November 28, 2003

Jason Miles: Maximum Grooves due in March 2004

I just received the jazz releases schedule 2004 from Telarc Records. There are mainly mainstream jazz releases but among those there is one of interest for our readers. It is Jason Miles' upcoming Maximum Grooves featuring saxophonists Michael Brecker and Walter Beasley, guitarist Jeff Golub and vocalist Cassandra Reed among other high-profile artists. The CD combines great smooth jazz melodies with contemporary rhythms using loops and live musicians together. Sounds good to me!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:41 PM

November 14, 2003

Marc Antoine's Mediterraneo and A Smooth Jazz Christmas tour

coverGuitarist Marc Antoine’s Mediterraneo seduces radio, the album charts, fans & critics alike. Up next is a 21-date holiday concert tour throughout the U.S.

The new world music-influenced CD from Latin-jazz guitarist Marc Antoine, Mediterraneo, is romancing radio listeners, record buyers, concert goers and music critics from coast to coast.  “Funky Picante,” the first single from the Paris-born, Madrid-based artist’s new collection, is spicing up the Top 20 on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz radio chart, while the album crashed the shores of Billboard’s Top 10 Contemporary Jazz Album Chart.        

Antoine recently wrapped a six-week U.S. concert tour along with Dave Koz, Chris Botti and Jeff Lorber.  Saxman Dave Koz happens to be the co-founder of Rendezvous Entertainment, the record label that released Antoine’s album this fall.  Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, Antoine and Koz team with Chris Botti, Brian Culbertson and Bobby Caldwell for A Smooth Jazz Christmas, a solidly-booked concert trek comprised of 21 concerts in 19 cities in 24 days before Christmas.  The stellar group of musicians will be performing holiday standards along with tracks from their current CDs and recent hits. 

We can spend time hurling a bunch of colorful adjectives at you that aptly describe the Mediterraneo album, but you’re much better at that than we are so we’ll let you do it for us:

“He’s an amazingly gifted guitarist who plays in flamenco and Latin jazz styles with equal grade and aplomb, and his recordings are slick, sweet and lean heavily on the smooth jazz tip.  That said, on Mediterraneo, his seventh album, there is some real fire in both material and playing… Ultimately, Mediterraneo is Antoine’s finest moment to date, and is indicative of the kinds of changes he’s moving toward as his grasp of his chosen music vocabularies grows and expands on that knowledge.” – All Music Guide

“…Marc Antoine commands your attention with a world beat in a sea of jazzy currents.  The songs on the album are distinctly spicy.  You can almost taste the flavors of a quaint café in Madrid or imagine yourself on a distant shore… Flamenco guitar, samplings of hip-hop, cool grooves and classical remembrances all combine into an intimate jazz excursion that will ignite your senses.”  - JazzReview.com

“Flamenco-jazz guitarist Marc Antoine gives smooth jazz a good name.  Mediterraneo shows that Antoine’s acoustic guitar chops have enough bite to steer his music beyond the blandness of so much smooth jazz.  His phrasing is confident and laid back – he doesn’t need to fill every moment with notes.  And his playing is infused with a subtle romanticism and hints of the exotic.” – Newark Star-Ledger

“Marc’s last album, Cruisin’, was fabulous, and he’s taking it up a notch here.  Antoine penned ten of the eleven tracks… Mixing styles and influences, you’d think that Antoine was a world music artist, but the contemporary jazz radio format has championed him and made him a future smooth jazz legend.” – JazzUSA.com

Mediterraneo certainly deserves a wide hearing.  Released, Sept. 23, the album’s 11 tracks feature eight Antoine originals, including the accurately titled ‘Funky Picante,’ and the closing ode to his son, ‘Alejandro’s Lullaby.’  The sound throughout is lively, a blend of funk rhythms and flamenco guitar, Latin percussion and lovely ballads.” – Stockton Record


Celebrate A Smooth Jazz Christmas with Marc Antoine, Dave Koz, Chris Botti, Brian Culbertson and Bobby Caldwell on the following dates:

November 28                          Lake Tahoe, NV                      Hyatt Regency

November 29                          Long Beach, CA                      Terrace Theatre

November 30                          Palm Springs, CA                    McCallum Theatre

December 1                             Santa Barbara, CA                  Arlington Theatre

December 2                             Fresno, CA                              Saroyan Theatre

December 3                             San Diego, CA                        Symphony Hall

