Smooth Jazz Guitarist Patrick Yandall has signed a record deal with Apria records. He will release his new CD From the Ashes in May/June 2004. This will feature Randy Brecker, Will Lee, Joel Rosenblatt, Scott Wilkie, Ada Rovatti, Nathan Brown, Jason Weber, and others! Patricks past international releases are available at Amazon.com, CDBaby.com, and many other web based sites. Tracks are also available at iTunes.
Columbia Records released the ninth solo album from guitarist Peter White today as the first single from Confidential is #4 on the national radio charts and rising. “Talkin’ Bout Love” has swiftly saturated the playlists of smooth jazz radio stations. The Paul Brown produced single is a sweet mid-tempo groove warmed by a rich Jerry Hey horn arrangement that fills up the tracks and provides a beautiful counterpoint to White’s emotive guitar melody. For over a decade, White’s distinctive R&B, jazz and pop instrumental albums have consistently topped the charts and his eleven #1 singles have helped define a radio format.
Confidential captures an artist in peak stride as the guitarist raises the bar on himself each time out. White’s guitar is the focal point that ties together the collaborative effort of a variety of musicians, producers and writers. White wrote or co-wrote ten new songs for the album, which boasts contributions from soloists Brown, Chris Botti, Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson, Michael Paulo and vocalists Christopher Cross and David Sparkman. According to White, every album is personal and every note on the album has his personality. He finds it hard to listen to the songs he writes alone as they are so personal that “it’s like staring at yourself in the mirror.” The music emanates from his heart and always seems to find its way into the hearts of listeners.
Just barely out of his teens, White went to the top of the pop charts in the 1970’s in association with multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter Al Stewart. Years later, his solo music helped smooth jazz flourish and his guitarwork has graced recordings by such luminaries as Abair, Dave Koz, Boney James, Richard Elliot, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Basia, Gato Barbieri and Philip Bailey.
“People ask me all the time about smooth jazz, but the reality is that the format formed out of the music we were playing in the early 1990s,” White explained. “Although I hate being categorized, we were not drawn to this format; we helped to create it. The smooth jazz audience is the most diverse audience out there. I look at it as a great leveler, a musical mixing pot without borders or boundaries. It’s all about the songs. In the end, you’ll be remembered for your songs.”
White, a consecutive four-time winner of the “Guitarist of the Year” award at the National Smooth Jazz Awards, thrives on the concert stage, loving “the opportunity to interact with fans and the immediate feedback you can only get in a live setting.” A full concert tour will be mounted to support Confidential. The complete itinerary will be announced soon, but below are some initial dates to see Peter perform with his band:
May 7 Washington, DC Ronald Reagan International Trade Center
May 15 Sacramento, CA Radisson Hotel
May 16 Newport Beach, CA Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival
May 29 San Diego, CA KIFM-FM Anniversary Smooth Jazz Festival (4th & Island)
June 23-28 Hawaii Dolphin Days
July 16 Carlsbad, CA Four Seasons Resort
October 1 Newport Beach, CA Hyatt Newporter
October 2 Temecula, CA Thornton Winery
Show time: Thursday evening, March 18, 2004
It’s always a match made in heaven – Berks Jazz Fest music fans and their artists. And that was never more obvious than at the Berks Jazz Fest’s All Star Jazz Jam, held March 18th, 2004, at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was a night the house was, well, brought down and simply stayed there!
I'm not sure it can be described in mere words, but let me try! It could not have happened before, nor will it happen again, in quite the way it did tonight! It was like adding artist after artist until you reached ten people, but put them together and it seems you multiplied instead of added! The exponential synergy of this particular all star jazz jam was nothing short of truly *star* quality!
Take a look at the line-up! Chuck Loeb (the one who pulls it all together) and Chieli Minucci (guitars), Jeff Kashiwa, Jimmy Sommers and Kenny Blake (sax), Gerald Veasley (bass), Joe McBride and Freddie Ravel (keyboards), Rayford Griffin (drums), Rick Braun (trumpet). With a gathering of such talent, I knew what the night could bring!!
Here’s the scene on stage. Freddie and Joe framing the picture on opposite sides of the stage with Rayford in center back. Gerald, in between the drummer and Joe, stood toward the back. In fact, he seemed to have a nice little room of his own back there. Across the stage, from left to right, we have Chuck, Chieli, Jimmy, Jeff, Rick, and Kenny. Of course there was some moving around, moving front and back, a very minimal amount of ‘stage-leaving’, walking across to talk to a fellow artist, but basically the group stayed in this ‘formation.’
Now picture Joe McBride leading the song "Summertime" on the keyboard and singing the vocals. Here is an artist who is an amazing performer. When vision cannot distract, music seems to take a faster path from the heart to its expression, and I grew to love this about listening to Joe, both in his earlier show of the evening and during the late night All Star Jazz Jam.
Behind Joe is Gerald Veasley, bobbing his head back and forth, up and down, the way he does, reassuring us with his typical signature sign of bliss with the bass. He admitted in the earlier show that he sometimes goes into his own world, and we all know that when Gerald is there, all is well with the song and the world, so we don’t mind a bit! He's so motivating by virtue of the sheer fun he's having. His smile is contagious to anyone in the band who glances at him. Watching him makes me want to bob my own head up and down, back and forth. And for artists who are already having fun, they simply have more fun after looking at him.
Gerald and Rayford Griffin had a lot of fun in the back where they didn’t think we were watching! They played off each other all night and when others were traveling to faraway places, they were the ones with the working road map to be able to eventually lead everyone else safely home for each song. Rayford had some totally awesome, shining moments which left me wondering how it is humanly possible to hit all those different pieces of equipment in just the right way and for the length of time involved.
The interdependence of these players is a purely fascinating thing to watch. Something that isn’t seen in songs written with a prescribed progression from beginning to end, appeared so frequently during this night of jamming. There may be a general idea, or even a carefully thought out idea of where a song is headed, but the road winds; there are unexpected bends; someone takes off on a different trail and the others must follow. And follow they did, so very remarkably at times. Take any two of these artists and put them in close proximity and then stand back because sparks are going to fly!
