Herbie Hancock and The Headhunter’s recording of the classic track, ‘Chameleon’ forever changed jazz funk fusion and rock music. Paul Jackson is the hard hitting funk master and co-writer with Hancock of ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Hang-up Your Hang-ups,’ both jazz funk classics. Jackson is still at the forefront of the ever-changing jazz funk vibe. His musical brilliance continues to influence and change the music scene.
Paul is a true chameleon, ever changing, always exploring and pushing the envelope further into the jazz funk realm. New singer/songwriter, Tony Adamo and Adamo’s music producer, Jerry Stucker, were able to book Jackson for a recording date in San Francisco, California in between the Headhunters tour dates in August. Tony Adamo is fresh off of going #1 at Soundclick.com on their smooth jazz chart with the song ‘Midnight Café,’ featuring Ernie Watts. Hoping to repeat the success of ‘Midnight Café,’ producer, Jerry Stucker brought in Paul Jackson to complete the all-star lineup on Adamo’s tune ‘Hey Lou.’ ‘Hey Lou’ previously featured Ernie Watts and Rodney Franklin. This tune is a first for Jackson, Watts and Franklin playing together. It will soon be re-released on UrbanZone Records Simple Sampler II. Paul Jackson will also pick up this tune for his new CD release in Japan. The addition of Jackson to this all-star group of musicians has made ‘Hey Lou’ an instant acid jazz funk classic. Tony Adamo’s yet untitled new CD will be released in 2004 and distributed by Thom Teresi’s www.rhombus-records.com. Paul Jackson and the Headhunters will be headlining next at Jazz Alley in Seattle, Washington August 19-22. Paul Jackson’s website is www.pauljackson.jp. Tony Adamo is listed under artist, Adamo at Soundclick.com and his website is http://www.jazznow.com/Adamo/adindex.html.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that the snowy mountain logo of Peak Records also implies something of a challenging climb. Before you hear too many more cries about how narrowminded smooth jazz/Adult Contemporary playlists, prohibitive marketing costs and increasing competition for airplay and shelf space spell doom for independent labels, climb over the apparent obstacles and witness the Malibu, California based label’s growth since becoming a joint venture with Concord Records in 2000.
Label co-founders Andi Howard and Russ Freeman have rode the tide in the smooth jazz game long enough to spot and sign winners with all-important built-in fan bases. Their roster of veterans includes Freeman’s 17 years and going strong supergroup The Rippingtons (which Howard has managed from the start) and saxmen Eric Marienthal and Paul Taylor. When 70 year old legend Gato Barbieri decided to keep his late 90s comeback going, Peak signed him, and last year’s brilliant The Shadow of the Cat is up for Billboard’s Latin Jazz album of the year.
Last year, the influential industry publication Radio & Records nominated Peak for Best Smooth Jazz indie label of the year; this year, the R&R nomination came in the Urban AC category. That’s due to Peak’s success on the R&B side, including Phil Perry and popular 2001 releases by veteran soul divas Regina Belle and Miki Howard. Belle’s This is Regina and Howard’s Three Wishes competed in 2002 in the same Grammy category, Best Traditional R&B vocal album.
The accolades are all the sweeter considering that Howard and Freeman had tried to build Peak as a classic boutique label for nearly ten years with GRP and Windham Hill (who had deals with the Rippingtons), but continued to face, shall we say, corporate obstacles, along the way. The first non-Ripps disc boasting the Peak imprint was by a British vocalist named Mark Williamson in 1993.
“The most important element of our relationship with Concord as our partner and distributor is that we value their input, but also have total autonomy,” says Howard. “They believe in what we are doing and trust us to create and sell good music. One of the things we loved about the old GRP before the mid-Nineties regime changes was the family atmosphere where it was all about the music. That’s what we’re about, the artists and their vision. We want to make music that appeals to a lot of different people, that’s artist friendly, and that rises to the challenge of the competitive climate with clever marketing techniques. These include internet campaigns, digi-postcards and showcases to create new fan bases. It’s not always easy being an indie doing marketing promotions at major label prices, and to get the acts we want, we have to stay competitive with those majors as well. But the artist gets the experience of being with a major but with a more friendly attitude.”
Having been one of his genre’s top performers for nearly 20 years, Freeman can empathize with artists seeking a home where they feel appreciated. “In this age of corporate downsizing and consolidating, rosters are shifting pretty quickly,” he says. “Stability is hard to come by. So when they see that they’ll be the third of five artists we’re focused on rather than low on the list of 50 or 100, that’s appealing. They know they’re free to express themselves here, and understand that Peak is all about breaking new ground both creatively and from a marketing standpoint.”
