May 14, 2007

Norman Brown - Stay With Me

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. For all sorts of reasons the brand new CD from Norman Brown, Stay With Me, could not have come at a better time. The previous success Brown had with Urban AC radio when garnering airplay for his 2004 vocal debut ‘I Might’ proved he is no stranger to the urban influences currently permeating the landscape of contemporary jazz. Now, with Stay With Me, he totally embraces urban jazz and nails it with ten incredible tracks that are without a single weak link. In fact he writes or co-writes nine of the songs and, as well as displaying his inventive talent as a guitarist, also expands considerably on his vocal prowess. Additionally, it helps that for three of the tracks he has the cutting edge production skill of Paul Brown on tap.

Norman opens up with ‘Lets Take A Ride’ where he slips effortlessly into a superb example of mid tempo guitar driven smooth jazz. It features Herman Jackson on keyboards with whom Brown has been collaborating since as far back as his 1992 debut Just Between Us. Jackson is also around for the equally smooth ‘Every Little Thing’ on which Browns smoky vocal really shows off a different and exciting side of his talent. Repeating the feat on ‘So In Love’ he produces a mellow, sumptuous winner and although with ‘You Keep Lifting Me Higher’ Brown ratchets the tempo accordingly, Nikkole’s sexy vocal ensures the vibe remains silky smooth. ‘It Ain’t Over BWB’ finds Kirk Whalum on sax and Rick Braun on both trumpet and flugelhorn helping Brown to get funky in a controlled kind of a way while with the title song the album moves ever closer to its urban jazz roots.

That this Brian McKnight composition has serious crossover potential is due in no small measure to the fact that, as well as sharing vocals with Brown, McKnight also uses his considerable production skills to inject the track with all the best qualities of modern R & B. Brown takes the vocal credits all for himself on the sensuous ‘So In Love’ and when he returns to smooth jazz guitar for ‘A Quiet Place’ the result is stunning. Built around a hypnotic yet catchy vibe it would in any other circumstance be the albums killer cut. However some of the real gems of this CD have the production genius of Paul Brown written all over them. His expertise is first felt with ‘Pops Cool Groove’ where, as well as producing, he shares the writing credits with Norman Brown and the always excellent Jeff Carruthers. With keyboards from Carruthers, sultry sax from Anthony Long, the usual standout bass of Alex Al and playing from Norman that is evocative of Paul Brown's own style this smoky chill out number never disappoints.

‘I Need You’ finds Norman in a wonderful collaboration with the acoustic guitar of Kenneth Williams who also provides ideal backing to Norman’s soulful vocals. Of course Paul Brown gets the production just right and does so again with another Secret Garden favorite, ‘Soul Dance’. This Brown Carruthers Brown composition features terrific sax from Sam Riney and is a picture perfect example of in the pocket contemporary jazz. A delicious 55 second ‘hidden track’ rounds off the collection and confirms Stay With Me as a top class example of urban jazz at its very best.

Stay With Me is Browns debut on Peak Records and was released on April 24th. It has much to commend it and is all set to become one of the albums of the year.

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Posted by Denis Poole at May 14, 2007 7:44 AM