The spotlight was shared so well tonight among all of the artists, and the graciousness with which each of them remained aware of keeping everyone’s contribution in balance was so obvious. During one fast moving number, there was a plan to start on one side of the stage and move to the other side, each one handing off the improvisation to the artist next to him. And so it went, from Joe to Kenny to Rick to Jeff to Jimmy, to Gerald then Chieli then Chuck, to Freddie and back to…….oops, Rick took it and quickly backed out and worked in Joe and Kenny, then to his amazement seemed to realize the drummer had been missed the first time around, and so he kept pointing to the back, to remind everyone to pause and get Rayford in there, too. This was just another example of how one rarely sees evidence of jealousy, or anything akin to one performer trying to upstage another. I see such a great picture, over and over again, of mutual respect, cooperation, synergy and wonderfully productive energy that goes into the final product of jazz music. Artists realize so well how they need each other, how much better each is because the other is there, that it is in the give and take, the working together, that lasting and beautiful results can happen. It occurred to me the world could take a lesson from ten multi-talented musical artists in a jam session!
Chuck Loeb is the consummate producer, unobtrusively and in a totally relaxed state, watching to see that everything is going on cue, reminding of the drum solo coming up, challenging each one to rise to each occasion given to show his stuff and move the music along. And no one disappointed him! I was glad to see Chuck take the lead several times and show what a passionate, extraordinary guitar player he is. He feels it all so deeply and he never seems to be rattled about something not coming off in a certain way he might have planned – he just changes gears and decides on something even better!
Chieli Minucci, in similar fashion as Chuck, is one who watches the overall picture; he's tapping that left foot, and he finds a way to keep playing in support of anyone else who is in the solo position. He can always find something to go with whatever another artist is doing! The only time he might stop playing is when the keyboard players are highlighted and they end up going so far off into their worlds (which is way cool) that before they realize it they are busily creating a whole new song! In those moments, Chieli just waits them out, but when he’s given that one tiny spark of where they’re headed, he’s right back with them. In fact, his face continually seems to reflect the sheer joy of rejoining whoever is playing. And when he gets the chance to add his own interpretation within the song, it’s in the form of the most intricate, spontaneous creations most of us will ever hear!
Speaking of a keyboard player going into his own world during a song, Freddie Ravel has got to be one of the best masters of improvisation I’ve ever seen. He bends low over that keyboard and I think his head is following his fingers, not the other way around. It seems that would be impossible but this is the second year in a row I’ve seen him do it! He can turn a few bars into the start of what could quickly become some kind of symphony! Everything seems to stop when Freddie goes on his journey and no one wants to hurry him back because he takes us to interesting, faraway places along the way.
Many of us have played musical instruments in our past, and being able to read notes on a page is a talent, for sure, but improvising on an instrument is another story entirely, especially with the deadline of a steady beat. I never reached the point of improvising with skill, and so when I watch the artists, I can’t help but try to figure out how much of the actual music is set on paper ahead of time and how much of it is unplanned. I can tell some of it is planned, because they have music stands and they look at what’s coming next, and now and then are reading music. My sense is that there is a framework, then within that framework there are many points of ‘undefined numbers of measures that will be taken,’ and those are the times most of the improvisation occurs. It seems they all know ‘when’ the improvisational part is going to fit in, and different ones seem to have the clear responsibility for it at different times, but now and then I am certain that there is no plan at all. It’s wide open for anyone to take it, and truly, that is an extremely satisfying and fun thing to watch, and there was so much of that this year during the All Star Jazz Jam!
Sitting in the front row and studying each player the way one can in that spot, made me realize a lot of things. The players interact not only musically, but also verbally and with facial expressions. It seems one of them always has a thought to share with the artist next to him, or the artist across the stage, and it’s no problem to simply walk from one side to the other while playing in order to share that thought. Sometimes it appears to be a question that needs an answer right away; other times it’s to banter back and forth about something that just happened; sometimes it’s almost as if one of them has thought of something important they meant to tell another one, and now might be the best time to tell them before it’s forgotten! For all we know, they’re making plans for future concerts, or social gatherings, or commenting on each others’ playing or clothes. Who knows?? But it’s obvious there is a lot of communication going on. The facial expressions are priceless. The sheer determination of getting through a demanding solo part, the smile and wink of joy to have nailed it just right, the encouragement and admiration of each others’ performances, the knowing look when something hasn’t gone quite as planned, the triumph when someone was forced to make great tasting lemonade out of lemons, it’s all there and it adds so much to the fun of watching the show! It seems to me that the more a band is really pumped and enjoying themselves, the more this communication goes on. They have to relate in these other ways, in addition to relating musically. It’s part of the bond that says, we’re in this together and we’re going to see it through one way or the other. How fascinating!
There was a theme tonight and it was called Miles, Monk and Motown, as in Davis, Thelonius, and well, Motown is self-explanatory. "Summertime", "When I Fall in Love", "I Heard it Through the Grapevine", "Well You Needn’t" – all these were songs I recognized, yes, but for the first time I didn’t mind if I didn’t know the song! That is very unusual for me, ask my friends in music! These artists could have played all night, one artist taking the lead where the other left off, adding to it as they went along, and it would have been fine with me. I grew to a new level of music appreciation tonight, thanks to this awesome combination of talent!
Jimmy Sommers, who I had never heard before, turned out to be a great addition to the jam. They call him ‘face’ because he’s so good-looking, and it is true that since the show I’ve referred to him as having such a nice, you got it, ‘face!’ Of course to many fans, it’s not really true that he’s better-looking than the rest of the artists on stage! Or should I say more attractive. Some very seasoned jazz faces are so appealing to us as jazz fans. Our older senior citizen ‘mascot’ of a fan, named Lil, who has been attending shows for twelve years with her son who drives her here from Baltimore, for instance, is still trying to decide which one is cuter of the following: Jimmy, Chieli, or Chuck. When pressed, she says with a laugh, “I can handle more than one!’ Here’s an older gal with an intact, very young heart of jazz!
