“Inside My Dream”), dopamine-fueled devotion (“Quiet Fire,” “This Much”), a plea for reciprocity (the twitchy uptempo “Love Me Good”) or willfully falling for a player’s charms (the lusty “When You Touch Me” and half-spoken, half-sung soliliquy, “Sophisticated Lover”), Maysa nimbly conveys the spirit of the songs with her trademark kiss of cool—”Nothing But You” is a lover’s lament with a pulsating, Thelma Houston-like groove, rueing her boo’s shoddy treatment and craving him all the same. “Pouring Rain” is also almost spoken more than it is sung, as if Maysa doesn’t want to break the sentiment created by the fragile music, and “Beautiful Dreamer,” the opening track, is a lot breezier and less melancholy, but just as sincere in its quest to espouse sisterhood and goodwill (if a bit on the sappy side): ”If we could see the world, through the eyes of a child, we’d never ever lose fate, in all of mankind.”

In her well-heeled tradition of impeccable phrasing, sensual wordplay, and fully-ripened blends of jazz, danceable genre-bending grooves and contemporary R&B, Maysa has delivered again. The measured, methodical way that she wields her contralto, along with the diverse moods and material, assures that both long-time fans and those just discovering Ms. Leak’s unique appeal will crave the “strictly butter” goodness that drips down and throughout the contents of Blue Velvet Soul. – Melody Charles, Soultracks

BWB (RICK BRAUN, KIRK WHALUM, NORMAN BROWN) – “HUMAN NATURE”

What happens when three jazz heavyweights, loaded with credentials, recognitions, and upmost musicianship come together as ‘one’? The answer is B.W.B.! Rick Braun (trumpet and flugelhorn), Kirk Whalum (saxophone), and Norman Brown (guitar) reunite as a group after an 11-year hiatus. Assisted by a talented supporting cast in John Stoddard, Braylon Lacey, Khari Parker, Lenny Castro, and Ralph Lofton, B.W.B. don’t return with any original material. The talented collective goes‘big’ covering the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Choosing personal favorites from Jackson’s collection including work with The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons, as well as solo efforts Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad, B.W.B. assemble a strong effort on Human Nature (via Heads Up International) preserving the legend and affirming the depth of their own artistry.

Expectedly, material considered in itself, Human Nature never misses the mark. Each interpretation is easily worthy of multiple spins. Even so, there are some truly breathtaking triumphs. “Another Part of Me” seems an unexpected opener (Bad), but easily earns it spot upon listening. Retaining the funkiness of the original and adding some jazz flair and angularity, “Another Part of Me” feels as capable as MJ’s most renowned hits. Unsurprisingly, “Billie Jean” (Thriller) is a crowd pleaser, with each musician taking their respective turn covering the melody and infusing individuality. One of the effort’s most soulful showings arrives through one of the oldest tunes, Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You”, a classic courtesy of MJ’s Jackson 5 days. Extended from the four minutes original to lengthier six, B.W.B. transform the classic into a mean, blues-gospel affair. Characterized by rich horn harmonies, Lofton’s soul-wrenching organ, and Whalum’s ‘riled up’, gritty sax, “Who’s Loving You” just might be the effort’s very best.Other cut stand tall additionally. Title track “Human Nature” is transformed into a lovely, smooth-jazz ballad, more restrained and slower than the original. Guest vocalist Sheléa delivers a compelling, pure vocal take on the classic. “I Can’t Help It” (originally from Off the Wall) seems an obscurer choice on paper, but ends up lending itself perfectly to B.W.B.’s jazzy treatment. “I’ll Be There” features clean, clear production work, never sounding overdone or overcrowded. “Man in the Mirror”, one of Jackson’s true crown jewels (Bad) closes the effort as exceptionally as it began. Once again Lofton’s organ adds a gospel touch, while clever quirks and harmonizations truly shape this cut. All three musicians take liberties, giving their own spirit to the reflective, meaningful cut. Other featured cuts include “She’s Out of My Life” (Off The Wall), “Beat It” (Thriller), “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Bad), as well as “Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)” from The Jacksons.

Ultimately, B.W.B. managed to make eleven of Michael Jackson’s most memorable songs their own, resulting in a superb album. Making previously recorded material ‘original’ or cleverly interpretive own is an incredibly difficult task, particularly from a late icon. Musicians the immense skill of Braun, Whalum, and Brown make the task seems effortless. – Brent Faulkner, The Urban Music Scene

DAVE KOZ & FRIENDS – “SUMMER HORNS”
Summer Horns is the first studio album from Dave Koz since 2010′s Hello Tomorrow. That said, it’s not solely billed to him. The “and Friends” on the bill refers to three other contemporary jazz saxophonists: Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, and Richard Elliot. Produced by Paul Brown, this is a big up-front horn section record, full of jazz, funk, and R&B covers, alternately by Greg Adams, Tom Scott, Gordon Goodwin, and Albright. The four-sax line is augmented by brass in various places, too. While Brown’s production sound stays within the genre of contemporary jazz — it’s both clean and bright — the feel is all groove. Early on there is a finger-popping open-road vibe in the take on Herb Alpert’s “Rise,” and an atypical jazzy read of Sly Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” with Brian Culbertson adding a trombone solo and chorus vocals by Jonathan Butler and Jeffrey Osborne. Abair’s lead alto on the cover of Paul Desmond’s iconic “Take Five” is slippery and warm, and rides the time signature beautifully; the multi-horn arrangement by Goodwin, with its layered and interweaving solos and upright bass in place of the piano and drums, is a nice touch. Michael McDonald’s vocal on Tower of Power’s “So Very Hard to Go” is every bit as soulful as the Motown covers on his own records. Koz’s lead alto breaks are tasty. Adams’ chart substitutes elegance for grittiness, but the emotion remains. While Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4″ and James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” suffer a tad for their lack of wildness, both have interesting guitar touches and fine solos by Koz and Albright, respectively. Led by Elliot’s expressive tenor, Charles Stepney and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” is a groove-laden midtempo babymaker and a set high point. Rick Braun’s trumpet solo and Butler’s gospel moaning vocal turn Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” into one of the set’s dancefloor shakers. Albright’s horn chart is funky, chunky, and righteous. The lone original here is the title track. It’s pure contemporary jazz, with Koz delivering a nice soprano solo followed by Elliot’s fine tenor break. Lenny Castro’s percussion and Roberto Vally’s bassline keep the groove fluid and deep. Summer Horns doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is: a good-time record that sounds like it was as much fun to make as it is to listen to. – allmusic.com

 GEORGE BENSON – INSPIRATION: A TRIBUTE TO NAT KING COLE

Two versions of “Mona Lisa,” perhaps Nat King Cole’s most famous song, frame Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole. The first, opening the album, was recorded by “Lil” George Benson in 1951 after he won a singing contest at the age of 8.  It seems a prophetic recording now that six decades later he has issued this remarkable tribute album, closing it out with an uncannily Nat-like version of the tune.

