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. Since the 1980's bass Player Vail Johnson has been the groove behind many of the very best jazz and R&B artists. He has toured with Herbie Hancock, Gerald Albright, Jeff Lorber and George Benson among others but perhaps his most significant contribution has been as Kenny G's right hand man, both on tour and in the studio. He remains an integral part Of KG’s show and, in addition, he has just released his latest solo CD, Underground.
Following on from 1995’s The Terminator and Says Who from 1997, Underground provides thirteen eclectic and technically excellent tunes that demonstrates the full range of Johnson’s capabilities. In addition he has surrounded himself with outstanding musicians and this is evident from the moment that the first track, the tight and funky ‘Blue Steel’, kicks in with strident playing from Johnson and excellent keyboards from Hans Z. Z in fact features on all but three of the tracks and is outstanding throughout. This is especially so on the melodic title tune, a first rate slice of smooth jazz that has already been identified for radio play and on ‘Strut’ a mid tempo number on which Johnson plays bass with a real twang.
Where Johnson gets the chance to turn down the funk he is just as good. The sweet melodic ‘Solo Bossa’ finds him at his very best and ‘Alone Again’ has a simple but beautiful melody running through it that he has no difficulty in touching with his own brand of soul. Melody, this time laced with subliminal vocals, also permeates ‘Monteiro’ while ‘Reflection’ gives Johnson the opportunity to share another reflective golden moment.
The CD also proves that Johnson is not afraid to mix things up. Fellow Kenny G collaborator Ron Powell, here on djembe, steps up to duet with Johnson for the rhythm driven groove ‘The Duel Mk II’, he is technically top notch on ‘Bass Solo 3’ and his quick and nimble playing turns distinctly jazzy on ‘Accelerated Development’.
‘Restless’ starts easy and soulful before getting onto an up tempo roll but the best track on the album is ‘Break It Down’, a cool deconstructed piece of laid back funk with Hans Z again prominent on keyboards.
All in all Underground is a welcome addition to this year’s crop of releases from smooth jazz bass players. Vail Johnson has pushed out the boundaries and in so doing guaranteed that his music will be noticed.
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 September 27, 2005 10:37 AM