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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Max V – Next to You

May 20, 2017

With that suave, cool, rich hollow-body Ibanez sound, guitarist Max V explodes on the contemporary jazz scene again with his sophomore release in this genre entitled Next to You. Offering seductive voicings, solid compositions, and an embracing aura of smooth, the guitarist should easily further grow and solidify his fan base with these tracks.

Obviously favoring that distinct Ibanez hollow body sound often associated with the likes of George Benson and Norman Brown, Max V is on his way to placing his own signature on the style that has wooed so many over the years. Read full review


The Oberhamer Brothers – Together Again!

May 14, 2017

The Oberhamer Brothers are a pair of brothers who’ve each carved out an impressive individual resume and who come from backgrounds not necessarily influenced by contemporary or smooth jazz. In fact, their latest recording, Together Again!, is actually their debut smooth jazz release. It’s a well-produced album containing 9 flavorful originals and one cover tune.

With Brandon Oberhamer laying down the sax lines as brother Doug handles the flugelhorn, piano, guitar, drum, and keys tracking duties, the duo has created a cool sound that does hint at how they transitioned from other jazz to this place. Brandon’s experience lies in being a big band leader, teacher, and freelancer in Calgary, Alberta, Canada while Doug’s focus has been on classical/straight-ahead jazz. He’s currently a musical director on Broadway in New York. Read full review


Gordon Chambers — Surrender

May 7, 2017

Some album titles are simply clever, some just catchy. Then, there are the titles that carry a message and a motivation behind them that are as heavy as the world itself. Such is the case with latest release from singer/songwriter Gordon Chambers titled Surrender, a soulful album chock full of emotion and conscience.

Having accrued two decades of writing for such legends as Anita Baker, Chaka Khan, Angie Stone, and Gladys Knight, as well as recording three great solo efforts of his own, Chambers steps out here on this album with a profound sense of how life can be loaded with game-changers and new directions. “During the last five years of my life, I’ve been truly, truly tested,” he says. Having to weather the passing of five family members and his friend and collaborator, the late great songstress Whiney Houston, he found himself dealing with the weight of sadness and change. While going through the motions of doing everything expected of him (touring, speaking in schools, mentoring songwriters, etc.), he says “I was “crying and struggling with my relevance.” Read full review


Special EFX –Deep As the Night

May 7, 2017

Since the late 1980s, we have been treated to the trademark jazz fusion stylings of Special EFX. Beginning as the brainchild of guitarist Chieli Minucci and drummer George Jinda, the band has enjoyed a devout and considerable following for over 30 years. When Jinda sadly left us in 2001, Minucci respectfully continued to record under the Special EFX moniker and has always made certain that he acknowledges his late partner in his liner notes. That tradition continues with the band’s latest recording Deep As the Night, a masterfully recorded and produced reminder of the wonder and creativity that has dazzled the World and jazz fusion universe for decades. Read full review


Mike Levine – Star Gazing

May 7, 2017

Pianist/keyboardist/composer Mike Levine’s easy and smooth style comes through in a mellow and confident manner on his latest steady-as-she-goes release Star Gazing, featuring bassist Will Lee and saxmen Ed Calle and Andy Snitzer. If cool and romantic swagger, along with as a few boogie, feel-good jams are what you’re seeking, get an earful of this one. It’s an album laced with varied moods from the rich & sweet to some funky moments – all done with charm and sophistication.

Working his way through a plush musical landscape that includes tracks like the high-spirited lead track “Oh Yeah,” the more somber and reflective title track, the finger-snappin’ island feel of “Rio Funk” featuring that catchy Snitzer sax and some funky 88s action from Levine, and the romantic “my my” sweetness of “Sunday’s Touch” (calls for a glass of Chardonnay, candlelight, and that special someone) and the melancholy lyrics and caressing melody of “Really Wish I Could Love You” featuring the silky vocals of one Lenard Rutledge, Star Gazing gets it done in a big way. Read full review


Various Artists – Cool Guitars

May 1, 2017

Composer/producer Steve Keitt brainstormed this release into existence in a big way. Working with artists like the prolific U-Nam (who’s on a production tear with such recordings as Valeriy Stepanov’s New Beginnings, Ty Causey’s Tyangles, and more to come), Keitt pulls together the ingredients for the EP Cool Guitars (he also co-wrote most of the material here as a project done in loving memory of the late great Ronny Jordan and Prince. Featured artists include – along with U-Nam – dee Brown, the late great Ronny Jordan (on a posthumous selection that’s so very Jordan), Mark Bowers, and Nick Morrison. U-Nam promises more project to follow; so, strap in and settle back. Read full review


Roberto Vazquez – Matices

Apr. 23, 2017

Keyboardist/pianist Roberto Vazquez returns with a project, Matices, that is so smooth and exotic that it dares you to turn your ears away from its warm appeal.

Vazquez’s 2012 Between Two Worlds release was pretty solidly steeped in the smooth jazz groove exclusively while this release unleashes the exoticism of the Latin sound on a few tracks like the lead track “Rumba Que Retumba,” a hot and lively number, the soft & sexy “Thru Her Eyes” (one of my faves), and the easy yet snappy “Bahia” that teases the Latin vibe and folds it in with distinctive jazz inflections. Read full review


Sylvia Bennett – For You

Apr. 21, 2017

I have heard a few of vocalist Sylvia Bennett’s musical offerings in the past, and they’ve always been of the quality that jazz purists highly appreciate. Her soft, sultry vocals serve to complement the material in almost majestic fashion. Here on For You (her latest release), she delves into a really contemporary, smooth style as she presents some very creative originals and smartly interpretative covers, turning the latter into something smooth jazz can own despite being birthed by traditionalists.

Bennett first caught my ear when she released her 2011 Sonríe album, a seductive and exotic Latin jazz endeavor, sung entirely in Spanish. Being such a trademark in straight-ahead music, this was the first real departure of sorts into a world she hadn’t extensively explored prior to the album. Needless to say, she knocked it out of the park. Now, she sets out to do the same with this new smooth album that will find many smooth jazzers doing a double take. Read full review


Valeriy Stepanov – New Beginnings

Apr. 21, 2017

It’s always so heartwarming to sit back and reflect on how we smooth jazzers have always embraced the wonderful musical delights and talents of international artists (England’s Peter White & Oli Silk, France’s Philippe Saisse, U-Nam, & Marc Antoine, Croatia’s Igor Gerzina, and, of course, the lovely and mega-talented Japanese princess of World and smooth jazz music Keiko Matsui for starters). Now enters Russian keyboardist/pianist/drummer/composer Valeriy Stepanov with his impressive debut release entitled New Beginnings. Sporting smooth and funky rhythms and melodies, the album makes one marvel at how easily our genre fits into the soul, style, and psyche of artists like him. His style is very fluid and almost second nature, fitting so comfortably in the folds of the both soothing and exciting allure of our beloved music. Read full review


Norman Brown – Let It Go

Apr. 7, 2017

Going well beyond the usual superior musical gifts and prowess he shares so graciously with us with each album, the very personable, well-grounded guitar guru Norman Brown (someone who’s one of guitar legend George Benson’s favorites – what higher honor can one receive??) opens another door with his latest release Let It Go, a door that allows us a glimpse into the innermost being of a man who is deeply reflective and philosophical when it comes to life and all it offers. This is one project that somewhat differs from the guitarist’s typical grooves in that one is riveted for reasons more profound than that. Yes, Brown remains one of the funkiest, smoothest, most adept Grammy-winning artists around, but this sober, reflective, deliberate side is as appealing as any of his music. Read full review