What We're Listening To ** May 2017

Pieces Of A Dream - Just Funkin' Around (2017)
This band is in the business for already 40 years and still going strong, being on top of their game and enjoying every minute of it. On this release, the band is delivering a variety of fresh, catchy smooth jazz tracks featuring the sparkling piano of James Lloyd and the drums of co-leader Curtis Harmon, supported by a great cast featuring Tony Watson Jr. on sax and David Dyson on bass. "On The Move" is smoking. Quality stuff throughout!

Till Brönner - Till Brönner (2012)
This album by German trumpet player Till Brönner must be one of his very best - at least in my book! Many of his smooth and vocal drenched other albums don't appeal a lot to me, but this one being deeply rooted in the 70ies jazz-funk of CTI and Blue Note with plenty of great horn playing checks all the right boxes with me, check out his take on Freddie Hubbard's "Gibraltar" or Dave Grusin's "Three Days Of The Condor". Get the deluxe edition with three additional bonus tracks, among them a lengthy version of "Little Sunflower". He is supported by an excellent band. Thumbs up!

Mattias Roos - Movin' Up (2017)
Swedish keyboardist Mattias Roos is quite similar to artists like Brian Simpson with his smooth, melodic keyboard playing, the music is very radio friendly and easy on the ear, U-Nam and Elan Trotman guest. Nice!

Dave Weckl Band - Multiplicity (2005)
This is a great fusion album by drummer extraordinaire Dave Weckl, all original material, the band is excellent and features Gary Meek on sax and Steve Weingart on keys. For the discriminating listener!

Arakawa Band (feat. Hitoshi Okano) - Hard Boiled (1981)
My nod to the past goes to this LP from 1981 by the Arakawa Band with special guest Hitoshi Okano on trumpet, lots of groovy jazz-funk tracks. Well worth hunting down!

The second show on Monday morning was done by the German group Nighthawks led by bassist Dal Martino, co-leader Reiner Winterschladen was absent and replaced by a capable trumpet player from New York (sorry, didn't catch his name). The rest of the band consisted of regular members Jürgen Dahmen on keyboards, Thomas Alkier on drums and Jörg Lehnhardt on guitar. They went through several of their sweeping songs, with lots of nice solos, especially by guitarist Jörg Lehnhardt. Their unique brand of music is totally captivating and was well received by the crowd.

This show marked the end of the festival for me, I had to leave in the afternoon to catch my flight and be back home in time for work the next day. Unfortunately, I had to do without the evening shows of rising smooth jazz star guitarist Adam Hawley and veteran band Spyro Gyra who are currently touring Europe. Nevertheless, this year provided numerous memorable musical moments by many of the finest artists in the genre, this festival is getting better each year. Add the hospitality of the hotel, the unrestricted and friendly atmosphere of the event, the many music friends from all over Europe and the world, and you get one of the best smooth jazz festivals you can find anywhere.

Saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa opened the early set on Monday morning, supported by Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass, Christof Lindner on guitar and Lutz Deterra on keys. He kicked off his show with the funky "Let It Ride", later showing his sensual side with "Quiet Goodbye" on the alto sax, one of the highlights was "The Asian Persuasion" played on the flute, with a middle part employing the EWI. He later introduced the EWI (electronic wind instrument) further, before he played "Around The World" on it. He raised the heat with "Three Day Weekend" and the funky "Hot Tin Roof" playing some mean tenor sax, winding up this great show. He came back for an encore, doing his biggest hit "Hyde Park (The 'Ah, Oooh' Song)" inviting Grace Kelly who happened to be in the audience onto the stage to join him for some awesome scatting, finishing a perfect show.

Closing the night were Acoustic Alchemy, the legendary guitar duo that helped shaping the whole genre. Leader Greg Carmichael along will fellow guitarist Miles Gilderdale were in fine form, the band consisted of Gary Grainger on bass and Greg Grainger on drums, plus Anthony White on keys. Celebrating 30 years as a band, they went through several of their classic songs like "Mr. Chow" and many others, delivering tons of great solos on acoustic and electric guitars, propelled by a top-notch band. For the last two songs, saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa joined the band. Their catalog stood the test of time well and it was a joy to witness those musicians playing their songs with aplomb and finesse.

Sunday night started with violinist Ken Ford, being supported by Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass and Oli Silk on keyboards. He kicked off his show with "State Of Mind", providing some great violin playing and energetic stage presence, moving all across the stage constantly. He did a cool rendition of Stevie Wonder's "All I Do", before he got really serious with Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness", pulling all the stops. Another highlight was Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess", another musical milestone he did ample justice, with a great solo by Oli Silk in the spirit of the original. A few more songs from his catalog, among them "Butter", plus a stroll into the audience which led to the conclusion of the show, the inevitable "Moments In Love" which has become his trademark song. This was a high energy show by a great and entertaining player.

