CD Reviews: Dec. 14, 2005

Chris Botti's sublime When I Fall in Love is one of several great new releases.

Chris Botti
When I Fall In Love

After the great success of A Thousand Kisses Deep and his nationwide exposure opening for Sting, trumpeter Chris Botti decided to strike again with his popularity at an all-time high. Wise move. This new album has already soared to the top of Billboard�s jazz charts, making Botti one of the few smooth jazz artists who�s been able to successfully cross over into mainstream jazz.

The 13-song CD of classic and new romantic songs is lushly orchestrated by the London Session Orchestra and ably put together by producer Bobby Columby. The mood is mellow and just so beautiful throughout as Botti wisely doesn�t deviate from his romantic, cuddle-by-the-fireplace theme. There are so many instrumental highlights � kudos to band members Billy Kilson on drums, Dean Parks on guitar, Billy Childs on piano and Brian Bromberg on bass � but the vocal tracks really shine.

Paula Cole�s quiet elegance on Irving Berlin�s �What�ll I Do?� is right up there, and the song even showcases Botti�s own vocal chops. Botti recruits Sting to sing on �La Belle Dame Sans Regrets,� a composition Sting wrote for one of his earlier CDs. And gospel singer Jill Zadeh adds vocalese to a cover of Sade�s �No Ordinary Love,� which features Jeff Lorber on piano.

Botti also interprets songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart ("My Romance"), Ira and George Gershwin ("Someone to Watch Over Me"), Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (the swinging �Let�s Fall in Love,� "One For My Baby" and "One More For The Road"), among others. Another highlight is Botti�s interpretation of the familiar song �Time to Say Goodbye (Con te Partiro),� a worldwide smash for opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

Botti has said that this is the one CD he�s always wanted to make, and it�s obvious that he�s having a good time interpreting jazz songs. This project is so excellent you wonder if Botti will ever return to smooth jazz.

Smooth grade: A+

Garry Goin
Goin� Places

Veteran guitarist Garry Goin has paid his dues and is amply rewarded on his debut CD, which is co-produced by his longtime associate David Porter. Goin, raised in Cleveland, has performed as a session guitarist for many years in Memphis, where he was introduced to saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Goin�s influence is all over Whalum�s last CD, Into My Soul, as he co-produces, co-writes and performs on most of the tunes.

Although his songs are crisp and definitely in the middle of a groove, Goin isn�t afraid to play some real guitar and attack melodies. But Goin also has a playful and energetic approach, which begins with the lead song, �Riverside Drive.� It begins as a melody blues dirge, but morphs into a something much more cheerful, propelled by a reggae beat. It�s one of nine original songs on the CD; Goin also covers Bill Withers' classic �Ain�t No Sunshine� and the Emotions ballad �Don�t Ask My Neighbors,� which features an appearance by Whalum, who also contributes to two other songs. Goin is able to evoke many moods, as he shows on the quirky soulfulness of �Blue House� and on the straight-up smooth jazz on �Is It Deep Enough� and �Will You Marry Me.�

With its blues and rock influences, Goin Places is a Memphis type of record. But it also falls nicely into smooth jazz with a bit of a bite, which makes it an interesting addition to any collection.

Smooth grade: A

Novecento Featuring Stanley Jordan
Dreams of Peace
(Favored Nations Cool)

Novecento is an Italian pop group which has been around for 20 years and features three brothers and sisters sharing the last name of NicolosiRosanna on bass, Lino on guitar and Pino on keyboards. In addition, Lino Nicolosi�s wife, Dora, adds vocals. This CD is on the new Favored Nations label, which was founded by guitarist Steve Vai and is best-known for a guitar duo release a few years ago with Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather.

The CD marks the return to the studio in a decade for Stanley Jordan, who has toured with Novecento and has a long relationship with them. In addition to his playing, there are also contributions by established musicians such as trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Danny Gottlieb, saxophonist Dave Liebman and flugelhornist Guy Barker.

Although Jordan can play some pretty esoteric jazz and helped pioneer a type of guitar playing where he vigorously taps on the strings, this is a smooth and welcoming project. The best songs here are the instrumentals that showcase Jordan�s playing. Novecento lets Jordan let loose on his axe on the frenetic �Spring,� but mostly it�s just pretty good smooth jazz, especially on songs such as �Flying on the Sky.� Wordless vocals and breezy guitar lines make it very appealing. And on the head-nodding �Too Close to the Sun,� Jordan�s guitar lines playfully spar with Barker�s flugelhorn.

Elsewhere, Dora Nicolosi quietly channels the vocals of Basia on �Destination of My Heart,� while her singing on �Tell Me Something� sounds like a cross between Enya and Loreena McKinnet. That�s not such a bad thing. This is good instrumental pop.

Smooth grade: B

Greg Adams
(215 Music)

The trumpet is a vital lead instrument in smooth jazz, and listeners have several styles to choose from. Rick Braun offers flawless pop. Chris Botti digs mellow jazz with downtempo influences. With Greg Adams, you get what you�d expect from someone who helped co-found the seminal rock-funk group Tower of Power. Partly due to his long association with that band and his many movie and TV scores, Adams has only released three solo albums. But the first two found favor with smooth jazz radio, which have played �Smooth Operator� and �Midnight Morning� to death.

Now with FireFly, Adams offers 10 more original and funk-inspired songs, including the first radio single, the chugging title track. Adams and his nine-piece band are, as you might expect, energetic and above all brassy. Listen to �Loco Motive� � you won�t like this album if you don�t like horns. Above all, though, FireFly is a project by a seasoned artist in fine form. This is a well-balanced smooth jazz album, with bouncy, Braun-y numbers like �Not So Long Ago� and �5 North� mixing nicely with slow burners like �The Crossing,� �She Still Waits� and �Afterglow.�

Adams closes the CD with �Just Like Breathing,� a quiet, jazzy number that shows that he�d probably do just fine if he decided to make a jazz standard CD like Botti�s When I Fall in Love.

Smooth grade: B

Brenda Russell
Between the Sun and the Moon
(Narada Jazz)

Soulful vocalist Brenda Russell, long a presence on the smooth jazz scene due to hits such as �Piano in the Dark� and her association with Dave Koz�s Christmas tours, offers her first new album in four years. Welcome back.

There�s an international influence here, as Jean-Paul �Bluey� Maunick of Incognito co-wrote and produced two songs � �Make You Smile,� which has a happy bossa-nova beat, and �Ain't No Smoke,� which has the background vocals of Hamish Stuart of Average White Band. Victor Redwood-Sawyer, a member of the band Hil St. Soul, co-produced the languid �Too Cool For The Room,� while the team of Simon Law and Lee Hamblin co-produced �When You Comin' Back to Me� and �You Know Our Day Will Come.� It�s no surprise that vocalist Patti Austin replaced Russell on Koz�s 2004 Christmas tour after Russell was diagnosed with diabetes. The two are close friends, and Austin co-wrote the title track with her during a rare lunar eclipse several years ago. Austin also adds her vocals to the track.

Russell is one of the best representatives of smooth jazz vocals because most of her songs could probably stand as instrumentals without her vocals. But that would be beside the point and a waste of her lovely singing. Standouts here include a cover of Smokey Robinson�s �The Tracks of My Tears,� a personal illumination of Russell�s faith in �The Message,� and the simple and acoustic �Different Eyes.� She closes the CD with the charming �It�s a Jazz Day,� where she uses clever wordplay to pay homage to many of her musical heroes.

Smooth grade: B+