THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE

Smooth Jazz CD Reviews

TSJR does not engage in negative reviews. All CDs presented here are releases that we accept as being quite worthy--even outstanding, in many cases.  If a release does not warrant such an assessment in our view, we will simply decline to review it.
 
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Apr. 12, 2010

David Benoit -- Earthglow

Artists from all walks and of all sorts always have special moments and special places that serve as their catalyst and motivation for their respective creations, be they writers, producers, musicians, etc.  Five-time Grammy-nominated renowned contemporary jazz pianist David Benoit found the ultimate in his own peace of mind by retreating to the mountains near Saratoga, CA, to spark the first two tunes of his upcoming  latest release, Earthglow, scheduled to hit the streets on April 20.

Full of the energy and shine that have always defined the artist as one of the most acclaimed for well over 20 years, Benoit was able to pen the opening track, the rousing  “Botswana Bossa Nova,” and a cut he says was influenced by the Black-Eyed Pea will.i.am, “Will’s Chill” (the latter also bearing a nice Latin/bossa touch).  Those two tracks served as the launching pad for this delightfully sharp and tasteful endeavor, one that he claims is a first for him, as it shines a light on a global music concept.  Read full review


Jake Glasgow -- Keepin' On

This sophomore release from a pretty impressive sax man, Jake Glasgow, has a lot of polish and great ideas on winning melodies.  A Berklee grad who studied sax with Fred Lipsius of the famed Blood, Sweat & Tears band, Glasgow obviously took the time to consider how to make his sax speak a language not alien to smooth jazz but clear and distinct.  His debut, Hangin’ With Mister G, was no slacker by any means, and this follow-up, Keepin' On, just adds testimony to the man’s ability to groove with the best of them.
 
After opening with “A Tip of My Hat” a kickin’ tune not unlike many jammin’ smooth jazz openers (although he has his own catchy nuance and solid hook), Glasgow rolls into “Delray,” a poppin’ mid-tempo piece with a bit of attitude.  The title track, which follows, is a nice, snappy little choreographed dance with the horns, helped along by a serving of lead guitar with a touch of sting and distortion.  There are many other examples of that horn choreography, nowhere more pronounced than on “Sweet Tea,” and it adds such pop and tingle to the overall project. Very well-conceived and executed.  Also, a lot of this material has a strong hint of that old school funk, as is evidenced in “Bump,”  “Corduroy Jacket,” and “The Taker.”  Read full review


Apr. 7, 2010

Steve Oliver -- Global Kiss

My very early bottom line: Global Kiss could well be the Steve Oliver CD for me (i.e., the
best from him to date, and that includes his magnificent debut, First View, in 1999 and the inimitable sophomore release, Positive Energy, in 2002).

Here on Global Kiss, the body, the substance, the fabric, and diversity are all so vibrant and warm.  As the title implies, Global Kiss expands Oliver's repertoire with its world-music energy while retaining the lyrical melodies and song hooks that have made him a stand-out fan favorite for over 10 years.  As he says, "The concept is of global influence and world music, how you can put that flavor into jazz and R&B tunes," says Oliver, who, by the way, commissioned contemporary jazz saxophonist and graphic artist Marion Meadows (yep, Meadows is a graphic artist, as well!) to design the CD's bright and inspiring cover. "The CD touches on different cultures, from Brazil, India, the Middle East, America, Europe. I've always loved taking different styles of music and blending them into a cohesive vibe. That's always attracted me as a listener, as well."  Read full review


Apr. 5, 2010

Agnieszka Iwanska -- All That I Am

Here’s a new jazz vocalist who definitely has impressive pipes. On her debut release, All That I Am (a CD of all original material, I might add), Polish songstress Agnieszka Iwanska demonstrates the ability to really stroke a tune with her oft sultry vocals.

Iwanska weaves into this brand of contemporary jazz the vocal stylings of the likes of, say, Basia, yet still sports her own rather pure, clean, and convincing delivery (as well as the ability to scat a bit). One can easily find some real comfort in that. Read full review


Mar. 26, 2010

Paula Atherton -- Groove With Me

Sashaying forward with all of the sexiness and melodic charm of one who’s been on the national scene for decades, Paula Atherton, a striking and relatively new saxophonist with a swagger just meant for smooth jazz unveils a gem here that keeps you in the highest of gears. The title of this latest endeavor, Groove With Me, isn’t so much an invitation as it is a teasing command. As you listen to the album, you have no choice but to do just as the title states, so compelling is it in its approach and appeal.