Benson’s phrasing at the start of “new” version of “Mona Lisa” can’t be an accident.  It’s the highest tribute he could give to King Cole.  But there’s brilliance everywhere on the album. Start with the big band sound of the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra crashing us into Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things.” Wow factor very high. Follow on with Wynton Marsalis leading us into “Unforgettable” wherein Benson accompanies his remarkable vocal with his equally distinctive guitar work. And oh yeah, the late Nelson Riddle’s arrangements are all over this album.  Somewhere Ol’ Blue Eyes is smiling.

Want more?  Idina Menzel of Rent and Wicked fame joins Benson for an outstanding duet on “When I Fall in Love” and we’re only five songs into the album. This is the heart breaker/ tear jerker of the CD and Benson’s guitar is just right, as good as his harmonizing with Menzel. Later, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” may also bring a tear and Till Bronner’s trumpet is as perfect as Marsalis’ on “Unforgettable.” After tears, there’s a smile waiting on the album’s version of Cole’s own “Straighten Up and Fly Right” with its wry swing era arrangement.  Benson has his longest guitar solo here and I wouldn’t have minded more of that throughout but there’s nothing really to complain about.

Nat King Cole, like Louis Armstrong, understood that in the 1950s and ‘60s a black artist had to be absolutely non-threatening to fully appeal to white audiences.  But neither sacrificed artistry on that altar.  They just gave a smile and made America love ‘em. And why not.  The version here of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” has the orchestra playing just so good behind Benson’s smooth, smooth vocal. If it doesn’t bring a smile, you are probably terminally depressed. Benson’s gentle and accomplished approach makes him the perfect guy to do a tribute to Cole. Riddle’s arrangements are perfect for the orchestra. The soloists like Marsalis and Bronner absolutely get it and fit like a well tailored suit. There’s an ironic similarity between the career of Cole and Benson.  Cole first came to prominence as a jazz pianist and Benson as a jazz guitarist.  Their stunning vocal skills were hidden for a while but then the world received even greater gifts.

Any song not mentioned in this review is just as good as those that are.  The album’s as close to perfect as humans get. Still, what I’ll carry with me forever is “Lil” George Benson singing his heart out it 1951.  Thank the musical gods the recording survived.  And that Benson stayed on the planet to give us this as he hit 70. – Brian Arsenault ,“The International Review of Music”

CHIELI MINUCCI & SPECIAL EFX -”‘GENESIS”

Those who have followed Special EFX since the group’s early years know that guitarist Chieli Minucci has never been short on vision. He and his late partner George Jinda delighted contemporary jazz fans with material that sparkled and inspired. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Chieli Minucci and Special EFX step forward with a tight, diverse, and creative project called Genesis, due for release on May 21. It is an apt title, considering that the group captures the very essence of what it has done from its very beginning — satisfy. Combining fusion and funk, blues and rock with new age, and simply embodying all things jazz, Minucci and company pack this release with some of the most well-conceived original tracks in the band’s history.

In addition to stellar performances by his core band, Minucci gets quality help on select tracks from guests Lao Tizer (acoustic piano), David Mann (sax and flute), Omar Hakim (drums), Karen Briggs (violin), Xu Feiyu (vocals), Mino Cinelu (percussion), and Vic Starsky (vocals).

What makes this top-tier group so special and longstanding? Minucci says, “One of the reasons we have been able to maintain our popularity is because we have evolved and changed over the years. When the band first started, we had a heavy world music influence. Later, we highlighted more of an acid-jazz sound, as well as some progressive fusion-rock thrown in for good measure. When people hear our music, they can expect to hear a little of everything!” How true. In fact, in listening to this project, I immediately heard some of the abstract stylings found in the music of the iconic rock group Pink Floyd years ago. The track here called “Far Away” comes to mind, and visions of guitarist David Gilmour’s runs especially came rushing in as I listened to Minucci’s hauntingly beautiful 7-minute track “Your Smile, My Heaven.” Truly a work of art.

Of course, two or three tracks do not a great album make. You will hear so much quality and eclecticism throughout this album that you may have a hard time choosing a fave, as was and is my case.

From the up-tempo funky, kinda bluesy, and spirited lead track “Crazy Eights” to the cool and super jazzy “Till the End of Time” to the island groove of “Calico” to the previously mentioned and riveting “Your Smile, My Heaven” and beyond, the band once again does justice to music as a whole.

Genesis is indeed a great celebration of quality Special EFX contemporary jazz, and Minucci leaves no room for doubt. – Ronald Jackson, TheSmoothRide.com

BOB JAMES/DAVID SANBORN “QUARTETTE HUMAINE”
The first creative collaboration between keyboardist-composer-arranger Bob James and alto saxophonist David Sanborn, a quarter century ago, was the million-selling GRAMMY® Award-winning album Double Vision. Over the ensuing years, the mega-stars not infrequently discussed the notion of a follow-up. But only now, with the release of Quartette Humaine (their debut release on Sony Classical’s just-reborn OKeh imprint), has that aspiration reached fruition.

“David and I realized long ago that Double Vision had become more successful than we originally imagined it could be,” James says. “Ironically, although we’ve met in the studio, doing other people’s projects, we’ve never toured, or performed together live as a band. The exception was a midnight jam session at the Tokyo Jazz Festival a few years ago. We played just a couple of tunes, but it engendered the feeling that a reunion was way overdue.”

One of those tunes was “Maputo,” the most famous track from Double Vision. “We’d both done it in various iterations with our respective bands, but this was so much fun, so different from those treatments,” Sanborn states. “That was my impetus. I wanted to do something very different than Double Vision, that would be about us just playing.”