Kenny Blake is another artist I heard for the first time in person, although the Heads Up Super Band CD (which includes Joe and Gerald and Keith Carlock on drums!) is in my CD player a lot these days as a real favorite! Kenny has the respect of his peers, of that I am certain, and when he had the baton passed his way, he could really run with it. I sat there realizing that his whole being simply IS music, and I loved hearing what he did with his solo every time.
Jeff Kashiwa is one of the happiest players I’ve ever watched. He has a way of taking it all in stride, he’s always ready, he doesn’t seem pressured, and brings his part home every time. The ease with which he plays and the power and strength he seems to have while playing are nothing short of amazing! Looking into the eyes of the artist he’s jamming with always brings that wonderful smile, impossible to hide even with the saxophone in his mouth! Watching him always makes me glad to be where he is!
Rick Braun did his share of taking the music in fascinating and innovative directions. Chuck seemed to count on him in a unique way to take it all to a new height (as a trumpet does) and, wow, did he deliver every time! His most noteworthy contribution to that, in addition to simply his mega skill in handling the trumpet, I thought, was during the encore song (you’ll pardon me if it doesn’t matter to me what the title was?)! It was a great encore, everything had run its proper course, and then it seemed to be ending at Rick’s doorstep. He hit notes that were a good fit and ushered in an appropriate ending. But as he bowed over to play that last lower note, something in him seemed to say, ‘no, this is not the BEST ending we could have. I’m going to crank it up one more time and see what we can do with this.’ The rest of the song was unbelievable. I was so taken by all that happened next, that I don’t even know how to describe it. Everyone got back in for something, and I was certain this had to be the best of the unplanned jamming of the night. What a high! What a great recap to the entire evening! When it was all over, I knew that I was never going to ‘need’ a recurring melody line again during the rest of my jazz life! Not when artists of this caliber are on stage, anyway!
And so this became an unforgettable night for me, a night of deepening appreciation for what is in the heart and soul of all the musicians now standing and bowing before me. And I can’t wait for more! And if you can’t either, you might be helped by at least picking up one, or all, of the most recently released CDs of this amazing group of artists, listed here for your convenience!
Kenny Blake An Intimate Affair
Rick Braun Esperanto
Rayford Griffin Rebirth of the Cool
Jeff Kashiwa Simple Truth
Chuck Loeb eBop
Joe McBride Keepin’ It Real
Freddie Ravel Freddie Ravel
Jimmy Sommers Lovelife
Special EFX featuring Chieli Minucci Party
Gerald Veasley Velvet
Happy Happy Jazzin’
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
March 18, 2004
Photo credits, Michael Packard, March, 2004
It's columnist Beverly Packard and husband and photographer, Michael, with guitarists Chuck Loeb and Chieli Minucci at the Berks All Star Jazz Jam.
This column is designed to keep your finger on the pulse of jazz in Reading, Pennsylvania, home of the annual Berks Jazz Fest! I'm excited about sharing my impressions of artists who visit us during this ten-day event every March! A relative newcomer to the 'jazz scene,' I suppose there's nowhere better than Berks to become immersed in this genre and to learn quickly about the artists and their music! It helps to have a husband who knows a lot about the roots of traditional jazz and the progression over the years to contemporary jazz, as we call it. And who takes great pictures, some of which you will see here!
My own passion has become attending shows and then writing about what I have seen, heard, and learned! I have found artists to be accessible, easy to get to know, with an absolute dedication to their fans! My impressions will be of the artists and his/her stage performance from the perspective of an avid fan. I come from a large family and so to me, this big family of jazz artists and fans provides a wonderful opportunity to be part of something that is both significant and uplifting in the lives of so many of us!
I find there is such a bond between avid fans of jazz music, and this is my way of staying connected to you and helping you be connected to Berks all during the year! So for now, I'll get back to finishing my reviews from Berks Jazz Fest 2004, including the All Star Jam, Special EFX featuring Chieli Minucci and Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Oliver, Chris Botti, Jimmy Sommers, Hiroshima, and Doc Powell. Watch for these reviews to appear, one by one!
A special thank you to Peter Boehi, host of this site!
Concert review by Beverly J. Packard
Friday, March 12 quickly became the most important date on my calendar for 2004. As jazz fans know, it's the start of the ten day Berks Jazz Fest, an event attended by people from locations near and very far away! It's become an international event, and what better band to schedule as part of opening night than Acoustic Alchemy who come to us from the UK!
Having only recently become familiar with their music, I soon realized that it was worth acquiring every CD and to become familiar with as much of their music as I could before the show. The CDs themselves were mesmerizing, so by Friday night at 10:30, I was on the edge of my seat eagerly awaiting the start of the show.
My expectations and hopes for a truly great show were completely satisfied! The band played with sheer joy and enthusiasm and the audience responded in kind. In fact, I don't know when I saw a happier group of musicians who had a better time than did the members of this band tonight on opening night of the Berks Jazz Fest.
Their sound was really tight, each one's concentration and command of his own part was impeccable, and it is amazing to me how interesting it is to watch two guitarists play! (Not to mention watching the keyboard player, who was never still and totally absorbed in his playing; the bass player, who never sat down and seemed that he could play endlessly; the drummer, with his awesome talent and ready smile; and the sax player, Eddie, wow, I'll get to him in a minute.)
There was an easy and interesting transition from song to song. Anecdotes, humor and serious sharing of the evening with all of us was evident. Something I noticed all during their performance is that the ending to each song is done very distinctly, it's always crisp; the timing of some of those endings was truly unique.
The ready smiles were the thing I noticed most in addition to the music. And I was able to figure out where the smiles were coming from. Greg C is simply quite exhilarated to play his guitar and to be there. He has a handsome, boyish quality and it seems that he has found his love and it is music, and though you can tell he works very hard it all appears so effortless! Miles may look only one tad more serious, but that's because he's pondering the jokes he's going to tell over the course of the evening! He is an extremely witty guy! I had no idea that was coming, but he had the audience in stitches many times.
You'd have to hear Miles use the rest of the band members as his 'fodder' for jokes to realize the affectionate bond that must exist between these men. They are having as good a time as we are! The bass player did admit to me later that they never know what Miles is going to say next! Another talent of Miles’ is that he has an amazing ability to sing his guitar part, too! I'm still wondering how he did that!
