July 30, 2004

Walter Beasley Pondering Retirement

Saxophonist Walter Beasley says he may retire from making music after his new contract with the Heads Up label expires. He says he wants to focus more on his teaching career at the Berklee College of Music.

WalterBeasley.jpgVeteran saxophonist Walter Beasley, who recently signed a contract with the Heads Up record label and is now writing songs for his first album for them, says he’s thinking of retiring after recording a few more albums. Beasley is in his 40s and has recorded 10 albums.

As you may know, he is also a full-time associate professor of music at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he teaches courses in composition and contemporary jazz. He’ll be teaching an online hip-hop course in the fall, and is soon releasing instructional DVDs on his website, walterbeasley.com. Walter admits that he has some disillusionment with the music industry, but says he also wants to focus even more of his life on teaching music.

“Whether I stay retired, you can just never tell," says Beasley. "I want to go out knowing that I made a difference and knowing that people knew that I was different type of saxophonist-slash-writer-vocalist or what have you than the rest of the bunch. And that’s the way I wanna end my musical career. I’ll teach – and that’s something that I would love to dedicate the rest of my life to. And that takes time. You can’t be in two places at one time.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:43 AM

Slow Songs Next For Brian Culbertson

Brian Culbertson says he'll slow it down on his next CD.

Culbertson.jpg"This record will be, ah, for certain things," says smooth jazz pianist Brian Culbertson. "You know what I’m saying."

Culbertson is known for his energetic live performances. But when he goes back into the studio this fall after his extended tour, he plans to slow things down a bit. Brian says that, for his next album, he’s planning a concept album of “slow jams.” Brian’s current album called Come On Up is mixture of uptempo songs, with a ballad or two. The current single on the charts is the title song, “Come On Up,” which features Norman Brownon guitar and vocals.

“It'll get you in the mood and stay in the mood for the whole record," Culbertson says. "No uptempo crazy funkiness."

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:32 AM

July 24, 2004

Rhian Benson - Going Places

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.

RhianBenson1.jpgThis time around we feature the work and the comments of a real up and comer on the music scene. Which scene is more difficult to define as the music of Rhian Benson has variously been described as ‘neo soul’ ‘the next big thing in soul’ and ‘a mélange of R & B, soul, jazz, reggae, hip hop and world beat’.

The Secret Garden was in San Diego to check Rhian out at a KIFM supported promotion she was doing at Borders Books and Music. A few weeks later, when she visited England to perform at Ronnie Scott’s and the Jazz Café, and also to open for Macy Gray, we caught up with her to talk about her music and her career so far. We started by asking Rhian why it is so important to her to break into the UK market. After all she is based in the USA where a huge market awaits for her radio ready music, she tours there, and has had her debut album on release there for almost eight months.

‘In a lot of ways’ she explains, ‘its about personal reasons. It’s where this whole love affair with music began. I started out by doing open microphone sessions in London and then, quite implausibly, I was approached by the people setting up what was then a brand new label, DKG. We were all in at the ground floor of the venture together and although for a British based artist it would have been the norm to attempt to become established at home before turning to the USA market, for me all that happened in reverse. I was invited to move to LA where one thing just led to another. I also like playing to UK audiences’, she continues. ‘They connect with an artist and demonstrate amazing depths of loyalty’.

When we asked Rhian about the wide range of musical styles and genres she touches on over the 13 tracks that make up her album she was very clear in her views.

‘I want my fans to take from the music whatever they find’ she says. ‘People have come up to me after a show and compared me to Phyllis Hyman. Others have likened me to Stevie Nicks. That’s all OK. I don’t particularly want to categorize. I enjoy embracing a mixture of styles. Probably the defining factor of all the tracks on the album’, she adds, ‘is that they are very groove based tracks’. The collection of musicians that played with me on the album guaranteed that. Ultimately that’s what audiences are looking for, the opportunity to groove with the music’.

coverGold Coast is her debut album that features the vocalist interpreting 13 songs that she wrote and co-produced with James Poyser (Lauryn Hill, the Roots, Jill Scott) and Bob Power (D'Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu). Her warm, jazz-influenced vocals are a natural result of her strong musical heritage and by being nourished and encouraged by the profusion of music and musicians that surrounded her during her upbringing in Africa, India, and England. Gold Coast opens with ‘Words Hurt Too’, a sad ballad about the insensitive remarks that can cause a great relationship to go wrong. Benson's sensitive interpretation truly captures the essence of heartbreak. On ‘The One,’ you can feel the sincerity in her voice. Benson also makes her listeners aware of her exceptional songwriting skills. Her creative use of metaphors makes her songs extremely simpatico especially on such songs as ‘Stealing My Peace of Mind’, ‘Invincible’, and ‘Gold Sky’. Benson closes the set with ‘Spirit’, a peaceful Ashanti ballad that delivers a sense of serenity, encouragement, and assurance to those seeking their way in life. Her voice is calm and assuring as she sings in the Ghanaian language over soft guitar chords and emotional string arrangements. Joined by world-class musicians including Roy Hargrove on horns, Ndugu Chancler on drums, Alphonso Johnson on acoustic bass, and many others, Benson has brought an uncomplicated innocence to her music.