After several months of preparation and discussion, Sanborn and James recorded Quartette Humaine in mid-December of 2012. On their second go-round, the old masters eschew the pop and R&B production values that mark large chunks of their respective discographies, and offer instead an all-acoustic quartet recital consisting of four new compositions by James, three pieces by Sanborn, and two James-arranged covers.

Propelled by legendary drummer Steve Gadd and 21st century bass giant James Genus, the proceedings are reflective, swinging, chock-a-block with unfailingly melodic improvising and beautiful tonalities.

“We felt it’s far more exciting and adventurous to move forward,” James says. “Times have changed. The music business has changed. We have changed.”

“At this stage of my life, I wanted more than anything to play music that’s challenging and fun, outside the style we’ve been associated with,” Sanborn says. “For various reasons, a lot of my records only reflected one side of the many kinds of music I was doing.” Over the past decade, Sanborn adds, his records “reflect a side of my sensibility that I hadn’t been expressing as much, paying respects to guys like Hank Crawford and David ‘Fathead’ Newman, who inspired me to start when I was a teenager in St. Louis.”

Interestingly, James wasn’t fully sold on the notion of an all-acoustic environment for Quartette Humaine until the project was well underway. “I thought some of the songs might want to be produced, or have overdubs, or maybe strings, or other things associated with our earlier music,” he recalls. “But as it developed, the quartet vibe we created was so strong that it became more interesting to keep it that way.”

It’s a poignant coincidence that the recording sessions occurred a week after the death of the iconic pianist-composer Dave Brubeck, who the protagonists were thinking of as they gestated Quartette Humaine. “We talked about the interplay of Brubeck’s quartet with Paul Desmond,” Sanborn says. “Coming from that, I assumed we’d make a quartet date. I like being able to really hear all the individual instruments. We had this beautiful 9-foot grand piano, and you can hear its sound ring out. You get more sonic purity without all those other elements.”

Indeed, both the tunes and treatments channel Brubeck’s gift for creating communicative music from highbrow raw materials. “Dave has a similar capability to Paul Desmond—though in a different way—in that the lyric quality of the way they play takes it into an emotional-romantic concept rather than an intellectual one,” James says of Sanborn. “I felt—and I still do when I listen to the Brubeck quartet—that they were taking us on an adventure, and some of the adventure was challenging. Just when you thought you knew where you were going, they’d go somewhere different.”

That “edge of being in an unknown place” permeates “Follow Me,” on which James signifies on Brubeck’s 9/8 classic “Blue Rondo A La Turk” by creating “a fast, virtuoso tune on which we take the listener through a bunch of odd time signatures where they may not always know where they are.” He adds, “Steve Gadd flowed through it so effortlessly that I got worried it was sounding too smooth.” Another new opus, “You’d Better Not Go To College,” reimagines Brubeck’s classic “In Your Own Sweet Way” “in mood though not exactly in style,” and references Brubeck’s breakthrough album Jazz Goes To College, which James recalls hearing as a high school sophomore in Marshall, Missouri.

Sanborn’s ravishing tone comes to the fore on James’ arrangement of “Geste Humaine,” composed by the French songwriter-singer Alice Soyer. On the American Songbook classic “My Old Flame,” addressed in 12/8, the altoist soars soulfully on the cushion of James’ elegant voicings and written thematic counterpoint bassline. He uncorks an ascendant declamation on “Montezuma,” which James composed “very specifically” for his partner. “I thought about supporting Dave’s sound with a symphony orchestra,” James laughs, describing the latter piece. “There’s dramatic tension that resolves in a very major, majestic way, with Dave way up in his upper register. But we realized that interpreting it in the raw quartet mode was even more powerful.”

The alto master presents his gift for melodic invention on his three compositions, offering a new ballad, “Genevieve,” for his granddaughter, and revisiting two tunes that Gil Goldstein framed with elegant orchestrations on the 2004 classic, Closer —“Sofia,” a ballad for his wife, and “Another Time, Another Place,” dedicated to Herbie Hancock.

“It’s so much fun to do it this way,” Sanborn says. “I used to separate live playing from being in the studio, and got into a mindset of having to labor over a record and make it right. I want the studio to reflect that live experience—the fun of discovery, not knowing what’s going to happen until it happens.”

By following such “in-the-moment” approach throughout Quartette Humaine, James and Sanborn have produced another masterpiece. As James sums up: “We seem to be reflecting back on what our lives have been, where our earlier projects have taken us. We tried to figure out the strengths we’ve learned by experience, and to bring them to this project where we celebrate that we’ve done so many things and that we’re still able to keep creating.” – Montereyjazzfestival.com

PATRICK LAMB – IT’S ALL RIGHT NOW

What is more comforting than pop music of the ’70s? Maybe it’s the round sounds of those early keyboards or the soul choruses that makes that era so warm. Whatever it is, just when you think they don’t make ‘em like that anymore comes Portland jazz saxophonist Patrick Lamb with 20/20 hindsight and Rhodes-wielding producer (and one-time Kenny G collaborator) Jeff Lorber on “It’s All Right Now.”

In the tradition of Maceo Parker, saxophonist for everyone from James Brown and Parliament to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lamb celebrates upbeat, melody-driven funk with a wholesome feel. He gets a little sexy with you in the solos, but it’s back to the groove before it gets too far. Never fiery or mournful, Lamb is at his playful best trading off with trumpeter Rick Braun on the album’s closer, “Fuse.” It’s like they’re roughhousing, wrestling a bit on the transitions.

Even during the title track, an adaptation of an Eddie Harris funk loop with a slew of voices sounding off in comedic quips about how much fun they’re having or how great the music is, there’s a profound confidence in the playing that enables the fun atmosphere.

It’s no surprise considering the supporting cast includes many well-traveled musicians. Lamb himself toured internationally with Diane Schuur in recent years, and recorded this record in LA so he could have access to players like bassist Alex Al, who recorded with Michael Jackson and must have had a blast laying down all sorts of rumbles and pops throughout the album.

Though he really only took to singing on his last record, 2007′s “Soul of a Free Man,” Lamb sounds sure of himself as he rolls through the verses of Al Kooper’s “I Can’t Quit Her,” the only vocal-centric song on the album.

