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. Smooth Night is the new CD from saxophonist Marcin Nowakowski and is notable for the way in which it combines the ‘light’ of commercially attractive mellow smooth jazz with the ‘shade’ of up tempo funk. It is a collection of twelve high quality tunes that blends original compositions with two quality covers and is enhanced throughout by the contribution of outstanding supporting musicians, a line up that includes the guest appearance of Paul Jackson Jr.
Nowakowski is a well known performer in his native Poland. He studied music at F. Chopin’s Jazz Music Academy and it was there that he got the chance to work with and be influenced by Eric Marienthal. His first big breaks came in 1996 when Polish bass player Wojtek Pilichowski asked him to join his band for an appearance at Yamaha Days Festivas and then, a year later, when he was noticed by leading producer Wojtek Olszak who offered him a place in the band Woobie Doobie. Since that time, as well as cultivating his ongoing relationship with Woobie Doobie, he has become one of Poland’s most sought after sidemen. In 2002 he performed with Jose Carreras playing Cole Porter’s jazz standard ‘Night and Day’ but now, with the release of Smooth Night, he is staking a claim to be considered as a serious solo artist.
Smooth Night opens with the Marcin Nowakowski composition ‘You Are The Sun’, a picture perfect piece of mellow smooth jazz with attractive backing vocals and a guitar solo from Jackson Jr. In addition the track features Nowakowski’s long time mentor Wojtek Olszak on keyboards who also produced the album and writes or co-writes seven of the tracks. The commercially funky ‘1981’, co-written by Nowakowski and Olszak, has ‘radio ready’ written all over it and is a number that really skips along. Another big and funky tune is ‘Road No.1’ with more great keyboards from Olszak and an exceptional bass solo from Wojtek Pilichowski.
Amongst the funk Nowakowski finds time to turn it down with tunes such as ‘Body Talk’, ‘First Time’ on which Paul Jackson Jr. again guests and ‘With You Again’ that is pleasingly infused with strings and acoustic guitar. Of the covers, an ultra laid back version of Madonna’s ‘Live To Tell’ is flavored with backing vocals and lifted by Nowakowski’s assured playing while the Paula Abdul hit ‘Opposites Attract’ is big and groovy. The vocals are powerful and the beat drives on to the very end.
The Wojtek Olszak composition ‘Please Stay’ has a nice vibe going on and more quality vocals. What makes it a little different is the jazzy backing that gives the number a real edge. The title track is an up tempo uplifting number. It feels good and sounds good with Wojtek Olszak again in evidence with a high class electric piano solo. ‘Evening Sky’ is a mid-tempo tune with the lightest of touches from Nowakowski and is, for all the world, the theme music to a television show just waiting to happen. The best track on the CD is the hugely catchy ‘Morning Dance’. It has a shuffling up tempo beat and an absolutely classic smooth jazz feel.
With the release of Smooth Night Marcin Nowakowski is proving the point that top notch smooth jazz can come from Eastern Europe. Indeed Smooth Night is an album that is great to listen to and a worthy addition to this year’s crop of quality new releases.Posted by Denis Poole at December 5, 2005 12:22 AM