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. The infrequency with which the flute is heard only adds to its magic as a contemporary jazz instrument. Now, in the skilled hands of the wonderfully soulful Ragan Whiteside, its potential knows no bounds. Her 2007 CD Class Axe is an absolute revelation and, given the album features production from both Bob Baldwin and Dennis Johnson, it has all the credentials necessary to provide Whiteside with the mainstream breakthrough that, on the strength of this collection, she so richly deserves.
Even before she had won the 2006 Capital Jazz Challenge, Mount Vernon, NY based flautist, vocalist, and songwriter Ragan Whiteside had already caught the attention of keyboard maestro Bob Baldwin. She played flute on his 2004 project Brazil Chill and a year later Baldwin included her on his follow up, All In A Day’s Work. In fact, for Class Axe Baldwin writes (or co-writes) six of the fourteen tracks and plays keys throughout. Included within this mix are a number of intro’s, interludes and reprises that serve to fuse the entire work together and whereas Whiteside’s collaborations with Baldwin tend to be strictly instrumental, her pairings with Johnson allow for further exploration of her vocal prowess.
The sumptuous Johnson – Whiteside composition ‘So Glad’ is a shimmering example of her combined talents and there is more of the delightful same with ‘How Do You Know’. This soulful chiller features a keyboard solo from Baldwin and has a turned town yet edgy vibe that Whiteside carries over to ‘Options’. Written by Johnson and Baldwin this is but one of several examples of top notch smooth R & B and when ‘Call Me’ draws Whiteside to the urban side of the tracks she calls upon rapper Short Fuze to invoke a streetwise edge.
Baldwin’s interactions invariably illuminate Whiteside’s instrumental abilities and this is particularly so with the mellow ‘Gonna Fly’. It finds Whiteside in outstanding form and with Baldwin contributing on keyboards, drums and strings they together deliver a complete gem. In similar vein is the excellent ‘In Love’ and with ‘3 AM’ they again unite for a tune that, as its title suggests, is a superb example of late night mood music. The Latin infused ‘Meu Amigo, Meu Amante’ really permits Whiteside’s flute to dance and when she switches back to vocals for ‘Break Me Down’ the result is an earthy smoker of the highest order.
In many ways ‘Funktuation’ is at the heart of the album. It’s hypnotic yet zesty neo soul vibe provides Whiteside with the opportunity to demonstrate her stellar playing which here, expertly coupled with understated backing vocals, really stands out from the crowd. Later in the album the song is joyously reprised then pops up yet again as a hidden bonus track. Far from being overkill, it is simply three times the charm.
Class Axe is predominately mellow, always soulful and a great example of Whiteside’s art. It finds the sweet spot where contemporary jazz meets smooth R & B and comes highly recommended.
For more go to www.raganwhiteside.comPosted by Denis Poole at February 22, 2008 5:36 PM