March 10, 2006

Eric Darius - Just Getting Started

EricDarius2.jpgEric Darius has always been a man in a hurry. In 2001, at age 17, he independently released his debut CD Cruisin, a project for which he had been writing music over the previous four years. When in 2004 he secured a deal with Narada Jazz it enabled the follow up, Night On The Town to be unveiled on the Higher Octave label and moved this incredibly mature saxophonist from playing at local clubs and hotspots in his native Tampa to wowing the crowds at some major smooth events. Significantly, following an impromptu meeting in Los Angeles, he got the chance to join Brian Culbertson’s touring band and has also shared the stage with some of the genre’s biggest stars. Now he is back with the March 8 release on Narada Jazz of Just Getting Started. It is a high quality piece of work and the number of smooth jazz performers who have gathered round to collaborate with Darius bear testimony to the esteem in which they hold him.

These collaborations reach deep into the albums production with Brian Culbertson, Paul Brown and Darren Rahn all playing a significant part. The big and funky ‘Steppin Up’ is brimming with Eric’s full playing and the Fender Rhodes of Jeff Lorber. It was released to radio ahead of time and has raced into the chart of the top thirty most played. Radio ready is a label that can be applied to many of the eleven excellent tracks and ‘Secret Soul’ is one of them. This Culbertson composition has his keyboard and production skills all over it and Darius, joined by Paul Jackson Jr, latches onto the vibe to produce a slice of sensual instrumental quiet storm of the highest order.

In fact the composition credits for Just Getting Started are shared around liberally. In this respect ‘Back At Cha’, written and produced by fellow Narada Jazz recording artist Euge Groove is a little gem. It has that Groove like stepping beat, the distinctive Fender Rhodes of Michael Egizi and Eric’s vibrant sound that is full to overflowing. Paul Brown produces two tracks on the album. The first, ‘Right Here Right Now’, that Brown co-writes with Chuck Cymone, has a real Boney James thing going on and gives Darius the chance to prove he can play mid tempo smooth jazz and still make it sound funky. Brown also lends his production skills to the only cover on the album; Darius’s version of the Alicia Keys hit ‘If I Ain’t Got You’. Here the rippling keys of Mitch Forman herald in Eric’s wailing sax for a tune that rapidly becomes a sumptuous and bluesy tearjerker.

From early in his career one thing that set Eric Darius apart was his ability to write great music and with Just Getting Started this skill is again obvious. ‘Its Alright With Me’, that he co-writes with Jason Atkins, fills the now common slot reserved for the kind of smooth R & B vocal number intended for late night lovers. These vocals come courtesy of Atkins and although the tune is to a formula, when done this well, it doesn’t seem to matter. More original is the Darius composition ‘Can’t Let Go’. It has a Latin feel about it and sax playing across an incredible range while ‘That’s What I’m Sayin’ is boppy, tight and a great tune to dance along to. Also from the pen of Darius is ‘Groove On’ where, with help from Jeff Lorber on Fender Rhodes, he succeeds in getting even funkier than usual and with ‘Lovers Paradise’, co-written by Darius, Jeff Caruthers and Darren Rahn, he comes up with one of the albums standout tracks. This mid tempo smoker with big production from Rahn, a catchy riff and a top-notch piano solo from Ron Reinhardt is a blueprint for what smooth jazz should always be.

The collection closes with another Brian Culbertson written and produced track, ‘Slick’ that, true to its title, flows along on a spring tide of understated funk. It’s a tune that should play well in a live setting and for fans of Eric Darius that setting should not be hard to find. He continues to play with Brian Culbertson and his own tour schedule for 2006 is already filling up with gigs to promote Just Getting Started. His energy, his enthusiasm and the sheer quality of his music are sure to make him a hit wherever he goes.

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Posted by Denis Poole at March 10, 2006 5:41 PM