His voice has a bit of Stevie Wonder. And the instrumental recalls Steely Dan, which makes sense because drummer Michael White has toured and recorded with the band. The song wraps up with Lamb lamenting, “I need her!” and wailing in falsetto, before the jubilation of the rest of the album bursts forth again with the bouncy beat of “Sweet Tea” and Lamb gets back to his real addiction: quick phrases and crowd-pleasing melodies. - Jason Simms, Oregonlive.com

ANDY SNITZER – THE RHYTHM

Andy Snitzer is back with his latest release, The Rhythm. Set to street on April 16 2013 on the Native Language label.

I am happy to say that The Rhythm is an exciting part of the new sound for contemporary jazz, for the uninitiated think of 480 East meets Four Play and you get the idea. Snitzer has a distinctive fat tenor sound, that sound some players work for years but never find and with that he does an end run around that cookie cutter sound of some contemporary artists by adding a rhythmic excursion and fantastic improvisational chops as well versed as any player across the jazz spectrum.

Oddly enough Chuck Loeb from Four Play does make an appearance on Latin influenced “Caso De Amor” and adds some real deal flavor to a slightly darker and richer sound that permeates The Rhythm. A more ambient slightly techno influence is laid down from trumpet phenom Till Bronner on “Kinnetic” which is more of an open ended funk fest slightly reminiscent of perhaps Shilts or another British acid jazz favorite in Down To The Bone. The first single “Candy” sparks an insatiable groove and rhythm that sound fresh despite the use of MIDI programming. Tim Lefebvre may be one of the most underrated bass players if not certainly one of the most versatile and his skills are well defined throughout. The bass duties are shared with James Genus also proving just what a real deal bassist can do. A huge plus here is that there are no vocals tossed in that go nowhere as with some contemporary artists.

The Rhythm has Andy Snitzer at the top of his game, getting his groove back and proving contemporary jazz doesn’t have to predictable to be creative. An absolute rock solid release. 4 Stars

Tracks Candy; Velvet; Devotion; Breaking; No Exit; Sirens Serenade; Kinetic; Caso De Amor; And Again; Above Us All; Realise.
Personnel: Michael White: drums; James Genus: bass; Bernd Schoenhart: guitar; Alain Mallet: rhodes/clav/ synth), Jim Hynes: flugelhorn, trumpet; Michael Davis: trombone; Shawn Pelton: drums; Tim Lefebvre: bass; Graham Hawthorne: drums; Paul Pesco: guitar; Paul Livant: guitar; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Chuck Loeb: guitar; Andy Snitzer: synth bass, tenor saxophone, keyboards, MIDI programming; Matt Dine: oboe; David Mann: woodwinds/string arrangements/MIDI programming.   - criticaljazz.com

MICHAEL BUBLE – TO BE LOVED

With a son on the way and a new album with more original songs than ever, Michael Buble is venturing into uncharted territory without letting go of his personal or artistic roots.
“To Be Loved,” the 37-year-old Canadian singer’s follow-up to his 2011 “Christmas” album, mixes standards inspired by jazz, Motown and even the Bee Gees, with tracks written by Buble as well as collaborations with Bryan Adams and Reese Witherspoon.
“I wanted everything to be soulful,” Buble told Reuters.
The album grabbed the top spot on the UK Billboard chart the week of its April 15 release there, and is poised to take the top US spot after debuting stateside this week.
Buble said that he was inspired to write more of his own songs such as the single “It’s a Beautiful Day” after receiving a positive response to previous originals like “Haven’t Met You Yet” and “Home.”
Still, he remains committed to the classics that first made him famous.
“I love writing songs, but the truth is I love doing thoughtful, great covers too,” he said.
“It’ll never get to a point where I have a record that comes out of all originals.”
“To Be Loved” has received mostly positive reviews especially for the classic tracks, though a few critics found the album uneven. Buble said that his most important reviews come from his fans.
“The truth is that the greatest review I can get is somebody putting their hard-earned money into the hand of a cashier and investing in me to buy the CD,” he said.
By that measure, he is doing quite well: Buble has sold 45 million albums over the course of his career, and is set to play 10 sold-out shows at London’s 02 Arena beginning on June 30.
He will be back from touring in time for the birth of his first child, a son due on August 21. Buble said that he and wife, Argentine actress and singer Luisana Lopilato, agree that family will always come before career.
He has already cut back on his time away from home in anticipation of his son’s arrival.
“My wife is a really successful actress, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to be the one who’s always working,” he said. “She loves working, it feeds her soul, and when she’s working she’s happy.”
Buble, who comes from a family of fishermen in British Columbia, Canada, says he wants his son to grow up with the same values that marked his early years.
“I think we take great comfort in knowing that we have families that are so down to earth and real, great blue-collar families, that just being around that will be enough to keep that kid centered,” he said.
On his new album, Buble sings a song called “I Got It Easy,” which he wrote about his current life.
“I want him to grow up knowing that it doesn’t come easy, that you have to work for things you really want,” he said. - Reuters

BRIAN SIMPSON – JUST WHAT YOU NEED

As one of the most respected cool-style musicians around today, keys master/producer/composer Brian Simpson made it clear early on in his career that he was one of those artists from whom we could expect to see and hear much. In keeping with that, his latest release, Just What You Need, lays out all of the swank swagger you would expect to hear from one who must have a deep well of music deep within just waiting to be tapped. From that well of riches comes a project full of the confident feel-good vibe he sends our way with every release.

Having toured with almost everybody who’s anybody in both the pop and jazz universes, whenever Simpson feels it’s his turn in the solo spotlight, he turns inward and grabs a huge handful of melodies, adds a few friends in the mix (e.g., in the case of this album, Dave Koz, Jonathan Butler, Nicholas Cole, Alex Al, Marc Antoine, Gerald Albright and Elan Trotman), and voila! The magic is made.

Speaking of magic, Simpson says, When I begin a CD project, I’m attempting to create the same kind of magic that got me into this style of music in the first place…” To date, each attempt has been flawless, in this writer’s opinion.

It is also a feather in Simpson’s cap to have been the longstanding musical director for both saxophonist Dave Koz and the ever-popular Smooth Jazz Cruise. If you’re new to Simpson (though chances are you’ve heard at least one of his creations, even if you didn’t know it was him), hearing this project – or any of the several others he’s made – should prove to a truly learning experience for you. Cool, suave, and satisfying, his handling of the ivories on some of the tightest melodies is always a defining moment for contemporary jazz as we know it.