December 4                             El Cajon, CA                            East County Performing Arts Center

December 5                             Modesto, CA                            State Theatre

December 6                             San Francisco, CA                  Masonic Temple

December 9                             Cleveland, OH                         Playhouse Square

December 10                           Cleveland, OH                         Mershon Theatre

December 11                           Atlanta, GA                               Robert Ferst Center

December 12                           Melbourne, FL                         Maxwell King Center

December 13                           West Palm Beach, FL               Pompano Beach Amphitheatre

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 18                           Milwaukee, WI                         Riverside Theatre

December 19 & 20                  Chicago, IL                              Chicago Theatre

December 21                           Los Angeles, CA                      Kodak Theatre

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:10 AM

November 9, 2003

David Garfield - Giving Back (Creatchy Records)

garfield.jpgWhile riding my mountain bike uphill listening to studio ace David Garfield's latest release Giving Back on my iPod I was really having a great time. This album is varied, interesting, boasts top notch playing from an incredible lineup of L.A.'s best session musicians (Gerald Albright, the Brecker Brothers, Walt Fowler, Vinnie Colaiuta, Hiroshima's June Kuramoto, Ricardo Silveira, Airto Moreira, Paul Jackson Jr., Lee Ritenour etc. etc.) and doesn't shy away from some really demanding playing. The opening track "Desert Hideaway" is the first highlight with its catchy melody and great solos by Michael O'Neill on guitar and Will Lee on bass. The smooth "Laws Of Love" is a beauty with Larry Klimas and Walt Fowler playing the melody together on sax and flugelhorn. "Tune For Tony" is a wild jam featuring two drummers splitting the drum patterns between themselves while the Brecker Brothers really stretch out. Steve Lukather adds his rock guitar the way he did on previous Garfield albums. There are some vocal numbers on the CD as well and they have hit potential. Especially "The One With The Broken Heart" featuring Bill Champlin and some great background singers lift this catchy pop song to a new level. The Isley's "For The Love Of You" featuring Alex Ligertwood is a delight as well. I could go on and comment the rest of the great tracks on this album which range from smooth jazz to soul/pop and back to funk, latin and weird jazz. A standout CD which is highly recommended to the true music lover who knows no boundaries!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:21 PM

November 8, 2003

Contempo November 2003

coverAsk smooth jazz whiz kid-turned genre star Brian Culbertson about his chief influences, and you might expect the keyboardist to list guys like Joe Sample, George Duke and Chick Corea — melodic and improvisational innovators whose success paved the way for his own. He’ll get to that list eventually, but there’s no doubt that growing up in Chicago, horn players and horn bands were the true catalyst for his ultimate musical development. His father Jim, a high school jazz band director, was a trumpet player and Culbertson — who started playing trombone so he could join a school band himself - couldn’t get enough of Chicago, Tower of Power, Maynard Ferguson, David Sanborn and The Brecker Brothers.

Is that perhaps the reason that his series of bestselling recordings over the past decade feature so many sax-keyboard lead melodies, brass sections and horn harmonies? Come On Up, his latest hit on Warner Bros, features longtime Culbertson compatriot and fellow Windy City native Steve Cole (who was the keyboardist’s sideman while cultivating his own solo career) on two key tracks, including the raucous first single “Say What?” and Rick Braun on the moody “Last Night.” Or does the overwhelming success of sax (and Braun’s trumpet) on smooth jazz radio mean that a keyboardist must have that sound to receive airplay?

“The genre definitely has a love affair with the sax, but the reason I like using it on my songs has to do with writing good arrangements, something I keep getting better at,” Culbertson says. “The piano’s notes are transitory, while the sax gives you longer notes. So if I’m looking for a strong hook sometimes, I want to double the piano with it. It takes home the emotion a little more. The second single, ‘Serpentine Fire,’ kicks without that. I never do anything just to get played. What gets airplay and attention are songs with good melodies, hooks and grooves. Horns just add punch where it seems appropriate.”

In a genre where sax players are the most recognizable faces (think Kenny G, Dave Koz, Boney James), Culbertson believes that playing keys helps him stand out. Listeners may have trouble distinguishing one sax god from another, but when a piano oriented track comes on, chances are they can say with confidence who it is.

“There are always 500 new sax players trying to break through, and that’s probably because it’s the instrument that has brought the most success to smooth jazz,” he adds. “Sax used to be used a lot in pop music, but these days is very much pigeonholed as a traditional or contemporary jazz instrument. If you play sax well, this is where you’ve got to be. On the other hand, piano and keyboard players have more options in terms of musical genres. Every rock and R&B band needs a keyboard player. Instrumental music is just one viable alternative.”

