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.
Since the release of Smooth Night in 2005, I have followed the career of saxophonist Marcin Nowakowski with interest. A well known performer in his native Poland, Marcin’s 2009 follow-up, Better Days came as a direct result of a visit he made to Los Angeles and the opportunity it afforded to work with some of the genre’s A-list musicians including both Paul Brown and Jeff Lorber. In the ultra competitive market of smooth jazz saxophone Better Days proved to be an outstanding achievement and as if to demonstrate this was no flash in the pan he has reunited with Brown and Lorber for the even better Shine.
In fact the contemporary jazz friendly environs of LA seem to suite Nowakowski rather well and with ten outstanding tracks (six co-written with Brown and four co-written with Lorber) Shine is staking an early claim to be one of the albums of the year. It opens with the hugely radio friendly ‘Nobody But You’ which has Brown’s production touches all over it and benefits from an ultra catchy vocal chorus from Billy Mondragon. Surprisingly it’s a tune that has not yet been offered to radio but one that has is ‘Shine Shoes’. This glittering number is lifted to new heights by the trumpet of Jerry Hey, trombone from Bill Richenbach and the vocals of co-writer Dax Reynosa. Not only that, with Brown again sprinkling his magic far and wide, this seems to be a song that is destined to do well. Another cut already offered to radio is ‘Out Of Time’ for which Brown takes lead vocals and is joined by Reynosa plus regular contributors Ricky Lawson on drums and Roberto Vally on bass. Together they combine superbly with Nowakowski’s smooth playing while another Nowakowski – Brown collaboration is the easy grooving ‘Tell Me Why’ which features Brown on both nylon stringed and acoustic guitar.
Throughout, Marcin Nowakowski remains supremely in command and this is particularly so with the four tracks in which Lorber is involved. ‘Snow Lion’ offers a fine showcase for his playing and with Michael Thompson in top-notch form on guitar; this big expansive number is an exquisite example of what Lorber does best. ‘Coming Home’ is written by Lorber and legendary bass-player Jimmy Haslip. Of course Lorber, with the help of Haslip, has recently re-ignited his Jeff Lorber Fusion project and here they provide a wonderful platform for Nowakowski’s sublime work on soprano sax.
Later, as Nowakowski utilizes the final two tracks of Shine as a way of easing down the tempo, he effortlessly bonds with Lorber for the sumptuous ‘Easy Going’ before duet-ting with Brown on the tenderly spicy ‘Good Night Kiss’. That said, in terms of personal favorites there are many from which to choose but right up there with the album’s best is Lorber’s ‘March On’ This cool mid tempo cut has much to commend it but of particular note are the last 50 seconds where the groove drenched interplay between Lorber and Nowakowski is out of this world. However, just as good is ‘Give & Take’which is written by Brown, Nowakowski and Brown’s long time writing partner Jeff Carruthers. In a collection crammed with them, this zesty tune is yet another example of smooth jazz at its finest.
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.