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Mark Barrios–West Tampa Style

How can one effectively wrap a smooth jazz piece around a Latin piece and roll into a searing rock Click to buy or listenriff before settling back into the smooth, still Latin-tinged jazz mode, all while still being well within the realm of good smooth jazz? Easy. Just ask guitarist Mark Barrios. That’s how he opens with his lead track on his newest release, West Tampa Style. Don’t get me wrong: We hear this type of cross-over and fusion often in smooth jazz, but I have seldom witnessed such a fluid transition between the elements on one tune as is displayed here. That alone piqued my interest in this guitarist who, after playing rhythm and lead guitar in working bands for some 25 years, finally gets a toehold in the genre and struts his own stuff here.

Barrios (and I know artists hate this) bears a resemblance to the styles of Carlos Santana (listen to “Spanish Morning”) and Jeff Golub (listen to “West Tampa,” the opening track, before it morphs into the other interesting things that take place deep into the cut), but does hold on to what identifies him, as displayed in cuts like the mid-tempo bouncy “Bouncin’ Back.”

Covers, of which I am honestly no fan, don’t seem to hurt this artist, as his interpretation of the late Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” Roberta Flack’s classic (and probably overdone) “The Closer I Get To You,” rock group Ace’s “How Long” (decent pick as a cover), Michael Jackson’s “Working Day and Night,” and Billy Preston’s “You Are So Beautiful,” all take a new breath on Barrios’ guitar. Still, my one knock on the album is that there are simply far too many covers here for my taste. The artist is clearly able to hold his own as a competent musician with skills that will carry him far. He just needs to focus on coming out of the gate with his own original punch (and we get plenty of evidence of the power of that punch here).

Still, if you don’t really mind covers, thrown in with some very appealing and pretty suave originals (my favs include the above-mentioned “West Tampa,” “Café Con Leche,” a smooth, tasteful, and romantic Latin track able to stand firmly on its own, and the snappy “McFarlane Park”), Barrios gets it done. No throw-away by any measure, the originals, and the decent manner in which he does deliver the covers, clearly place Barrios on the radar screen. — Ronald Jackson