Too many tracks here could easily qualify as one of my faves; so, suffice it to say that, from track 1, the soulful “Wherever You Go” featuring famed guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Butler to the Brazilian flair of the classic “The Girl From Ipanema (featuring Koz) to the finale –the rousing cover of Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” Simpson’s mojo is working non-stop. – Ronald Jackson, The Smooth Jazz Ride

BONEY JAMES – THE BEAT

Consistency is a quality that Boney James knows a lot about. The Grammy-nominated saxophonist has been melding influences of soul into a smooth-jazz soundscape for the past 20 years. In the process, he’s scored top-ten albums on both the R&B and contemporary jazz charts. A combination of mellow instrumentals and lively, vocal-infused tunes (with guest artists such as Donell Jones and Shai) have assured his appeal with both purists and those who take their modern jazz with a little urban-contemporary flair.

The Beat is James’s fourteenth disc and aims to build upon his eclectic influences with Latin and world-music influences interspersed throughout some tracks. The result is a smooth-sailing set with a bit of bounce to it. Standouts on first listen include a cover of Sergio Mendes’ “Batucada (The Beat),” performed with renowned trumpeter Rick Braun, and “Maker of Love,” an appealing midtempo groove featuring the vocal finesse of Raheem DeVaughn. These two numbers exemplify James’s capability for adapting his style to varying moods.

While the album title might conjure images of a celebratory party, The Beat here refers to an underlying emphasis on groove—not always necessarily in the vein of “get down.” For example, the reflectively understated “Mari’s Song” graces sonically with lightly flowing percussion, while the plaintive “Missing You” is etched by a softly echoing backbeat. During these slower cuts, there are instances when the arrangements lack a certain zest—which could have been obtained with the addition of a few more instruments and chord structures. Given, the m.o. of smooth jazz is often to keep it simple and laid back, but several times here, there is a fine line between subtlety and plainness.

What is missing during those occasional lapses is easy to overlook with the onset of inspired works such as “The Midas (This Is Why),” a rustling head-nodder featuring The Floacist’s spoken word and gently coaxing background vox. Supple piano fills nicely complement James’s bright lead lines while the shekere firms up the foundation of the groove. Furthermore, the closing “You Can Count on Me” ties together The Beat’s core influences of R&B, jazz, and Latin quite nicely with a just-right bass line, in-the-pocket drums, and James’s calmly assured melodies.

Taken as a whole, The Beat makes a solid statement of James’s flexibility and prowess in both the rhythmic and melodic structures of contemporary R&B and jazz. The imbibition of multi-cultural instruments adds a compelling edge. While these eclectic moments are not always maximized, the stylistic execution of the majority of material is effective and memorable. – Justin Cantor, soultracks.com

LET IT RIDE
Jeff Kashiwa released ”Play” to critical acclaim in 2007. Downbeat called it perhaps the best contemporary release for the year and now five years later Kashiwa dropped “Let It Ride” on 08/21/12. Kashiwa’s fifth recording for Native Language is arguably his best for reasons both old and new.

Having worked for and with bands such as The Rippingtons and The Sax Pack, Kashiwa comes from outside the more traditional cookie-cutter mold that a majority of similar players tend to both come and play from. Let It Ride is an exploration of a myriad of textures and influences that run the table from R&B, pop and the more straight ahead approach to perhaps Kashiwa taking command of the sound that is synonymous with his sonic wheelhouse which is soul-jazz and blues. Couple this musical versatility with Kashiwa’s decade of diversity on the stage and his move into the jazz field and you have perhaps the most well grounded contemporary sax player on the scene today. It is the movement between the disciplines of both performing with a variety of ensembles and his new found love for teaching that keep Kashiwa’s vibrant signature sound front and center.

While keeping a schedule that would have worn down most musicians much earlier, Kashiwa had the good fortune and sonic sense to call in a few musical I.O.U’s to and brought in an all star guest lineup including Rippington’s founder Russ Freeman, pianist David Benoit and special guest guitarist from Fourplay Chuck Loeb to name but a few. Let It Ride has Kashiwa pushing the harmonically with a freedom and all most live in the studio freedom not heard on any other recording since perhaps his critically acclaimed from five years ago. Consider this release kicked up several notches.

“Stomp” is one of the better tunes on the release. A slightly more exotic flavor creates the perfect platform for Kashiwa’s expressive soprano and Chuck Loeb’s crisp, angular six string work. Nothing predictable here. Kashiwa’s playing is far more adventurous on this release as he works the bottom end of the alto to paint from a brilliant sonic color palette on “The Name Game” which is an blues infused tropical textured piece with some stellar keyboard work turned in by Nicholas Cole. Another highlight would be the emotionally charged and slightly Steely Dan-esque groove laid down on “One Of These Days” but of course it certainly doesn’t hurt when you have one of musics premier drummers in Ricky Lawson owning the pocket and setting the table for the band to indeed welcome you to the land of rhythm and groove. Kashiwa excels on this piece more so than any other bringing his own brand of flash fried soul to a party you just hate to see end. This funkalicious edge is continued with “Hot Tin Roof” but the key to the release is like any, ebb and flow as the cooler side of pillow is touched on “When Will I Know.”

Jeff Kashiwa took on the role of producer here giving credence to the old adage if you want something done right then do it yourself. From high octane funk to that low rider cool, Kashiwa has never played better and his friends followed suite. Infectious energy and passion is contagious and has allowed what might otherwise “pass” as a really good contemporary release move into a real of greatness few artists can hit with this kind of pop and vitality.

Jeff Kashiwa is the type of saxophone player that again confirms why the best place for my tenor could be that of wall decoration on the T.G.I Fridays. If this release is not the best contemporary release of the year then it has to be in the top 3! A virtually flawless recording with all participants hitting their marks! – criticaljazz.com

BLUEY – LEAP OF FAITH

After 15 albums with INCOGNITO, the band’s driving force Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick has recorded a remarkable debut solo album “Leap of Faith”, for release by Dome on March 25.

This stunning album features all lead and backing vocals by this traditionally most reluctant of singers (who has sung on only a couple of Incognito tracks over the years). With most of the songs co-written and co-produced with one of his long standing collaborators Richard Bull, it ranges from dance anthems to funk to modern soul floor fillers such as lead single “Got To Let My Feelings Show”.