That this diversity knows no bounds is well demonstrated by the hip-hop remix of her US top ten urban a/c hit ‘Say How You Feel’. It was decided to use the success of the single to widen appeal to other audiences. Rhian got together with another up comer in the world of soul, Dwele, who added a verse. It happened that Dwele and Slum Village shared the same management and the project developed from there with all three artists collaborating. The outcome is impressive and can be checked out at Rhian’s own excellent website www.rhianbenson.com.

Rhian went on to talk about her involvement with the BET channel on US television and her role of hosting their lifestyle and music show titled Gold Coast.

‘It all came about’ she explains ‘with my connections with BET Jazz. They asked me to perform in my home country of Ghana as part of the Ghana Jazz Festival. From there and from my connections in that country the idea for the program developed and as well as using it as a showcase for new music performers it has also proved useful in helping dispel some of the myths about Africa and its image as being a loose connection of war torn states littered with starving children. This is not how I remember Africa’, she recalls ‘and I think its important to provide that balance to show people that the country is, in the main, a well organized and well functioning economy’.

The show airs to a worldwide audience in excess of 70 million and a new series is being planned for the end of 2004.

The Secret Garden asked Rhian about her appearance at the JVC Jazz Festival in Miami where she played on the same bill as Kenny G. How was it, we wondered, to meet the smooth jazz legend and did she perceive any differences in how smooth jazz audiences enjoy their live music.

RhianBenson2.jpg‘Kenny was awesome’ she reflects. ‘I found him very attentive and complementary about my music. He took time to check out my set and even gave me a big shout during his session on stage. Its very unusual for a headliner to do that’. On the vibe generated by the audience she comments that ‘the one thing smooth jazz audiences are looking for is high quality music. Outside of that they welcome variations in styles’. She cites the ability of Chris Botti, who she has worked with, to mix smooth jazz with eastern influences and straight ahead pieces all to the rapture of his live fans.

‘All in all’ Rhian says ‘I look forward to the opportunity of reaching out to more smooth jazz audiences’.

Rhian continued by talking about some of her musical icons past and present and what the next couple of months have in store for her.

‘People like Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Bob Marley have been huge factors in my musical heritage’ she says. ‘The way his fans felt the spirit of Marley was amazing and his influence, as well as that of others, always inspires me to be more courageous with my music’. Of the current crop of superstars she singles out Sade as someone she would love to emulate. ‘To go away for eight years and return with a new album to find all her fans are still out there waiting for her is truly incredible. She is just always in control of the process’ she observes. ‘Every step of the way and without ever the need to compromise’.

For someone who started out in Ghana, moved to India, back to Ghana then The London School Of Economics, Harvard, London and now LA, one would think there would be no one place in the world that would hold any special attraction. However the date she is scheduled to play in Cardiff on August 1 2004, as part of the Big Weekend Festival, promises to be very special indeed. Her mother is Welsh and Rhian will be appearing on the same bill as a band she has been a big fan of over the years, The Brand New Heavies. ‘Its going to be really thrilling’ she says ‘and I am sure to be a little star struck too’.

After that, and an appearance at the Jazz Café the following week, the next big event will be the UK release of Gold Coast in September. The album has already enjoyed pre release airplay on Jazz FM 102.2 as their featured album of the week. It is no surprise that the first UK single from the album will the album version of ‘Say How I Feel’.

For someone who’s life and career is on so much of an up curve The Secret Garden just had to find out one thing about Rhian Benson that was not perfect. The answer came in the gastronomic delights of LA. Hard as she tries she has been unable to find a really great Indian restaurant in the city, a further reason for making her frequent visits to the UK that much more enjoyable. Californian restaurateurs please take note.

Rhian Benson is clearly a performer with a future. Gold Coast is a tapestry of differing flavors and moods all rooted in the groove and mounted upon a soulful jazz foundation. She thanks and is grateful to those who have already allowed Gold Coast into their lives and looks forward to reaching out to smooth jazz fans wherever she is able to connect with them.

Mark September in your diary and check out Gold Coast.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite 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 DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:23 PM

July 21, 2004

Matt Marshak - This Time Around

Review by Val Vaccaro

mattmarshak.jpgCurrently, Long-Island native guitarist, vocalist, composer and producer Matt Marshak is one of the best-kept secrets in smooth jazz and in the music world – but not for long.

