Richard Elliot--Rock Steady

The questions have been asked of almost every exceptionally accomplished individual in whatever field they may be situated:  “Where do you go from ‘up’?” “What do you do now?” In the case of mega-star saxophonist Richard Elliot, who has been a mainstay and a beacon for excellence in smooth jazz since I can recall, the answer is simply to produce more of the same satisfying quality. Rock Steady, on the Artistry Music label, is just that: Rock steady in its approach to the fervor, the steel resolve, the soulfulness, and the electric energy that is Richard Elliot. 

From the opening and most recognizable notes of the late great Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” you are quickly transported to the familiar hard-driving and funky house that Richard built. His tell-tale sassy and distinct sax has always been his fingerprint, and it is so in abundance here, along with a powerful accompaniment of musicians. The saxman recruited the familiar faces and talents of Nate Phillips laying down the bass lines, Dwight Sills sizzling on guitar, Rick Braun showing off on trumpet, Gerald Albright shining on alto and tenor saxes, as well as strutting his stuff on bass, Luis Conte laying it out on percussion, Jeff Lorber, Philippe Saisse, Tim Gant, and Ron Reinhart lighting up the keys, Ricky Lawson putting it down on drums, Nick Lane adding a nice touch on trombone, and Lynne Fiddmont sweetening the pot with quality vocals on the title track. This gang obviously felt every note, every bridge, every hook with as much vim and vigor as Elliot, proving once again that his eye, ear, and feel for talent remain unsurpassed. Thus, the sure-footed, confident approach to each tune. Let’s face it: No matter what Elliot or his band may tell you, they all had to know that this project would too be bound for the stars. You don’t play and feel this stuff without having that sense of inevitability, even if just slightly.  In my experience of having met the man only briefly, cockiness doesn’t seem to be his style, but his music surely oozes it!

As is noted in his press sheet, in the past, Elliot has never been a big fan of starting off a new project with an overriding concept in mind, preferring to let each one develop more organically. However, Rock Steady was developed around the idea of calling upon his roots and influences in R&B to create a vibe that had a decidedly retro feel while incorporating more contemporary vibes. “Retro Boy” is one good example.

Elliot has often been regarded as the “James Brown of Contemporary Jazz.” When you listen to so much of this album, which could well become a classic commentary on Elliot’s career, you clearly see why. Covers of the title track, the aforementioned Mayfield hit, and Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep On Truckin’” so easily lure you back to a time when R&B was either like a warm blanket on the coldest of nights or an outright inferno. Who better to take you there than Elliot?

Along with “Retro Boy” and several other notables, there’s “Yaquala,” which has that lazy, sexily slow caress so patented by Elliot (the kind that begs for the back-in-the-day “slow drag” – romantic dancers of that period know exactly what I mean!), and the funky, snappy mid-tempo “Restless,” with its crafty hook. Of course, one just has to mention the kick-ass version of Aretha Franklin's “Rock Steady.”

Look: Quite simply put, this release was set upon music store shelves across the nation on May 19, and the smoke has since been quite visible. Should you decide to escort a copy of this production to the nearest register (if you haven't already, that is), please ask your neighbors to be a bit understanding and indulgent of the phat grooves and vibes that will be emitting from your home. --  Ronald Jackson

Apple iTunes