Culbertson has also, on occasion, played a little trombone on his recordings. Over the years, as he’s developed into one of the genre’s most dynamic live performers, he’s also spiced things up by jumping up, running around the stage and blowing away. “I enjoy the freedom of cutting loose and wailing, and like most keyboardists, I get a little stir crazy just having to stand in one place. It allows me to be mobile. I still toy with the idea of doing a trombone record someday.”

coverLike Culbertson, Kevin Toney — whose new, funk drenched and elegance spiced Shanachie outing Sweet Spot, is one of the best discs of the year - is a popular melodic pianist and keyboardist with a great appreciation for classic horn players, albeit from a previous generation — Bird, Trane and Lester Young. Toney, who launched his career as a member of the 70s R&B outfit The Blackbyrds, has a ready explanation for the sax’s dominance over piano in both generations as the most popular instrument: “People want a sound that emulates the human voice, because that brings them closer to the emotion of a song. The piano is the only instrument that can play a complete arrangement of any song without accompaniment, but it doesn’t touch the heart the same.”

Still, Toney prefers letting his primary instrument carry the weight of the songs, without sax accompaniment. A notable exception on the new project is “Coast To Coast,” which features labelmate Pamela Williams on soprano sax. “One of the reasons I do my records without horns is that there are so many out there and I really strive to be different,” he says. “I’ve been told by record and radio people alike that songs with sax sell more records, but I’m a pianist and I like to feature what I do best. Like Brian says, making a keyboard oriented album gives us an edge, a healthy alternative. I have a lot of things I want to say, and I can say them like this. I could use tons of keyboards and use synth for the main melody more than I do, but focusing on the piano is my way of keeping the human element front and center.”

cd_bestof.jpgEARTHLY DELIGHTS: Mark Winkler is an L.A. based singer/songwriter who since the late 1980s has mastered both smooth and straight ahead jazz, applying his deft lyrics and cool phrasing to both types of projects over the years. In June, I profiled his latest and one of his best labor of loves ever, Sings Bobby Troup, which updated the “Route 66” songwriter’s tunes for the modern martini lounge era. Winkler’s prodigious catalog extends back nearly 20 years, and he recently struck a deal with the Varese Sarabande label to compile 16 top tracks on The Best of Mark Winkler: Garden of Earthly Delights. The tunes reflect a wide range of styles, and the marketing hook is such that even if you’re new to the vocal experience, the great musicians he’s played with should pique your interest. Among those on hand are Gerald Albright, David Benoit, Boney James, Brian Bromberg, Dianne Reeves, The Rippingtons, Joe Sample, Tom Scott and Dan Siegel. A real treasure from an often underappreciated talent.

HOT SUMMER JAZZ: Everyone makes a huge deal of the annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, but Southern California smooth jazz fans know the best festival for “our” kind of music is also the (literally) hottest at Central Park in Old Town Pasadena. The mid-July weekend featured temperatures well into the 90s and powerful performances by Euge Groove, Acoustic Alchemy (back to their guitar focus after a sensuous and funky flirtation with lots of horns), Gerald Albright with Jonathan Butler and, closing it down on Saturday night, the funk-intensive BWB (Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown).

ALL ABOARD – Last month, this column profiled an upcoming genre event that will hopefully become a popular annual tradition with a touch of exotica, a la my favorite event, The Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival. The 3rd Annual Smooth Jazz Cruise aboard the Costa Atlantica (part of the Costa Cruise Line), headed for the Western Caribbean January 18-25, was an immediate sellout, leading DaVinci Travel to offer a second week of smooth jazz cruising to the Eastern Caribbean (San Juan, St. Thomas, St. John, Nassau, etc.) from January 25-February 1. The musical lineup for the second week includes Warren Hill, Jeff Golub, Euge Groove, Marion Meadows, Chieli Minucci, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, Peter White and Alexander Zonjic making the nights at sea funky and smooth. For information and reservations, please call the Davinci Travel Group, 800-887-4379 or check out www.smoothcruise2004.com.

