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. Just Enough from Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith was one of the best contemporary jazz albums of 2004. It perfectly fulfilled his intention to cross over into a more overtly urban adult-contemporary market and in doing so delivered some memorable tunes. Now after four years, and following his battle to overcome prostate cancer, Smith is back with his 2008 offering Sittin' In.
Smith’s solo career took off in 1999 with the release of the CD Both Sides. One of the album's singles, ‘Off the Hook’, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz singles charts and stayed in the top 10 for seventeen weeks. He was nominated for three Oasis Awards for outstanding achievement in the Smooth Jazz genre for Best Keyboardist, Best New Artist and Song of the Year. In addition he won the ‘breakout artist of the year’ award from the trade publication Radio and Records. The 2001 follow-up, Consider This, hit trouble when Smith’s recording company went bankrupt and, as a result, the album lacked promotion. However, the advent of Just Enough enabled him to make up lost ground and, in turn, increased anticipation for the new release.
The jazzy, self penned title track features edgy sax from Darius Babazadeh. This keyboard driven smoker demonstrates the more jazzy side of Smith’s nature while ‘Bad Sneakers’ is as good a piece of sax driven contemporary jazz as will be found anywhere. Eddie M (who at one time was Acoustic Alchemy’s ‘go to’ sax man) is outstanding and with predictably excellent keys from Smith this one turns out to be an absolute joy. Eddie M returns to lend a hand with the happy vibe of ‘Thinkin Bout You’. With vocals from Bobby G it’s a track that shows off the knack Smith has for matching a voice with a song and for ‘Just Friends’ he does so again. With a knockout vocal chorus from Monet and LB Braggs as its centerpiece this sumptuous mid tempo concoction has just the right blend of rhythm and melody. Of course Smith’s playing is, as ever, right on the money and elsewhere he delivers a picture perfect interpretation of the New Edition hit ‘Can You Stand The Rain’. It is taken to new heights by sensitive vocals from Lynne Fiddmont and Phil Ingram yet in complete contrast is the heavily gospel influenced ‘Jesus Brought Me Out’. As uplifting as it is different the number is a measure of the versatility for which Smith knows no bounds and this is further reinforced by ‘Isn’t It Love’ which is built around a soulful duet from La Jon Walker and Carol J Toca.
When Walker is summoned back to handle lead vocals on the sun soaked ‘Fiesta’, the effusive horns of Adolpho Acosta and Mic Gillette really blow up a tropical storm while equally compelling is the tight and funky ‘D-Man’s Groove’. In the pocket from the get-go, and with just a splash of sax from Babazadeh, it’s a tune built entirely around Smith’s edgy playing and Babazadeh is back yet again to add a silky touch to the ultra smooth ‘Searchin’. From mellow beginnings Smith, who is colossal throughout, picks up the tempo to take it home in glorious style.
That said the albums best cut by some distance is ‘Sweet Lady’. This slinky slice of sumptuous R & B shimmers with the understated vocals of Derek Allen and Connie Law, wonderful sax from the superb Norbert Stachel and an unmistakable sample from Shuggie Otis’s seminal ‘Strawberry Letter 23’. One is left to ponder whether or not, if smooth jazz radio was playing more tracks like this. would it really be in the trouble it is today?
Sittin In is a breathtaking collection and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.rogersmith.net
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.Posted by Denis Poole at January 30, 2009 5:39 PM