The second show on Sunday morning featured two veterans of the scene, keyboardist Alex Bugnon and drummer Harvey Mason, backed by Mark Jaimes on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass, Lutz Deterra on keys, plus special guest Miguel Ramon on saxophone. They started with "Take Five", followed by "The World Is A Ghetto", before they funked it up with Herbie Hancock's "Actual Proof", perfect material for those veteran players that represent the 70ies jazz-funk period well. A highlight of the show was Alex Bugnon's heartfelt rendition of "A House Is Not A Home" that pulled all the stops. Another good one was his Funkadelic/Parliament medley, showing where his musical heart lies. Harvey Mason not only provided a rock solid backdrop, he delivered several awesome drum solos exploring the sounds of his instrument in all directions. They funked it up with "Watermelon Man", done in a decidedly Headhunters style with some funky bass by Orefo Orakwue, finishing their show with Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mr. Magic" featuring the sax of Miguel Ramon. They returned for an encore, doing Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon", another track where Harvey Mason played on the original recording. This was an outstanding show by two excellent players offering lots of improvisation and interplay.

Sunday morning, saxophonist Grace Kelly appeared, her band consisted of Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass, Christof Lindner on guitar, Lutz Deterra on keys, plus special guest Brian Simpson on keyboards for a couple of songs. She brought things nicely up to speed with her rendition of the Michael Jackson classic "Billy Jean" and a funked up version of "Summertime", before she featured her voice to sing songs like "Trying to Figure It Out" from her latest CD and the beautiful, introspective "Touched By An Angel". She showed her affection with current pop music in the following segment of her show, doing an instrumental cover of Sia's "Chandlelier", then singing Coldplay's "Magic" which was not exactly my cup of tea. Anyway, she more than made up for it with the lively instrumental "Lemon's Make Lemonade" that had a nice Sadao Watanabe feeling, and the encore, a great version of "Georgia On My Mind", finishing an entertaining and varied show.

Guitarist Norman Brown needs no introduction, he has not only a string of solo albums, but also a few successful collaboration projects with BWB, West Coast Jam and others. With a brand new CD just out, he was ready to play. His band consisted of Marcus Finnie on drums, Marius Goldhammer on bass, Christof Lindner on guitar, Lutz Deterra on keys, plus Brian Simpson on keyboards. His enthusiastic high energy playing drew the crowd right in. He went through songs like "Better Days Ahead", "After The Storm", "For The Love Of You" and more, an especially enjoyable part of the show was when he paid tribute to his influences, playing some Jim Hendrix, followed by Wes Montgomery ("Bumpin' On Sunset") and George Benson ("This Masquerade"). He played a couple of songs from his new release Let It Go, "It Keeps Coming Back", a groovy track boasting his typical guitar style, and a solo cover of Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror" that was a nice change of pace. He finished his set with "That's The Way Love Goes" having people off their seats, an encore was requested and given with Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", leaving a satisfied crowd.

Saturday night, saxophonist and flutist Nelson Rangell did his show, his band consisted of Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass and Oli Silk on keyboards. He opened his show full steam with Stevie Wonder's "Another Star" playing with unbridled passion and flawless technique, before he did one of his own compositions, kicking things up again with EWF's "Can't Hide Love". Things slowed down with Earl Klugh's "Vonetta" beautifully played on the flute, and the awesome Hampton Hawes track "Sonora" that was perfectly whistled, plus a nice solo on the piccolo flute. Another highlight was Chick Corea's "Spain" played on the flute, with a great acoustic solo by Mark Jaimes. Later he played "Turning Night Into Day", one of his big hits during his stint with GRP Records. They finished the show with the Crusaders classic "Put It Where You Want It". This was a very fine show by a consummate artist.

Next was Canadian saxophonist Warren Hill, his band consisted of Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass and Oli Silk on keyboards, he kicked off his show with the Beatles classic "Come Together", followed by a string of his own compositions, especially "Mambo 2000" raised the heat considerably and is always a joy to listen to, while the "Passion Theme" slowed things down nicely. Another highlight was his cover of Foreigner's "I Wanna Know What Love Is", soulfully sung by his daughter Olivia Rox who joined her dad as a surprise guest. After this one, she sung one of her own songs that soon will be released on her first CD. They kept on rocking with Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" and Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog", before they closed the show with the inevitable "Play That Funky Music" having everybody getting off their seats. What a great show this was!