Smooth Jazz CD Reviews

Our reviews of various smooth jazz CDs. We also review certain Latin, World, & blues music releases. 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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Harold Little — Akoben

July 23, 2017

Here’s a project that’s not just interesting musically but historically, as well. The artist, Washington DC, native Harold Little, a trumpeter who favors the fusion of jazz, funk, R&B, and old-school hip hop, draws on his DC roots that boast as part of its culture the Chuck Brown go-go groove. Expanding on that, the very title of his debut release Akoben, speaks to the relevance and respect he gives to the “war horn” (for purposes of reference and context, Akoben is a wind instrument of West African origin used in summoning warriors to the battlefield. It symbolizes love, devotion, and service. Seeing this symbol is supposed to encourage people to be ready at all times to serve their nations even in times of war. Read full review


Cindy Bradley — Natural

July 10, 2017

While this one was a bit delayed in getting to me, I am thrilled to be able to offer my two cents on this gem of a recording by the one and only trumpeter Cindy Bradley, an A-list artist ever since she burst onto the C-jazz scene years ago with her 2009 debut release Bloom. Here with Natural, yet another release that promises to capture and mesmerize, the sexy and mega-talented trumpeter continues with her signature blend of high quality jazz combined with sassy, funky, and soulful melodies and rhythms.

Bradley, as usual, comes prepared, assembling top-tier support via guest appearances by the masterful flutist/saxophonist/arranger David Mann, super-guitarists Nick Colionne and Chris Standring, the lovely saxtress Paula Atherton, the ever-competent bassist Andre Berry, and others who bring their A game to this highly charged project. Read full review


Julian Vaughn – Bona Fide

July 6, 2017

Kansas City, MO native Julian Vaughn has made some very impressive strides in the world of contemporary jazz as a self-taught bassist who not only learned to play by ear but by heart and soul, as well. His latest offering entitled Bona Fide clearly demonstrates that his aim for your heart and soul is dead on as he strolls through melodies that are meant to be felt as much as heard.

A tall man (height measurements have been reported from 6’7” to 6’10”), Vaughn makes sure that Bona Fide towers high and proud with polished originals like the finger-snappin’ lead and title track, the easy gliding “If I Could,” and the silky “Reflections,” among others, to sharp covers of tunes like the sweet and soulful Jackson 5 track “All I Do Is Think of You” featuring vocalist Anthony Saunders and Michael Jackson’s high-steppin’ “Remember the Time,” the latter capturing a bit of that MJ magic via some hot lead bass chops. Read full review


Vann Burchfield – Lay Back

June 23, 2017

Along with being a super-talented veteran saxman, Vann Burchfield is certainly consistent. I first learned of him about 8 years ago when I sampled his Blue-Eyed Soul release and then reviewed it here. I was most impressed then and continue to be so. His handle on melody (a very big thing for me) is superb, and his compositions are always whole and soulful. His latest release, Lay Back, is a portrait in serenity. Its soothing musical caresses are consuming, even riveting on a couple of tracks.

The album has a lot of that swaying feel-good up-tempo/mid-tempo, often sensuous groove (“Morning Drive,” “It’s A New Day,” “Freedom,” “Being With You,” “Sunrise,” and “Friends”) and does not fall short on the softer, gentler, reflective side of things (e.g., the lead and title track, “Relax,” and the lovely “Peaceful Moments.”). Read full review


New Latitude – Vantage Point

June 23, 2017

The magic and majesty of acoustic guitar interplay offered by the group New Latitude returns here with harmonies and melodies as mellow and soothing as an ocean breeze on their sophomore release Vantage Point. With delicious elegance and choreography, guitarists Jim Carr and Dave Erickson – joined by bassist/vocalist Robert Strickland and drummer Deon Kuhl – deliver a set of tracks that romance and sweetly sing to the soul while caressing the aural sense so delicately. If one can imagine a wondrous waltz between two guitars in perfect step and cadence, this album would its personification. Read full review


Ray Anthony & Powerslyde – Have Fun

June 16, 2017

I tell you, I have watched the trombone become a major funk player in smooth jazz over the years, stepping up and taking the lead on some of the most masterful projects to hit the music scene. Happening now on the scene are Ray Anthony & Powerslyde with their new release Have Fun.

Loaded with feel-good funky grooves and rhythms, these guys are sure to be household names as soon as their brand catches fire – and it will if they persist. There’s that special unnamed “something” that’s inherent in the magic spell of their music that speaks to the very certainty of success with the smooth jazz masses if they massage this style and sound of theirs and allow it to seep into the consciousness and soul of jazzers everywhere. This is quality and skill neatly wrapped in a supercool package. “In the pocket” doesn’t even begin to describe the magnetism of this group. They hit hard and often with tunes that are simply irresistible and colorful. Read full review


Burt Brion – The Secret’s Out

June 16, 2017

As pianist/keyboardist Burt Brion’s sophomore release’s title states, The Secret’s Out. Here comes smooth jazz with strength, sophistication, substance, finesse, and sass. Yep, the secret is indeed out now. San Diego can no longer claim this pianist all for itself.

With soulful, captivating compositions guaranteed to capture even the most casual listener, Brion lays it on thick and heavy here.

With a very competent set of support musicians along for the ride (longtime saxman Jason Weber being one of them), Brion lets the groove fly and touch all within earshot. Read full review


Jackiem Joyner – Main Street Beat

June 9, 2017

What a pleasure it has been for me to witness the growth of saxman Jackiem Joyner from his Babysoul debut to Lil Man Soul and through Evolve. Now, with Main Street Beat, his latest release that takes on a seriously funky attitude and draws on that classic Motown sound and experience, the solid saxman pushes his groove to yet another level of smooth.

The album, much inspired by fatherhood and his precious daughter Trinity, kicks the tenor of his music into another gear as he feeds off the energy and effervescence of his little pride and joy. He says of her, “Trinity was right there in the studio during a lot of the writing process. Her jumpy and bouncy upbeat little self is really reflected on this album.” I can only imagine. Who knows? With that kind of jubilant spunk, we may get to witness her as a high-profile artist/performer in her own right someday. Read full review


Sweet Lou Olutosin – Meet Me At the Crossroads

June 9, 2017

When I write about musical diversity, eclecticism, and the manner in which artists cleverly merge genres and subgenres, especially in jazz, I am talking about artists exactly like jazz vocalist “Sweet” Lu Olutosin. Olutosin’s latest release, the aptly titled Meet Me At the Crossroads, explores that merger in such a refreshing, cool, and cushiony fashion that one must simply nod, smile, and tap to the groove.

With a smooth vocal style that reminds one of the late great Lou Rawls, Kevin Whalum, and the late iconic crooner Al Jarreau and that captures the poetic flow often heard in vocalist Raul Midon’s music, Olutosin works his magic on each and every track with personality, giving one the strong sense that, yes, he really enjoyed making this recording. This is not just music for profit’s sake; it’s music for soul rejuvenation. Read full review


Steve Raybine – Cool Vibes

June 1, 2017

Vibes virtuoso Steve Raybine already has much about which to boast, having appeared at numerous jazz venues around the world, having performed with or appeared as an opening act for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Stanley Jordan, Michael Feinstein, Rick Braun, and countless others. So, with such an impressive resume, one can come to expect quality jazz from this artist. Cool Vibes delivers just that kind of quality jazz in a silky smooth/contemporary jazz vein. The album was released quite a few months ago but not so long ago as to disregard its value now. Read full review