While not being among the most recognized names in smooth jazz today (and, trust me, that will quickly change!), Atherton is no complete stranger or newcomer to smooth jazz, having released her debut, Let Me Inside Your Love, in 2004 and having a track (“I Long For Your Love”) from that album included on a 2006 compilation, Ladies of Jazz, which also featured Candy Dulfer and Natalie Cole.  This sophomore release should definitely leave an indelible mark on the genre and its legions of fans.  Read full review


Mar. 18, 2010

Steve Raybine -- In The Driver's Seat

Vibraphonist Steve Raybine sets out here on his latest release, In the Driver’s Seat, with the
intention of showcasing how all-encompassing vibes can be, especially in the jazz, blues, and even Latin arenas. This album is an attractive collection of grooves, containing both original compositions and well-interpreted covers.

Raybine, for those who may not know, has been respected in many circles as an accomplished vibist who’s worked with artists ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Rick Braun.  He’s released two other releases since 2000 (Balance Act and Bad Kat Karma), and, if this latest is any indication, the man is well-rounded in his tastes.  Read full review


Mar. 4, 2010

Bickley Rivera -- Chillin' After Five

Oh, the innovativeness of many smooth jazz artists. You’ve gotta love it! Here’s an artist w
hose vocals and keys skills might well have been enough to get her on the smooth jazz radar screen, but Bickley Rivera has taken it a step further and combined an abundance of tenor steel pan in a way that is quite interesting. Here on her debut smooth jazz CD, Chillin’ After Five, there’s not just a Caribbean flavor with the steel pan, but, as she puts it, she knew that “the steel pan had more to say than just Caribbean island notes…the instrument’s acceptance as a solo instrument has begun, and it’s time for fans to experience its full beauty.” Well, while there are noted steel pan artists (Andy Narell comes to mind),  Rivera plans to ensure that the instrument gets its just due in this genre. This project is a good start.

With a little guest sax help from Praful and Ed Calle, along with comely melodies and hooks and a groove that just says “chill,” this new, attractive young artist shows us that she knows her way around not only the pans and keys but how to comfortably intermingle her style with the type of magnetic magic that has propelled other artists with a vision to produce a solo signature touch (e.g., Hardcastle and Soul Ballet’s Rick Kelly – though, obviously, with different styles).  Read full review


Feb. 28, 2010

Justin Young -- Nothin' But Love

Detroit-bre
d, Los Angeles-based saxophonist Justin Young burst on the jazz scene after an impressive win at the 2007 Capital Jazz New Artist Challenge in Columbia, Maryland.  I witnessed that explosion, and it was truly memorable.  The versatile 28-year old performer then debuted his solo album, On The Way, which was a really fitting and aptly titled intro to the new saxman. Now comes Nothin’ But Love, a bouncy groove that's sometimes stompin’, yet often sweetly mellow.  It cements Young as one who can identify and work a groove in an undaunted and tastefully smooth and consistent manner.

Having written or co-written a decent share of this album, Young strives to capture the essence of this thing we call smooth jazz, just as he did with his debut offering, and he doesn’t miss.  With help from the likes of bassist Alex Al, drummer Ricky Lawson, and writer/keyboardist Eddie Miller, he steps through this production as proudly as a peacock.  Read full review


Feb. 17, 2010

Marcus Anderson -- From The Heart
 

Now, here’s a smooth jazz CD that scratches almost every itch you can have in smooth jazz.  If you like the hot, grinding, gutsy stuff with bite and a bit of musical complexity and sophistication, saxophonist Marcus Anderson has you covered. If you favor the mid-to-slow tempo stuff with tantalizing melodies, Marcus Anderson has you covered.  From the Heart, Anderson’s sophomore release, comes already prepared for the discriminating tastes of all smooth jazzers.

A former long-time  student of Branford Marsalis and the 2009 winner of the Capital Jazz Fest Challenge, Anderson has worked the gamut of smooth jazz and, with From The Heart, comes loaded up with grooves from smooth to reggae to funk to classy fusion.  Read full review


Feb. 9, 2010

Jaared -- Manhattan Nights

After tantalizing his audiences with the vibrant 2008 release of Addiction, saxman Jaared, who’s always packed a soulful, to-the-gut wallop on his crystal clear sax, returns with a very Jaared-smooth, expressive,  and sexy release, Manhattan Nights, due for release on March 10.

