Craig Sharmat--So Cal Drivin

Guitarist/composer Craig Sharmat showcases his debut release here with So Cal Drivin, a most apropos title, considering the mood he instills in you with this project.  No stranger to smooth jazz or music in general, since 1995, Sharmat has written music for the popular America's Most Wanted. This show led to his finding work with Sirens Media, for which he has written the main titles and background music for The Real Housewives of New Jersey among many other shows.  He also wrote the opening for the 2007 MTV Movie Awards featuring Sarah Silverman. In 2008, Sharmat scored the movie Gotta Dance, produced and directed by Academy Award nominee Dori Berinstein.  He has also toured with Randy Crawford and Ronnie Laws and worked on Rick Braun's Truly Yours album, as well as guitar icon Peter White's Christmas album featuring renowned trumpeter Rick Braun and sax lady Mindi Abair.
The guitarist and some members of his performing “groove jazz” band (I like that term), Comfort Zone, bring a pleasant vibe and some great compositions to this production, including a really poppin’ title track to get us started.  It has a driving rhythm, funk, and a marvelous hook to properly introduce the artist to those who may not yet be quite familiar with his corner of groove.  Bringing with him featured tracks with Braun and keyboard whiz Philippe Saisse, among others (including drummer Mike White), Sharmat makes it clear that he intends to make an effective entrance here, and he does.

Taking this album apart track by track for a really close look (or listen) was actually quite fun.  Each tune bears its own character and signature. The opening and title track, featuring Braun on trumpet and flugel horn, sets a decidedly funky climate, while track two, Song For Colleen, really conjures up that mellow, soulful cruise down the highways of southern California with some splendid guitar runs and, again, a really sharp hook. Sweet. Following that is another “let’s boogie,” hook-rich mover called “Spud Nutts,” featuring some searing sax action by Andy Suzuki.  Then, there is a nice Brazilian-flavored ditty, “Brisa,” to settle you and allow the magical caress of Mary Durst’s vocals to do its thing with your senses.  “The Badger” brings the groove jazz drive again front and center with this mid-tempo number.  Like the blues? Try on “Midnight Jass,” a short track with a sultry call to your quieter, reflective moments with Philippe Saisse manning the piano in masterful form.  Don’t get too comfortable there, however, as “Fish Fry” grabs you and tosses you on the dance floor for more bounce and pop. Mind you, throughout all this, Sharmat’s axe is alive, crisp, and smart.  “Smooth Sailing” is a great example of how easy the man transitions from a swaying, soothing vibe to a crescendo with hot riffs toward the end of the track. It’s evident early on that he’s headed there, but when he arrives, he arrives

The album is truly diverse in its tastes, even providing a tribute to Toots Thielemans with Dino Soldo on harmonica on “Blues for Toots.”  Of course, the Comfort Zone does such justice with its appearance and support on a few of the cuts. Superb sax work, demanding drums and percussion, and defining bass lines are all perched alongside Sharmat atop this project.
One magnificent introduction to an artist who shows here that working behind the scenes in such a prolific fashion and providing such quality productions and compositions might be fun and rewarding in their own right, but some lights just need to shine on their own when it’s time.  Craig Sharmat shows here why, for him, it’s that time.  -- 
Ronald Jackson

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