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. Just Feels Right, the brand new release from Euge Groove, is a concept album. That concept is 1976, the year that Euge himself describes as his ultimate in ‘Feel Good’ and innocence. To him that year was epitomised by the music that was playing and the fact that so many of his all time favourite tunes were around during, what for him was, a golden twelve month period. With this in mind he has put together a retrospective that does not rely on covers from the era but instead offers up eight great tracks, seven of them his original compositions, that conform to three self imposed rules consistent with the period. First, he would include songs that can be played on sax with only piano or guitar backing. Second, all songs would be arranged using only real instruments with no samples or computers allowed and finally the album would be recorded using only equipment that was made no later than 1976.
The end product, which in the final analysis turned out to be 90% true to the made before 76 rule, is stunning. With EG together again with production genius Paul Brown the attention to detail is obvious and this is demonstrated in no small way by the selection of the backing musicians for four of the tracks, artists who EG collectively describes as the section of sections. This ‘A list’ of Ray Parker Jr. and David T. Walker on guitars, James Gadson on drums, Lenny Castro (percussion), Freddie Washington on bass, and Clarence McDonald (keyboards) were all playing sessions together thirty years ago and reuniting them here has added a extra dimension to EG’s hallmark sound. In addition Groove and Brown have taken advantage of these guys session chemistry to add a neat 33 second intro plus two engaging interludes that combine to glue the collection together.
It is a testament to the depth of this CD that the other four tracks have qualities all of their own. In fact ‘Get Em Goin’, that finds EG with long time collaborators Tony Maiden, Michael White, Roberto Vally and Michael Egizi, plus the percussion of Castro, has caught sufficient attention to be the first cut from the album singled out for radio play. Here EG is off the chain and ‘larging’ it in the way that only he can. Its tight (of course) it’s funky and it’s going to be around on the play lists for some time to come. ‘Chillaxin’, one of the high points of the entire album, has a big beat that underpins some typical Groove / Brown wizardry and mid tempo soprano sax that makes this a foot tapper of the highest order. It has the bonus of a Paul Brown guitar solo, complete with the subliminal vocals that he is rapidly making his own and a sound very much in the style he produced for his own current CD The City.
Groove does allow himself one cover, and what a cover it is. Although somewhat mysteriously not from 1976 he takes the Temptations hit from their 1971 LP The Sky’s The Limit, ‘Just My Imagination’, turns it down just a little and in this new relaxed mode manages to make it sound very fresh indeed.
The big studio presence that McDonald, Parker Jr, Walker, Gadson, Washington and Castro engender first hits the listener between the eyes when they rip into ‘Straight Up’, a very together mid tempo tune with trademark EG on alto sax. With ‘This Must Be For Real’ Euge takes a romantic turn with the lightest of touches on tenor sax and, by applying the ‘1976 rules’, adds a rare quality with the use of ‘real strings’. With Clarence McDonald, who arranged the strings on the 1977 Bill Withers LP Menagerie, already on board here was a little piece of magic waiting to happen. The string arrangement comes shining through and the track is further enhanced by a guitar solo from the instantly recognizable Peter White.
‘12-08 AM’ is big yet subtle, moody and evocatively nocturnal. It features understated piano from Clarence McDonald, a hint of strings and is everything that EG does best. The album closes out with ‘Ballerina Girl’. Here we find more sumptuous McDonald arranged strings plus gentle and reflective playing from EG on both soprano sax and piano. The whole, balanced with a nylon string guitar solo from Paul Brown, makes for a truly beautiful tune.
That said, best track on the CD is the title number, ‘Just Feels Right’, and it sure does with Parker, Walker, McDonald etc holding it down, a typical EG hook, a string arrangement that washes over you like a warm summer breeze and a feel good factor that will leave you glowing inside.
Just Feels Right is Euge Grooves fourth CD release and confirms him as one of the modern day superstars of smooth jazz.Posted by Denis Poole at September 12, 2005 8:18 AM