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. It’s fitting that Gerald Albright's new CD is titled New Beginnings because a fresh start is what Albright is currently all about. Not only is he breathing the creative fresh air that stems from his relocation to Castle Rock Colorado he is also basking in the freedom afforded to him by his new label Peak Records. This liberation has allowed him to write and produce music that he describes as ‘genuine Gerald’ and, for this latest project, to gather together an awesome array of smooth jazz and R & B greats. In addition, his decision to make this recording the first to feature his regular touring band of bassist Melvin Davis, drummer Tony Moore and the bands newest member, keyboardist (and Musical Director) Tracy Carter, has given him the luxury of working with artists who instinctively know what he wants. In fact long term collaborations are very much a feature of New Beginnings. Albright first worked with Jeff Lorber in the early eighties when as a young sax man he replaced the soon to be famous Kenny G in The Jeff Lorber Fusion Band. Lorber plays a part on four of the tracks and Patrice Rushen, for whom Albright played the now signature tenor solo on the smash hit ‘Forget Me Nots’, is there too. Truth to tell the entire collection is brim full of wonderful surprises.
The opening track, ‘We Got The Groove’, is boppy and highly energetic with an infectious hook. Featuring Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar it is produced by Jeff Lorber, who also co-writes (with Albright) and plays keyboards. Selected as the first single to be released to radio, it is currently tearing up the chart of the thirty most played. This same Lorber Albright combination is in evidence with ‘Take Your Time’. This is an edgy slice of smooth jazz that starts out in laid back mode with snippets of flute from Albright rippling through the tune like sunshine splashing on water. However, with Albright’s playing on sax getting bigger and bolder by the second it soon evolves into something altogether funkier. Albright and Lorber also combine on the aptly named ‘Deep Into My Soul’ where Gerald turns it down a little for a genuinely soulful vibe that just flows.
‘Georgia On My Mind’ has been a staple of Albright’s live shows since the early nineties and here, with plaintiff sax that is complemented by subtle backing, he plays it straight to evoke thoughts of smoky jazz clubs in the late night hours. When he reprises the tune as the final track of the album he adds a swing and big band feel that puts a delicious spin on the original. The title track is a lovely piece of smooth jazz with the emphasis decidedly on the jazz. The sultry introduction paves the way for Albright’s funky yet romantic sax and a jazz infused solo on acoustic piano by the wonderful Patrice Rushen.
The Jeff Lorber produced ‘Big Shoes’ features a trumpet solo from the ubiquitous Chris Botti. Sure to please the purists, it is jazzy in a straight ahead sort of a way yet funky in a way that is pure Gerald Albright. Positioned more toward the smooth jazz end of the rainbow is the luscious rhythmic funk of ‘Last But Not Least’. One of several tracks on the CD with the potential to go to radio it epitomises the attitude that Albright routinely imparts into his music. This quality again brims over with ‘I Want Somebody’. The first of two Chuckii Booker Gerald Albright collaborations it is a song that builds through the intro before transitioning it into a wonderful foot tapping groove. Booker, long time Musical Director for Lionel Richie, produces, co-writes (with Albright) and plays keyboards. On the second track that he performs with Albright, ‘I Need You’, he goes one better by adding his own backing vocals. Consequently, what is essentially a slice of mid tempo smooth R & B is made to feel very special by the delicious interplay between these Bookers vocals and Albright’s soulful sax.
Another stellar example of romantic and smooth R & B is ‘You Are My Love’. Produced by Luther Hanes, who also helps out with keyboards and vocals, it has a genuinely haunting chorus and is yet another standout track on an album that is stacked with them. Albright’s version of the 1980 hit by The Whispers ‘And The Beat Goes On’ is, for several reasons, an absolute triumph. Firstly Albright remains faithful to the original by the inspirational use on background vocals of Whispers founder members Walter and Wallace Scott. Just as important he uses the production genius of Rex Rideout and his own exceptionally funky playing to keep it sounding very fresh indeed. This may be one the CD’s only two covers but its one that really shines.
With New Beginnings Albright takes the very best of the creativity and associations to have impacted his career to date and channels them into what is quite simply the best new smooth jazz release of 2006 thus far.Posted by Denis Poole at April 23, 2006 8:13 AM