Matt Marshak was named “Best New Smooth Jazz Artist in New York” when he won the original artist contest sponsored by radio station CD101.9 FM and Absolut Vodka last summer. The station also interviewed Matt and has aired some of his tunes. Last July, Matt Marshak and his band opened for the CD101.9 FM “Guitars & Saxes" concert with Jeff Golub, Peter White, Richard Elliot and Steve Cole at Bryant Park in New York City. This June, guitarist Matt Marshak and his band (featuring Chris Marshak on drums, Kenny Harris on bass, and special guest Bill Heller from The Rippingtons on keyboards) was one of the opening acts for Spyro Gyra at the Hilltop Jazz & Blues Fest at the Brookhaven Amphitheater in Long Island. On August 21, Matt Marshak and his band will be opening for guitarist Peter White and saxophonist Jaared at the "3rd Annual Long Island Multiple Sclerosis Society Jazz at Sunset Fundraiser."

Matt Marshak’s sophomoric CD This Time Around (released in March) is terrific - one of the best, freshest, most exciting smooth jazz CDs from a new artist in the last few years!! This Time Around includes 14 songs with mainly instrumentals and some vocal tunes featuring upbeat, pop-rock contemporary jazz, funky pop/jazz with background vocals, beautiful smooth jazz ballads, R & B-influenced vocal tunes, and new-age pop songs with sweet scatting.

The production is top-notch and the CD includes many wonderful players: Matt Marshak on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals and scatting; on drums: the multi-talented Chris Marshak; on bass: Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon, Chris Botti) and Kenny Harris; on saxophones: David Mann (Chuck Loeb, Wayman Tisdale, Tower of Power), Mario Cruz (Jaco Pastorius) and Mark Gatz; on keyboards and programming: Rob Meeks (Kool and The Gang); also on keys: Dean Kraus and Tim Regusis; on flute: Dwayne Kerr (Erykah Badu); on vocals: Tanya Michelle (lead), Anastasia Rene (lead and background vocals), and Arty White on wah-wah guitar (Alicia Keys).

MattMarshak_guitar.jpgThis Time Around features an enjoyable variety of catchy, memorable original compositions (11 composed by Matt Marshak and 3 are co-written by him), as well as one cover tune. The CD kicks off in high spirits with “Good Evening” - a sure bet for a smooth-jazz radio hit co-produced by Matt Marshak and Robert Meeks. The exuberantly energetic “Good Evening” features Matt’s warm electric guitar tone and some vocals. The song has melodic pop hooks and funky rhythms that get the audience up and groovin’ to the music, as well as some pretty flute lines. “Good Evening” has an easy-breezy feel - reminiscent of smooth jazz guitarists such as Chuck Loeb and Joyce Cooling.

On “Tell Me Why” Matt delivers funky rhythms with an urban flair that creatively combine with expansive Wes-Montgomery-inspired chords on electric and rhythm guitar. Robert Meeks co-produced the track with dance-club music production special effects on keyboards, drum loops and bass programming. “Autumn Breeze” is another funky, soulful track with vocals in the chorus by Matt and features some unusual melodic twists. Matt plays lead guitar and rhythm acoustic guitar riffs that drive the tune. There’s also the sole cover tune, Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” adeptly produced by David Mann who plays saxophones and keys and did the drum and bass programming. “Wonderful Tonight” is a moving version, with sweet notes that bend and float in the air, an intensified bridge, and upbeat, funky guitar/saxophone interplay.

Several uptempo tracks on This Time Around also have the potential to be popular smooth jazz radio hits and are great fun at concerts. “Shake It Again” was produced and co-written with guitarist/composer Carl Burnett (who has worked with artists such as Larry Carlton, Boney James and Paul Brown). “Shake It Again” is a catchy, upbeat tune with latin-influenced keyboards, and exciting guitar and tenor saxophone lines. “I Will Be With You” and “New Kid,” are accompanied by finger-tapping, hand-clapping, danceable grooves. “I Will Be With You” has upbeat, memorable guitar and saxophone riffs (with Mario Cruz on tenor sax), with guitar sounds inspired by Larry Carlton and The Crusaders. “New Kid” has received airplay on CD101.9. The song has a bluesy feel, with extended enthusiastic improvisational lines that feature Matt stretching out on guitar, supported by Tim Regusis on soulful organ and keys, Chris Marshak on drums, Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Mario Cruz on tenor sax and flute, and Fred Walcott on percussion.

“Your Name” is a fun, hard-driving, tune – a blast from the past with a modern twist. Matt is on electric guitar and lead vocals in the chorus. There is a catchy, sexy riff played partly with guitar and saxophone in unison. Mark Gatz is on tenor sax and plays a great, dark and mysterious solo. “Your Name” is driven by an exciting, brassy beat with Chris Marshak on drums, and has Robert Meeks on organ. In contrast, “Quietly” is a beautiful, dreamy, melodic instrumental tune that should also be a popular pick for smooth jazz radio with Matt on electric guitar and gorgeous soprano sax solos from Mario Cruz.

There are also two R&B/pop tunes with lead vocals. “Seduction,” has Matt on lead and rhythm guitars and features Tanya Michelle on vocals with David Mann on a pretty soprano sax solo. “Into Darkness” features Anastasia Rene on lead vocals, and has Matt on guitars, Dean Kraus on keys, Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Chris Marshak on drums. (These two tunes are reminiscent of Jeff Golub’s soulful cover with a female lead vocalist on “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” - the Average White Band tune). “Never Let You Go” is a winning smooth jazz tune with Matt on guitar, background vocals by Anastasia Rene, keyboards by Dean Kraus, Kenny Harris on bass and Rodney Harris on drums.