The bass player, the keyboard player and the drummer were all highlighted in a number of songs and they rose to the occasion every time. Which brings me back to Eddie. I met him in the bar before the show, and he's a friendly, soft spoken guy with yes, another 'ready smile.' He seems pretty low key, but put that saxophone in his hands and wow, he's a dynamo of energy! What a burst of talent he showed us. He and Miles together are very entertaining!
Of course those of you who have seen them know all of this, but for me, it was all new, and it was very, very enjoyable for me this evening to see them live, to hear this wonderful talent! What a way to start the Jazz Fest! They opened with "The Last Flamenco" which was simply AAmazing and continued to include The "Beautiful Game", "Wish You Were Here", "Urban Cowboy", and "No Messin'" and "Milo" from their newest CD, Radio Contact. "Flamenco Loco" was the encore, and that led to totally fun and awesome twists and turns of their musicality and showmanship before they finally had to say their goodbye.
It was an experience just to see them line up, arms entwined, taking their two perfectly timed bows to the wild clapping and cheering of an appreciative audience. In fact, a good word for this band is just that: perfection.
I hope this gives you a flavor for the night, it was truly awesome. They played nearly two hours. And just as talented as they are musically, that's how friendly they are to their fans. The evening was a nice experience all the way around. A big ‘thank you’ to the band members, which include: Greg Carmichael, nylon string guitar; Miles Gilderdale, steel string and electric guitar; Frank Felix, bass guitar; Tony White, keyboards; and Greg Grainger, drums.
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
March 13, 2004
After toiling away in the studio for years cranking out hits for other artists in a variety of formats, musician-producer-songwriter Alan Hewitt is set to unveil what may be the breakthrough album of the year in contemporary instrumental music. Noche de Pasion’ is credited to the Alan Hewitt Project, a title that appropriately reflects the varied and multidimensional songs and sonicscapes created by Hewitt and his talented cast of guest stars, including Jonathan Butler, Mindi Abair, Michael Lington, Euge Groove and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White. Hewitt is the flagship artist of 215 Records, a division of 215 Music & Media LLC, which will release the collection of jazz, R&B, dance, and rock tracks on April 27th. Smooth jazz radio will sample the first chapter from the album on March 15th when the pulsating club track “Breathless,” featuring the trumpet of Steve Madaio (Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones), goes for adds.
By keeping the emphasis on infectious melodies and inventive rhythms, Hewitt crafted uncompromising compositions lead by a variety of soloists with the singular purpose of creating the best album he could possibly make. Hewitt, who played all the keyboards, piano, drums, percussion and drum programming on the entire album, challenges listeners by changing the sound and style on most every track. As a songwriter, his gift is writing potent, memorable hooks and he wrote eight songs for the record, co-wrote one with White, and received one from Butler. Additionally Hewitt produced eight tracks on Noche de Pasion’ and co-produced two more.
Hewitt’s resume is as diverse as his music. He’s worked on records by an eclectic list of artists, including Earth, Wind & Fire, Butler, Warrant, Donnie Osmond and John Waite. He’s also an award-winning composer, who has contributed songs and scores to such films, television shows and networks as “Gods and Generals,” “The Osbournes,” “Survivor,” “Happy Gilmore,” ESPN, E! Entertainment Television, and the soon-to-be-released feature “Swimming Upstream,” starring Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis.
“This album was literally a labor of love for me. It came entirely from the heart,” explained Hewitt, who is looking forward to touring with his own band. “Making the album as ‘The Alan Hewitt Project’ enabled me to stretch creatively in ways that I couldn’t have had it just been a solo album featuring keyboards. I was determined to be true to the spirit of the music and as free from restrictions and limitations as possible.”
Noche de Pasion’ contains the following songs:
“Noche de Pasion’” (featuring Euge Groove on sax)
“Breathless” (featuring Steve Madaio on trumpet)
“Love Feeds the Fire” (featuring Michael Lington on sax)
“Sweet Thing” (featuring Jonathan Butler on guitar and vocals)
“U Touch Me” (featuring Mindi Abair)
“Inside My Dreams” (featuring Shea Chambers on vocals)
“Viva la Noche” (featuring John Defaria on guitar)
“Captured” (featuring Gerald Spikes on sax)
“Blue Sky” (featuring John Defaria on guitar)
“Reminisce” (featuring Gerald Spikes on sax)
Welcome to the latest 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 and classic soul.
As regular readers to The Secret Garden will testify the page is always on the look out for themes and recordings that bridge the gap between the smooth jazz of today and the soul music of both yesterday and today. This cross-fertilization of influences is, of course, not confined to smooth jazz. Most notably the crop of modern day hip hop and rap artists and producers routinely reach back to borrow jazz, funk and R & B hooks and riffs to adorn their tracks. A significant variation on this considerable theme has come from the project from Hidden Beach Records titled Unwrapped.
Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 1 came out in 2001 and stemmed from what was originally intended as a jam session between seasoned musicians for their own amusement. The album was billed as an exciting project that took conventional thinking and turned it upside down. It involved some of today’s most accomplished instrumental soloists who flipped the process followed by hip hop producers and returned the flavour into the bargain by offering infectious renditions of such rap standards as LL Cool J's ‘Lounging,’ Biggie's ‘One More Chance,’ Common's ‘The Light,’ and OutKast's ‘Ms. Jackson,’ among many others. However, it was not only the selection of the tracks that made this album a standout. The sheer quality of the artists involved was breath taking with such jazz and R&B luminaries as Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jnr, Everett Harp and Mike Phillips all taking part.
The initial thinking at Hidden Beach was to keep this material in-house for use as fun music at various Hidden Beach events.
However, once some DJ heard what was being produced they demanded vinyl copies and as a result of this development, turned their music loving faithfuls on to the Unwrapped concept.
As DJ Frank Ski comments, ‘I remember the first time I heard Unwrapped. I almost screamed! I came on the radio station the next day on the morning show and played the whole album. I’m like, finally someone got it! Jazz, hip-hop and R&B on the same track. But isn’t it strange how we have separated our own music? Lets take the encyclopaedia and look up the word Jazz. A form of music that grew out of the southern US black culture, rhythmically complex with a strong emphasis on syncopation. Often times very improvisional. So when you think about it jazz, hip hop, R&B, its all the same music so why keep separating and putting prejudice into our own music?’
