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. The debt that smooth jazz owes to Kenny G is immense. Throughout a career that is now in its thirtieth year he has provided stimulus and direction to make possible the many achievements of those who followed. Above all he made the music accessible. He gave smooth jazz a reference point. He took it to television and made instrumentals fashionable again. Not only that he did it for a worldwide audience and in so doing influenced musical taste like no other since the Beatles. Suddenly it was OK to be smooth and although some might argue that G always lacked the edginess, the funkiness, of some of his successors this view blatantly trivializes a body of work that overall is as varied as it is engaging. His live performances still bear testimony to this and now, if further proof were needed, comes the release on Arista of The Essential Kenny G.
This, as the title suggests, really is the ultimate collection. Laying bare the many facets of Kenny G’s musical journey it charts his progress from the landmark Duotones album right though to his most recent duet projects and forays into the standards. The album is enhanced by the brief liner notes G himself makes against each track reflecting the personal nature of this thirty-one track double CD selection. As well as a welter of wonderful music the album also provides a reminder of how Kenny G influenced the evolution of smooth jazz music. One case in point is the Christmas Album. Although it is now the norm for smooth jazz artists to issue Christmas collections, G released his first in 1994 and now has four to his name.
When it comes to duets, everyone from Chris Botti to Herbie Hancock seems to be doing them. However, one has only to return to the 1986 Duotones and the track ‘What Does It Take’ to realize that Kenny G was dabbling with the idea twenty years ago. Happily this tune, with Ellis Hall on vocals, is included as part of The Essential Kenny G and, in this respect, is in the excellent company of songs featuring Chaka Khan, Smokey Robinson, Aaron Neville, Michael Bolton, Peabo Bryson and Lenny Williams. All demonstrate the way in which he has developed the now fashionable trend of including guest vocalists on one or two tracks of otherwise instrumental albums. Yet his ultimate statement that finally turned the concept into an art form came with the At Last…The Duets CD. Appropriately, tracks from it featuring Earth Wind and Fire and David Sanborn are included on The Essential Kenny G.
More than just years separate Kenny G from 1975, the year that the then Kenny Gorelick played with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and later the Jeff Lorber Fusion. When he performed ‘Songbird’ on the Ed Sullivan show he captured the imagination of a nation and in so doing found the road to international stardom. His contribution to the adult contemporary genre can never be overstated. Consequently there should be space in the record collection of every smooth jazz lover for the music of Kenny G. For those who have not yet realized this The Essential Kenny G is a great place to start.Posted by Denis Poole at February 23, 2006 4:09 PM