“Smile” and “Nu Day” have cross-cultural appeal, with Matt fusing flowing electric riffs and pop/new-age/world music acoustic sounds with his own sweet, soulful scatting. “Smile” has a pure, innocent, spiritual kind of quality that will touch the child in every listener’s heart. “Nu Day” is similar in nature, but with a more upbeat tempo that is fresh, uplifting and inspirational. Both tunes have Robert Meeks on keys and Chris Marshak on brushes. “Nu Day” also includes Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Arty White on wah wah guitar. These tunes, along with the R& B-flavored songs featuring female vocalists are an indication that Matt Marshak’s music has the potential to crossover into pop, R&B, and world music realms and have universal appeal (perhaps like artists such as Norah Jones). Matt Marshak’s music deserves to be heard by wider audiences who are likely to become enthusiastic new fans around the world.

Without a doubt, guitarist/vocalist/composer Matt Marshak’s new CD This Time Around is a great find to add to your smooth jazz and pop music collection that will bring you listening pleasure for a long time!

This Time Around - Matt Marshak
Nuance Music Group (2004)
[available at www.CDbaby.com/mattmarshak;
music clips and information on www.MattMarshak.com]

Posted by Peter Böhi at 9:11 PM

July 12, 2004

Benoit Freeman At Thornton Winery

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.

BenoitFreeman2.jpgThere can no more atmospheric open air venue for smooth jazz than the Thornton Winery in Temecula CA. Deep in the California wine country, forty miles north east of San Diego on I-15, this working winery combines the production of fine wines with a high quality restaurant and a large open space that, when the crème de la crème of smooth jazz artists come to town, converts perfectly to a concert venue. For several years now the Thornton Winery has played host to smooth jazz greats, usually performing on lazy Sunday afternoons under the heat of the California sunshine.

On June 26 it was the turn of the Benoit Freeman Project to play there in what was, for Thornton’s, one of the less frequent Saturday evening events and what an evening it turned out to be. It has to be said that a night out at the Winery is no cheap ticket. As well as the price of admission the audience is encouraged to purchase wine, strictly by the bottle, to enjoy with the music and to eat from the lavish buffet tables. In a way, this sets the tone for the affluent middle class clientele to enjoy every sensation of the evening, the wine, the food, the sunshine and of course the music.

On tour to promote their latest album release The Benoit Freeman Project 2, the music that these sophisticates of smooth jazz provided was perfect for the occasion. Resplendent in black, and complete with obligatory shades, never have two guys looked more like smooth jazz musicians than did Benoit and Freeman on that evening. Their tight backing consisted of Jamie Tate on drums and Melvyn Davis on bass with the excellent David Pack, a long time associate of Benoit, providing the vocals. Pack also handles the vocals on track #3 of the CD, a tune named ‘Montecito’.

benoitfreeman2.jpgThe Benoit Freeman Project 2 is a high quality piece of work and comes ten years after the first collaboration between these two. However that’s not quite true to say. Although The Benoit Freeman Project CD was released in 1994, the two of them were founding members of the Rippingtons. Guitarist Russ Freeman originally planned the Rippingtons as a changing lineup of strong contemporary jazz musicians and assembled the first version of the band for the album Moonlighting in 1986 which featured David Benoit on piano and Brandon Fields, Dave Koz and Kenny G on saxophones. Kilimanjaro, their first album to break into the pop charts followed in 1988. The group were signed to GRP in 1989 with classic albums such as Tourist In Paradise, Welcome To The St James Club and 1991's Curves Ahead all following. By 1993 the Rippingtons had solidified into a steady six-piece group including Russ Freeman, Dave Kochanski on keyboards, Jeff Kashiwa on saxophone, Kim Stone on bass, Tony Morales on drums, and Steve Reid on percussion. Then, in 1994, Freeman hooked up with old partner David Benoit for the The Benoit Freeman Project. Later that year came Sahara which altered the band's billing from ‘The Rippingtons Featuring Russ Freeman’ to ‘Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons’.

Accused by some of having recorded more than his share of forgettable smooth jazz albums in a career that has had more than a few ups and downs, David Benoit can still boast a considerable catalogue of quality work. A GRP recording artist since 1986 his recordings on this label encompass a wide range of jazz styles, from contemporary pop to straight ahead bebop, orchestral, and hip hop. Among the highlights of his discography are 1988's Every Step of the Way, nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Jazz Fusion’ category; 1989's Waiting for Spring, which for eight weeks topped Billboard's traditional jazz chart; and 1992's Letter to Evan, a heartfelt tribute to the late jazz piano giant, ‘Bill Evans’.

