Our reviews of various smooth jazz CDs. 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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With the lead and title track drifting along in a dreamlike state, GRAMMY award-winning master producer/keyboardist/composer/arranger George Duke, an icon for the ages without a doubt, offers his first release since the death of his beloved wife Corine. The CD is entitled Dreamweaver, and Duke says he just had to do this to get back on track after being so unmotivated after the tragedy. He calls this latest work of art his “most honest album in several years.”
The master keyboardist/producer was again stirred in re-entering the music world and the studio while on a Capital Jazz Cruise. For the first couple of days, he didn’t play any music but did check out some of the other bands. On the third day, returning to his cabin at around 4 a.m., inspiration struck. Sitting on the deck as the sun came up, a couple of tunes came to mind, he took to pen and paper, and here we are — Duke in one of his finest moments in life, making that eclectic and soul-stirring music.Read full review
They’re back and as funky and tight as ever. Super trio Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, and Norman Brown (aka BWB) only know one way to jam, and that’s to put both feet into a project . They’ve done just that here with a stirring tribute to the King of Pop Michael Jackson aptly titled Human Nature.
Choosing material is as important as one’s skills. These guys picked some of MJ’s most electric and powerful tunes (i.e., “Another Part of Me,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground,” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”) and coupled them with a few of the more somber tunes (a bluesy “Who’s Lovin’ You,” “She’s Out of My Life,” the title track with flawless vocals by Sheléa who certainly does MJ justice, “I’ll Be There,” and the reflective, introspective “Man In the Mirror”). Wonderful selections and performed as you’d expect BWB to present them…exacting and with much emotion in every song.Read full review
Just as silky as you please, saxman Andre Ward pours on the saxilicious charm from the very first note of the lead track on his latest endeavor, Caution. You just know from that point, you are at the right party. Pass me a groove and let me settle back for this ride.
With some help from artists/producers like Rahni Song, Ward takes this one on another satisfying, jam-heavy journey that also sports a heavy dose of sensuality and memorable hooks.
Having been pleased with Ward’s material since 2001’s Feelin’ You, I must confess to not being in the least bit expecting less from this saxman who has obviously wrapped the contemporary jazz groove around his very soul.Read full review
Not an everyday sight in this contemporary jazz age, a totally competent female bassist with all the funk and class you can possibly imagine has emerged: Robin Bramlett. With her, she brings her debut offering entitled This Is My Life, a cozy, funky, thick and tight project with an abundance of power, soul, and that “it” we often so long to hear in our jazz.
Playing and writing with authority, Bramlett is not only refreshing but most original. You can easily hear that in her self-penned melodic title track as she employs PD Wright to tell the spoken word story of this talent’s life. A very engaging and clever approach.Read full review
Flautist Kim Scott has just released her sophomore project, Rite of Passage, and it is as impactful – if not more so– as her most appealing debut. Here is truly a young lady born to create this kind of vibe, this kind of all-enveloping touch. With a style so sweet and alluring, Scott takes it where she says her band and producers challenged her to take it – to the next level. She also believes that this CD will hold its own. Well, I’ll go one better and predict that it will surpass the expectations of her and her comrades.
This is about as tight and solid a recording as you could want, and it never misses a step in maintaining that tender airiness that makes it so well-rounded.
Accompanying Scott on this fascinating journey are the guys for whom she rightly holds high regard (and I apologize in advance if I’ve omitted any of the fine members of this great collage of sound): On select tracks, Eric Essix on guitar, Clarence “T Lee” Hill handling keys and drum programming, J “J Fly” Flynn on percussion, James “PJ” Spraggins on drums, keys, piano, percussion, and bass, Sean Michael Ray on bass, Kelvin Wooten on guitar, Keith Williams on guitar, Brandon Pair on drums and percussion, and Phil Davis on keys and drum programming. You may or may not be familiar with some or any of these guys, but trust me when I describe them as a group of wonderfully talented and skilled musicians. Read full review
Saxophonist Tony Craddock, Jr. is one interesting artist. Besides being a talented musician, he is a degreed meteorologist and devout Christian. All of the titles to the tracks on his latest work, Convection, are related to weather, using it as a metaphor for communicating a message related to Christianity. Craddock states, “The title ‘Convection’ is a direct reference to one of the most important processes that impacts weather, but it’s also a reference to my conviction in Christ (ironically, the words are only one letter apart)…The goal is to not only engage the listener musically but also spiritually, as they see the symbolism used to connect God and the weather.” Like I said, interesting.Read full review
Mellow, serene, and as satisfying as that first summer breeze, this release, Smile, from vocalist/songwriter Carol Duboc, hits the spot for those seeking that soothing mood of contemporary jazz vocals.
For those fans of Duboc’s embracing style, you will not be disappointed. Even though this release was inspired by the demise of Duboc’s marriage, it is anything but a “woe is me” accounting of that dissolution. The singer, in fact, uses it as fuel for her creative fire and the catalyst for her soul-cleansing story told here in such honorable and classy fashion.
Despite its underlying theme, this album embraces you with warmth and inspiration from the opening notes of the lead track, “Elephant,” a reference to the elephant in the room that could no longer be ignored with respect to her marital troubles.Read full review
This cool quartet hailing from Colorado struts its debut release, Pinnacle, with a great deal of energy and drive. Inspired by the Colorado mountains, the Dave Erickson Project allows us a generous look and listen at contemporary jazz their way. Smooth yet packing a powerful punch where needed; sweet yet spicy when appropriate, the album is a clear satisfier throughout.
The Dave Erickson Project is comprised of names you may or may not know, but, with one listen, I doubt that you won’t feel like you’ve known them for awhile. The group has its namesake on guitars, Chuck Leichner on keys and piano, Deon Kuhl on drums, and Richard Brough laying it down on bass. Each of these guys could have probably easily made it on their own…probably. However, as a group, they stand very tall. Coming dressed to impress, these guys head right for your ears and soul with grooves like the up-tempo, bright title and lead track. That’s followed by more infectious grooves like the rockin’ “Fat Cat” with its Santana-like cadence and hook, the hook-tight and rhythmically clever “Know the Way Up,” the funky “Found It,” and the guitar/ keys-driven funkiness of “Essence.” That’s all just for starters.
There is a smooth, rather laid-back mid-tempo track titled “Do It Again,” and should not be confused with the classic jazz/rocker from the iconic Steely Dan. This is a totally different tune, very much the charming chilled-out pleaser for that after-work moment or two.
The very “up” fusion/acid jazz gallop that one will experience on “Drive It Home” should convince listeners that Erickson & Co. can work that eclectic vibe as well as anyone.
The Dave Erickson Project, if it stays in this funky-cool pocket, will be a name to watch as it continues its ascent to that pinnacle. – Ronald Jackson
I became quite interested in the work of Cal Harris Jr. ever since hearing his silky smooth debut album Inside Out. I knew then that we had a keeper in this artist. Proving me right, he’s released a very solid and well-balanced new project called Shelter Island.
From the lead and title track, a mid-tempo melodious piece that will surely catch listeners immediately, he strokes and tickles the ivories throughout the album convincingly.
With a lot of romance and seduction oozing from this set, it’s hard not to be taken by this project. With this album, and in the right setting, you could just lose yourself in the moment with that special someone.Read full review
Wow. No one invited yours truly to the sizzlin’ barbeque that sax greats Dave Koz, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, and Richard Elliot (aka Dave Koz & Friends) were throwing at Concord Records. On the menu was the making of what promises to be one of this summer’s hottest releases, Summer Horns. The CD is a CD of covers, paying tribute to many of our era’s great tunes and writers.Read full review