THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE
CD Reviews
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Sept. 1, 2009

Jeff Golub -- Blues For You

Here’s Jeff Golub as I’ve wanted to hear him for so long… tearing up the blues as only a blues man can. If you’re a big blues buff, as I am, this one’s for you! If not, you’ll still find something appealing about this colorful artist who can shed the trappings and appeal of what’s shoved him into the spotlight—smooth jazz—to pursue a huge love of his-- even if only for this project, Blues For You. He takes the risk here of raising the eyebrows of smooth jazzers who see him otherwise, and I find that immensely satisfying. Of course, as I’ve stated, it’s a transformation that I can easily embrace, being a big 12-bar blues fan. 

Blues For You is a strong combination of covers and originals, including a really nice take on “Everybody Wants You,” the rock jam originally performed by his buddy and former rock bandmate, Billy Squier (who provides the vocals here, as well). There are sizzling and mellow pieces alike here, and they all beg the tuned ear to pay attention. There’s an up-tempo Golub original ditty, with Kirk Whalum chiming in with his smooth sax, called “Goin’ On,” “Lost My Mind” with rocker/vocalist John Waite, and the smokin’ title cut (check out Golub’s trademark steamy riffs here!) with vocals by Marc Cohn.  Read full review


Aug. 28, 2009

George Benson -- Songs and Stories

You know, writers often enjoy chronicling an artist’s career from its very beginning to illustrate his or her staying power, progress or maturity over the years, etc. In the case of guitar virtuoso George Benson, clearly one of the most respected and admired guitar legends around,years just don’t seem to matter and, in fact, just melt into one huge mist of excellence that seems to simply disregard a beginning yet has no end. I can probably say nothing here that hasn’t already been said about this musical giant who sings, plays, and has indulged in practically every major musical genre almost effortlessly. Add that to the ever-growing company of artists who have come to know, experience, and respect the genius of Benson, and you’ve got an indelible chapter in the history of music that bears exploring time and time again. Here on his latest project, Songs and Stories, he again dazzles with his creativity, soul, strength, and balance.  Read full review


Aug. 21, 2009

Najee -- Mind Over Matter

This latest from veteran saxophonist Najee is pure Najee with new motivation and vision. Mind Over Matter, the CD’s title (a title inspired by the late Miles Davis’ improvisational approach to songwriting toward the end of his career) and focuses on the feel  and groove of the music as opposed to the usual mechanics of it all (phrasings, harmony and melody balancing, etc.). This is an at-its-core production that simply goes with the flow, and what a flow it is. Najee’s inherently polished skills in both musicianship and songsmithing remain clearly intact and devoid of the ho-hum of some jazz that’s rushed through just to keep the bills paid.  Read full review


Peter White -- Good Day
 
So, there I am, rolling along the highway, coming up on my exit while listening Peter White's latest CD, Good Day, and I completely missed the exit—so into what was emanating from my car speakers: One of the best “returns” I’ve heard in years-- Peter White back from several years of covers to the splendor of original material as only he can render. This is truly a beckoning to all smooth jazzers to return to the Peter White of the 90s and early 2000s, to recall the images and good feeling his originals always conjured up. It is all here in abundance.  Read full review


Soul Ballet -- 2019

No sitting down allowed here. The Soul Ballet party is always alive and pulsating. Since launching the pseudonym’s debut release in 1996, producer/multi-instrumentalist/ composer/programmer (and just the consummate one-man music machine) Rick Kelly has managed to keep Soul Ballet in the forefront of the collective mind and conscience of smooth jazz audiences everywhere with his signature mix of jazz and electronica. His marked journeys into the dark recesses of space and the future are so heavy, it often boggles the mind how he’s able to create such a masterful and funky groove from themes that others have tried but have hardly been as consistently successful. Heavy, fat, and loud are sometimes terms one uses to describe someone or something in a negative manner, but it also works in a most creative and positive manner when describing Soul Ballet’s latest project, 2019, to which “tastefully done” must be added to that description.  Read full review


Aug. 18, 2009

Hiroshima--Legacy

Well, there are “best of” collections and then there are testaments to legacies. Veteran jazz fusion group, Hiroshima, couldn’t have tagged their latest project in a better manner. Having more years under their recording/performing belt than some artists have had birthdays, this group dropped in on us with its unique brand of fusion some 30 years ago and has been welcomed back with robust enthusiasm ever since. Legacy captures some sensational moments in the group’s career, and I understand that founders Dan and June Kuramoto hope to build a series from this pilot. Personally, from what they’ve presented here, they could do that successfully and easily. By the way, they’ve not only chosen the tunes well, but they’ve made certain that more than a few lengthy ones are tossed in. Such generosity is not lost on this writer. Read full review