This latest set again found musicians of the highest order collaborating, with Patrice Rushen and Mike Phillips being joined by Jeff Lorber, Jeff Bradshaw, Karen Briggs, and Dennis Nelson to name but a few. Consequently, this time around The Secret Garden considers it high time to comment on just a few of the stand out tracks from Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2.
Leading on from the opening monologue the album starts sensationally with ‘Always On Time’. This track took New York rapper Ja Rule to new heights when he teamed up with Ashanti to combine Ashanti’s airy chorus with his own sing song growl and the records subtle pulsating rhythm, all of which ensured a number one hit in the pop charts. On the Unwrapped version world-renowned Cuban percussionist Melena sets the pace and flutist Lou Taylor enhances the melody while accompanied by Patrice Rushen on piano, and steel drums keyboard. Its absolutely hypnotic and a track you will want to play over and over.
The next Secret Garden pick among a selection that spoils the listener for choice is track number 4 and a silky smooth rendition of ‘Electric Relaxation’, the original of which appeared on the album Midnight Marauders by Tribe, laid heavy with jazz orientated samples from Ronnie Fosters ‘Mystic Brew’ and Ramsey Lewis’s ‘Dreams’. On this version the excellent Jeff Lorber adds a smoothed out Fender Rhodes to Paul Litterals muted trumpet and Dennis Nelsons acoustic guitar. This great track also has Melena on congoes. A real smooth jazz classic with attitude.
Track number seven is the killer cut of the entire album. When DJ Jazzy Jeff combined with the Fresh Prince in 1991 to record the Homebase album, the track ‘Summer Time’ immediately received widespread appeal for its refreshing settling groove, angelic chorus and Will Smiths narrative on the joys of summer. But underneath it all was a sample of the Secret Garden favourite ‘Summer Madness’ from Kool and the Gang's 1974 album Kool Jazz. This original laid the perfect foundation for Jeff Lorber, Mike Phillips, Terrence Thomas and Tamika Peoples to further accentuate the tracks jazz foundation.
A technical departure from the smooth jazz genre but still worthy of merit is the second track on the second CD in this set, ‘The Lesson’ that has the look and feel of a classic soul slow burner with the added surprise tactic of blending in Karen Briggs on violin. It is a variant of a track from the Jay-Z release The Blueprint and was in turn taken from Tom Brock's 1974 I Love You More and More. In this Unwrapped version the easy riding, soft and rumbling score omits all vocal elements and luxuriates in the beat and exchanges between piano and violin.
Finally, track three on CD two is ‘Get Money’ featuring Jeff Lorber. In 1996, fifteen years after Sylvia Striplin released ‘You Can’t Turn Me Away’, Junior M.A.F.I.A scored a hit that sampled Striplin’s 1981 hit. It featured production from the great Roy Ayers and James Bedford. In an interesting twist, the Unwrapped version swaps Junior M.A.F.I.A’s lyrics for much more playful instrumental solos by way of Jeff Lorber on piano, Andrew Gouche on bass and Terrance Thomas on guitar to make this a truly outstanding contemporary jazz track.
The Secret Garden implores you to get on line and find Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2. You will not be disappointed.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor 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.
Super-producer Paul Brown makes his debut with Upfront, a filled-with-hits delight. Also reviewed: Peter White, Norah Jones, Braxton Brothers, Joyce Cooling, Praful, Chris Botti, The Jazzmasters, Dan Siegel, Keiko Matsui and two compilations by the Native Language label.
You probably should have seen this coming, but it’s still somewhat of a surprise: When the king of smooth jazz producers decides to make an album, you figure it’s a vanity project. But what you get instead is one of 2004’s early surprises, top-to-bottom smooth jazz stunner brimming with bright melodies, good picking by Brown on the guitar and enough hits to fill a Christmas stocking. More than any other producer in his genre, Brown defines what makes a hit. The “Paul Brown sound” is one that smooth artists kill for, and what a long list of artists have ridden to the top, from George Benson, Al Jarreau, Norman Brown and Euge Groove to Rick Braun, Boney James, Peter White and Larry Carlton. The 12-song CD is grooving and melodic, showcasing Brown’s guitar, drums and – yes – vocals. He scats on “Wes’ Coast Swing,” sings straight up on Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and alters his voice with a vocoder on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” The CD’s first single, “24/7,” is already a smooth jazz radio smash. Other singles abound: the Wes Montgomery-penned “Angel”; the Larry Carlton-sounding “Moment by Moment,” with scatting; and the traditional “My Funny Valentine,” which Brown turns into a smooth classic and gets a chance to really play his guitar. Brown’s list of guest musicians is impressive: Peter White, Boney James – for whom Brown has produced eight CDs – Jeff Lorber, Rick Braun and Chuck Loeb. Also on board are multi-instrumentalist Jeff Carruthers, whom Brown has known since his early mixing days, and French DJ star Cam, who rewrote a rap song and stripped it down with Brown for song called “Chill Out.” An amazing debut. Let’s hope he still finds time to go into the studio and produce for others after this. Smooth grade: A
Smooth jazz guitar icon Peter White – his pretty acoustic picking has defined the genre for more than a decade – offers 11 sometimes intimate, sometimes jubilant, always engaging slices of his heart. You’d expect nothing less from a man who inspires a devout fan club and is eagerly welcomed onto stage and into studios by fellow musicians. Settling in with a new Peter White CD is like inviting Mr. Rogers and his Grandpa sweater and soft slippers into your living room. Super producer Paul Brown co-wrote or produced five songs on the CD, including the first single, the jaunty “Talkin’ Bout Love”; “Coast Road Drive,” a classic feel-good White song with a thumping bass; “She’s in Love,” a vocal track written by Brenda Russell here featuring ‘80s star Christopher Cross; “Lost Without Your Love,” a ballad with David Sparkman providing a soulful vocal refrain; and “Stormfront,” a grooving cut with a tasty shuffle beat and Chris Botti’s trumpet. Brown also plays electric guitar on several cuts. In addition to Botti and Brown, other guests include Brian Culbertson, Mindi Abair, Steve Ferrone, Rex Rideout, Michael Paulo and a great percussion team. Culbertson provides some needed and jazzy piano interludes, especially on the title track, which he produced, while Abair adds sax to “Are You Mine,” a top-down driving song propelled by strings. Guests add flavor, but White of course is the brightest star here, even bringing out his accordion for “Swept Away,” which evokes images of Italy, flamenco players and flamenco dancers. “How Does It Feel” is the most unique song on the CD due to White’s playing the killer hook over a rich percussive beat. Matthew Hager, who produced the song, plays what the liner notes call “weird guitar,” keeping time with White’s acoustic. It’s a great touch. “Confidential” to smooth jazz fans: You’ll play this CD over and over. Smooth grade: A