Jaared’s style is always a well-balanced mix of the romantic and the intense.  Here, with a powerful guest lineup including Jay Soto, Freddie Fox, Cindy Bradley, Tim Bowman, U-Nam, Michael Broening, Mel Brown, and Greg Adams, he spotlights his tenor/alto/soprano sax stylings as he struts through all manner of smooth moods.  There are the jazzy and funky movers like “If You Know What I Mean,” “D’Groovealicious,” and the potent title track, as well as sensuous teasers like “That’s What She Said” and the slow, soulful “Love You All Night Long,” and moderate, exotically beautiful tracks like “Always Together.”  Also along for more than just the ride are a flavorful little Latin-tinged ditty called “No Nachos for Puppies”(which, I might add, is great advice) and the totally cool and swaying soprano sax offering, “Floating On a Breeze.”  Read full review

Kirk Whalum -- The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter III

In this me age, it is always so refreshing to see people, especially people blessed with the gifts bestowed upon the likes of eight-time Grammy-nominated saxman Kirk Whalum, humbly giving thanks for those gifts.  Here, in his third installment of his Gospel According to Jazz series, the sax wiz inspires and uplifts with a splendid blend of live spiritual and contemporary jazz offerings in the way that only he can.

Whalum began this celebration back in 1998 when he released the first in the series in a live setting.  The marvelous merging of the genres in this manner proved to not just be the launching pad for more to follow but also served as undeniable living proof of the dedication and genius of this man who has never missed an opportunity to point his sax heavenward and proclaim his love and gratitude without pause.  Read full review


Feb. 3, 2010

Kim Waters -- Love Stories

Well, here we are again, ladies, back in that love-soaked, dimly lit room of candles. Just you and that special love of yours, listening to the sound of one of the true masters of the romantic night, the man to whom the sensuous urban jazz vibe belongs, saxophonist Kim Waters. Here again is the saxman with more love in the form of his latest release, Love Stories (what else??).  Full of irresistible longing and want, full of spirit and soul, not to mention the sweetest of sweet melodies and hooks, Waters puts his sax to the test again to see if he can once more coax a meltdown of hearts in the universe of romance. I’m sure he’ll find that he can.  When he’s not teaming up with other great saxmen (as with The Sax Pack) or producing some quality remakes of hip hop/R&B tunes (as with his Streetwize series), Waters is always primed to belt out the solo gem.  Love Stories is such a gem.  Read full review

ZOÉ -- Let's Fly


“The Groove” is a great way to open an album that seems dedicated to just that: The Groove, as in smooth jazz groove.  New kids on the block ZOÉ bring an abundance of freshness and originality with this debut release, Let’s Fly, and that gets this writer going every time. With only one track not written by the band, they captured my attention immediately. They then proceeded to roll through a set of tracks laden with a crisp and melodic flavor so very evident from the beginning that you simply must listen, and listen good.

The very conversational sax offered on each track by Reggie Harris is the centerpiece here, but each instrument does its thing to keep the whole product in balance and directionally correct.  Tunes like the casually smooth and tight title cut, written by bassist H. Maurice Fonville, and spiced up with cool riffs from guitarist Ronald Segers, as well as Harris’ sax, set the table handsomely for this banquet of sound.  Even the one cover, “Ordinary People,” which is sure to bring a smile to John Legend’s lips with its bright and jazzy interpretation, carries the class and charisma this album seems to sport confidently.  Segers' clean and clear guitar work is magnificent, yet you can feel its modesty and humility.  Read full review


Feb. 2, 2010

Michael J Thomas -- City Beat

Interesting scenario.  A man takes pen in hand, writes 9 of the 10 tracks to feature on his debut release (due in stores on March 2), adds one hot cover by the one and only gloved one, Michael Jackson (just for extra flava, I suppose), and boldly steps out into the groove-laden world of smooth jazz and instantly begins making his mark. Hmm… Now, that could work. In fact, in the case of Michael J Thomas, it does.  Saxman Thomas delivers on City Beat the kind of self-confidence and stand-up solid material that has ushered in so many of our smooth jazz greats today.

Despite being born and raised in a part of the country that proudly struts its country music like a badge (i.e., Kentucky), Thomas was fed a steady diet of Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Prince by his super-hip parents.  Talk about going against the grain!  Read full review


Jan. 28, 2010

Nate Najar -- Until Now

Good, clean crisp, and vibrant guitar lead this smart effort by Nate Najar on his debut smooth jazz release, Until Now.  Though having released three other solo efforts previously, this marks Najar’s maiden voyage into the waters of smooth jazz. He navigates those waters well with precise melodies, jammin’ funk-laden tempos, and even a touch of rock and Brazilian influences along the way.  Much of his style will remind one of the stylings of Ken Navarro, Jim Adkins, and Drew Davidsen.

