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February 2002 Smooth Jazz Vibes title logo Brian Soergel's reviews of new smooth jazz CDs, written exclusively for smoothvibes.com.

Brian Soergel can be reached at riffzy@att.net


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Veteran smooth jazz pianist David Benoit – who has released more than 20 CDs – returns with another eclectic music stew with Fuzzy Logic (GRP). Benoit, who has shown he can play mainstream with a gorgeous CD from years ago, "Winter Into Spring," combines bluesy, funky and retro soul grooves with his clear piano lines, resulting in a CD that is anything but boring. It’s smooth jazz, but with a big, orchestral sound and weighted toward expressions of jazz. Co-produced by Benoit, Rick Braun and Down to the Bones’ Stuart Wade, the CD begins with the jazzy "Snap!," which truly snaps with trumpet and trombone bursts. The horns return on "Fuzzy Logic," which sounds like a cross between a movie chase scene and a night at the orchestra. Stuart Wade brings his retro, dance influence to a couple of tracks – "Coming Up for Air" and the deliciously meaty "Tango in Barbados," which features a great "Shaft"-like guitar riff from Ian Crabtree. "Then the Morning Comes" – yes, the Smashmouth hit – is a romp. Benoit slows down on the a new agey ballad called "Reflections," with Tim Weisberg on flute, and on "Someday Soon," a smoldering lesson in late-night jazz ambience with Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar. Smooth grade: B+

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Gliding electric guitarist Brian Tarquin is a retro kind of guy. You can tell by looking at the cover of High Life (Instinct): the cherry-red Caddy, and on the liner notes, the full martini glass and funky lava lamps. But although Tarquin puts some retro touches in his music, he is as contemporary as they come, a guitarist whose sweet sound hearkens to Lee Ritenour, Norman Brown and Joyce Cooling. He writes killer hooks, such as in the title track, "High Life," and in the mournful "Celtic Tales," where his guitar drips with emotion. On a first for him, Tarquin sprinkles some unexpected voice-box effects here and there, and they work to inject some surprising funkiness. On "Messiah," wailing Jeff Beck lines give way to warbling voice-box sounds, which Beck was know to do now and again. He returns to the fuzz-box on "Picasso Blue," one of his best tunes yet, with the spotlight shared by pianist Chris Ingram, Tarquin’s own Lyle Mays. Tarquin’s specialty is long, languid and sweet guitar lines, but he steps away from that occasionally, as on "Spartacus." It’s guitar music for guitar fans, with a heavy rock influence. Tarquin continues to evolve as a composer – High Life is his most varied project to date, and fans of his smooth groove will surely buy into his rock ‘n roll explorations. Smooth grade: A

Here’s a look at some more new releases:

 

On This Is Smooth Jazz 3 (Instinct), the label with an acid-jazz influence trots out some of its heavy hitters, including Gota ("Cruisin’ Your Way"), Duncan Millar ("Brite Life"), Espirito ("Wonderland") and Chris Standring ("Cool Shades"). With Instinct, the acid-jazz, upbeat sounds are a part of what makes the label what it is. If you see an Instinct recording, chances are you’re in for some pretty cool smooth jazz. Smooth grade: A [Order]

The John Scofield Band borrows a chapter from the jam-band sound with Uberjam (Verve), although Scofield has been around long enough to be a very older brother to the likes of Medeski, Martin and Wood. Scofield’s raw guitar, his range of styles from pop to jazz to funk and blues, make this CD come together in a satisfying way. It’s not too mellow, but it’s soothing in its own way – the jams go on and on, tunes such as "Acidhead," "Ideofunk" and "Snap Crackle Pop" giving a clue to the direction Scofield’s leaning here. Not for everybody, but hippie-dippy guitar freaks will dig it. Smooth/jam grade: B+ [Order]

There aren’t too many smooth jazz flute players, so if flute’s your thing, try Alexander Zonjic’s Reach for the Sky (Heads Up). He’s kind of a hipper version of Zamphir. He picks some pretty well-know songs to interpret, such as "It’s Too Late," "I Just Wanna Stop," Bob James "Angela (Theme from ‘Taxi’") and a little ditty from the Beatles called "A Hard Day’s Night." Cynics may say Zonjic’s going for cheap mass appeal, but whatever works.... It is very mellow, though, and he has help from Kirk Whalum, Jeff Lorber, Earl Klugh and Paul Jackson Jr. For those in a sappy sentimental mood only. Smooth grade: B- [Order]

Walter Beasley is a sure thing. If you want romantic, soulful sax music with some vocals on the side, you’ll find Rendezvous just peachy. I’m partial to the "classic" Beasley sound, such as on the in-the-pocket and very groove-minded "Coming Home" and "Reflections." The vocal tracks I could live without, but they are to expected on most R&B-based smooth jazz recordings today. Smooth grade: B [Order]

Alex Bugnon fans really like him, they really like him. And they will like Soul Purpose. Bugnon has always reminded me of David Benoit and his often free-form style, mixing up musical styles and leaning toward Billy Joel-like piano licks. There’s a lot of good music here, from the cool "Rio.com" and "Night Groove" to covers of the classic jazz songs "Giant Steps" and "In a Sentimental Mood." Another strong effort. Smooth grade: B+ [Order]

Sound samples are usually available at Cdnow - just click on the "order" link!

Added: 2/8/2002