He has never been afraid to mix things up either. In 2002 Benoit developed an entire live musical tribute to Charles Schulz's beloved comic strip, Peanuts. The show featured a full orchestra, arranged and conducted by Benoit, performing a variety of music, including the melodies composed by the late Vince Guaraldi for the classic ‘Peanuts’ TV specials. Benoit also composed and performed a classical piece for piano and orchestra, The Peanuts Gallery, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and he has since brought the show to various parts of the United States.

He then did a complete turn around with his next release on GRP, Fuzzy Logic, that he describes as 'retro,' a return to what he calls the real boogaloo, grooving, old-style stuff. With a production team on the record that included Rick Braun, and Stuart Wade of Down To The Bone, Benoit, looked to emulate some of his favorite bands such as Tower Of Power and Chicago with a big horn section and by playing a lot of Hammond organ. It worked well.

Back to 2004 and Benoit Freeman Project 2 has already been described as ‘smooth jazz with a brain’. It certainly is not straight ahead acoustic jazz but it isn't an album of mindless ‘elevator music’ either. Most of the tracks, in fact the best of the tracks, are instrumental and often times the rhythms are enriched with an infectious Latin flavor.

The album opens with the excellent ‘Palmetto Park’ probably the best, certainly the most radio worthy track on the record, with a catchy tune and beautiful interchanging between guitar and piano. It’s a pure delight. Track #2 ‘Via Nueve’ incorporates a haunting melody and evokes a sentimentality that can, for those so inclined, make hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Its David Pack's turn to step up to the microphone on track #3 as he provides the vocals on the Freeman composition ‘Montecito’, which he does in a subtle low key and very effective way.

In the live performance more was made of Packs vocals and the audience loved him.

The unlikely appearance on the CD by country heavy weight Vince Gill with the vocals on track #5 ‘Two Survivors’ has been highly acclaimed but didn’t really cut it for the Secret Garden. Much better yet was the guest trumpet playing by Chris Botti on ‘Club Havana’ and ‘Struttin’. This latter tune was particularly well performed live at Thornton’s, albeit without the trumpet solo, and really got the place jumping. A little gem is reserved for the tenth and final track on the album, ‘Waiting For The Stars To Fall’. Its another Freeman solo composition that’s a beautiful, slow and evocative melody, tinged with sentimentality and designed to melt the coldest heart. Its music for lovers.

Benoit Freeman Project 2 is released on Freeman’s own Peak label and Benoit announced in Temecula that as of June 6 2004 he too had signed for the label. In doing so he becomes stable mate to The Rippingtons, Eric Marienthal, Braxton Brothers, Gato Barbieri, Paul Taylor, David Pack, Regina Belle and more. Benoit Freeman Project 2 has already been described by Art Good as one of the smooth jazz albums of the year. It’s beyond dispute that either live, or in the recording studio, Freeman Benoit have the creativity and skill to trigger a special kind of enjoyment and a whole range of emotions. Check this one out soon.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite 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 DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:08 PM

July 8, 2004

Walter Beasley signs to Heads Up label

Saxophonist Walter Beasley is label-less no more, as he's signed a deal with the Heads Up label.

WalterBeasley.jpgVeteran saxophonist Walter Beasley has signed a contract with the Heads Up label and this month is beginning to write new songs for his first album on his new label. The new album will be the follow-up to Go With the Flow from 2003, which was on the N-Coded label and included the hit “West Hamilton Groove.”

Before that, Walter – who is a music professor at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston – recorded four albums with the Shanachie label. Walter is joining a Heads Up roster that is also home to, among others, Pieces of a Dream, Nestor Torres, Joyce Cooling, Spyro Gyra and Doc Powell.

One of the reasons Walter Beasley signed with the Heads Up label was the chance to work with someone he really admires.

“I’m looking forward to working actually with James Lloyd, the keyboardist of Pieces of a Dream," Beasley says. "His writing and his arrangement is just so beautiful and so different that I’m looking forward to working with him specifically. I’m looking to get deeper into Walter Beasley by, you know, using other people to do it.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:14 AM

Jeff Lorber's Shades Of Soul finally to be released

Ten years ago, Jeff Lorber started recording a CD by a group he called Shades of Soul. It was never released. But the group's time has come, and now it has Chris Botti.

JeffLorber.jpgAlmost 10 years after recording began, an album by a group called Shades of Soul with Jeff Lorber will finally see the light of day. It was back in 1995 that pianist and composer Lorber got together with guitarist Marion McClain and bassist Nathaniel Phillips, who both briefly played with the Dazz Band of “Whip It” fame, and began work on an album. Guests included saxophonist Art Porter, who drowned in November 1996, vocalist Terry Stanton from the popular Hidden Beach label compilations and saxophonist Patrick Lamb.