Feels Like Home
Norah Jones’ followup to her Grammy winning Come Away With Me, which sold millions of copies, is just as mellow and refreshing as ever, although it’s a bit more uptempo that her debut. The first single, “Sunrise,” and the rest of the CD show Jones’ range in musical styles, as she’s not strictly a jazz singer, not strictly a pop singer, not strictly a country or blues singer. She’s all of them, and seems determined to cross boundaries whenever she can. Longtime friend, guitarist Jesse Harris, who wrote Jones’ megahit “Don’t Know Why,” makes some guest appearances, as do legendary country singer Dolly Parton, jazz drummer Brian Blade and Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of seminal rock group The Band. Parton and Jones duet on a rousing hoedown called “Creepin’ In.” In addition to covers of Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt tunes, there's also a reworking of the Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia” – a concert favorite of Jones’ – which she added lyrics to and retitled "Don't Miss You at All.” So why is Jones so popular? That’s easy – she makes honest music that speaks to herself and millions of others, has a great voice and reminds many of a time not too long where music was made not for profit but because it had to be. Smooth grade: A
Twins Wayne and Nelson Braxton couldn’t have picked a better first single than “When You Touch Me,” a joyously bouncy track that allows Wayne to solo on sax and Nelson on bass guitar. Together, the Braxtons have delivered another solid smooth jazz CD with plenty of R&B touches and slow-groove ballads with vocal refrains, such as “It’s You” and “Tonight,” the latter featuring Wayne’s romantic, insistent repeating of “tonight, tonight.” What’s set the Braxtons apart on this and previous CDs is their use of Nelson’s bass as a lead instrument, although he does play electric guitar also. You can tell a Braxton Brothers song because of this, and because of Wayne’s sax leads, which seem to be getting better and more prominent with each CD. Both are brought into play on “I Want You For Myself” and “Blue Sands,” midtempo numbers with killer hooks and with some sweet Rhodes programming thrown in for extra delight. The Braxtons wisely stick to their strengths on this CD, and don’t include as many lead-vocal tracks as they have on other CDs, although Martin Luther’s rich phrasing on “Love Is Crazy” is a worthy addition. The boys know how to funk, too, which is guaranteed on their CDs. Exibit A here: “Rollin’,” the title track, with delightful “wah-wah” sax. Smooth grade: B+
This Girl’s Got To Play
Guitarist Joyce Cooling continues her particular smooth jazz style with her fourth CD: plenty of tight grooves, clean electric and acoustic guitar runs, an occasional blues, rock or Brazilian aside and several chances to display her jazz-style vocals. Cooling and partner/producer/keyboardist Jay Wagner breeze through nine diverse tracks that have plenty of hit potential, beginning with opener, “Expression.” Cooling trades acoustic and electric riffs, and Wagner keeps time on the keyboards, as is their style. Wagner also plays some bouncy solos. Another potential smash is “Camelback,” a rump-shaker with a blues-lite groove. Add a come-hither piano solo, and you’ve got a song perfect for that Saharan camel ride you’ve always wanted to take. The title of “Green Impala” gives a clue to its content – it’s a funky ride down Main Street, accompanied by a right-on drum loop. “Toast & Jam” says it all too: A thumping bass beat by Nelson Braxton, bluesy organ riffs. Here Cooling shows her unabashed love of pure funk. The vocal tunes that works best is “Take Me There,” with Cooling’s refrain on the title unobtrusive while she stays within herself vocally. “No More Blues” works also, because Cooling sings likes she’s having a conversation, and it goes well with the jazz beat burnished with Alan Hall’s brushed drumstrokes. The autobiographical title track gives a glimpse into Cooling’s inspirations. The lyrics are revealing, as she allows for some insight into her struggles as a pretty woman struggling to break into instrumental music: “They said, put your guitar and sing/just look real cute and entertain/sorry, honey, it ain’t my thing.” “Natural Fact,” the last vocal track, is another slice of funk with some wonderful trumpet playing by Bill Ortiz. Subtract the vocals, however, and you’d have a head-boppin’ drums-and-bass ambient and chill gem. Smooth grade: B
One Day Deep
Praful, a German-born-and-raised wind instrumentalist (sax, flute, plus Rhodes and other stuff) now based in Amsterdam, has injected some much-needed punch into the sometimes tepid smooth jazz scene with his single “Sigh.” The whole CD is just as good, 11 acid/chill/smooth/funky songs that often defy description and show there’s plenty of room for innovative new music on radio. You know you’re in for something special when you hear moog, weird vocals and throaty sax during the opening song on the CD, “One Day Deep,” which gradually builds in intensity. Praful’s Brazilian influences come out in “Sonhar,” “Teardrop Butterfly” and “Inspiracao,” the latter featuring Lillian Vieria’s Portuguese vocals over flighty flute runs. “Let the Chips Fall,” the second single, is a funky ‘70s-like number with tenor sax mixed with Indian bamboo flute. Groovy. Going into too much detail about the rest of the CD is kind of like giving away too much of a movie. You need to experience this groovy, trippy and smooth CD for yourself. Praful is expected to release a new CD early in 2005. Smooth grade: A
