July 31, 2009

Richard Elliot - Rock Steady

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Richard Elliot regards himself as essentially an R&B instrumentalist with jazz influences. Soul and funk are his foundation and he has used these staples to create the framework for his brand new album Rock Steady. Out now on the Artistry Music label it is a collection for which Elliot has drawn on the input of some of his most valued musical associates including touring band regulars Rob Reinhardt, Dwight Sills and Nate Phillips. Rick Braun co-writes five tracks, co-produces throughout and finds time to make a stellar contribution on trumpet while, if that wasn’t enough, keyboard maestros Jeff Lorber and Philippe Saisse also play a part.

Over a career that now spans almost thirty years Elliot has played with the best and has always produced what is now regarded as the richest saxophone sound on the smooth jazz circuit. Like others after him the experience of performing with the legendary Tower Of Power proved to be a tremendous education for Elliot who was born in Scotland and moved to Los Angeles with his parents at the age of three. In fact Elliot was in the Tower of Power line-up from 1982 to 1987 and it is plausible that with Rock Steady he uses the title of the funky and infectious ‘Retro Boy’ as a commentary on his musical direction to date. It’s a tune which shows off the combined writing prowess of Elliot and Braun that first came to prominence in 2007 with their R n R project. When they again collaborate for ‘Candice Dance’ they jointly deliver a slice of radio ready smooth jazz that takes its name from Elliot’s teenage daughter. Philippe Saisse is superb on keys and is even better for ‘The Preacher’ where his simmering Hammond B3 dovetails to perfection with Elliot’s fulsome tones.

The nostalgic vibe that permeates much of Rock Steady is complemented by several well chosen covers. Elliot’s zesty interpretation of the Eddie Kendricks hit ‘Keep On Truckin’ checks all the right soul boxes, the Aretha Franklin inspired title track is blessed by great backing vocals from the always excellent Lynne Fiddmont but best of all is Elliot’s stunning take on Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’. Already powering its way up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio it could aptly be described as ‘classic Richard Elliot’ and in this respect is in the good company of ‘Spindrift’. Written by Elliot with Nate Phillips this tight and compelling cut is flavoured with just a hint of a world beat while ‘Restless’ proves to be another intense mid tempo number with bluesy keys from Ron Reinhardt.

‘Straight Up’ is notable for its fabulous horn riff that comes courtesy of Elliot, Braun and Gerald Albright. Co-writer Jeff Lorber is his usual immaculate self on keys and when he returns for the deliciously sensual ‘Licence To Chill’ the groove is just as good. Elliot takes it as an opportunity to demonstrate how effective he can be when turning down the tempo and does so again with the smokily seductive ‘Yaquala’. Featuring Tim Gant on keys this absolute gem resonates with Elliot’s impassioned playing.

Rock Steady is an album of considerable depth and is likely to ensure that Richard Elliot stays on the smooth jazz charts for the foreseeable future.

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 July 31, 2009 5:43 PM