WELCOME TO THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE! * WELCOME TO THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE! * WELCOME TO THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE!

Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove – Velvet Groove

Jan. 26, 2018

There is a lot to this drummer who’s supported so many of the luminaries in contemporary jazz. For starters, the Washington, DC native (one of my own homeboys) doubles on so many other instruments most competently (keys, synths, bass, percussion) and can carry a mean tune vocally, as well. This is all borne out on his latest release Velvet Groove (to be released, appropriately, on Valentine’s Day, of course) where he outshines even himself with offerings that embrace a bit of jazz, R&B, funk, and fusion masterfully.

Tracks here are laced with character, personality, and imagination and include such names as guitarist Adam Hawley; keyboardists Brian Simpson and Greg Manning; saxmen Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, and Elan Trotman; trumpeter Rick Braun; percussionists Ramon Yslas and Lenny Castro; and bassists Darryl Williams and Dwayne “Smiity” Smith. Oh, there are others I’m sure I’ve inadvertently omitted, but suffice it to say the album is stacked with quality, and Valentine came not only to play but to thoroughly impress. Needless to say, he was wildly successful in this writer’s opinion.

From the smooth steppin’ lead track “Back to the Groove” featuring Hawley and Simpson, Valentine leans into this project with all the convincing mastery expected of one who’s so well-respected and in demand among his peers. I’m not surprised that so many offered their stellar services to this album.

Among my faves here are the phat and firm title track featuring that dynamic duo Elliot and Braun, the funk-filled “Mr. Z” featuring some sharp and fluid flute work from Jamal Brown, the sexy mellow “That Guy” featuring Hawley’s guitar and Trotman’s sax and some cool vocals from Valentine, and a nice & tight tribute to the late wonderful Wayman Tisdale (bass work courtesy of Anthony Crawford and featuring that tell-tale Albright sax). There’s more to enjoy here, but I think you get the picture.

Valentine is another example of one capable of carrying the genre to another, higher plateau. This album does nothing if it doesn’t solidify him as a name to watch as a solo artist. – Ronald Jackson