What I’m listening to:

1) Eva Cassidy, American Tune (Blix Street) — The late songstress who became renowned long after her passing seems to have left a lot of incredible recordings behind that friends and former bandmates keep finding. This latest batch finds her redefining tunes made famous by Billie Holliday, The Beatles, Paul Simon and even Cyndi Lauper.
2) Kirk Whalum, Into My Soul (Warner Bros.)
3) Jimmy Sommers, Lovelife (Higher Octave)
4) David Lanz, Cristofori’s Dream (Narada)
5) Vince Guaraldi, The Charlie Brown Suite & Other Favorites (Bluebird)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 4:38 PM

November 7, 2003

Smooth Sailing

Mr. Everything Dave Koz returns with a CD in three acts, while Marc Antoine and Ken Navarro make more great guitar music. Read all the reviews in Smooth Sailing.

Dave Koz
Saxophonic (Capitol)

coverDave Koz has one of the highest profiles in smooth, thanks to his syndicated “Dave Koz Radio Show” and a morning show on KTWV in Los Angeles. He also finds time for special tours, like one you may be catching this Christmas. He’s guest-starred on numerous pop and smooth jazz CDs. So it’s no surprise that it’s been four years since his sublime, hit-happy The Dance, his last CD of non-holiday tunes. (He also released Golden Slumbers, a CD of lullabies.) Fans have been begging for new material, and Saxophonic delivers big time in a “concept” CD that is broken into three “acts” – funky, midtempo and experimentalism. That’s only party true, as there is a ballad in the funk section and some pretty standard Dave Koz stuff in the experimental section.

No matter. Pay no attention to the “Acts.” Overall, it’s Koz’s best yet, a very strong contender for CD of the year – melodic, radio-friendly, trippy, a little different. Koz may surprise some of his longtime fans, but it will be a good surprise – that’s what make it his crowning work so far. Just when you assume a musician is going to crank out another by-the-numbers CD ….

Koz’s tenor has never sounded so robust – not a whole lot of Kenny G swirls going on here. The first single, “Honey-dipped,” and “All I See Is You” are slices of breathy sax and funk, a la Euge Groove. Koz loves wordless vocals and repeated choruses, which he has on two standouts: “Love Changes Everything,” with Brian McKnight, and “Undeniable,” with Bobby Caldwell barely registering a presence, which is kinda weird – a good weird, for it’s a Koz song, not a Caldwell vocal. Koz does dip into the soprano, with great effect, in the lush “Just to Be Next to You,” the toe-tappin’ and irresistible “Let It Free” and “A View From Above,” with guitarist Marc Antoine.

The “experimental” songs are groovy. “Saxophonic (Come on Up)” has wonderfully weird loops, deep funk and some jazzy horn work. It’s like 10 songs in one. “Sound of the Underground” features a Parisian metro shuffle a la Philippe Saisse (actually, it’s a sample from a bebop classic), and Chris Botti adds trumpet. “Only Tomorrow Knows” has computer-synthed vocals a la Cher, and ya gotta love the whistling. Smooth grade: A

Marc Antoine
Mediterraneo (Rendezvous)

coverGypsy guitar god Marc Antoine – born in France and now living in Spain and Los Angeles – has long since crossed the line into smooth jazz superstardom and is one of the most well-known and liked musicians in the genre. There’s a good chance you’ll see him on tour this year, either solo or with the “Smooth Jazz Christmas” crew. His new CD seems like an early Christmas present for his devoted fans from earlier days, whose devotion to CDs such as Classical Soul and Madrid helped take him from cult hero to jazz star. What those CDs featured was Antoine’s flamenco and Gypsy acoustic stylings. With his last CDs, Cruisin’ and Universal Language, Antoine stayed close to his romantic roots while exploring more urban flavors of jazz, hip-hop and dance hall.

Mediterraneo, however, harkens to the Antoine of old. Maybe this has something to do with Dave Koz, who is releasing the CD on his new label (Antoine’s most recent CDs were on GRP). He opens with “Cubanova,” which tells you the song combines Cuba stylings with a tempting Brazilian bossa nova beat. It’s a classic, enhanced by orchestral strings and trumpet. After the piazza-strolling “Funky Picante,” Antoine delivers with the one anthemic, heart-warming song that he includes on every CD, such as “Unity” on Classical Soul and “Sunland” on Madrid. This one’s the cover song, “Mediterraneo,” and you’re going to love it as much as loved the other ones.

