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. Having recently heard a track that I consider to be a contender for best smooth jazz cover version of the year, the Jagger Richards, Rolling Stones smash ‘Miss You’, by Danny Federici from his up coming album, Out Of A Dream, I jumped at the chance to talk to him about his music and his arrival on the smooth jazz scene.
For those of you not up to speed with life on the ‘other side’ of the Hudson River, Danny Federici is one of the founding members of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band having now performed with them for over thirty years. His keyboards have been the backdrop to some of their greatest songs and its his organ you can hear on the classic anthem ‘Born To Run’, his piano playing on the blockbuster ‘Born in the USA’ and his accordion that sounds like a carousel on the sleepy beach serenade ‘4th of July Asbury Park’.
He explained to me that working with Springsteen afforded him unique flexibility in finding the time to develop his own projects. It’s not uncommon for there to be a two year break between tours or studio recordings and, in addition, Springsteen’s iconic status allows him the space to occasionally pursue his own solo projects. So it was both before and throughout his tenure in the E Street Band that Federici composed many instrumental pieces but never got around to recording them. This all changed when work that he had started in LA, while writing short instrumental pieces aimed at film and television, was expanded and used, in part, for his 1997 debut album Flemington, a project that was later reissued with one additional track and renamed as Danny Federici.
Now, with Out Of A Dream, due out on V2 Records on July 26, Federici, in collaboration with musical director and producer Mike Cates, looks set to consolidate his initial success. Cates has recording credits that includes playing sax for Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Al Green, Barry White and the Rolling Stones so it’s no surprise to find that it was Cates who talked Federici into covering The Stones number ‘Miss You’. It is also his saxophone that laces the track with standout playing. ‘Miss You’ has already been identified as the first track to be lifted for radio and is being picked up by stations across the country at a rapid rate.
That said Out Of A Dream is not a CD built entirely around ‘Miss You’. His intrigue with art, dreams, cinema and the newness of the day, combined with the love he has for his wife and children, provides the foundation for ten tracks that stand and can be judged on their own considerable merits. Indeed Out Of A Dream comes straight from the heart of Danny Federici and, when I asked him how it was that someone who the fans see as totally rock orientated should turn to smooth jazz, he made it clear that this is music that has always been with him. He is refreshingly detached from the current smooth jazz scene and, although he admits to being a long time admirer of David Sanborn and to being enthused by the work of Brian Culbertson, he is very much his own man and Out Of A Dream is testimony to that. The recording is further enriched by the quality of the collaborating musicians who collectively sport an impressive array of credits. Percussionist Daniel de Los Reyes (James Taylor, Sting and Ricky Martin), Jon Johnson on guitar (Earth Wind and Fire), Juan Van Dunk on bass (The Police, KC and The Sunshine Band) all play a part while Todd Parsnow (Bootsy Collins) adds his chugging guitar on ‘Miss You’. The combination makes Out Of A Dream something way above the average.
As well as ‘Miss You’ Danny adds a second cover with his version of the much recorded Bob Dylan composition ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’, another track clearly destined for radio play. It’s the last tune on the album and in common with the best of ‘last track’ selections the production manages to engender a nice build quality that makes this the perfect choice as a live gig play out number.
It’s when the album taps into his own compositions that perhaps the true Danny Federici emerges. ‘Light Is Calling’ is a super laid back tune with an irresistible and hypnotic hook and when I asked him about ‘Two Oceans’, a quality ultra smooth example of top class smooth jazz piano playing, he told me it was all about the emotions of east coast and west coast living. Moving to LA he had slipped effortlessly into the calm west coast lifestyle yet a visit back to New York City led him to rediscover the energy of the place and made him realize that it was the place to be. Now, with a home in the West Village, that curiously European feeling district of the city with green spaces and people eating in small cafes, he feels he is right in touch with the heartbeat of the city and an atmosphere that fuels his creative engines. In fact that West Village vibe was responsible for another stand out track, ‘Fragments Of An Afternoon’, a tune that conjures an image of the city late in the day, heat rising from the sidewalk and people going about their business, all observed from, perhaps, the window of a Starbucks coffee shop.
Other notable tracks include ‘Maya’, where Federici brings a Grusin like orchestral quality to this love song written for and named after his wife and, ‘Venus’s Pearl’, with a nice full sound, a catchy rhythm and wailing sax that all combine to provide a lovely feel. ‘Green Apples’, written by Danny for his kids, is a deconstructed piece of work where simplicity is a virtue while the title track finds more superior Mike Cates sax playing and a number that is without question classic late night smooth jazz in the making.
Now, after all those years playing in the background to huge stadium audiences, Danny is revelling in being center stage and performing in small intimate venues where he can really connect with the crowd. Connecting he certainly is and with Out Of A Dream he might just have one of the sensations of the smooth jazz year.Posted by Denis Poole at July 10, 2005 5:01 PM