In 2000, Lorber recruited trumpet player Chris Botti to play on several tracks, as well. Lorber says he received several offers to release the 11-song CD, a mix of old-school funk and smooth jazz that includes a cover of Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Love Come Down,” but didn’t feel the time was right until now. For Porter fans, the album gives them a chance to hear the saxophonist play on songs that have never been released. Shades of Soul’s debut, self-titled CD will be released August 24th on the Narada Jazz label. The first single is called "Gazpacho."

Shades of Soul

1. All Night Long
2. Then and Now
3. Enjoy Yourself
4. Gazpacho
5. Love Come Down
6. We Got To Live Together
7. Get Wid’ It
8. San Vicente
9. Shades of Soul
10. Gangsta Jam
11. Hey Uh

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:09 AM

July 7, 2004

Jason Miles offers unreleased CD on new website

Composer and producer Jason Miles will soon offer an album he made in 1979 called Cozmopolitan on his brand-new website.

JasonMiles2.jpgFor the recent launch of his first-ever website, music industry veteran Jason Miles decided to offer a collection of jazz-fusion music from 25 years ago that has never been available. In 1979, Jason went into the studio as a leader for the first time with an impressive team of musicians, including saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Marcus Miller and saxophonist and flutist Gerry Niewood and guitarist Ricardo Silveira. The result was an album called Cozmopolitan.

“Marcus was 19, Brecker was 28 or -9, I was 27, Ricardo was like 21," says Miles. "The energy on this record is just totally wild."

Although the album was never released, several months ago Jason rediscovered the original music while rooting around his house. The new version of Cozmopolitan was remixed by Doug Oberkircher, who has worked for Spyro Gyra and Eric Marienthal and remixed the upcoming album by guitarist Steve Oliver. Oberkircher has also mixed all of Miles' CDs over the past six years.

Cozmopolitan will be available late this summer exclusively on the website, but you can now stream one of the songs and view a few pictures from the original recording session. You can find Jason’s website at jasonmilesmusic.com.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:23 AM

July 4, 2004

Secret Garden From The Darkness To The Light

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.

Its been a while since The Secret Garden hit the pages of Smooth Jazz Vibes and perhaps that is the most damning indictment of all of the smooth jazz scene in the United Kingdom. In fact to come up with acceptable copy and to climb back onto the smooth jazz train this groove starved aficionado has had to travel 8000 miles to the sunshine of California in order to reaffirm belief that smooth jazz is still alive and well.

Many Secret Garden readers in the UK will already be familiar with the demise of smooth jazz radio in that country. The once flag ship Jazz FM 102.2 is now a shadow of its former self with the play lists cluttered with the likes of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Simply Red. That of course is not to say that these artists are not great in their own right and their own genre but smooth jazz is definitely not what that genre is all about. Even in Manchester, where the stations northern outlet plays the airwaves on 100.4, the station has undergone a make over that has seen it re-emerge as Smooth FM with a collection of soft soul choices.

This all leaves the smooth jazz market starved of exposure and limits the means for true fans to keep up or connect with the sounds that they love. Thank heavens for Smooth Jazz Vibes and for streaming radio that at least gives the chance for the good stuff to be heard outside of the USA. The Secret Garden would be really interested to find out more about how UK based smooth jazz fans are taking this turning off of the smooth jazz scene and where they are going instead for their music.

As for the Secret Garden, in June 2004 it went to the USA and to start the trip we caught up with two artists now polarized at what we would suggest are two extremes of the smooth jazz spectrum, each with their own very defined followings.

Both events were by the water. The first on Navy Pier Chicago on June 19, promoted by WNUA 95.5, and under an awning to keep out the chill wind from the lake. The second at Humphries By The Bay in San Diego on June 23, courtesy of of KIFM 98.1 and without the benefit of cover to keep out what turned out to be a cool Pacific breeze. Both events featured pre-emanate smooth jazz sax players but it wasn’t just 2000 miles that separated these two gigs, it was a difference in style that offered unique insight into where the music comes from and where it can ultimately go. It was about those two titans of smooth jazz Boney James and Kenny G.

kennyg2.jpgNow the Secret Garden has hinted on more than one occasion that Kenny G may well have lost a little of the R & B edge that was undoubtedly there in his early recordings. Indeed the 1984 and 1985 platinum albums G-Force and Gravity helped build a foundation for Kenny among R&B audiences as well as those who were just discovering smooth jazz. This new audience, who ultimately would made him the biggest selling instrumental artist of all time, caught on fast and in 1986 made Duotones a five million selling album and gave him his breakthrough into mainstream acceptance. The album was lifted by two R&B hit singles, a revival of Junior Walker's ‘What Does It Take’ and ‘Don't Make Me Wait For Love’ that featured Lenny Williams but it was ‘Songbird,’ a Top 5 pop smash, that really put Kenny on the map.

Despite eleven subsequent album releases, all of them huge sellers, it could be argued that the raw power and groove established at that 1986 pinnacle was never surpassed. In some quarters, and perhaps unfairly, he has been bracketed as bland and that image is reflected in his fan base that often seems to be drawn exclusively from the middle class majority.