There are no bad tracks here. “Senor Groove” has a shuffle track perfect to get the feet moving, while “Gotham” has a late-night groove and the lovely background vocals of Antoine’s wife, Rebeca Vega. He does a cover of Everything But the Girl’s “Lady” and includes a hip-hop sample throughout the frolicking “Gringo.” He closes with “Alejandro’s Lullaby,” dedicated to his young son.

This CD’s a sure thing, folks. Smooth grade: A+

Ken Navarro
All the Way (Shanachie)

coverKen Navarro is the John Grisham of smooth jazz. But where Grisham pops out a book every year but seems to going south in terms of quality, Navarro keeps getting better and improving. A Navarro CD is like a trip to the candy store to buy your favorite treat – you know what you’re getting and you know it’s going to taste great. Whether on electric or acoustic guitar, Navarro is the master of crystal-clear production, sweet harmonies and well-managed solos. You can expect a greatest-hits-type song to open a Navarro CD, and he delivers here with “It’s Up to You,” a languid breeze of a electric-guitar song that’s sure to catch the ears of the Weather Channel. He follows that with the knockout punch, “Hey Cool Breeze,” another electric number.

Just when you think Navarro should stick to electric, he follows with acoustic cuts that remind you how – like Peter White and Earl Klugh – he can make the nylon strings sound sweeter than just about anyone around. As I said, you know what you’re going to get with Navarro – hooks a plenty and no vocals – but he does add one surprise into the mix: “Play Don’t Worry,” a rocker that displays his guitar-god chops. Navarro has been such a constant we can forgive him for this. Smooth grade: A-


David Benoit
Right Here, Right Now (GRP)

coverDavid Benoit’s got the right idea. On the liner notes to his 23rd CD, the pianist includes a brief description of how he got the inspiration to record each track. That can really help listeners, especially on instrumental CDs. You may or may not have imagined that Benoit envisioned UFOs in “Third Encounter.” Of course, once you listen to the songs on this good effort, you might have your own ideas about what they mean. Benoit would probably agree that that’s cool, too. He’s always been a fan favorite, as those fans proved by naming him keyboardist of the year at the fourth annual National Smooth Jazz Awards.

Benoit gives fans what they want by way of three covers: James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” (with Peter White on guitar, in addition to an orchestra), Herbie Hancock’s fun-to-the-max “Watermelon Man” and Jesse Harris’ “Don’t Know Why,” which was a huge hit for Grammy superstar Norah Jones. On other selections, Benoit’s acoustic piano sounds the same as it always does, and that’s a good thing: clear, precise and clean, like he’s playing for you only, smack dab in your living room.

Produced by Rick Braun, the CD keeps things lively with different styles: there’s the bossa nova of “Swingin’ Waikiki,” the big cinema sound of “Le Grand,” inspired by composer Michel Legrand, and the jazz trio in “Wistful Thinking” (with some sax by Andy Suzuki). Very worthwhile. Smooth grade: A

Eric Marienthal
Sweet Talk (Peak)

coverEric Marienthal tanked with Turn Up the Heat in 2001, which sounded old and uninspired. He’s turned it around on his new CD, and producer Jason Miles does Marienthal justice. Whether on the title track, “Sweet Talk,” a nice ballad with a great hook, or on the rambunctious cover of “Tell Me Something Good,” Marienthal’s sax sounds vibrant and the songs modern and fresh. Miles, who produced a recent album of smooth jazz covers of the music of Brazilian legend Ivan Lins, adds a previously unrecorded Lins song called “Caprichosa.” Lins himself sings in his glorious Portuguese on the track. It’s a great idea for the CD.

Maybe Marienthal will get the airplay he deserves with this CD. General managers couldn’t go wrong with a couple of cuts here, including “Uptown” and “Secrets,” which were co-written by Jeff Lorber, and “Moonlight,” which was written by Chuck Loeb.

Marienthal talks about getting out of his “comfort zone” with this work, which is good advice for all artists. It certainly worked for him on Sweet Talk. Welcome back, Eric. Smooth grade: B+

Alex Bugnon
Southern Living (Narada)

coverPiano man Alex Bugnon looked to the American South for inspiration on his latest CD, recording it in Atlanta with co-producer Phil Davis. The result, and one he was looking for, is a mostly stripped-down, more organic sound featuring more of Bugnon’s acoustic playing. In other words, a lot different than his last work, Soul Purpose. Bugnon has always had a slightly quirky side that is reflected in his music – he isn’t afraid to experiment with new sounds (which he does here with the delightful “Cascade,” featuring claps) while staying firmly in the smooth jazz genre. Here, though, he’s in David Benoit territory with a totally relaxing, fully realized CD that will have fans of acoustic piano begging for more.

