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. Not surprising, the untimely death of the much loved Wayman Tisdale set off shock waves that were felt throughout the world of contemporary jazz. In this respect no one could have been more affected than saxophonist Tom Braxton who, as an integral member of Tisdale’s touring band, had been with him right from the start. That said, life has a way of creating opportunities and for Braxton the opportunity to pay homage to his long time friend and mentor has come in the form of his latest solo recording, the aptly titled Endless Highway. Released on the San Diego-based Pacific Coast Jazz label it is his second CD with Pacific Coast Jazz and follows the 2007 Imagine This that at the time I described as has “having it all going on”. With an outstanding array of instrumentalists and vocalists in support, Braxton uses the ten superb tracks of Endless Highway to take the listener on a groove-oriented excursion that, consistent with the best of the genre’s current offerings, shimmers with a delightful urban sophistication.
Replete with tremendous smooth jazz flair, the silky title cut sets the album on a road from which subsequently it never deviates. One of six songs either written or co-written by Braxton it profits from the inclusion of a velvety horn section and this same line-up is again on call for ‘Soul Purpose’. This, another Braxton original, turns out to be an understated gem and his masterstroke in including Jennifer Ritter on cello for the mellow ‘Distant Skies’ affords this tranquil tune a whole new dimension. Braylon Lacy’s work on fretless bass is completely in keeping with the quality of the piece whilst elsewhere the sassy ‘Just in Time’ leverages the considerable talents of Chicago producer Tim Gant to deliver an urban swagger that stands out from the crowd. When Gant returns for ‘Detour Ahead’ he combines with Braxton to generate an extremely free flowing, happy vibe and, although ultra easy on the ear, the Eric Willis composition, ‘The Journey’, is infused with the sort of beat that assumes hypnotic proportions.
As well as being an accomplished song writer, Braxton is well known for his ability to re-imagine some classic covers. For his previous release he did just that with a stellar version of Patrice Rushen’s 1980 smash ‘Haven’t You Heard’ and here his take on the America blockbuster ‘Ventura Highway’ is every bit as good. It benefits from a great vocal from the Grammy winning Arthur Dyer yet in many ways, and for obvious reasons, the centerpiece of the entire collection is ‘That Wayman Smile’. Anyone lucky enough to have spent time in Tisdale’s presence will know that the title is entirely self explanatory and with bass player Braylon Lacy capturing to perfection the spirit of the great man’s music this infectious cut is both a fitting tribute and a sure fire bet to finds its way onto the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio.
Despite the fact that Braxton’s tender alto lights up every aspect of ‘Home Sweet Home’ the number reverberates with a restless energy that is totally compelling. It is without doubt one of the album’s outstanding tracks and in this respect is in the wonderful company of the intoxicating ‘Open Road’. With interplay between guitarist Derrick Winding and Braxton that is magical, and a percussive energy from Len Barnett and Rico Gonzales to savor, this mid tempo smoker is destined to become one of the standout smooth jazz tunes of the year.
The CD is another significant step on Tom Braxton’s “endless highway” and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.tombraxton.com and to appreciate the total breadth of the Pacific Coast Jazz catalog go to www.pacificcoastjazz.com.
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 November 28, 2009 12:40 PM