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Trumpeter Chris Botti’s “Indian Summer” is one of the freshest smooth jazz singles heard on the radio for awhile, and just further cements Botti’s status as one of the genre’s top stars. He gets tons of recognition opening for Sting, and deservedly so. Like fellow trumpeter Rick Braun, Botti plays notes that move the heart while writing memorable melodies that can stick in your head all day. This guy is as smooth as Burt Bacharach, whom he borrows two songs from. The well-worn “The Look of Love” is given a mild drums-and-bass treatment, a go-go groove and some vocal refrains from Chantal Kreviazuk. Is there a better song for the mournful trumpet? The other Bacharach song is “The Last Three Minutes,” which has what Botti calls a “tougher rhythm” than he’s ever done before. It’s a great track. The rest of the CD is sophisticated and cool, just the ticket for those in chill-out mode. It ends perfectly with a trumpet-piano duet with Steve Lindsey that sounds like the soundtrack to our lives. Smooth grade: A
The Jazzmasters 4
The king of seductive, dancy and jazzy beats returns in his latest Jazzmasters project, which is typically what you’d expect. Great singles such as “Puerto Banus” and “Valley of the Harps” mix with vocal tracks featuring longtime singer Helen Rogers, who figures more into Hardcastle’s Jazzmaster CDs than his solo ones. Rogers has a dreamy voice, which she shows on songs such the gorgeous “Feeling Blue” and “Lifetime.” Her vocals are perfectly suited for smooth jazz and add significantly to Hardcastle’s appeal. But Hardcastle’s popularity draws from his unabashed love of drum programming – which he does better than anyone – mixed with sax (credit Snake Davis and Tony Woods), piano and others sounds that have been heard by millions worldwide on such hits as “19” and “Rainforest,” “Lost in Space” and most recently with “Desire.” The instrumentals are what work especially well here. Whether funky in the spare in “Emerald Stardust” or deliciously chill in songs like “Lifetime,” this CD is another in a long line of winners for Hardcastle. Even Hardcastle’s first rap, “If You Knew,” works. Smooth grade: B+
Almost a quarter century after his debut, Dan Siegel remains one of the kings of smooth-as-silk piano smooth jazz. No computer blips or hip-hop samples here. Siegel is such a mellow mood on his first new studio CD in six years that if you’re not completely relaxed after his latest, you should probably get your money back. Saxophonists Boney James and Jeff Kashiwa spice things up in solos and as part of a horn section, but their playing enhances the mellowness instead of taking it outside a comfort zone. None of this is bad, of course. On “Just Like That” and the cover track, Siegel’s chirpy playing and smooth backbeat are just what my doc might prescribe during the nadir of a hectic work week. Siegel steps outside his comfort zone a little with “Between the Lines,” laying down some tasty organ grooves, but soon slips back into his mellow groove with “To the Point.” He ventures into Yanni territory on the final cut, “Gone, But Not Forgotten,” a spiritual and uplifting four minutes of music cinema. Siegel is from the old school, a defining member of the smooth jazz movement who still believes in music’s healing and calming attributes. In today’s loud world, there’s still plenty of room for that. Smooth grade: B
Composer and keyboardist Keiko Matsui is such an established humanitarian you can practically hear the goodwill in her music. On her 14th studio recording, the diminutive but powerful artist decided that the title track would benefit the United Nations World Programme’s relief efforts in Africa, and she’s raising awareness of the organization during her worldwide tour this year. The simple but effective piano ballad is one of the most beautiful singles in her long career. Matsui’s mostly acoustic piano pieces have always been marked by gradual openings that build in pace to rousing conclusions. In between, Matsui displays her talents with memorable melodies and some fantastic runs along the keys. “Facing Up,” modernized with some interesting computer enhancing and hip-hop elements, is a good example of her power: Matsui is best listened to late at night with headphones, where you can hear the complexity of her music, which often sounds simplistic at first blush. The CD opens with “Flashback,” a hit-worthy ditty with soaring melodic moments so beautiful you begin to sense the grandeur Matsui strives for. Surprises abound: On “Sense of Journey,” Matsui dips into a jazzy groove while in “Brand New Wind” saxes, a poppin’ bass and children’s joyful cries mix into a whole that somehow works. Elsewhere, Matsui throws in world elements while keeping her head firmly in 2004 with some new and interesting sounds. As always, she gets help from her husband, shakuhachi flute player and producer Kazu Matsui. Bravo. Smooth grade: A
A Smooth Jazz Affaire
Smooth Jazz Essentials
The great thing about running a music label is that you’re able to make your own music on it. That would be a bad thing if Joe Sherbanee and Theo Bishop didn’t make some pretty good smooth jazz. They’re both featured on these compilations. On these CDs of mostly previously released material, Sherbanee’s keyboards and percussion have already been heard before, as “San Luis” and “Big City” are taken from his fine CD from 1998, The Road Ahead. But Bishop’s “Tonight’s The Night,” featured on both CDs, is a classically mellow acoustic piano ballad that fits in with Dan Seigel’s best stuff. Both CDs feature mostly Native Language artists, of course, and Affaire is targeted toward romantic evenings while Essentials includes some of the best and highest-charting music the label’s produced. Artists include Jeff Kashiwa, Brian Bromberg, Steve Oliver, Juan Carlos Quintero and Tony Guerrero. One interesting track is Los Angeles traffic reporter Jennifer York, who plays the appropriately titled “405 Jam,” a song from an upcoming CD. York leans toward the jazz fusion side of things here, but also has been known to perform in trio and quartet settings. Smooth grades: B+
The cover of Chris Standring’s 2000 hit album Hip Sway features the bespectacled guitarist wearing a cool suit and crouching on a curb while holding his Robert Benedetto arch top jazz guitar. The implication is, he’s going places, career and otherwise. Good thing that his chosen instrument is portable enough to count as carry on luggage, because traveling - geographically, stylistically and even through time - is a key element in the lives and music of Standring and many of his fellow top smooth jazz guitarists.
Standring’s first important trip was moving from London to L.A. for a year at age 20. He started hanging out at the famed Baked Potato club, listening to guitar masters like Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. Ford advised the young musicians that if he wanted to work in the studios, he should start a band when he returned to England. Standring heeded the advice, using his classical studies as an excuse to play jazz every free hour of the day while enrolled at the London College of Music.
