September 11, 2003

Marc Antoine's new CD "Mediterraneo" out Sept 23rd

marcantoine.jpgGuitarist Marc Antoine’s new album will be supported by extensive concert dates

As refreshing as plunging into the ocean on a sweltering summer day, the new album Mediterraneo by guitarist Marc Antoine is scheduled for release from sax star Dave Koz’s Rendezvous Entertainment record label on September 23rd. The first track serviced to radio, “Funky Picante,” sets the stage for the album release and is typical of the expanse of music that the Paris-born, Madrid-based artist explores. It’s a collection that is “world music” by every definition of the term.

Beautiful and infectious classical acoustic guitar melodies, rhythmic flamenco riffs, lively Latin percussion nuances, shuffling funk/hip-hop grooves and soothing contemporary jazz jaunts are neatly presented in seductive soulful sonicscapes. Antoine produced and arranged the tracks on his sixth album, which were mixed by Mike Pela, who is known for the vibe he’s contributed to recordings by Sade and Maxwell. The album was recorded in Antoine’s studio in Madrid by multiple Grammy Award winner Rafa Sardina, who has produced and/or engineered recordings by artists such as Angie Stone, Macy Gray, Dru Hill, and Luis Miguel. Of the eleven cuts on the disc, Antoine wrote eight, collaborated on two, and delivered a classy cover of Everything But The Girl’s “Lady.”

As a solo artist, Antoine has topped the charts twice (“Sunland” and “Mas Que Nada”) while becoming a signature artist at smooth jazz radio. Antoine has lent his distinctive guitar elegance to recordings and concert performances by some of the most distinguished and diverse artists including Sting, Celine Dion, Basia, Queen Latifah, Cher, George Benson, Soul II Soul, Selena, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Will Downing, Dave Koz, David Benoit, Rick Braun, Peter White and Richard Elliot.

“I’ve had the pleasure of having Marc play on a couple of my records,” said Koz. “We’re all very excited about launching our record label with an artist of his magnitude. Marc is a uniquely talented musician that has a proven track record and the ability to appeal to a wide array of audiences.”

On September 28th, Antoine will begin a U.S. concert tour with Koz, Jeff Lorber and Chris Botti, which continues through the first week of November. After Thanksgiving, Antoine will embark on another trek with Koz and Botti, this time accompanied by Brian Culbertson and Bobby Caldwell.

The Mediterraneo album contains the following songs:

“Cubanova”
“Funky Picante”
“Mediterraneo”
“Preludio”
“Castellana Hood”
“Afromenco”
“Senor Grove”
“Gotham”
“Lady”
“Gringo”
“Alejandro’s Lullaby”

Catch Marc Antoine on tour with Dave Koz, Jeff Lorber & Chris Botti at:

September 28 Anchorage, AK Center for the Performing Arts
October 2 El Paso, TX Abraham Chavez Theatre
October 3 Phoenix, AZ Celebrity Theatre
October 4 & 5 Temecula, CA Thornton Winery
October 8 Santa Rosa, CA Luther Burbank Center
October 9 Sacramento, CA Radisson Hotel
October 10 Las Vegas, NV Sunset Station
October 11 Los Angeles, CA Greek Theatre
October 12 Santa Barbara, CA Santa Barbara Bowl
October 15 Denver, CO Paramount Theatre
October 16 Kansas City, MO Uptown Theatre
October 17 St. Louis, MO Touhill Performing Arts Center
October 19 Indianapolis, IN Murat Center
October 23 Tower Theatre Philadelphia, PA
October 24 Westbury, NY Westbury Music Fair
October 26 Ucasaville, CT Wolf Den
November 2 & 3 Atlanta, GA Robert Ferst Center
November 5 Richmond, VA Landmark Theatre
November 6 Norfolk, VA Chrysler Theatre


Celebrate A Smooth Jazz Christmas with Antoine, Koz, Botti, Brian Culbertson and Bobby Caldwell on:

