In 1989, 20-year-old up and coming Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer was thrust into the global limelight when Eurythmic and film composer Dave Stewart tapped her to play on his simple but undeniably catchy composition “Lily Was Here,” theme from the Dutch film De Kassiere. The song hit #1 on the Dutch radio charts, hit #6 on the U.K. singles chart and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Though she hardly felt ready for prime time, Dulfer was an instant contemporary jazz superstar, with a Grammy nominated gold selling debut album (Saxuality), a concert appearance in Knebworth, England with Pink Floyd and a tour with pop superstar Prince. Seventeen years later, “Lily” is still a smooth jazz format staple. Yet for a long time, as she came into her own as an artist, the self-critical saxophonist had a hard time listening to the song and playing it live.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love it now,” she laughs, “because finally after all these years, I can look back and see a young girl and Dave Stewart working together with something magical happening. But that first year after I did it, as everyone in the world was going crazy over it, I hated it. When I heard it, I was so hard on myself and literally cringed at every note. I realized as I was growing, I was a much better player than I was when I made that. ‘Lily’ put me somewhere I knew I didn’t belong, and I thought people would find out I wasn’t a very good player. I really would have preferred to have more years to hone my chops before emerging as an artist.
“Over the years, though,” Dulfer adds wistfully, “I had to deal with people who loved the song so much, some who had asked their wives to marry them while listening to it, others making babies to it, that I had to adjust to the fact that maybe it wasn’t so bad. Looking back at it more nostalgically, I can see beautiful things about it, being this bold young girl Dave pulled out of nowhere. For a long time in concert, I overplayed it or played it too heavy, trying to overcompensate, but now I just let it flow and put a lot of passion and love into it.”
Writing and producing with longtime musical cohorts Thomas Bank (keyboards) and Ulco Bed (guitar), Dulfer puts generous amounts of re-energized passion, love and cool flow into her aptly titled Heads Up debut Candy Store — a feisty collection that blends her longstanding penchant for bright funky melodies and bouncy grooves with silky ballads and, most impressively, includes ample improvisations that reflect her tremendous growth as a true jazz player.
Over the years, as she’s built rabid fan bases among European and U.S. jazz audiences, Dulfer has received a lot of interesting input from both sides of the Pond. In Holland, if she plays more than one slow song, people protest that there’s too much “elevator music.” At U.S. festivals, the crowds love the dance stuff and her wild alto adventures, but she still has a letter from Broadcast Architecture (which many radio stations rely on for market research) telling her to “stop playing self-indulgent solos” on disc. But Dulfer believes that life isn’t that happy or sad every day, and the music she makes should reflect both vibes of the journey.
Adding to the major funk quotient on Candy Store (typified by all out wild, edgy jam tunes like “Candy,” the buoyant anthem “Summertime” and the horn-drenched “Music=Love”) is the R&B keyboardist, songwriter and vocalist Chance Howard, a huge presence physically and musically, whom the saxophonist met when the two played on Prince’s 2004 Musicology tour. Howard is also a longtime member of the famed Minneapolis based groove band Morris Day & The Time.
“Thomas, Ulco and I have a unique, unspoken vibe when we write, and even though Chance is from the States, he fits in perfectly with the music we love, and everything clicked perfectly,” says Dulfer, who invited Howard to stay at her small form in Holland, an hour outside of Amsterdam during the making of Candy Store. “We’ve got the same click with him, and he just has a great soul-funk ear.”
Dulfer worked with two English producers (George Stewart and John Kingsley Hall) on her previous, electronics dominated studio album Right Into My Soul, but from the minute she, Bank, Bed and Howard started in on Candy Store, everything felt more free and loose and she was digging the fresh variety of organic sounds they were coming up with. The key was not thinking about sales and target audiences, but just having fun.
“Creatively,” she says, “being natural turned out better for us. But when we were done, we thought maybe there were far too many styles here. Like the reggae tune ‘Smokin’ Gun’ and that crazy Latin dance thing ‘La Cabana.’ We wondered what the U.S. record companies would think. Dave Love from Heads Up expressed interest but we thought it might be too all over the place. He got the tape and called and said, ‘Are you kidding? I love it.’ He totally got behind it. I’m really happy because Candy Store is a testament to the kind of music I really like to make. A little something for everyone, with so much stuff to check out and keep you excited. It’s like me, I can walk into the store to buy some CDs and I walk out with a pair of heels, makeup and perfume. I like when a place can mesmerize you into doing something you didn’t know you would do.”
Since jumping onto the contemporary jazz scene in the mid-90s with a uniquely exotic hybrid sound he called Classical Soul (also the name of his 1994 debut), Marc Antoine has been the genre’s answer to expedia and travelocity. The Parisian born, wanderlusting acoustic guitarist’s album titles have conveyed his status as a musical citizen of the world (Universal Language) and his desire to hop in the car (or plane) and just start Cruisin’. He released Madrid, the birthplace of his wife Rebecca, in 1998 and it’s now his family’s home. And that’s only a few hours drive from the Mediterraneo.
After experimenting sonically with DJ beats on his second Rendezvous Music album Modern Times, he’s back to a more organic vibe on his Peak Records debut Hi-Lo Split. The official story goes that on a visit to Los Angeles, his manager invited him to participate in a weekly poker game and Antoine had a major case of beginner’s luck. But when we listen to the mix of styles swirling around his infectious as ever melodies — shuffling old school R&B (“For A Smile,” “Voodoo Doll”), dynamic Latin flavors (“Cancun Blue”), Brazilian (“Bossalectro”) and cool chill ambience (“Panacea,” “Tomorrow”) — it might be more fun to imagine Antoine in a tux, with millions at stake in a casino on Monte Carlo.
Also noteworthy is Hi-Lo Split’s status as a truly homegrown creation. Not only did Antoine record everything in his home studio, he also wrote a majority of the songs, guitar in hand, by his indoor pool; the tiled floors created a cathedral like acoustic effect. The sessions were an international affair, naturally, as the guitarist flew in his longtime keyboardist and homeboy Frederick Gaillardet from Paris and used Cameroon native Andre Mange on bass. Antoine also hired a local Spanish horn section. The only fudging Antoine did can easily be overlooked, given the high cost of airfare and the power of the digital age. L.A. based percussion god Luis Conte emailed his parts from California.
1) Alan Bergman, Lyrically (Verve) – The Oscar winning lyricist — who along with wife Marilyn and numerous legendary composers, has penned some of the most memorable pop songs of all time — does a beautifully arranged, Burt Bacharach-type recording of his magical hit parade. His graceful voice and the sharp, generally low-key arrangements allow the listener to hone in and appreciate anew the incredibly inspiring poetry The Bergmans have contributed to our culture for over 40 years.
2) Down To The Bone, Supercharged (Narada Jazz)
3) Jeff Kashiwa, Play (Native Language)
4) Late Night Rendezvous (Rendezvous Music)
5) Paula Cole, Courage (Decca)