Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.
As regular readers to The Secret Garden will testify the page is always on the look out for themes and recordings that bridge the gap between the smooth jazz of today and the soul music of both yesterday and today. This cross-fertilization of influences is, of course, not confined to smooth jazz. Most notably the crop of modern day hip hop and rap artists and producers routinely reach back to borrow jazz, funk and R & B hooks and riffs to adorn their tracks. A significant variation on this considerable theme has come from the project from Hidden Beach Records titled Unwrapped.
Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 1 came out in 2001 and stemmed from what was originally intended as a jam session between seasoned musicians for their own amusement. The album was billed as an exciting project that took conventional thinking and turned it upside down. It involved some of today’s most accomplished instrumental soloists who flipped the process followed by hip hop producers and returned the flavour into the bargain by offering infectious renditions of such rap standards as LL Cool J's ‘Lounging,’ Biggie's ‘One More Chance,’ Common's ‘The Light,’ and OutKast's ‘Ms. Jackson,’ among many others. However, it was not only the selection of the tracks that made this album a standout. The sheer quality of the artists involved was breath taking with such jazz and R&B luminaries as Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jnr, Everett Harp and Mike Phillips all taking part.
The initial thinking at Hidden Beach was to keep this material in-house for use as fun music at various Hidden Beach events.
However, once some DJ heard what was being produced they demanded vinyl copies and as a result of this development, turned their music loving faithfuls on to the Unwrapped concept.
As DJ Frank Ski comments, ‘I remember the first time I heard Unwrapped. I almost screamed! I came on the radio station the next day on the morning show and played the whole album. I’m like, finally someone got it! Jazz, hip-hop and R&B on the same track. But isn’t it strange how we have separated our own music? Lets take the encyclopaedia and look up the word Jazz. A form of music that grew out of the southern US black culture, rhythmically complex with a strong emphasis on syncopation. Often times very improvisional. So when you think about it jazz, hip hop, R&B, its all the same music so why keep separating and putting prejudice into our own music?’
This latest set again found musicians of the highest order collaborating, with Patrice Rushen and Mike Phillips being joined by Jeff Lorber, Jeff Bradshaw, Karen Briggs, and Dennis Nelson to name but a few. Consequently, this time around The Secret Garden considers it high time to comment on just a few of the stand out tracks from Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2.
Leading on from the opening monologue the album starts sensationally with ‘Always On Time’. This track took New York rapper Ja Rule to new heights when he teamed up with Ashanti to combine Ashanti’s airy chorus with his own sing song growl and the records subtle pulsating rhythm, all of which ensured a number one hit in the pop charts. On the Unwrapped version world-renowned Cuban percussionist Melena sets the pace and flutist Lou Taylor enhances the melody while accompanied by Patrice Rushen on piano, and steel drums keyboard. Its absolutely hypnotic and a track you will want to play over and over.
The next Secret Garden pick among a selection that spoils the listener for choice is track number 4 and a silky smooth rendition of ‘Electric Relaxation’, the original of which appeared on the album Midnight Marauders by Tribe, laid heavy with jazz orientated samples from Ronnie Fosters ‘Mystic Brew’ and Ramsey Lewis’s ‘Dreams’. On this version the excellent Jeff Lorber adds a smoothed out Fender Rhodes to Paul Litterals muted trumpet and Dennis Nelsons acoustic guitar. This great track also has Melena on congoes. A real smooth jazz classic with attitude.
Track number seven is the killer cut of the entire album. When DJ Jazzy Jeff combined with the Fresh Prince in 1991 to record the Homebase album, the track ‘Summer Time’ immediately received widespread appeal for its refreshing settling groove, angelic chorus and Will Smiths narrative on the joys of summer. But underneath it all was a sample of the Secret Garden favourite ‘Summer Madness’ from Kool and the Gang's 1974 album Kool Jazz. This original laid the perfect foundation for Jeff Lorber, Mike Phillips, Terrence Thomas and Tamika Peoples to further accentuate the tracks jazz foundation.
A technical departure from the smooth jazz genre but still worthy of merit is the second track on the second CD in this set, ‘The Lesson’ that has the look and feel of a classic soul slow burner with the added surprise tactic of blending in Karen Briggs on violin. It is a variant of a track from the Jay-Z release The Blueprint and was in turn taken from Tom Brock's 1974 I Love You More and More. In this Unwrapped version the easy riding, soft and rumbling score omits all vocal elements and luxuriates in the beat and exchanges between piano and violin.
Finally, track three on CD two is ‘Get Money’ featuring Jeff Lorber. In 1996, fifteen years after Sylvia Striplin released ‘You Can’t Turn Me Away’, Junior M.A.F.I.A scored a hit that sampled Striplin’s 1981 hit. It featured production from the great Roy Ayers and James Bedford. In an interesting twist, the Unwrapped version swaps Junior M.A.F.I.A’s lyrics for much more playful instrumental solos by way of Jeff Lorber on piano, Andrew Gouche on bass and Terrance Thomas on guitar to make this a truly outstanding contemporary jazz track.
The Secret Garden implores you to get on line and find Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2. You will not be disappointed.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.Posted by Denis Poole at March 8, 2004 2:49 PM