Whether while listening to the romantic ballad “Back in Love” or the pensive “Slow Drag,” it’s apparent that Bugnon has found his groove. The vocal tracks work, and are appropriately soulful: Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” with Tiffany Davis background chops; and “Missing You Like Crazy,” with Ronnie Garrett, who also thumps the bass. Other highlights: Bugnon ditches the acoustic for the Fender Rhodes organ for a minimalist version of Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile”; and the upbeat title track, “Southern Living,” which will have you checking the liner notes for Joe Sample. Bugnon closes things on this remarkable CD with a “hidden track.” Smooth grade: B+

Special EFX
Party (Shanachie)

coverChieli Minucci must idolize the Energizer Bunny. I don’t see how he finds time to play on tons of CDs a year, plus manage to release solo CDs in addition to his Special EFX projects. When EFX partner George Jinda was alive, Special EFX had a distinct sound, propelled by Jinda’s percussion and Minucci’s lyrical guitar playing. The Special EFX name is obviously a commodity, as Minucci keeps it alive even without Jinda. That said, here’s one vote for Minucci pumping out the CDs year after year, no matter what he calls them. He’s always a joy to listen to.

As the CD says, it’s nothing but a party here. With David Mann on sax and flute, Jerry Brooks on bass and Emedin Rivera handling percussion, the CD may not be the kind of sounds the nose-ring crowd will play at keg parties, but it jumps pretty good for a smooth jazz gig. “Get on Up” (with its “We Are Family” nod) and “Ladies Man” speak to the overall mood of the CD – light jazz meets disco-‘70s and euro-‘80s. Minucci’s guitar has less of an influence here than on his solo CDs, which is probably why he continues to record as Special EFX – to get his ya-ya’s out with different styles.

Only one question: Why is the 10th song a “bonus track”? Ten songs are pretty standard for any CD – nowadays there are many with lots more. In any event, this CD may be a little tame for a beer blast, but it’s plenty good for dancing while vacuuming the rug. Smooth grade: B

Freddie Fox
Freedie Fox (freddiefox.com)

coverLongtime session player Freddie Fox steps out on his own with a self-produced CD that will appeal to guitar fans, especially those who dig the electric playing of Lee Ritenour and the acoustic stylings of Larry Carlton. It’s a solid 11-song effort, one that would expected from a player who has performed with such as Michael Lington, Najee, Warren Hill and Walter Beasley. It doesn’t hurt that his wife is famed R&B and jazz singer Evelyn “Champagne” King, who contributes background vocals to several tracks. The groove is midtempo throughout, and he saves the best for the last with “Thoughts of You,” showcasing his electric and acoustic skills against a soulful drum-machine backdrop. “From the Heart” and “Forever” display Fox’s knack for memorable melody, while “Cool” takes listeners back to groovy 1980s fusion. CD guests include Gerald Albright, Michael White, Ronnie Foster, Alex Al and Larry Kimple. If you love guitar-lead smooth jazz with a light soulful groove, Freddie’s got it going on. Smooth grade: B

Ron Jenkins
The Music of Ron Jenkins (Camnor)

ronjenkins.jpgBassist Ron Jenkins has toured with some heavyweights, from Cher and Gato Barbieri to Kirk Whalum and Chuck Loeb. He makes his debut here on a lightly funky, relaxing CD featuring guitarists Chuck Loeb and Jeff Golub and saxophonist Sam Newsome. This is one CD that I find myself going back to, and just shows that there are plenty of small-label or independent artists that can groove with the big boys. Like one half of the Braxton Brothers, Jenkins puts the bass out front a few times as the lead, with very listenable results. But Jenkins mostly put his bass in the background, such as on the ballad “Tribulations,” which features Mike Ricchiuti’s beautiful piano work. There are several very tight, in-the-groove numbers on the CD, the best being “What You Mean to Me” and “Sai You Will.”

Playing this CD in order for the first time, I kept waiting the momentum to slow, but it never did. The first two songs, “After Dark” and “Kristal Klear,” are delightful slow grooves – “After Dark” especially, with Steve Wilson’s plaintive soprano sax and Jenkins hooky keyboard snippets. This very assured, very jazzy smooth jazz CD is one that stands out among the small-label releases of recent years. Smooth grade: A

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:43 AM