November 29 Long Beach, CA Terrace Theatre
November 30 Palm Springs, CA McCallum Theatre
December 5 San Francisco, CA Masonic Temple
December 12 Melbourne, FL Maxwell King Center
December 14 Naples, FL Philharmonic Center for the Arts
December 16 Sarasota, FL Van Wezel Performing Arts Center
December 17 Clearwater, FL Ruth Eckerd Hall
December 19 & 20 Chicago, IL Chicago Theatre
December 21 Los Angeles, CA Kodak Theatre

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:19 AM

September 3, 2003

Richard Elliot In Boston

richardelliot.jpgWelcome to the August 2003 issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz.

The week of August 25 in the city of Boston seemed much like any other. Warm summer sunshine was fragmented by scattered and dramatic thunderstorms and the Red Sox were winning again. However, from a musical perspective this historic city was serving up some very untypical and varied delights.

The first of these was the appearance of Richard Elliott at the Scullers Jazz Club and the second was Aretha Franklin, in town in suburban Lowell as part of her farewell concert tour. More news of this Aretha Franklin tour in the next edition of The Secret Garden but for now its time to concentrate on the Elliot gig.

Scullers Jazz Club is something of a rare phenomenon. It is small and intimate and buried within the Doubletree All Suites Hotel between the Charles River and the Massachusetts turnpike. Hardly the place one would expect to find top rank smooth jazz artists. But find them there you will, a fact that is even more surprising given that Boston is one of the few major US cities not to have a dedicated smooth jazz radio station.

On August 26 it was the turn of Richard Elliott to blow into town with an early and a late show and the opportunity to showcase tracks from his new release Ricochet.

Although he's called a "smooth jazz artist," saxophonist Richard Elliot is equally at home with most rock & roll and the kind of classic R&B performed by the group Tower Of Power. For five years in the 1980s, he was a big part of the classic R&B band's horn-based sound.

The Scottish-born Richard Elliot was raised in Los Angeles, where he quickly became a fan of West Coast classic R&B. Elliot landed his first job while still a teenager with Natalie Cole and the Pointer Sisters. A few years later, he was tapped to record with some of his idols from Motown Records, which had relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles. In the 1970s, he had the chance to record with both Smokey Robinson and The Four Tops.

coverSince the 1980s, Richard Elliot has been among the top saxophonists in the smooth jazz genre. But if Elliot had to categorize his music, he wouldn't necessarily call it jazz - at least not in the traditional sense. The tenor sax man tends to think of himself as essentially an R&B instrumentalist with jazz influences. Soul and funk are his foundation and he celebrates his soul/funk heritage on this latest GRP release Ricochet.

‘In some respects, this record is a return to my roots,’ Elliot says of Ricochet. ‘I consider myself more of an R&B artist than a jazz artist, and I felt I was really exploring my R&B roots on this album. In my younger days, I tended to make eclectic records. But on my last few records I tried to have more of a commonality-and on Ricochet there is always an R&B thread.’

That isn't to say that Ricochet is devoid of jazz or pop elements. Like his previous releases, this instrumental album is very much a part of the contemporary jazz idiom. Nor is Elliot saying that he forgot about his R&B heritage on any of his previous CDs as Elliot has usually favoured the more R&B-influenced side of jazz. But if all of Elliot's albums underscore his soul/funk roots to some degree, Ricochet finds him being even more R&B-minded than usual. From tough, sweaty funk-jazz smokers like ‘Sly’, named after the legendary Sly Stone, and ‘Slam’ to the dusky ‘Corner Pocket’ and a sentimental remake of The Stylistics' ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New.’

Ricochet finds Elliot joining forces with a variety of accomplished musicians and producers. This album called for participants with strong R&B credentials, and Elliot has exactly that in guitarist Tony Maiden, who backed Chaka Khan when he was part of Rufus in the 1970’s, veteran percussionist Lenny Castro and guitarist Robbie Nevil. One of the album's keyboardists is the multi-faceted Jeff Lorber.