If Kenny G has moved from soulful edgy groove to more mainstream ultra smooth jazz then Boney James started out seeped in soul and just went on getting edgier. Right from the time he signed with Warner Bros in 1994 a sequence of successful album releases has moved him further towards what is commonly regarded as urban territory. This culminated in the 2002 release Ride that opened up airplay on urban radio stations for him as well as keeping him in the spotlight of those stations with a predominately smooth jazz play list.

boneyjames04.jpgHow then did the live performances of these two smooth jazz heavyweights compare? In Chicago Boney James rolled into town to promote what will be his ninth album on Warner Bros, Pure which is out on August 3rd. Speaking about the new album James says, ‘the great joy of Pure is that I made all the decisions about everything. I was always confident in making music, but I was curious too, and a lot of times in the past I couldn't address that. I used to like to work with other producers because I felt I had too many ideas, as if I was undisciplined. But on this record I allowed myself to explore even some of my crazier ideas. A lot of them turned out to reflect more of my true musical sensibility than anything else I'd ever done.’

He says, ‘when I wrote ‘Thinkin' 'Bout Me’, an instrumental performance that also appears as a bonus vocal track featuring Ledisi, with my friend Rex Rideout we thought of it as a straight-up R&B tune. But then I started to imagine that it could sound like something that Sly & the Family Stone would do. I broke it down, took the drum machines out, got a Hammond B-3 player and a horn section, and built it up from scratch as a live track’.

As he has done on earlier albums, James invited singers to make guest appearances. He wrote ‘Appreciate’ with Jon B. as a male vocal, but when, in Boney’s imagination, it evolved into a fiery Latin dance vibe, he knew it would be perfect for new Warner Bros. artist Debi Nova.

Boney’s 2002 Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album for Ride led to another fortunate twist of fate when, at a post-Grammy jam session at B. B. King's Blues Club, he found himself onstage with singer Bilal at the microphone. ‘When Bilal got up to sing, he just blew everyone away’, James remembers, ‘I knew he would be perfect for 'Better With Time’.

For ‘Break of Dawn’, his collaboration with Dwele, whom Entertainment Weekly has targeted as one of ten artists on the brink, Boney took the initiative to fly to Dwele’s home in Detroit. ‘As soon as I heard him on the radio I knew he would be great,’ Boney says.

Whether working with outstanding singers or world-class musicians such as Joe Sample, whose solo on ‘Stone Groove’ is an album highlight, this piece of work by James keeps him ahead of the crowd.

In Chicago the crowd liked what they heard as Boney also treated them to many of his standouts from previous releases. He carried the audience along with him, made them part of the show, romanced them a little and ended up blowing them away His encore piece, the title track from Ride made up for the lack of acoustics in the semi open venue with more raw energy than you can shake a stick at.

kennyg.jpgLeaving Illinois for Southern California for the Kenny G gig it was hard to see how middle of the road Kenny could surpass what Boney James had served up but not surprisingly for an artist of G’s pedigree he did not disappoint. While James was in town to showcase his new release G was in San Diego on the first leg of a two-week tour that would take him to LA, Oregon and finally Japan. This was not about new music but it was about a glorious celebration of Kenny’s finest pieces of work played out to the highest standards of professionalism to an almost capacity crowd who came along ready to enjoy and did just that. It proved that the music that Kenny G has offered up over the past twenty years has effectively enabled everything that followed. It promoted the genre, carved out the audience and encouraged musicians to follow along.

With Boney James on the scene the future of smooth jazz is in very safe hands but on June 23 2004 in San Diego CA let it be known that Kenny G rocked.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite 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 DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:24 AM

July 2, 2004

Contempo July 2004

cooling.gifOne would think that close to three years down the road, chronicling yet another personal story about 9/11 would be a bit redundant, yet it’s the only way to fully appreciate the crossroads Joyce Cooling found herself at while writing and recording her Narada Jazz debut This Girl’s Got To Play. A few days before the tragedy, the popular guitarist, in New York visiting relatives, hung out at the World Trade Center, bagel and coffee in hand. On September 10, she and Jay Wagner, her longtime keyboardist and musical partner, flew home from Newark to San Francisco on the same flight that a day later would be brought down in a Pennsylvania field. She was excited — her album Third Wish, was hitting the bins the next day.

“Then, it was as if nothing else really mattered,” she recalls. “First I panicked about where some of my family members might be, then I just sat like everyone dumbfounded as the impact of the day hit me. I forgot all about my CD coming out, it seemed so insignificant. Watching rescue workers going about their very essential jobs, my role in the world seemed like the fluff of society. Jay and I hit a major dry period, and at one point we seriously considered getting out of the music business. We thought it might be fun to open up a hip café in San Francisco, where artists and photographers could display their work, and bands could play.”