Some ten years later, he took another transatlantic flight, this one for a more permanent stay to make L.A. his home. While pursuing session work, he jammed in clubs at night with a fiery type of fusion that he now dismisses as self-indulgent. He has a two word answer for his fans who wondered how he went from trying to be the next Allan Holdsworth to being the retro-soul minded, hook conscious smoothie who would someday be hip and funky enough to call a recording Groovalicious (2003): Rodney Lee.
The guitarist first met Lee, his longtime keyboardist and collaborator, when the two played behind pop singer Lauren Christy (who later evolved into a member of the pop hitmaking trio The Matrix). “He helped me reshape my sound and introduced me to the funkier side of jazz,” says Standring. “I was influenced heavily by Wes Montgomery and Jeff Beck growing up, and he was the Parliament Funkadelic guy. We appreciated each other’s separate backgrounds and clicked immediately, first when we formed Solar System for one album and then when I went solo and released Velvet (1998).”
Cue the time traveling music. Groovalicious’ retro tastes move up a decade from the decidedly 60s vibe of Hip Sway, firmly into those deep funk pockets of the 70s (with the possible exception of the Lee Morgan-styled “Say What!”). You’ll swear Marvin Gaye is waking from the dead to join in on the irresistible choruses, throbbing grooves and party atmosphere of the latest single “Miss Downtown Sugar Girl.”
“The feel for the bass and drums is a bit thicker and deeper and the groove and horn arrangements show the inspiration of a lot of our favorite 70s funk acts like Parliament, Cameo, Ohio Players, Average White Band and, of course, Earth, Wind & Fire,” Standring adds. “It’s great shifting gears a bit each time out. Conventional wisdom says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but I say, break it!”
Explaining the ongoing appeal of the electric guitar to smooth audiences inundated with saxmen, he says, “I think it goes back to the rock and roll days, a tangible connection to the guitar gods of the past. There’s just something about the way you can feel a guitar string and make it sustain a direct sound coming out of an amp.”
Richard Smith has done most of his traveling as a longtime member of saxman Richard Elliot’s band throughout the 90s. Most of the original songs he wrote for his A440 Music debut Souldified (his eighth solo album since 1988) were written while living for a time in Europe before returning to L.A. But the cover-happy smooth jazz radio format instantly gravitated to the one cool retro moment, a spirited twist on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sing a Song.”
When he’s not globe and time trotting, he’s busy raising up the next generation of great guitarists as chairman of the studio and jazz guitar department at the Thornton School at USC. Last year, he also founded GuitarMasters, a community outreach program for at-risk youth that provides free lessons, classes, guitars and mentoring in South Central L.A. through the Challenger Boys and Girls Club.
Even within the often rigorous confines of academia, Smith uses his smooth jazz experiences to help expand the creativity of his charges. “Smooth jazz celebrates the inclusive tradition of jazz, rather than the archival elements which are tempting for so many educational environments,” he says. “Jazz incorporates a wide spectrum of tempos and degrees of difficulty, and students can explore more of their potential by not limiting the perceptions of their chosen idiom.”
USC also has the only flamenco guitar program of its kind at a major university. Which leads us to another well-worn traveler, Marc Antoine, whose six smooth jazz releases have all featured a hybrid gypsy/Latin/flamenco/Spanish foundation. For the past few years, he has lived in Madrid, the name of his 1998 release and also the birthplace of his wife Rebecca. But he was born in Paris and played jazz and Afro-pop in the clubs there before moving to London to pursue a professional career. He later lived in L.A.
All of this frequent flier buildup makes him a joyful non-purist. “I can’t play classical like a purist, or bebop, or Latin,” he says. “I just take elements of whatever’s out there and make it my own.” Over the years, he’s beautifully chronicled his fascinating musical wanderlust via recordings bearing titles about the ongoing journey — Universal Language (2000), Cruisin’ (2001) and Madrid (1998). Finding a cool, exotic and decidedly Latin leaning oasis, Antoine stays joyfully grounded in his adopted homeland of Spain on his latest release, Mediterraneo, his first for Dave Koz’s Rendezvous Entertainment.
“The most important element of my career has been the fact that I’m always open to new places, styles and experiences,” he says. “There’s always a great travel element to my music, and I’m always wanting to experiment with new ideas and influences. Maybe being a Gemini goes along with being a gypsy, a sense of never wanting to settle in one place. Paris is home, London was home, Los Angeles was home, now I’m settling into Madrid, and it’s also my home. My wife’s relatives are there, and my family is not far, in Brittany and the South of France. No matter where I am, I’m always going home.”
Smooth jazz fans didn’t have to just dream of a White Christmas in late 2003 as acoustic guitarist Peter White, after several years with the Dave Koz holiday tour, launched his own with saxtress Mindi Abair. He joked that he created the show so as to have an excuse to get out of holiday shopping, but more importantly, he had a chance to play selections from his underrated 1997 disc Songs of the Season. “The Blond and the Bloke,” as he jokingly referred to himself and Abair, performed Thanksgiving Weekend at Lake Tahoe’s North Shore Jazz Festival, held at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort. The crowd wasn’t quite as large as the night before for the latest incarnation of the Koz tour, but everyone had a blast as he and Abair traded hits, let their hearts be light, and ended with a rousing singalong version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Abair needed a little something to sell outside the ballroom door, and came up with the two song disc featuring the adorable vocal original “I Can’t Wait For Christmas” and a muscular cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Speaking of traveling, White planned the tour so as to visit places the old Koz tour frequently skipped over — Boston, Annapolis and Huntington, Long Island. It ended with a show at the Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite National Park.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO:
1) The Cooler (Commotion Records) – The explosive jazz score to this powerful Las Vegas based film features heavy brass and lush trumpet solos by composer Mark Isham. Also on tap are Diana Krall and Bobby Caldwell, who sizzles on “Luck Be a Lady.”
2) Ruben Studdard, Soulful (J Records)
3) Alicia Keys, The Diary of Alicia Keys (J Records)
4) Windham Hill Chill 2 (Windham Hill)
5) Jim Brickman, Peace (Windham Hill)