Bluey explains: “I have always felt comfortable leading from the back – guiding others and bringing out the best of their artistry. This past year was the first time I felt a compelling desire to bare my soul in this way with what one of my friends called my musical autobiography.

“In Incognito I am surrounded by awesome musicians and singers. I needed to reach a place where I felt my voice had its own space and that my sound was not just a twist on the band’s theme. Once there it was just a matter of jumping in… taking a leap of faith”.

The album includes some stunning falsetto vocal performances and a couple of stand-out house tracks “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and “Why Did I Let You Go”, co-produced by Ski Oakenfull and Simon Grey respectively. – Dome Records

Spencer Day – The Mystery Of You
Singer-songwriter, Spencer Day, is back with his hotly anticipated new album, The Mystery of You, due out March 12th on Concord Records. Veering into what he calls a “darker territory” than fans might expect on his first LP in three years, Day elicits his prodigious talents to examine love and loss in all of its crippling vicissitude. Yet the legion of supporters who’ve followed the handsome rising star for nearly a decade now need not worry, The Mystery Of You still enlists the up tempo jazz-pop sound and cinematic spirit that have made Spencer Day so successful.

While fans might be surprised to find their effervescent troubadour examining the darker side of his personality, Day couldn’t help but acknowledge this aspect of human nature after quite a difficult break-up. The Mystery Of You finds him drawing comparisons between crimes of the heart, and crimes against the law. Songs such as “Shadow Man” have an admittedly Film-Noir-ish vibe, probing the murkier corners of humanity in the vein of some of the classics of that genre like The Lady From Shanghai.

A lifelong cinephile, Day evokes the dark beauty of one of his favorite film styles to imbue the disk’s 12 songs with the bleak, claustrophobic feel of heartbreak. Yet Day is no cynic, and he also peppers the songs with nods to another genre of iconic Hollywood films- the Spaghetti Westerns. Famous themselves for soundtracks that expertly blended Americana folk with Classical arrangements, films like The Good The Bad And The Ugly, inform not only the new record, but also his genre-busting live shows.

Yet despite the darker themes that populate The Mystery Of You, the album is still very much grounded in the jazz-pop melodies fans have come to love and expect from Spencer Day. Perhaps most influenced by his love of the music of the early 60’s, the new album does find him atmospherically probing love and loss, but with the raw honesty and strict adherence to melody and structure that artists such as Dusty Springfield brought to their craft.

Recorded in the Topanga Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles, The Mystery Of You also reflects the easy-breezy creative spirit and natural charm of both its inspirational setting and its singer. A Roy Orbison for the new millennium, marching to the Ennio Morricone soundtrack in his head, Spencer Day continues to chart his own musical course. – bravenewhollywood.com

Marion Meadows – Whisper

Marion Meadows can look back on an eventful past. As a young musician he had not even dream it, to become a member of Norman Connors band and be signed by Bob James’ label. It took a bit to his own solo career. But twenty years later he can for sure describe himself as a staple of the smooth jazz format with recordings such as Keep It Right Here (1993), Forbidden Fruit (1994), Body Rhythm (1996), Another Side Of Midnight (1999), Next To You (2000), In Deep (2002), Players Club (2004), Dressed To Chill (2006), and Secrets (2009).
His newest project is called Whisper and is scheduled for release on March 26, 2013. Meadows produced Whisper along with Carlos Pennisi, Bob Baldwin, Rahni Song and long-time collaborator Michael Broening. In full awareness that the first piece is the calling card of a musician, he worked together with Broening The Visitor. A tune full of Oriental exoticism with the allure of mystery.
The title song is a cheerful melody, which reaches a larger group of listeners with a simple sound sequence. The elaborate arrangement satisfy even jazz fans. As first single of this album is chosen Black Pearl, which was co-produced by keyboardist Carlos Pennisi. The orchestral support is comparable with Whisper.
Main instrument on most tracks is Marion’s soprano sax, but on Timeless acoustic guitar and Julian Davis’ harmonica are sharing the lead. Marion Meadows gives high priority in the groove like on Curves. Everything is in flux. Marion’s enchanting melodies win due to his sensible interpretation like on Magic Life.
He changes however also to other styles such as urban jazz on Bottoms Up featuring keyboardist Bob Baldwin and flutist Ragan Whiteside. With Golden Curtain he allows a direct comparison to the equally popular flutist Althea Rene. With Dave Valentine’s Marcosinho composed by Dave Grusin Meadows underlines his deep connection to his musical origins. Embedded in a horn arrangement comes Sky Dive in a fashionable jazzy way.
The funky Wild Thing invites to the dance floor. Come on, let’s party! Marion designed the final with his musical friend Bob Baldwin on Turn Up The Quiet. Restrained in the presentation with an understated elegance the doyens show up.
Meadows extraordinary experience is evident on his new album Whisper. It’s great fun to go with him on a discovery tour. – Smooth Jazz News

Craig Chaquico – Fire Red Moon
Craig Chaquico has made the transition from ethereal to earthy in his first blues album. On Fire Red Moon, Chaquico shows that he can master the blues. If he continues to pursue the blues he will fast became a fan favorite.” – Twangville
“On Fire Red Moon, it’s full-on kick ass time again. The blues-heavy set features vocalist Rolf Hartley wailing on a mix of tunes co-penned by Chaquico and-standard-but-never-old covers like “Born Under a Bad Sign”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin” and “Crossroads.” Those who miss his softer side can find traces of it in the instrumental “Blue on Blue,” but Fire Red Moon leaves no doubt that this always-masterful player has returned to plugged-in mode for real.”- Relix
Craig Chaquico, platinum-selling guitarist and songwriter with Jefferson Starship and chart-topping Smooth Jazz solo artist, takes a walk on the bluesier side of the street with the release of his Blind Pig debut, Fire Red Moon.
From the radio-friendly opening track, “Lie To Me,” (with vocal by Noah Hunt of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band) to the thunderous conclusion of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” Chaquico explores the thoroughfares and back alleys where blues and rock intersect. There’s an instrumental version of Albert King’s signature tune, “Born Under A Bad Sign,” a rousing cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” and sterling originals that echo the sounds of blues/rock forerunners such as Cream, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top, and Steely Dan. There’s even an instrumental tune entitled “Blue On Blue” that would appeal to Craig’s many smooth jazz fans.
Now entering the fifth decade of his illustrious career, with the release of Fire Red Moon Chaquico continues his improbable journey from the boy-wonder of 70′s rock to genre-defying success as a top jazz and new age guitarist, returning now to the roots blues he listened to in his early teens.
Says Chaquico, “The multi-platinum stadium rock period in my musical life was as rewarding as it was fun, and part of my higher musical education. And as much as I still love instrumental smooth jazz, which for me was always blues-based anyway, I sometimes missed the edge that I could experience with blues-based rock and roll.” – Blind Pig Records

