November 7, 2010

Shilts - Going Underground

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. Bringing back the funk has been a common theme for a whole crop of recent contemporary jazz releases but in the case of high octane sax player Shilts the funk has never really gone away. With a style which in the most part has been characterized by the big funky sound of Down To The Bone (with whom he enjoyed a long and successful association) he has been painstakingly building a solo career which started out in 2001 with See What Happens and gained momentum in 2006 with Head Boppin’. The added sophistication that came courtesy of his 2008 project, Jigsaw Life clearly demonstrated his rapidly growing musical maturity and now he is back with the excellent Going Underground. As with previous ventures Shilts calls upon some of the best musicians around to lend a hand and is variously backed by the powerhouse combination of Bill Steinway, Randy Jacobs, Nate Phillips, Jon Gilutin and Jervonny Collier.

The fact Shilts hails from London, England is betrayed not only by the ‘subway’ themed title of the new CD but also by the names of several of the tracks. Indeed he has been playing saxophone since his early teens and at the age of 15 he was asked to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain. While with them gained experience by supporting such great jazz stars as Nancy Wilson, Buddy Greco, Rosemary Clooney, George Shearing and Mel Torme.

A professional musician by the age of 16, Paul was soon working in nightclubs and backing the likes of Rose Royce, The Temptations, Four Tops, and The Drifters. Refreshed from a travel spree that saw him work in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean he firmly established himself on the London session scene where he recorded with artists that included David Bowie, Jimmy Paige, Bill Wyman and Lulu. He hooked up with UK pop band Breathe who went on to have a sequence of top 10 hits in the USA but Shilts never lost sight of his love for jazz. He co-formed System X with five other like-minded London session musicians and this different kind of exposure led to him being noticed for his soulful, funky saxophone style. He joined British Acid Jazz group The Brand New Heavies in 1994 and stayed with them for six years. In 1995 he took time out to tour with chart toppers Jamiroquai but it was during his time with the Heavies that Shilts met keyboard player Neil Cowley. That in turn led to an introduction to Chris J Morgans at Internal Bass and Stuart Wade, who was then and is now, the creative force behind Down To The Bone. Chris and Stuart asked Paul to form and front the live incarnation of DTTB with the result that Shilts become the face of the DTTB live band and a budding solo artist in his own right.

Although Shilts writes or co-writes eight of the nine choice tracks it is the album’s only cover, a high powered rendition of the Brecker Brothers ‘Sneakin Up Behind You’, that perhaps best sums up the overall vibe of Going Underground. It finds Shilts very much in ‘Down To The Bone mode’ with all that entails and is particularly noticeable with ‘Lambeth Strut’ that includes a handsome guitar solo from Nick Colionne. ‘Standing Room Only’ is of a similarly feisty disposition and, although ‘Uncontainable’ is another strident horn driven number, the rhythmic ‘Tunnel Vision’ opens out into a superb showcase for Shilt’s thrusting sax.

The easy grooving ‘5 O’Clock In Rio’ gives Shilts the opportunity to notch down the intensity that characterise much of the collection. Notable both for its smooth Latin groove, Marc Antoine’s input on guitars and a wonderful piano solo from Brian Simpson this is a track that is right up there with the albums best while elsewhere Shilts remains in restrained mode for the mid tempo ‘Seeing Things Clearly’.

The nostalgia that drips from every note of the retro tinged ‘Eyes Down’ owes much to Steinway’s contribution on Fender Rhodes and he again provides a significant input, this time on piano, for the jazzily mid tempo ‘Hip Bop’ for which Rick Braun on trumpet also features.

All things considered, Going Underground is a worthy addition to Shilts already formidable discography and is well worth checking out.

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 7, 2010 2:43 PM