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. Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 1 was released in 2001 as the brainchild of DJ/Producer Tony Joseph and Musician/ Producer Daryl Ross. It put together some of today’s most accomplished instrumental soloists to reverse the process followed by hip hop producers and offer up infectious renditions of such rap standards as LL Cool J's ‘Lounging’, Biggie's ‘One More Chance’, and OutKast's ‘Ms. Jackson.’. An outstanding track listing plus great performances from, among others, Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jr, Everett Harp and Mike Phillips ensured that the project was an absolute winner. Indeed, such was the success of the album that volumes two and three followed in 2002 and 2004 respectively. Now Tony Joseph is back with his next project, Def Jazz, a collection of smooth jazz interpretations of rap, hip hop and R & B classics this time all drawn from the house of Def Jam Records.
In the '80s, Def Jam Records was the leading rap and hip-hop label in America. Not only that but those two words, ‘Def Jam’, became synonymous with a culture, a style and music. In the beginning Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin started out wanting to make hip hop music. Russell had a brother who had a group called Run DMC. Then there was LL Cool J and Slick Rick. Def meant cool, hip stylish and Def Jam made the music that went with that. By the late eighties the label was releasing many of the most innovative and groundbreaking records of the era and readers who are lucky enough to have checked out the four-CD box Ten Year Anniversary will know that the music has lost none of its impact over the years. The label boasted a roster that included artists such as Onyx, Cru, Method Man, Redman, Ludacris, Ja Rule, Jay Z, Cam'ron, Ashanti, Shyne, Kanye Wes, and Beanie Sigel. Def Jam continues to be a trend setter and it is to the back catalog of some of their greatest performers that Tony Joseph now turns to bring us Def Jazz.
The collection starts in fine style with the Hammond organ of Joey DeFrancesco and the trumpet of Roy Hargrove for their take on Method Man's instantly recognizable ‘All I Need’. Method Man had started out by making numerous guest appearances on other artists' records and got his break in the summer of 1995 through his one-off single with Mary J. Blige, ‘I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need to Get By’. It soared into the pop top five, giving him his first major hit. He quickly repeated the feat with ‘How High’, another duet, this time with Def Jam label mate Redman.
The currently ubiquitous Gerald Albright is featured twice and on both occasions the result is stunning. First time up it’s on the Slick Rick tune ‘Hey Young World’ where he duets with Kevin Toney on vibes and Wurlitzer, and really makes his sax bounce to the catchy rhythm. His second appearance is on ‘Get You Home’ originally done on Def Jam by Don Wuan Esquire who in turn heavily sampled it from Eugene Wilde’s 1984 R & B hit. Here Albright, assisted by Ach on vocals succeeds in preserving the best from the original while injecting a whole new jazz vibe. Kevin Toney’s second appearance comes with Hubert Laws on flute for another Method Man number, the outstandingly catchy ‘Bring The Pain’.
Jeff Lorber and guitarist Dwight Sills combine twice, first ably supported by a standout horn section for the Jay Z with Ja Rule classic ‘Can I Get A…’ and again on LL Cool J’s addictive ‘Back Seat’. Dwight Sills is in fact featured twice more. He picks up on another LL Cool J tune, the funky ‘Doin It’, where his smooth playing blends perfectly with Audrey Bryant’s understated and soulful vocals, and on the hypnotic ‘Ghetto Jam’, recorded on Def Jam by Domino, with Rick Braun taking the lead on trumpet.
Undoubtedly the track that will catch all the radio play and much of the interest is the Oran "Juice" Jones hit from 1986, ‘The Rain’. Jones had been one of the first artists to sign to Def Jam subsidiary OBR, a label that was to be devoted to vintage soul and R&B acts, but was never able to emulate the success he had with ‘The Rain’. When he found out, through a random connection, that the track was going to be part of Def Jazz he was interested in getting involved. Tony Joseph worked out an interesting vocal rap for him that puts a new spin on the original. In it Jones now has a daughter who catches her man with another man. In the role of the daughter is the emerging soul singer Ledisi who was recently featured on Brian Culbertson’s new release Its On Tonight. The combination makes this a very special track indeed.
Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond B-3 who makes such a great job of getting the album up and running is back on the final track, this time partnering with the saxophone of Scott Mayo for the Public Enemy hit ‘Give It Up’. It’s a huge raucous and funky production that makes a fitting end to what is a sensational CD. For those of us who crave something different from our smooth jazz, Def Jazz is like gold dust. It will be released on GRP on August 9 and advice from The Secret Garden is to make plans to get it.Posted by Denis Poole at August 6, 2005 5:50 PM