Lorber and Elliot both do their share of producing on Ricochet and the album's other producers include Steven Dubin, bassist Ronnie Garret, and keyboardist Rex Rideout. There was a time when Elliot preferred to do all of his own producing, but these days, he enjoys the input that he gets from others.

cover‘I used to produce all of my records by myself,’ Elliot recalls. ‘But along the way, I decided that I wanted people to help me with the production so that I could put all of my energy into playing the saxophone and writing - and I found that to be a very liberating experience. When the time came to do this record, I picked the producers I wanted to collaborate with and everyone had their own ideas. At the same time, I wanted all of the material to have a common thread.’

Both Rideout and Garrett were on stage with Elliott at Scullers and as well as doing a terrific job on the Ricochet showcase they also found time to remind the packed audience of some of the great numbers from Elliott’s previous releases.

Most memorable among these was his rendition of two numbers from his Chill Factor CD. The first was ‘Moomba’ and Elliott explained to the audience that the word Moomba was of African origin and meant to move on to the next village. He added that was just as well because at the time he wrote and named the track he had no idea what the word meant.

In addition, Richard Elliot also served up ‘Aint Nothing But The Real Thing’ from his Chill Factor CD. This Ashford and Simpson composition falls fair and square into our category of Smooth Soul Survivor. As regular readers will know, for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor it must be a much loved smooth jazz track which has its origins deep in the soul music of the 60’s and 70’s.

ashford_simpson.jpgNikolas Ashford, born May 4, 1942 in Fairfield, SC and Valerie Simpson, born August 26, 1946, in New York City have had two distinct careers. Both song writing and performing have worked hand in hand.

As far as performing, their own career was launched in 1973 with Keep It Comin on Motown and Gimme Something Real on Warner Bros. Their first success came in 1977 with the gold-selling Send It which contained the Top Ten R&B hit ‘Don't Cost You Nothing.’ Is It Still Good To Ya, a second gold album and released in 1978 contained the number two R&B hit ‘It Seems to Hang On’. Stay Free, their third straight gold album, contained ‘Found a Cure’, another R&B smash that also made the Top 40 on the pop chart. A Musical Affair, in 1980, featured the hit ‘Love Don't Make It Right,’ but was not as successful as previous efforts.

Meanwhile, Ashford & Simpson continued to work with other artists, scoring successes with Chaka Khan, and the classic ‘I'm Every Woman’, and with Gladys Knight. Their own career saw a resurgence in 1984 with Solid, which went gold and produced the R&B number one ‘Solid’ that made number 12 on the pop charts. During the late '80s and '90s, Ashford & Simpson continued to tour and record sporadically.

The two had originally met in 1964 and scored their first song writing hit in 1966 with Ray Charles recording of their ‘Let's Go Get Stoned.’ After a period at Scepter Records, they moved to Motown where they wrote hits for The Supremes that included ‘You're All I Need to Get By’. When Diana Ross left The Supremes for a solo career, Ashford & Simpson also wrote ‘Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand’ for her. During this Motown period they also wrote ‘Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing’ for the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

‘Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing’ proved to be a massive and much copied smooth soul classic with Kiki Dee, as far back as 1971, and Michael McDonald, as recently as this year both choosing to cover it. Add in the likes of Aretha Franklin, Donny Osmond, Angela Bofill and Vince Gill and its clear this is track has appealed to a wide range of artists and a wide range of music styles.

Three decades on and it is Richard Elliot who was lighting up a Boston summer evening with his version of this excellent Smooth Soul Survivor.

The Richard Elliot Ricochet tour continues around the US and he is also scheduled for ‘Guitars and Saxes’ appearances too. Visit his website for dates and catch him if you can. The experience will be richly rewarding.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor or a track for ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:48 PM

September 1, 2003

Smooth Sailing September 2003

Rick Braun does it again, while veteran alto saxophonist David Sanborn and the classic Acoustic Alchemy release their best CDs in years.