Jackiem Joyner – Church Boy
Selling on the secular charts yet raised in the realm of the sanctified: it’s a typical circumstance that defines many musicians, and what dictates their direction as artists differs from one to the next, since some see returning to spiritual leanings as an embrace of the past or inevitable recognition of their future (or fan base). Some performers don’t segue from one genre to the other very well and it can result in losing listeners on both sides, but that certainly isn’t the case with Jackiem Joyner, since his fourth CD, Church Boy, embodies his gifts and expands his range with nearly impeccable results.
As he usually does, Mr. Joyner pours his multi-instrumentalist methods into established hits and original songs that honor the Most High and the existence of unconditional love: “Free Fallin’” is a jubilant co-composed jam that interlaces hip-hop scratches and a subtle smattering of wiry background vocals, while “Sunday Jam” is just as rhythmic, but more textured due to its meandering sense of melody and sparkling dual use of keyboards and guitar. Staccato percussion and the tender thread produced by the notes of his sax are what drive the soothing “This Is My Song.” Are they overtly religious or intended to be such? No, but those songs can help one transition from a Sunday sermon to an afternoon brunch or lively dinner date without a hitch.
Mr. Joyner’s reinterpretations of some instantly-familiar grooves also accomplish what some artists twice his age have trouble accomplishing: paying tribute to the original while showcasing his aptitude for an individualized and intriguing update. “Jesus Loves Me” is probably the most minimal of the covers, piercing without brash overuse of instrumentation or vocals, and his take on Kirk Franklin’s “Hosanna” actually feels like two separate songs thanks to its traditional first half and its glittery, galvanizing second half that could pack the aisles of a church sanctuary or a meet-and-greet mixer with hip-swaying and happily gyrating folks. Another Franklin favorite, “I Smile,” retains its fun and funky feel, and “You Are Good” is re-interpreted with a more electric guitar and a slower tempo, but is still a radiant and redemptive listen.
For some, the house of worship is where the holy or the heartbroken must go to fellowship and receive guidance, but Jackiem Joyner’s latest proves that if intentions are pure and there’s recognition of a Higher Power, spirituality can radiate from how they honor and express His gifts. This Church Boy’s skill set is evident and if you didn’t get the good news before, his newest work will certainly convert you into a believer. – Melody Charles, soultracks.com

Kenny G & Rahul Sharma
When the elements of melody and harmony are carefully balanced, the convergence of one world with another results in a beautiful sound.

Namaste is a collaborative album crafted by Rahul Sharma – a native of India’s Kashmir region and a third-generation master of the exotic, 100-string santoor – and saxophonist Kenny G, a multiple Grammy-winning titan on the contemporary jazz landscape for more than two decades. This unusual and daring project captures the best of these two musicians – with a chill ambiance set up by mixer/producer extraordinaire Kid Tricky, (along with Walter A. and Soul Seekerz).

The evolution of Namaste is a fascinating story of two artists transcending cultural boundaries, beginning when Sharma, who first learnt the santoor from his father the legendary santoor maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, approached saxophonist Kenny G during the latter musician’s performance in Mumbai a few years ago. Sharma, who has developed a substantial domestic and international following since the late 1990s via more than 50 studio recordings and extensive touring, introduced himself to Kenny by presenting him with a few of his CDs during his visit. Some informal discussions ensued, and an idea quickly took shape to collaborate on a studio recording by emailing music files back and forth from opposite ends of the globe and two very diverse musical perspectives.

The result was Namaste India, released in India in 2011, a collection of seven tracks that were deeply rooted in the traditions of Indian folk and classical music, but were also finely embellished with saxophone solos and accompaniments of an unmistakably Western orientation. As musical and cultural marriages go, it was a thing of beauty.

“It was an experiment to see how the santoor and the saxophone would work together,” says Sharma. “I knew Kenny would add so much to the compositions. But when I listened to the final results, I thought, ‘Wow, this is even better than I expected.’ The way he ended many of the tracks with a few simple notes was such a beautiful complement to the entire composition. He would improvise in a way that was so unexpected, and then find a way to fit it back into a melody that wasn’t typical of the kind of music he has recorded in the past.”

Kenny G, for all of his artistic and commercial success over the past two decades as a composer and an improviser, admits that working his way into Sharma’s tracks was no routine task. “It wasn’t the usual formula of playing the melody, improvising, repeating the melody, and then doing an ending,” he says. “It was more a question of ‘Where do I fit in? What notes do I play that will best serve this piece of music?’ But it was fun. It was an opportunity to just experiment with the sounds and notes and phrases. Little by little, over the course of several months, we put together the first few songs, and we realized, ‘Hey, I think we have something going here…’”

John Burk, Executive Vice President of A&R at Concord, was immediately taken with the album’s seductive world beat, but wondered whether there might be a way to enhance the overall set with a chill mix to bring the subtle backbeat slightly more to the forefront without losing the music’s inherent mystical essence.

Enter mixer/producer Marc Burrows, also known as Marc JB of the UK dance music group Bimbo Jones, and operating on this project in the alternate guise of Kid Tricky. Burrows reconfigured the entire album with a shade more rhythmic presence, and isolated a couple songs – namely the title track and the otherworldly “Transcendental Consciousness” – for a full remix. “In some ways,” says Burk, “the album is actually a three-way collaboration – mostly between Kenny and Rahul, but with a little bit of additional production from Kid Tricky.”

The set opens with Kid Tricky’s remix of “Namaste,” a track that walks a fine line between a hypnotic Eastern groove and the melodic solo lines and accents crafted by Kenny’s tasteful sax work. The entire track is underscored by a rhythmic beat that carries the song without being overly obtrusive.

In “Brahma Vishnu Shiva,” Sharma sets up the kind of rich foundation that only 100 strings can provide, but the arrangement allows plenty of room for the saxophone to deliver a well-balanced counterpoint to the santoor.

