June 29, 2005

The Theo Ross Interview

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. It’s one of the curiosities of smooth jazz that so few artists make use of that most sensuous and smooth of instruments, the flute. With the notable exceptions of Dave Valentin, Alexander Zonjic and, to an extent, Nelson Rangell the sound of the flute remains a relative rarity in the genre.

theo_ross.jpgSomeone trying to change all that is UK based flautist and voice artist Theo Ross who’s new release Cut The Chord is available now. However, it is not only with his choice of instrument that Ross is setting out to be different. By producing four outstanding tracks on what is essentially the equivalent of a 1960’s ‘EP’ he is making a statement that quality is always more important than quantity. Recently I got together with Theo Ross to talk about the man and his music and we began by discussing why he had gone with the EP concept. ‘Originally’, he said, ‘I was going to add a cover version to the CD but’, he added, ‘I reserved that idea for the next album. This time around I felt it was important for me to provide a “snapshot” of who I am through my own compositions’.

Ross grew up listening to such diverse talents as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Mark Murphy, Dave Valentine, Hubert & Ronnie Laws, Weather Report, Santana and the majority of the output of the time from the Stax and Motown stables.

He has crammed these influences and more into Cut The Chord, a succinct showcase for Ross’s talents with four very different but always excellent tunes. When I asked him about the writing and recording process he explained that ‘all of the tracks are based on slightly unconventional chord progressions that are simple and direct. The melodic lines are all derived from the harmony, and the lyrics were added once the harmonic structure was set. Much of the sound colour was developed prior to recording. Then the vibe, tempo and texture was integrated during the production stage, which added vitality and an objective dimension to the concepts’.

What he means becomes immediately obvious at the first listening. ‘Lovestruck’ is breezy and warm with a lush mid tempo beat that flows along to provide a platform for his skilful playing and a vibe that threatens to make this one seriously catchy.

Following on from ‘Lovestruck’, ‘Nightfalls’ comes as quite a surprise. Ross regales the listener with his cool yet fulsome vocals on a tune with a simple but memorable chord structure that makes it reminiscent of a romantic interlude from a Broadway musical. Theo then gets funky with ‘Without You’, a track that contains an infectious hook that he replicates with more of his mellow vocals and intricate flute playing woven around the compelling beat. It’s a number that is sure to play well in a concert setting and it is live performing that really excites Ross. ‘Performing live really captures the spontaneous moment’ he commented. ‘It allows me to convey the expression and emotion of an idea; and hopefully connect with fellow performers and the audience’. Ross has played at some of the leading contemporary jazz venues in the UK and cites the Pizza Express in Dean Street, The 606 Club, The Albert Inn and the Lichfield Jazz Festival all as places where the music connection moved into another dimension and became magical.

The final track of Cut The Chord, ‘Could Be’ is laid back, atmospheric and dreamy with Ross’s melodic playing again to the fore and a guitar solo by Tim Cansfield that is a real bonus. Its perfect chill out music for the end of a hard day.

Being an artist in a genre that he defines as ‘Electro/Acoustic Smooth or New Jazz’ he is only too aware of the limitations of performing solely within the UK market. The way he sees it the few UK radio stations that are dedicated to Smooth Jazz are doing a great service to the listening audience and have helped launch the careers of some excellent artists. However, the opportunities for live performances are few, and when he sees artists such as Peter White and Acoustic Alchemy playing and recording in the USA he comes to the realization that to succeed it is beneficial to be positioned where the core audience is. That’s why, when he looks forward two years, he would hope to be established in the USA, signed to a major smooth jazz label and reaching as wide an audience as possible both through his CD sales and his live performances. A breakthrough into writing for film and the use of voice as another area of exploration are both facets of his ambition that he is looking to cultivate.

With Cut The Chord Theo Ross has the way forward. With its essence of simplicity and variety it demonstrates in only a few tracks a taste of the quality that we can look forward to on albums to come.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at June 29, 2005 8:09 PM