She had a hit dance record in Japan under Sandy Reed at one point, and numerous majors were interested in signing her. She was introduced to the label via Jason Miles, who produced the Barbieri project, and immediately felt, as Howard says, “like these people ‘get me.’ She didn’t want to go the major route. She knew we would be the right place for her to establish herself in the 25-40 market we sell to.”
It’s easy to see why Peak is excited. Reed’s edgy yet soulful, sultry writing and singing styles have earned her comparisons to everyone from Billie Holliday to Alicia Keys, Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch. The label is also booming in smoothville with two hot new releases by The Rippingtons and Paul Taylor.
Fans may wonder why it took so many years for Russ Freeman to use the pun Let It Ripp as an album title, but it’s not just lip service; he’s referring to the take no prisoners, cutting loose and often live in the studio approach that Freeman and his bandmates took to the recording process. Freeman has been so impressed with the dynamics of his revamped lineup (which includes special guest Eric Marienthal on an ongoing basis) that he wanted to feature more of the energy of the live band than on any previous studio project. Freeman’s always taking his fans on musical tours through his many passions, and relocating to South Florida has fostered his Tiger Woods-like dedication to golf. The song “Mr. 3” is named for the idea that if you make a three on a par 4, you’ve birdied the hole; the album packaging features the legendary “jazz cat” on the links, swinging away.
Like Freeman, the charismatic, dreadlocked Paul Taylor builds on his success by creating new challenges for himself. On Steppin’ Out, these involve using live horns and drums for the first time, playing the vocorder and connecting with Rex Rideout and Barry J. Eastmond, two of modern R&B’s most acclaimed and legendary producers. The vibe on Steppin’ Out is decidedly split between West and East Coasts, as he worked on six tracks in L.A. with Rideout (who first suggested the horns and drums) and five in Manhattan with Eastmond, who encouraged Taylor to include the Herbie Hancock retro vibe of the vocoder—which has also proven a big hit live. It’s classic Taylor cool, but with many impressive new twists.
HEY RUSS: Because this is the blues issue, it made sense to ask Freeman about one of the wilder elements of The Ripps live gig over the years—his crowd pleasing medley of classic Jimi Hendrix tunes “Purple Haze,” “Fire” and “Star Spangled Banner” (a la the classic Woodstock performance). The band did it off the cuff one time and the fan response never let up; it’s now an essential staple of an increasingly more aggressive contemporary jazz experience.
“I think they respond to it because it’s a refreshing break from the sometimes constrictive mode that they’re used to hearing in this genre, and it’s a blast both to play and to listen to,” he says. “I grew up more as a classical guitar buff, but got into blues when I moved to L.A. and started appreciating guys like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Steve Lukather. Hanging around studios, I could see the way young guitarists were tracing back to Hendrix. Nobody comes close to him as an icon or guitar wizard. Hendrix took the blues and put it in the rock format, using a fuzz box, wah wah and other effects. He packaged the blues vocabulary in a new way. I’ve heard that before he died, he was really leaning more towards wanting to record jazz. That would have been interesting.”
Freeman is happy to do his part introducing blues/rock elements to smooth jazz, and appreciates guys like Jeff Golub who do the same. But he believes to be a true bluesman, you’ve got to be like B.B. King and live the life. “I’m always amazed at the depth of influence smooth jazz guitarists have that we don’t get to hear on radio, and much of that is blues,” he says. “But we haven’t really lived it like the legends did. If you’re looking for real blues, smooth jazz just isn’t the place for it.”
FAVORITE BLUES RECORDINGS:
1) Larry Carlton, Renegade Gentleman (1993, GRP) – Just in case all his lighter hearted smooth jazz success made us forget the roaring rock/blues side of this legendary guitarist, he broke free for this incredibly credible, blistering jam session featuring his regular harmonica player Terry McMillan.
2) B.B. King, Blues Summit (MCA, 1993)
3) Blues Brothers 2000 (Universal, 1997)
4) Tony Bennett, Playin’ With My Friends (Bennett Sings the Blues) (Columbia, 2001)
5) Eric Clapton, From the Cradle (1994, Reprise)
Chris Standring is Groovalicious. Kevin Toney hits the Sweet Spot. Check out these reviews and others...and keep checking back, as I will add reviews periodically and let you know here.
Groovy, baby. British guitarist Chris Standring has to be the coolest smooth-jazz hipster around. If you’ve seen him with shades, you know what I mean. But Standring is more than a cultivated image. With his previous “Hip Sway” and now with Groovalicious, Standring has leaped to the top of smooth-jazz pack with invigorating and interesting music. Unlike contemporaries who riff on the same idea each time out, Standring makes the kind of music you look forward to.
