THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE


Tom Braxton--Endless Highway

No stranger to robust, energized smooth jazz, Tom Braxton bolts out of the studio with another quality item with major potential. Like Imagine This and Bounce before it, the new release, Endless Highway, due in stores on Oct. 6, is packed with superior sax work that epitomizes the very essence and spirit of smooth jazz.

Endless Highway dedicates itself to putting its listeners in “chill” mode.  Its melodies and hooks are rich and crisp.  There are select tunes here that especially appeal to me. The tribute to our fallen brother, Wayman Tisdale, “That Wayman Smile!”-- who was not only a dear friend to Braxton but a mentor, as well-- is simply endearing, with Braylon Lacy doing a magnificent job of capturing that Wayman personality on lead bass.  Then, there are tunes like “The Journey,” a mid-tempo track that deliberately takes its time walking and grooving with you as it soaks into you with a sense of soothing.  The cover of soft rock group America’s “Ventura Highway” has a unique Tom Braxton touch with vocals by Arthur Dyer.   A very interesting and rather smart choice of a tune to cover.  I’ve always like that piece, anyway, and with the twist placed on it by Braxton, it breathes anew.  The cut “Open Road, which appears here twice—first as the original track, then as a radio edit—has a really smooth and catchy hook in both versions.  Two others appear here as radio edits, as well:  “That Wayman Smile!” and “The Journey.”  All have that “pop” associated with a good radio edit or remix.
 
It’s obvious that Braxton has an affinity for the whole spectrum of jazz, as his work here on such cuts as “Distant Skies” and “Home Sweet Home” displays  some of the silky runs, scale work, and feel often found in the world of straight-ahead jazz artists while keeping that smooth bounce prominently displayed.

Tom Braxton, an artist who just has to feel self-assured by his skills each time he picks up the sax, clearly is a student of the “fine china” of good jazz, and it’s on full display here. --  Ronald Jackson