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. As well as being one of the genre’s most consistent chart-toppers, soulful saxophonist Richard Elliot has done as much as anyone to delightfully blur the margins that separate smooth jazz from funk. His 2009 release, Rock Steady, was a nod to the R&B artists of the 1970s & 80s that inspired him most and he has stayed with a similar theme for his latest effort, the sparkling In The Zone. Notable on many levels, the album finds Elliot reuniting with Jeff Lorber who, not for the first time, proves himself to be the perfect producing and songwriting partner. Together they write nine of the ten choice cuts and, with able support from the likes of Michael Thompson, Tony Maiden, Alex Al and Lenny Castro, the credits read like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of contemporary jazz.
Indeed the pedigree of those involved is demonstrated as early as the opening track where the velvety vibe of ‘Island Style’ owes as much to David Mann’s excellent horns and horn arrangements as it does Elliot’s fine playing. In fact Mann contributes to seven of the songs and among them is ‘Bring It’ which, in the final analysis, is all about the funk.
Elsewhere, the collection’s only cover is an exquisite take on the Marvin Gaye classic ‘Inner City Blues’ (Makes Me Wanna Holler)’ where a killer bass-line from regular band member Nate Phillips really hits the spot. Other regulars to join Elliot on In The Zone are drummer Tony Moore and guitarist Dwight Sills. Both are in outstanding form for the title tune which, all things considered, comes as close to authentic jazz fusion as anything that In The Zone has to offer and, although the melodic swagger of both ‘Panamera’ and ‘The Lower Road’ affords a showcase for vintage Elliot at his fulsome best’ ‘Golden Triangle’ reveals a more sensitive side of his musical persona.
The moody ‘Metropolis’ maintains a relaxed tempo but in so doing ensures the groove remains deliciously intact while, later, Lorber’s jazzy influence can be found all over the slinky ‘Just A Taste’. It sits in enchanting contrast to ‘Boom Town’ which is the sort of powerhouse cut for what Elliot is famous and is already storming up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio.
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.