Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Tom Braxton’s new CD, Imagine This, hit record stores across the USA on August 21 and is already causing quite a stir. It’s his first on the Pacific Coast Jazz label and follows the outstanding 2004 effort Bounce that was produced by Wayman Tisdale and which featured a plethora of top-notch tracks including the hugely radio friendly title tune. The album proved, if proof was indeed necessary, that sax-man Braxton is a master of smooth, sophisticated contemporary jazz and now with Imagine This his status is boosted even further. This is not only by virtue of the eleven faultless cuts but also through the galaxy of smooth jazz stars, including Kirk Whalum, Kirks brother Kevin Whalum, Tim Bowman and Brian Simpson, who have clamored to collaborate with him.
The album starts out in fine style with Braxton’s cool cover of the Steely Dan hit ‘Peg’. It’s the first track to be selected for radio play and is sure to find instant favor with the smooth jazz networks. That said magnificent tracks abound and with ‘Kaanapali Beach’ Braxton evokes warm sunshine and waves breaking on Hawaiian beaches. The subtle horn section of Don Bozman, Larry Spencer and Pete Branham is particularly effective while backing vocals from Kevin Whalum and Selinza Mitchell really capture the mood. Braxton has a skill for painting pictures with his music and does so again with ‘Evening Drive’ where, helped by Tim Bowman on guitar, he creates a languid ‘driving with the top down’ vibe. Later, he slackens the tempo even further for the atmospheric ‘1 a.m.’. With a sultriness engendered in part by more of those same luscious horns this is a superb example of classy contemporary jazz and when Braxton calls on Brian Simpson’s piano virtuosity for ‘Escape’ they together whip up a jazzy, melodic masterpiece.
The feisty up tempo ‘Good To Go’ really fizzes while completely at the other end of the emotional rainbow is the tender ‘Downtime’. It’s a number to chill by and chilling of a different kind is on offer with the expansive ‘Rest Assured’. At just under seven minutes in length this moody odyssey has jazz credentials that are unquestioned and as Braxton takes his time he is ably assisted by the excellent Arlington Jones on keyboards.
Braxton’s music is often grounded in his faith and he shares this inspiration through his version of ‘Revelation Song’ that is quite simply beauty personified. Kirk Whalum is another artist whose discography contains a sacred element and here, as the two of them combine for the album’s title cut, Braxton’s soprano sax blends delightfully with the tenor of Whalum. This gently exquisite tune is a real stand out and another personal favorite is Braxton’s interpretation of the Patrice Rushen smash ‘Haven’t You Heard’. Originally from her 1980 release Pizzazz, on which the then fledgling session musicians Gerald Albright and Paul Jackson Jr both appeared, it is given a new lease of life by Braxton who in doing so fashions what is likely to remain as one of the best covers of 2007.
Imagine This has certainly got it all going on. Six of Braxton’s own excellent compositions, production from him throughout and smooth jazz sax of the highest order all make the statement that Tom Braxton has arrived. For more go to www.tombraxton.comPosted by Denis Poole at August 27, 2007 3:54 PM