Najar has a preference for the classical guitar, and he does craft some interesting tapestries around it, though he shows that he can cut loose on the electric animal as well.  On this diverse and ear-friendly production, Najar makes a run at Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” with a sense of calm and elegance. A tight and respectful interpretation, for sure.  He follows that track with a funky, bright, and bouncy cut entitled “Holding Pattern,” which has such a built-in groove that resisting its buoyancy is virtually impossible, especially with that comely hook.  The title track, another with a sweet hook, has that soothing, melt-in-your-soul vibe that highlights the seductive rhythm laying claim to your senses--if only for a moment.  My kind of slow jam, complete with adept keys work at the hands of Ron Reinhardt.  Read full review


Lynn Riley -- Too Cool

This debut CD from saxophonist/flutist Lynn Riley, Too Cool, is just that. A cool mix of delicious grooves, controlled funk, and smooth and traditional jazz influences, with a sultry swinging rhythm snaking its way throughout the album.

Lynn Riley is a Philadelphia, PA, native who has seen a large measure of success in the form of recognition via significant awards.  Among them are an award from the Trane Stop Resource Institute for her contribution in preserving and promoting Afro-American Classical Music and an award from the National Association of Jazz Educators for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education.  Read full review


Andrew Neu -- Try Something Neu

Some artists and their material achieve such a comfort level from the very beginning, and that comfort level is conveyed to listeners so early on, that the fact it attracts many of the peers in that particular genre is almost inevitable. Such is the case with saxophonist/composer Andrew Neu and his latest release, Try Something Neu, a delightful musical adventure indeed.

Try Something Neu is the third solo project for Neu. His first two, Inspire (2000) and In Clear View (2007) clearly indicated that the man was developing star power and an impressive amount of respect from his peers (Jeff Lorber, Dave Weckl, and Gerald Veasley, among others, joined him on the second release).  Read full review



Jan. 10, 2010

Maysa -- A Woman In Love

You know, after reviewing several releases in one day, I had put down my “ink pen” for the evening when I decided to listen to just one more release, the new release from the inimitable Maysa, entitled A Woman In Love…and I was again sitting in front of my PC--with enough motivation to rewrite War & Peace!  Is there no end to this songstress’s magic and knack for what works and what should be the heartbeat of jazz?  As she states, “…this project is classic Maysa. Whether I write new songs or sing old ones, you will get my heart and soul and my very best, every time.”  Maysa fans will shout a huge “AMEN” to that.  This project, so clean, so piercing, so Maysa, and so jazz, is more than enough to get you through any evening, or day, for that matter.
 
I can honestly say that, in my estimation, this is how jazz should be approached, smooth or otherwise. This is, as Maysa herself has termed it, real music.  To the smooth jazz critics,  and even to those who have attempted to play around the edges of the genre in the hopes of being included, even fully knowing they may not be ready, this is the project to which you need to fully listen.  Smooth jazz has begun to embrace more of the classics--but not at the expense of smooth jazz (Joe McBride and Everette Harp come to mind—and now, Maysa).  If I sound a bit biased, it’s only because listening to this absolutely refreshing and fulfilling revival of the music that many had written off is an astounding and very moving experience for me. Read full review

Alan Hewitt -- Retroactive

Keyboardist/producer Alan Hewitt (who has one of the coolest L.A. looks in the biz, by the way) is regarded as the “Platinum Producer to the Stars,” and rightly so, considering his extensive and impressive studio work with so many of the “A” list in showbiz (movies, TV, music).  His previous releases include a 1996 effort called Native Heart, Noche de Pasion in 2004, and Metropolis in 2006. I came on board as a believer with the last two, having never heard the ‘96 release, and he has been on my radar ever since.  Now signed with NuGroove Records, this keys master will surely maintain his oh-so-pleasant grip on jazzers’ aural senses with his latest project, Retroactive, scheduled for release on Jan. 19.

With musical comrades Paul Jackson, Jr., Steve Oliver, Greg Adams, and Steve Madaio lending a helping hand with appearances on this release, Hewitt again proves to be quite the musical architect as he builds a formidable repertoire of funky tracks and the sweet and mellow, all done with the smart nuances you’d expect from one so seasoned in the art of smooth jazz.  Read full review 

Pamela Williams -- Chameleon

Saxophonist Pamela Williams (aka The Saxtress, who also doubles on keys quite effectively, by the way) has been serenading the smooth jazz world for over 10 years as a solo artist.  Spinning off from Patti Labelle’s band in the mid-90s was a calculated move that has obviously paid off handsomely over the years.
 