Standring, with generous help from partner, co-writer and programmer Rodney Lee, plants his roots in the blues and old R&B instrumentals from the ‘60s. His sound is toe-tapping and hip, with bright and airy electric guitar leads. “Miss Downtown Sugargirl” sets the tone with its party-like, Marvin Gaye atmosphere, with Dino Soldo’s refrain of “Oooh you’re so good, oooh you’re so good, my downtown sugargirl.” He brings back the party chatter elsewhere on the CD, inviting listeners to his shindig. How does Standring make you want to keep listening? Check out “All in Good Time,” with Katisse Buckingham’s breathy flute and Standring’s too-cool talkbox guitar, which he returns to with a vengeance on the title track. Peter Frampton lives! Or “Gentle Persuasion,” a lovely ballad with the CD’s prettiest hook. Or “Hypnotize,” with its tight wordless vocals riding over a syrupy melody and nonstop groove.
Elsewhere, Standring blends Earth, Wind & Fire ‘70s horns with his distinctive guitar licks on “Fat Tuesday,” while digging out the hooks again with “Snowfall,” which features Chris Botti’s trumpet. More than any song on the CD, “Snowfall” is the sound that Standring has defined over several albums: mid-tempo groove, Ritenour-like lead and killer hook. On “Snowfall,” Standring gets around to some serious soloing, with a locomotive rhythm section evoking “Hip Sway’s’ “Ultraviolet.” I’m glad Standring ends with “Do What You Do,” another gorgeous ballad that ends this great CD on a relaxed note. Highly recommended for hipsters everywhere. Smooth grade: A
Sweet Spot (Shanachie)
Kevin Toney delivers what his fans want – lively, groove-centered R&B smooth jazz perfect for chillin’ or for the car. For the most part, pianist Toney seems to be reaching for a wider audience than he has on previous CDs, as much of the music is middle-of-the-road. His best CD remains 1999’s Extra Sensual Perception. But Toney’s got his sweet spot on, and he adds a few vocal tracks, of course. One of them, “Morning Rain,” smolders wonderfully and is given gospel sensibilities by vocalists Lamont Van Hook and Lisa Vaughn. (Do smooth jazz players still think popular radio will play smooth vocal songs? I don’t think so. At this point, I think most are simply trying to spice things up.)
There’s so great radio R&B going on these days, and Toney gives the scene a nod with “Dilemma,” the big hit for Nelly and Kelly Rowland. The Shanachie label must have a thing for this song – another of its recent CDs, by Streetwize, features the same song. The best songs here are tracks 9-12: “Nu ‘M’ Jaz” is a trippy ride with some Middle-Eastern-sounding organ licks; “Kiss” is a beautiful ballad in an acoustic setting featuring guitarist Paul Jackson Jr.; “See You Again” is a jazz song with a touch of samba; and “Prelude to Portrait” is a solo piano piece that shows off Toney’s chops. Smooth grade: B
By now, San Diego’s Fattburger has become a smooth-jazz staple, having churned out radio-friendly grooves for so long it’s easy to ignore them. But behind the junk-food name and trite album titles lies a band that probably is more underrated than it should be. Guitarist Evan Marks is simply a great guitar player, and you can pretty much count on all of the band’s compositions (split among several band members) to be quality efforts. Take leader Carl Evan Jr.’s title track, for example: the jaunty little number is propelled by Marks’ laid-back, gliding electric guitar. Sweet.
Since band members take turn writing songs, the CD truly sounds like a band effort. They mix up tracks, like Marks’ sweet acoustic guitar-led “Irene,” bassist Mark Hunter’s jazz-rock “Bleu Cheese” and drummer Kevin Koch’s bluesy, nightclub-toe-tappin’ “Mr. C.” In between, there are simply outstanding examples of smooth jazz circa 2003 – I could listen to “Stay a Little Longer” and “You’re Finally Here” all day long.
If you haven’t already, give Fattburger a chance. They’ve got the beef. Smooth grade: A
Night Grooves (Shanachie)
Veteran smoothster Chieli Minucci – half of the classic Special EFX and soap opera composer extraordinaire – can be counted on for producing sweet and memorable songs every time out (check out “New Day” on this CD). Although you may have had your share of sweets after the holidays, Minucci’s guitar instrumentals are sure to pack a jolt of energy.
Although he can put out funk like the best, Minucci’s best songs have always had a touch of the spiritual, especially when he was composing with the late George Jinda and Special EFX. He carries that torch here on “Without You,” his wordless vocals carrying the melancholy beginning and his wailing guitar carrying the rest, building up to a rock anthem crescendo. Special EFX CDs were heavily influenced by Jinda’s percussion – on “Nasir di Nuevo” live and sampled percussion by Philip Hamilton and David Charles dominates the moody piece, spiced by Mincucci’s high-note ramblings and Hamilton’s otherworldly vocals. Minucci’s best work is always on the electric guitar, but he also shines on acoustic, especially on “You’re My Reason,” a beautiful ballad with Latin influences. Smooth grade: B
Jazz flautist Herbie Mann has died of prostate cancer at his home in Santa Fe. He was 73. Mann, who combined a variety of musical styles in his music and who deeply influenced genres such as World Music and Fusion was an exponent of Bebop and "cool" jazz who regularly toured Africa, Brazil and Japan seeking out new music forms. Mann had moved to Santa Fe in the late 80s after spending most of his professional life in his native New York.