Further in, “Lotus Lovers” opens with a gentle but persistent combination of drumbeat and shimmering keyboards – a configuration that serves as the backdrop to a pleasant and engaging conversation between Sharma and Kenny. Kid Tricky inserts a slightly offbeat rhythm underneath “Valley of Flowers” that forces the listener to engage with the song even before the saxophone and santoor come in.

“Om Shanti” borrows riffs, vocal chants and other elements from two earlier tracks – “Namaste” and “Brahma Vishnu Shiva” – and weaves them into a hybrid piece that is familiar and yet new at the same time.

The album closes with remixed tracks that don’t appear on the original Namaste India, including a stirring version of “Transcendental Consciousness,” as reimagined by Walter A, and a rendition of the tile track remixed by the Soul Seekerz.

Indian music and contemporary jazz saxophone piped through chill mixes may seem like a gamble, but Namaste comes with a significant payoff. “At first it seemed like an odd combination,” admits Burk. “But then we listened to it and we realized that it was two great masters of their respective instruments getting together and doing something very innovative and even very daring. And it’s going to force people to hear Kenny in a way they may not have heard him before. This record provides a fresh glimpse of his versatility that sometimes gets forgotten in the shadow of such major success.”

But regardless of his own range and versatility, Kenny knows that there’s always more to be learned by taking chances and reaching across cultures. “I think the most important thing to come out of this project is the idea that two musicians from very different backgrounds with two very different instruments can find common ground and really make something innovative and interesting in the process,” he says. “We each just spoke our own languages to each other, and in the process we developed a language of our own. In the end, we figured out how to make something very intriguing and beautiful. – Concord Music Group

Euge Groove – House of Groove

 

For centuries music has been utilized throughout the globe for its therapeutic and cathartic properties.  Chart-topping multi-instrumentalist, Euge Groove, one of the most sought after instrumentalists on the scene, taps into the power of music’s innate abilities on his third Shanachie Entertainment recording, HOUSE OF GROOVE. Euge Groove shares, “In all that is going on in everyone’s lives, my own included, I hope people can remove themselves and connect with the emotions of where I was coming from when writing this album. It’s far too easy to get caught up on the dark side of things going on all around us. I hope that the music’s positive vibe reaches people.”  A quadruple threat, the saxophonist, composer, producer and DJ, Euge Groove, has built an impressive career as a free spirit who remains true to his own artistic vision. It is no wonder the charismatic saxophonist has been able to record a string of #1 hits and garner a devoted following. His wide ranging musical tastes, impeccable musicianship and keen showmanship have planted him on world tours with such icons as Rock `N’ Roll Hall of Famer Tina Turner, Joe Cocker. Eros Ramazotti, Richard Marx, Tower of Power, and Huey Lewis and the News
HOUSE OF GROOVE, Euge Groove’s eighth recording as a leader, is a revealing glimpse into the creative forces that influence the dynamic musician and the physical space where his creative ideas flourish – The Groove House, where he lives and records in Southern California. “It was a friend that pointed out that he thought the album was written in my happy place,” shares Euge. “I am very happy right now. That’s not to say I don’t have stress and anxiety. But at almost 50 years young, I think I’ve better learned how to separate worrying about things I can change and not worrying about those I can’t. I’m not apathetic but I just try to keep it in perspective.”  The down to earth musician’s Zen perspective is humorously reflected in his email signature that reads, “I will no longer be accepting bad news on Fridays. If you must deliver bad news, please do so on the following Monday. Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.”
HOUSE OF GROOVE showcases ten sublime originals that underscore why Euge Groove is a master of conjuring rich emotion and melody. The self-professed techie loves to stay abreast of the emerging studio gear and believes that you have to wholly commit yourself to the recording process to allow its musical direction to evolve organically. “With each album I can more comfortably lock myself in my studio and put everything I have into the process,” confides Euge. “I love getting new recording tools as they come out. I think being one with the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is essential these days. The creativity is instant. It’s not filtered through someone else. You don’t have to compromise anything. It’s liberating.” Euge Groove’s approach to the recording process is one of patience and intuition. “I’ve learned over the years you can’t force anything. When the music starts to take on its own direction, you have to be willing to just ride with,” shares the consummate artist who moonlights as a DJ on www.smoothjazz247.com He can be heard weekly on Thursdays from 4PM to 6PM PST online and on the Iphone app sky.fm.
Euge Groove programs all the tracks on HOUSE OF GROOVE and is featured on the tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and Hammond B3. He is united by a solid cast of musicians including pianist and keyboardist Tracy Carter, bassist Cornelius Mims, guitarists Paul Brown and John “Jubu” Smith, drummers Trevor Lawrence and Dan Needham, percussionist Lenny Castro  and trumpeter Lee Thornberg.
HOUSE OF GROOVE was recorded over an eighth month period. “While I was making this recording, I spent most of the time by myself immersed in the music. This album will be a success to me if the intimacy I felt making this album translates to my fans who listen to and experience this music.” shares Euge.
The saxophonist’s new album opens with the jubilant and lyrical “Knock! Knock! Who’s There?,” which sets the tone for a thrilling musical foray.  The inspiration for the opener might not be so obvious as it draws upon the influence of a famous English poet and playwright. “I have a habit of naming my opening songs after something from Shakespeare. It goes back to my very first album in Y2K. I had written the first track on that album a few years earlier while I was on tour in Italy,” explains Euge Groove. “I had a few days off in Verona, which was the home of Romeo and Juliet. I visited the balcony and rubbed the bronze breast of Juliet for good luck. The whole experience left an impression on me. So when I got back to my hotel room, I wrote the song Romeo and Juliet. This latest one is ‘Knock Knock who’s there?’ Which is from ‘Macbeth.’ Which is what started all the knock knock jokes oddly enough!” The album’s title track and new single is a soulful number highlighting Euge’s big burly tenor caressing a funky swing groove. The song pays homage to Euge’s home base and recording studio  that fuels his creative energy.  “I really feel the songs on this album capture the spirit and energy that friends and family bring to the Groove House.” The feel good vibe permeatesHOUSE OF GROOVE with songs like  “Fellowship Hall” featuring Euge’s ethereal soprano and “Lampin’ It,” which opens with the buttery Fender Rhodes of Tracy Carter and then unfolds into Euge’s

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