Aug. 4, 2009

Jessy J -- True Love


Here’s an interesting and romantic project, True Love, from the gorgeous Latina sax sensation, Jessy J. With the stylish contributions from producer/guitarist Paul Brown (who actually produced this effort, as well as Tequila Moon) and keyboardist Gregg Karukas, among others, the artist has managed to lock into her rich Latin heritage for a light, airy, laid-back journey through the tropics and beyond. There are distinct differences between True Love and Tequila Moon, and I’m still deciding if I like this latest venture better—or even as much--as that debut wonder, but this project is replete with comfortable and pretty melodic passages and hooks, as well as sexy Latin vocals, that soothe and beckon and certainly take nothing away from this young lady with a host of gifts. Read full review


July 30, 2009

Rick Braun – All It Takes
  

It comes as no surprise that trumpeter/producer extraordinaire Rick Braun’s latest release, All It Takes, is a treat, since that's usually the case with this master of the smooth.

Having already produced label mate Richard Elliot’s hot new release, Rock Steady, Braun collaborates with noted keyboardist/producer Philippe Saisse to set forth some of the funkiest and most melodic material I’ve heard from him to date. Loaded with lots of rhythm, drive, and sassiness, the tone of this one is at a distinctively different level from much of his previous material, although Braun has never been one to slouch in the studio.  Read full review


July 28, 2009

Joe McBride -- Lookin' For a Change

Huh? was a word that popped into my head when I first learned of this latest effort, Lookin’ For A Change, by veteran pianist/vocalist Joe McBride. Wow! quickly replaced that one word when I heard this cool and innovative approach to pop tunes masquerading as strictly acoustic straight-ahead jazz. How magnificently clever... and, simply put, it works.

While McBride has always felt comfortable in the contemporary jazz arena, he shows here that he is equally as comfortable everywhere else, as he makes it clear that the difference between the genres is oftentimes just about interpretation and feel. How else could he have dug this deeply into a tune, extracted its essence and definition, and translated it so effortlessly to fit into this mosaic metamorphosis?  Sometimes—oftentimes--music is more than just music.  Read full review


July 25, 2009

Leela James – Let’s Do It Again
 

O.k., let’s get one thing out of the way right now. I have always thought that R&B vocalist Leela James’ debut album, A Change Is Gonna Come, which often integrated a blues/jazz touch, was a meteoric smash out of nowhere. Seeing her perform that album was yet another phenomenal experience for me. This sophomore release, Let’s Do It Again, while not yet clearly surpassing that debut in my mind, is still another example of the power and remarkable drive of this young lady’s vocal style. Handling covers in such a way as not to offend the originators is one thing, but to repaint those covers with such passion and to present them with a vocal personality that clearly distinguishes them from the original is another. As obvious as that sounds, it’s not always the case.  Read full review


Jay Soto -- Mesmerized

One thing that can definitely be said about the style of guitarist Jay Soto: There is always enough bounce and ambience to go around, and his latest release, Mesmerized, is no exception to this observation. His constantly smooth, tangle-free delivery seems to aim high and hit its target with each release since he landed on the scene back in 2005 with his debut album, Long Time Coming.

Not one to shy away from crafty, catchy hooks and melodies, the guitarist demonstrates his adeptness on the fretboard again with satisfying results. Backed up here by guitar ace Freddie Fox and noted bassist Mel Brown, Soto’s easily likable phrasings and rhythms are matched with tight riffs, as is evidenced on tracks like “A Love Like Mine,” the snappy and  funky “Groovalicious,” “Diggin’ It,” “Sunday Smile,”  and the title track, which features sunny backing vocals by Jodi Light. To add variety to this spice, Soto switches gears in between all this with the sweet and soulful “Together At Last” and the (obviously) bluesy “Bayou Blues” before finishing with “Cacophony,” the driving finale.  Read full review


Jeff Kashiwa – Back In the Day

Saxman Jeff Kashiwa has been riding the high tide since his emergence on the scene some 20 years ago as the main horn man for Russ Freeman’s supergroup, The Rippingtons. He would exit the group some 10 years later to embark upon a lucrative solo career that just seems to get better with each release. His feel, energy, and intensity have always been quite something of serious note in identifying Kashiwa, and Back In the Day exclaims that loud and clear.  Read full review
 

 

 

 

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