As an avid CD collector I bump into a great CD once in a while. On cdbaby.com I discovered a great CD by a duo called Playtime which really impressed me. It is called Red Arrow Highway and was conceived as smooth jazz project founded by Detroit area session pros Brian Brill and Robert Tye. While working on advertising jobs, they began exchanging ideas to record original compositions on the side. Experimenting with early tracks cut at Brill's own studio, over time the two refined their collaborations into a polished form which ultimately led to Red Arrow Highway.
This album boasts top-notch production and great smooth playing by all involved. Contemporary grooves, melodic playing and tasteful laid back arrangements result in a very satisfying smooth jazz record which I heartily recommend to any lover of the genre. Featured guest soloists include Mark Kieme on soprano sax and Rich Illman on trumpet.
It is great to see that independently produced albums offer such a great level of musicianship and I recommend to anyone to check out the smooth jazz section at cdbaby.com from time to time - some great stuff waits there to be discovered.
To check out Playtime and to listen to sound samples click here!
Jeff Charney, Radio personality at hot 103 KPRS Kansas City, MO and owner of website www.contemporaryjazz.com was first to nationally break “Midnight Café,” featuring Ernie Watts. Jeff has called singer/songwriter Tony Adamo “a modern day Lou Rawls.” Jeff says of “Midnight Café,” “ it’s smooth, it grooves and it is just right to break this crooner out to the public.” CIM Radio, New York City has called Adamo “a smooth jazz power voice,” and made Tony’s CD, DANCE OF LOVE, editors pick. Ted Hasiuk, one of Canada’s smooth jazz pioneers is now playing “When Love Comes Over You” and has said “this song fits right into my radio format for my show, Jazz Café,” on 88.1 FM Toronto, Canada. Skyjazz Radio made Adamo its New Discovery Artist on March 2003 and started playing the song “Hey Lou.” As of July 2003, Skyjazz Radio listeners voted Tony Adamo their favorite new artist. John Beaudin, drive time announcer at 103.1, The Breeze, Calgary, Canada and owner of smoothjazzcanada.com dug Tony’s music so much that he interviewed Adamo for his website. Jeff Charney also did a live radio interview with Tony Adamo that was heard on KRNB, Dallas, TX and KPRS, Kansas City, MO.
As of June 2003, mp3songs.com.uk picked Adamo as one of the most successful Internet stories for this year and his song “Live for your Love” is #51 on their top 100 indie chart. At soundclick.com, January 2003, Tony Adamo went #1 on the smooth jazz chart with the song “Passport.” #2 was Joyce Cooling, #3 was Lee Ritenour, #4 was Pattie Labelle. February of 2003 his song, “Ecstasy” went #1 on the smooth jazz chart at soundclick.com. Lee Ritenour was #4, Pattie LaBelle was #7 and Joyce Cooling was #13. July 2003 the song “Midnight Café,” featuring Ernie Watts went to #1 on the smooth jazz chart. At soundclick.com to date Adamo has accounted for over 150,000 downloads, a phenomenal achievement for an unknown artist. Tony is listed under artist, Adamo at soundclick.com.
On the jazz vocal charts at mp3.com.au Adamo is #2. mp3.com.au is Australia ’s #1 music site. Mp3.com in the U.S. Adamo’s song “Live for your Love” climbed to #8 on their top 500 jazz and smooth jazz charts. Adamo is on many other Internet charts and is being picked up daily by additional Internet music sites.
Jim Santella of the L.A. Jazz Scene Magazine says, “Adamo leaves the impression that smooth jazz was designed with the magic of his vocal interpretations in mind.” Lee Prosser, of JazzReview.com calls Adamo “a gifted jazz vocalist/songwriter, and the David Bowie of the smooth jazz set. Adamo has quite the unique voice. His new CD release, DANCE OF LOVE, is a big winner in the smooth jazz vocals category.” Derick Winterburg, owner of www.thesmoothjazzsite.com, made Tony Adamo a new discovery artist and said, “now, when I say smooth jazz vocalist, I don’t mean what most of the smooth jazz radio stations mean. They’ll play Al Jarreau and Luther Vandross and tell you that you’re hearing smooth jazz. That being said, if you want to hear some true smooth jazz vocals you need to get yourself a copy of DANCE OF LOVE by newcomer, Tony Adamo.”