Rick Braun
Esperanto (Warner Bros.)

coverRick Braun’s a busy dude. Two of his last three CDs were collaborations – one with the new BWB (Braun, Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown) and a classic with Boney James. It seems like his music’s everywhere, but Esperanto is only his third solo CD in the last five years (Kisses in the Rain and Full Stride the other two.) It wasn’t too much of a letdown, but a lack of cohesion on Kisses in the Rain made it somewhat of a disappointment.

Well, welcome back Mr. Trumpet Player. What we have here is the CD of the year.

He kicks it off with “Green Tomatoes,” which could have been included on the BWB CD and in fact features Whalum and Brown. It’s rollicking, and you know you’re going to get healthy doses of this on a Braun CD. His best songs are often ballads or midtempo smooth stuff (such as the exquisite “Latinesque” here, for example), but if you’ve seen Mr. Energy in concert, you know he’s got a wild streak. And you know he’s get the best-sounding horn in the business.

What to highlight on this fabulous CD, which has an exotic theme and delicious strings running throughout? How about the plaintive piano-and-trumpet “Mother’s Day”? Or the funky “Daddy-O”? Or the way he slows the tempo, then rushes it again, in a way you don’t hear much in smooth jazz, in “Sir W”? Yes, all of those. Then there’s the late-night energy of “Zona Rosa,” the in-the-pocket groove of “To Manhattan With Love,” the movie theme drama of “Turquoise.”

In a year of too-few must-haves, Esperanto stands out as a no brainer for the shelves of smoothies. Smooth grade: A


David Sanborn
Time Again (Verve)

coverDavid Sanborn is the most imitated saxophonist of the smooth jazz generation, with good reason. Just listen to this CD. His a alto sax is alive here, on his best CD is ages. Sanborn crosses genres on his CDs, but this one is squarely for smooth fans. Listen with a proviso: the music is raw, energetic, alive, breathing. The radio single “Comin’ Home Baby,” which leads the CD, is seven minutes of jazz sax, vibraphone and more. You’ll love the vibe and bass solos. The covers are sublime: “Harlem Nocturne,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Sugar” and the party anthem “Tequila.” Sublime, also, are the real standouts: “Cristo Redentor,” Sanborn’s sax sharing time with a churchlike chorus, and “Little Flower,” where Sanborn plays both sax and piano. The songs are all wonderful, but what you experience here is the power and magic of Sanborn’s playing. A mainstay of smooth jazz is a romantic setting with a soft sax, but with Sanborn the sax is something more urgent. And even more sexy. Smooth grade: A

Acoustic Alchemy
Radio Contact (Higher Octave)

coverAcoustic Alchemy has made enough classics over the years to cement its standing as one of smooth jazz’s Hall of Fame groups. Its best songs are a long time ago, although The Beautiful Game from 2000 showed signs of AA from old. 2001’s AArt, however, was horn-heavy and featured less of the distinct melodies the group is known for. The new CD doesn’t have horns, and I was interested to see what direction the guitar duo of Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale would be taking this new project. After a few listens, it’s clear that this CD marks a return to the classic AA sound, good news for longtime fans. The band has been around for a long time, of course, so some variance in sound is in order (you can’t play the same songs over again, can you?), but AA maintains its melodic touch here without straying too far from what made it a smooth jazz favorite. Ballads (“Coffee With Manni,” “Ya Tebya Lubliu,” driving numbers (“Milo,” “Shelter Island Drive”) , some great guitar interaction. All in all, a very worthwhile listen, and a fine return to form. Smooth grade: A

