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TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.” This month, we honor: 

3rd Force – A Combination of Superior Music and Humanitarianism

Long before there was a genre called Chill Out, there was New Age music. It was a little loved and mostly ignored genre that seemed to be heard in shops selling crystal balls and expensive incense sticks amid tie-dyed chiffon wraps and small buddha figurines. It was a music that was synonymous with meditation, relaxation, and the centring of mind, body, and spirit. It ran counter to the frenetic rave scene and the trash metal that seemed to be dominant back in the late 80’s and early nineties.

It was where William Aura, one of the founder members of the oft overlooked smooth jazz group 3rd Force, began his career.

Aura’s first album for Higher Octave comes from that period. Named after the seaside studio in California where it was recorded, 1987’s Half Moon Bay, is a delightfully peaceful and uplifting album. Aura’s compositions evoke the sounds of the ocean with timpani rolls blended into warm soft, meringue-like synth pads decorated with harp-string frills that gently rise and fall, before changing pace, and inviting you to dance across verdant meadows following delicate zither lines.

Aura began his musical career composing music for the healing arts. It was an approach based on research into psycho-acoustic audio production. Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception. It is a branch of psychophysics and is often used to create a tranquil and peaceful state in the listener. There is a whole history lesson that could be explored within the realm of psycho-acoustics, particularly around the 440Hz tuning agreement, but that is not for this column.

In 1994, Higher Octave repackaged and remastered Aura’s earlier albums, Aurasound, Vols 1 & 2 from 1982 & 1984, respectively, which are both beautiful examples of serenity in sound. Acoustic pillows to drift on. This was the same year that 3rd Force released their debut album on the same label.

Aura was working in the Higher Octave studios where a local musician, Craig Dobbin, was providing the studio assistance with the Midi sequencing side of the music production process. Dobbin, an accomplished musician, had developed his expertise in the use of Midi sequencing through the need to create beautifully written musical manuscripts while studying composition.

After working with Aura at the Higher Octave studios, Dobbin asked Aura if he would like to hear some of his music. Aura obliged and, liking what he heard, invited Dobbin to work with him on a musical project. The tunes that Dobbin played became “Between Friends” and “Love’s the Reason,” both of which were included on the self-titled debut album.

That album starts with a brief but classic ethereal sonic mist that seems to have drifted across from the Aurasound releases before clearing to reveal some delightful frothy new-age tinged jazz heralded by the softest of cymbal splashes.

It was the start of one of the more iconic smooth jazz outfits, the group 3rd Force. William Aura, the mainstay and producer of the group, was joined by keyboardist Craig Dobbin and DJ and drum programmer Alain Eskinasi — though to be fair, assigning any one instrument to any of these guys is doing them an injustice as they are all multi-instrumentalists.

After the album’s commercial success, the trio continued the studio project with their next release, Force of Nature, in 1995. This album garnered an even bigger success than their debut, spawning the popular single “Here Comes the Night” featuring guest guitarist Peter White.

After a two-year break, 3rd Force released their 3rd album Vital Force in 1997. The album gained 3rd Force’s second hit single “You Gotta Be Real,” once again featuring guest guitarist Peter White.

The 4th album, called Force Field, was released in 1999, resulting in another of the band’s hit singles, “Revelation of the Heart,” with guest saxophonist Paul Taylor.

In 2000, Higher Octave released a best-of compilation of 3rd Force, entitled Collective Force, which featured the band’s best hits in both radio and fan favorites along with two new songs, “Dance with Me” and “Sweet Surrender.”

The year 2002 saw the release of their 5th studio album, Gentle Force, which showcased a mellower jazz sound than the band’s usual output.

Three years later, in 2005, 3rd Force released Driving Force. This latest release showcased a completely opposite style than the previous Gentle Force album, which was almost lounge-style mellow jazz in sound. Driving Force, in contrast, featured a funky lively jazz mix never before heard in 3rd Force’s music. The most popular singles from that release were “Believe In Me” featuring the trumpeter Greg Adams, keyboardist Jeff Lorber, and guitarist Brian Hughes, and “You Got It” featuring guitarist Marc Antoine.

It would be more than 10 years before 3rd Force would reunite to release their most recent album Global Force. The reasons for the delay were various but included the closing of the Higher Octave record label and Aura, Dobbin, and Eskinasi deciding to go their separate ways.

Dobbin chose to pursue a career in commercial and TV composition; while in 2002, Aura established the Aura Imports Sponsorship Project to promote education for children in the Himalayan region.

Aura had always been interested in global concerns and had travelled numerous times to the Himalayan region where he had witnessed the poverty first-hand. Aura decided that he would try to be a voice for the disadvantaged. The A I Sponsorship Project’s goals are achieved primarily through individuals providing sponsorship for students which is used to provide them the tools and opportunities necessary for success.

The Aura Imports Facebook page is a wonderful and inspirational tribute to the work that Aura and his project are doing in the region. https://www.facebook.com/AuraImportsSponsorshipProject/.

Aura’s involvement building a school in Tintale Village (a 16-hour jeep ride east of Kathmandu) sparked Dobbin’s passion for helping children. “William told me that he needed to raise funds to build a schoolhouse there,” Dobbin says. “I was just getting ready to celebrate my 40th birthday, and I thought, in lieu of gifts, why not have everyone contribute money towards this goal? We built a permanent structure in a village that never had a school before.”

This mutual passion for charitable work overseas in part inspired them to begin working together as musicians again – this time in a more organic way, free from corporate and commercial expectations. “These new ventures and partnerships took our friendship to a whole new level of global concern and impact,” says Dobbin. “We naturally gravitated towards expressing these feelings and experiences through music, and our desire grew to create great music together inside this unique partnership.”

Talking about the decision to come back together to record the Global Force album in an interview with The Smooth Jazz Ride’s Ronald Jackson, Aura states “We had separated for a long time and were both quite ambitious in our different worlds; so, to even come back together is a miracle considering how busy we were. We like experiencing our own music and wanted to see if the magic was still there. When we started playing, it was unlike anything we had ever done before.”

The magic was still there with the album being voted the 2016 album of the year by Smooth Jazz Charts. Rumour has it that the guys are in the studio starting work on an eighth album. But if you can’t wait for that to drop, you can catch 3rd Force at the following dates:

1) The Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival – Oct 7
2) Catalina Jazz Trax Festival – Oct 13

Truly a band that can easily tug at your heartstrings with not only its music but its humanitarian inclinations, 3rd Force is certainly a force with which to reckon and behold. – Steve Giarchardi

To view the complete discography of 3rd Force, click here.