Her latest project, Chameleon, is her first on her own indie label, Saxtress Entertainment.  It is an exciting look at the different sides of Williams, from a tribute to the funky days of George Clinton and his living-on-the-edge marvelous bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, to a nod to the fusion funk of Herbie Hancock’s "Chameleon," then to a return to her early sinfully sensuous offerings with “Eight Days Of Ecstasy” (from the album of the same name), to the bluesy “Breathless” and on to her trademark smoothness on tunes like “Summer Sun.”  Hard-charging funksters like “Ultraviolet” and “Camouflage” are done as only one such as Pamela Williams, who knows funk by its first name, can do them: forcefully rhythmic, funky, and emotional.  Her cover of Sylvia’s hit, “Pillow Talk” is both rousing and sexy…in both instances (the vocal and the instrumental versions).  Read full review 

Gregg Young & The 2nd Street Band -- Instrumentally Yours

The combination of funky keys, soulful sax, solid percussions, muscular bass lines, the call of the steel drum, and a searing guitar here on guitarist Gregg Young’s Instrumentally Yours all make for a nice concoction of slightly retro funk, rock, and reggae passages here. The project only sports 7 tracks, but they’re pretty solid.

Young and his band, The 2nd Street Band, deliver it nice and smooth, with plenty of punctuation in the right places. The opening track features saxman Eric Marienthal and starts this colorful journey off with a nice touch of some throwback  funk (he returns later to contribute to an appetizing jazz samba). That’s just the first page in this book of goodies.  Listen to the steel drum in the cover of Bob Marley’s hit “3 Little Birds,” and you develop a respect for Young’s interpretations  pretty quickly.  His rather bluesy guitar riff not only complements the steel drum but the very essence and charm of that piece.  Read full review


Vivian Male -- Our Day Will Come

I’ve in
dicated a few times here that I’m not partial to a lot of covers on any given CD, unless we’re talking about a truly exceptional interpretation.  Vocalist/producer Vivian Male is such an exception.  Her debut release, Our Day Will Come, showcases her lovely voice in a remarkably pure, rich, and pitch-perfect fashion.
 
Who is Vivian Male? Well, she currently travels around the New England and New York regions, charming listeners with her sterling vocals.  She is the president of her own production company, Vivian Male Productions, and, among other things, is a member of the Board of Trustees of Berklee School of Music.  She was also recently inducted into Boston’s “Steppin’ Out” Hall of Fame with George Benson.  Read full review



Jan. 8, 2010

BK Jackson -- On The Move

I have heard—and am in agreement with—many statements by artists and smooth jazz fan
s alike that the genre needs fresh new talent and a means of attracting younger listeners, those coming after the baby boomers. Well, I have certainly been encouraged by the influx of young people listening and appreciating the music lately, as well as those who have elected to actively participate in the advancement of it by entering the performing arena. They seem to be coming in younger and younger, and now, we have before us young BK Jackson, who struts in with his alto and tenor saxes at the ripe old age of 17.  This young man brings a ton of talent, promise, and vigor to smooth jazz and immediately places it on full display and in high gear on his debut release, On the Move.

All new artists are confronted with that infamous “proving ground” when first introduced to the world.  Jackson seems to take it all in stride and simply proceeds to enjoy himself doing what he loves to do, and he does it so impressively well.  Not only can the young man play, he has penned several of the gems found on this ultra-cool, yet white-hot, release.  Read full review



Jan. 6, 2010

Marty Q -- Table for 2

A cool mixture of smooth enticing melodies and a bit of pop make this release, Table for 2, the fourth from saxophonist Marty Q, with help from producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis, a quality effort designed to introduce the artist in the highest possible light.  The effort doesn’t go unnoticed by this reviewer.

Marty Q, who has appeared on such albums as Shanachie’s Smooth Jazz Plays Motown’s Favorite Love Songs CD (he is featured on “My Girl”) and Vesta Williams’ Distant Lover CD, playing “Ooh Baby Baby,”  has had three other solo releases: Smooth Sax (2007), which was pretty replete with covers; Full Circle (2000), an easy listening collection also replete with covers; and Sentimental Christmas (1999). Nice exposure, but I think this production really gets at the heart of the artist’s ability to present some original and well-produced smooth goodies.  A bona fide sax player with a feel and touch just right for this genre, Marty Q reaches out to jazzers through a diverse set of tracks ranging from bouncy, soothing, and funky to the downright sexy and romantic.  Read full review
 

 

 

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