Brian Hughes
Along the Way (A440)

coverAfter the sublime Shakin’ Not Stirred, Brian Hughes has returned with another fine effort that shows why he’s one of smooth jazz’s top lyrical guitarists. What makes him so special? First is his playing which, although firmly schooled in the Montgomery/Benson tradition, takes it a step further with nods to Pat Metheny. Second is his skill for the hook, which he strongly believes in. Finally there’s his variety – Hughes isn’t afraid to tone it down a few notches with jazzy interludes, as he does on “Omaha Unbound” and “Endless Road,” with piano and acoustic bass taking center stage with some acoustic picking. (OK, Brian, I think I’m ready for a full CD on this jazzy stuff!) The road-themed CD begins with “Along the Way,” which by the end of the first 15 seconds you realize is going to be another Hughes classic – breezy and joyful. Other tracks in that vein are “Brighter Day” and “Wherever You Are.” Hughes’ journey takes a mildly tropical turn with “Picture This,” “Son y Lola” and others, where the rhythm takes listeners south of the border.

Although there’s a lot going on here, the disparate elements make this a less well-defined work than Shakin’ Not Stirred. There’s still much to recommend: some quintessential Hughes, some great new jazz pieces and a little Latin spice. Smooth grade: B+

Kirk Whalum
Into My Soul (Warner Bros.)

coverThis CD could have been titled “Memphis Soul.” Veteran smooth jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum tapped legendary Memphis producer and writer David Porter for an homage to rich Southern soul music. This CD is a real treat for Whalum fans, who’ve been waiting for a return to form since his classic For You, a stellar collection of cover songs. There are only two covers here, though: Porter and Isaac Hayes’ “Hold On I’m Coming,” which Whalum slows down from Sam and Dave’s hit; and “That’s All Right,” which Elvis Presley recorded on his Sun Records debut. Whalum’s version features a rock guitar and his brother, Kevin Whalum, on vocals.

The rest is all original material, as Whalum interprets Memphis/Southern soul music his own way. Whalum brings in the other two members of BWB (Rick Braun and Boney James) to play in “Hoddamile (Hold or Mild),” a very tasty cut. Soul man Isaac Hayes is joined on vocals by Wendy Moten on “I Loved You in Memphis,” a soul-drenched new classic. Rounding out the all-star cast is Maurice White, who adds some brief vocal power to a gorgeous ballad, “You Had Me at Hello.”

The two best songs on the CD feature Whalum’s sax out front, where it belongs. “Another Beautiful Day” has a sinful hook and toe-tapping feel, and is the first single. “Club Paradise” is its twin, an infectious soprano ditty you wish you could go on for ever and ever and…. Well, that wouldn’t work – you wouldn’t be able to take in the rest of this CD, where every song is killer, no filler. You need a dose of soul, you check out this CD. Smooth grade: A

Bernie Williams
They Journey Within (GRP)

coverWould New York Yankees baseball slugger Bernie Williams have gotten a record deal with GRP if he wasn’t a star in the nation’s biggest media market? Probably not. But the fact is, Williams began playing music as a youngster in his native Puerto Rico and, on his debut, shows he knows his way around the guitar and a pretty melody. Like bassist Wayman Tisdale, the former pro basketball player who now plays smooth jazz, Williams is smart enough to surround himself with some all-star talent: namely Bela Fleck, Ruben Blades, David Benoit and a great backing band.

True to his roots, Williams swings with a Latin beat on songs such as “La Salsa En Mi,” “Para Don Berna,” “Desvelado” and “Sambo Novo” (a solo number). The closest I can think to compare him to an established presence in smooth jazz is Acoustic Alchemy – some of the same warm tone on the acoustic guitar, although not matching AA’s melodic drive. Williams doesn’t hide his playing on rhythm – he plays out front quite a bit on the 13 songs, the majority of which he wrote.

The CD may be a bit raw for average smooth jazz fans, and a song with his kids singing is a bit much. But there are some fine moments, such as the pensive “Perna Don Berna” (with “Saturday Night Live’s” T-Bone Wolk on acoustic bass) and the Paul Brown-remixed “Just Because.” Smooth grade: B-

Posted by Brian Soergel at 10:24 PM