With the exception of just a handful of outstanding artists there is little doubt that smooth jazz is in crisis. Bland recordings and lacklustre covers are doing nothing for the genre. Couple that with the change of musical direction of radio stations such as Jazz FM, who now seem to think it is OK to play music from artists such as Dean Martin and call it smooth jazz, and indeed times are troubled.
That�s why it has been particularly refreshing to discover the latest release, this time on N-Coded Music, from the diverse and talented Ronnie Jordan. For those of us who do not like our smooth jazz too smooth this is certainly the release of 2003 so far. At Last brings us ten edgy but radio friendly tracks that really hit the spot.
When talking to Jordan about Jordan the word legend is an uncomfortable fit for the famed guitarist. �George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian�, he says humbly, �now those guys are legends. Me, I am just a guy always working to improve his craft�.
A quick sampling of the disc amply proves the master musicians� assessment is right on the mark. Track #3, �Heaven� is typically infectious and smooth, track #5, �Word of Mouth� is pleasant and melodic while track #1, the title number �At Last� is punchy and groovy with a melodic tinge. All three have that irresistible rhythmic bounce that smooth jazz aficionados have come to love. Add Jordan�s unique guitar riffing and melodic expression and its virtually impossible not to envision smooth groove stations jumping all over them.
Track #2, the cover of the Al B. Sure number from his 2002 release Give It Up, �Nite and Day� and track #4, �You Might Need Somebody�, with Crystal Lake doing the Randy Crawford vocals are two more automatics.
Those who have followed Jordan from the beginning know that when the man wants to mellow things out, he is virtually unparalleled.
And he doesn�t disappoint on At Last. Track #8, �Island Paradise� is exactly that, a romantic journey for the lover in all of us. It is evocative of the beaches of southern California, a very tight recording and a contender for the albums stand out track. The cutely titled track #7, �Ron-dezvous� is the perfect tune for creating a little midnight magic, a very groovy smooth number with nice build qualities and a catchy riff. Throughout his career Ronny Jordan has been nothing if not teasingly unpredictable, so the fact that he rounds out this sensual set with the seductive club mix of �St. Tropez� should come as no surprise. This is really an outstanding track, a genuine dance floor filler that is a wonderful way for the album to close.
Also not too surprising is the fact that Jordan, who deserves credit for revolutionising the sound of contemporary jazz, would produce this project with radio airwaves in mind. �That�s something I have never consciously set out to do before�, he explains. �I have had my fair share of success, but I wanted to make a record that would stand the test of time with the general public�. In order to do that, Jordan has compromised neither his sense of self nor his musical integrity. At Last unquestionably conveys the essence of Ronny Jordan. Regardless of what direction he chooses to go on any given project he is a guitar player first and foremost. This is very much a guitar album.
Jordan�s guitar playing has served him well, bringing both critical and fan acclaim ever since his first project, the 1992 The Antidote, was hailed as one of the seminal recordings of the then up and coming acid jazz movement. Follow up projects, The Quiet Revolution and Light To Dark, further solidified Jordan�s growing reputation as not just one of the best players on the scene, but one of the most innovative as well. By the time A Brighter Day and Off The Record ushered in the new millennium, Jordan�s reputation was secure and his legend was on the rise.
Recognised by critics, fans and fellow musicians alike, Jordan�s one-of-a-kind talents have earned him the coveted Gibson Guitar Award, as well as Mobo�s Best Jazz Act honour plus a Grammy nomination. Ironically, while Jordan�s accolades come in the jazz arena, his personal musical tastes are wide. As the 40-year-old Jordan explains himself,
�Musically, I am a product of the seventies. Radio was much more adventurous then, so I grew up on everybody from Abba to Earth, Wind and Fire to P-Funk and Steely Dan. People ask me who my influences are and I ask, how much time do they have? On guitar, it�s easy. The Big Four for me are George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. Once we get past guitarists, though, we can sit up all night and I still wouldn�t have told you all of them. Good music that�s what influences me. That is why no two albums of mine are the same. I have got a lot to say and a lot of different ways to communicate�.
If At Last is anything to go by the power of Jordan to communicate with his listening public has never been greater.