THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE

Jonathan Butler--So Strong

Besides the fact that smooth jazz guitarist/vocalist/producer Jonathan Butler is one of the best experiences to ever come out of South Africa and the fact that he is such a household name in the genre, the man holds convictions and, through his music, obviously pledges excellence and his best with each recording and performance. That’s just simply a heartfelt commitment. That may be stating the obvious, but we all know that there are some who let the quality slip simply because of an established name and following. That can often backfire.  Butler takes no such chances with his music, it obviously being a genuine part of his overall identity.  Here with his upcoming release, So Strong, scheduled for release on May 11, that commitment comes through loud and clear.

The stirring title and opening track sets a strong, smooth, and most comfortable mood for the album. It’s followed by his trademark spiritual influence on Bill Withers’ “You Got To Believe In Something,” an inspirational piece that will have you standing and testifying in no time at all.

Joined here by stellar horn men Rick Braun, Dave Koz, and Michael Lington, as well as songbirds Angie Stone, Jill Scott, and his own daughters, Randy and Jodie, Butler sets out to make the three-year wait for this production well worth it.

This album is full of brightness and a happy sense that all is right with the world, despite Butler’s own personal losses, pain, and challenges over the past year.  In fact, it’s probably because of those situations that he’s dug deep in that love-filled soul of his and delivered in such a fashion. You know the saying: That which doesn’t kill us

Each song has its own personality.  From “Make Room For Me” to “Factual” (one of my favs) to the slow, R&Bish duet with Angie Stone, “Be Here With You” and all the way through his clean, measured, and downright beautiful interpretation  of Johnny Nash’s inspirational tune, “I Can See Clearly Now” and beyond, the album does not disappoint.
 
The smooth dedication to his granddaughter, Avia (“She is the love of my life. I am in such awe of her,” he says) is wrought with the warmth and tenderness that he intended to convey.  Then, there’s the reassuring track, “I’m Right Here.” A slow, comforting and embracing kind of tune, you can feel the hug of security reach out through the lyrics.  “Good Times” feels like its title.  With the swaying Benson-like air about it, Butler scats and croons and saunters down some smooth jazz street with a wide and beaming smile. He closes the album with a slow, mellow groovin’-on-a-Sunday-afternoon feel on “I Pay Respect.” Very melodic and sweet.

Butler’s signature blend of R&B, smooth jazz, and spiritual flavors is always spot-on.  Add to that his occasional “visits” to his home in song in some way (though absent this time around), and you have a consummate musician.  He always makes this feel and seem to be too enjoyable to be called “work.” All in all, So Strong proves itself to be aptly titled. -- Ronald Jackson