October 19, 2010

Special EFX - Without You

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. Despite his award winning contributions to the world of television and film, guitarist, composer and arranger Chieli Minucci has (with the exception of a brief period in the late nineties) been synonymous with the evolution of jazz fusion band Special EFX. In fact it was back in 1982 when the multi talented Minucci co-founded Special EFX with percussionist George Jinda. They released the bands eponymous debut CD in 1984 yet despite artistic differences, and Jinda’s untimely death in 2001, the impact of this Grammy nominated collective on the evolution of smooth jazz remains nothing short of immense. In the course of a phenomenal musical journey Special EFX has released 25 albums, including Minucci’s eight solo offerings, and a live concert DVD. Along the way contemporary jazz has been blessed with unforgettable songs such as ‘Daybreak’, ‘Cruise Control’, ‘Bella’ and ‘Seduction’. Now Minucci has just released the band’s 25th anniversary double CD, Without You.

This diverse collection of jazz-fusion and Latin rhythms is notable on many levels and has been brought alive not only by the free flowing guitar artistry for which Minucci is best known for but also by input from original Special EFX favorites such as drummer Lionel Cordew, bassist Jerry Brooks and keyboard player Jay Rowe. Not only that, this stellar lineup is complemented by the abundant talents of Jeff Lorber, Lao Tizer, Karen Briggs, bass player Dave Anderson and violinist Alan Grubner.

Talking of great performances, the song ‘Love’s Lost in Translation’ showcases the silky vocal tones of Philip Hamilton while long time fans of Special EFX will quickly pick up on the fact that ‘The Night Is Ours’ is a completely re-written version of the band’s 1984 signature song ‘Sambuca Nights’. Another throwback comes in the form of ‘Hushabye’ that was originally released as the instrumental ‘Sweet Surrender’ but which here is transformed by Will Brock’s soulful vocals. For aficionados of George Jinda the tune ‘Man With A Drum’ wonderfully captures the original percussion sounds of the great man and guest keyboard player Lao Tizer brings his own powerful vibe to the tracks ‘Bacchanalia’ and ‘Afterglow’.

In fact Minucci discovered Tizer when he was only 19 years old and has been collaborating with him ever since. In this respect the most recent occurrence has been with the trio ‘Tizer’ that also includes mega talented violinist Karen Briggs. She is also included on the ‘Without You’ roster and brings her own special magic to the tunes ‘Lakeside’ and ‘Wonderboy’.

That said, in terms of personal favorites, there is nothing to surpass Minucci’s breathtaking transformation of the 1992 tune ‘Make Me Smile’ into the easy grooving ‘You Make Me Blue’. The original version was recorded during the period when Special EFX was first experimenting with the smooth jazz format and this sumptuous reworking (which benefits from superb violin from Grubner) is a total delight. Later, when the number is reprised as the smoothed out ‘You Make Me’ the result is just as good.

Elsewhere, Jeff Lorber injects his own particular jazz flavorings into ‘Mountina Jameroon’ and in the final analysis ‘Without You’ showcases to perfection the band’s special gift for combining flawless technique with remarkable passion.

For more go to www.chielimusic.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 October 19, 2010 8:11 PM