The title of her album came about from a line she uttered spontaneously after three months of this kind of talk. She turned to Wagner during a discussion and said, “I don’t know about you, but this girl’s got to play!” All at once, it hit her that if there was indeed a purpose to her existence after all, it was somehow connected to the deep love of music she senses runs in her marrow. She realized that, in a world where 9/11s can happen, artists may not have much to offer at the point of impact — but they become essential in the healing process.

cover“All of this was very freeing for me, and I came into the new project rejuvenated, with fervor and passion to spare,” she says. “When you come close to abandoning something you can’t imagine your life without, and then you come full circle, it’s like returning home, and it’s the right place to be.”

Not surprisingly with all the soul searching that went on, This Girl’s Got To Play! is the most personal of her four smooth jazz recordings, balancing in the pocket, hip and snappy radio-ready tunes like the opening cut “Expression” and “Green Impala” with deeper bluesy explorations (“Toast & Jam”) and the exotic, Middle Eastern tinged “Camelback,” named for a well known mountain in the Phoenix area. For Cooling, the lonesome desert vibe of this tune reflects the gray area in the mystery of dusk, a sort of journey through a no-man’s land she can fully relate to.

Cooling has always included a lead vocal or two on her albums, but here goes deeper into the singer/songwriter side of her artistry with a total of four. The playful title track finds her taking a bemused, sometimes tongue in cheek look back at high school and the world of day jobs, where she was always the odd girl out; music, it seems clear, was her only salvation, and this song reaffirms her wise choice in continuing. The other noteworthy vocal is “No More Blues,” whose lyrics speak of her personal crossroads and taking risks over a rootsy, organic acoustic jazz-blues vibe that’s perfectly in between the realms of smooth and straight ahead jazz; Jon Evans’ upright bass drives the laid back piece, which also features a thoughtful guitar solo between her declaration that she’s “through with my crying.”

Although some might view the title of the disc as an invitation for more women to take a stand in the male dominated genre, Cooling insists her overall theme of “whatever your passion is, just do it” should be genderless. “When I say the word ‘Play,’ I don’t just mean music, it’s whatever you do that drives you and makes you happy,” she says. “It’s about coming to those points in your life where decisions have to be made, and following your heart.”

While she’s always excited to learn that young women consider her success in smooth jazz an inspiration for their own creative endeavors, Cooling truly longs for a culture that wouldn’t put such a premium on image to sell a product.
“I might not have had this opportunity to play music for so many people if I wasn’t a woman, because the industry sees us as a novelty in some ways,” she says. “Companies sometimes see it as a marketing angle. But nothing could happen if I didn’t put the music first. I want people to close their eyes and feel me in that way. And if they are getting into the music, does my image matter? I’ve met a lot of women musicians who are good and should get a chance, not because they are attractive and female, but because their music is great. It’s a turn off to me to see an album cover with a dolled-up chick whose talent doesn’t measure up.

“The music must come first before anything,” she emphasizes. “On the other hand, if my being a woman intrigues people and they want to come check me out based on that, that’s wonderful. Whatever gets them out to hear the music. Once this girl starts playing, they’ll know I’m all about the music.”


gwashington.jpgGROOVIN’ FOR GROVER: Smooth jazz promoters are always coming up with clever ways to package a handful of beloved players on one value-packed ticket. Guitars & Saxes has been an institution over the past decade, and this year’s summer tour lineup features G&S vets Jeff Golub and Warren Hill with newcomers to the fold Marc Antoine and Euge Groove. A brand new package called Sax Pack is also hiting the festival circuit, with old faves Kim Waters, Jeff Kashiwa and Steve Cole (who did G&S last year). The spring into summer Groovin’ for Grover tour allows participants Paul Taylor, Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright and Jeff Lorber a handful of solo spotlights, but after intermission, the four focus totally on soulful, blistering versions of classic, pre-smooth jazz era tunes that inspired a generation of saxmen.

Aside from being a celebration of the life and spirit of the late Grover Washington, Jr., the tour is designed to help raise awareness of and funds for the legendary saxophonist’s Protect the Dream Foundation, which seeks to enrich children’s lives through music education. By providing funding and public and nonprofit institutions devoted to music education, the 5013c charity keeps alive Grover’s hopes as founder that young people’s lives will be uplifted through music.

The show in early April in the ballroom at the St. Regis Resort & Spa in Dana Point, California was a powerful display of the spontaneous energy that can happen when musicians pay tribute to an influential master. Egos were set aside and the spirit of Washington was allowed to come in and drive the show. Elliot and Taylor are strong players and consummate performers, but the underrated Albright was a cut above, especially wailing on the increasingly improvisational elements of the smooth funky workout tune “Winelight.” Elliot recognized Albright’s genius in a playful way, at one point bowing to him after the two engaged in a healthy competitive solo section exchange during “Black Frost.”

Groovin’ For Grover is one of the most unique sax packages smooth jazz has ever offered, and shouldn’t be missed. Summer dates include stops in Oakville, CA, Kettering, OH, Saratoga, CA and at the Hollywood Bowl’s JVC Jazz Festival on August 22.


WHAT I’M LISTENING TO:

1) To Grover With Love (Q Records) – The excitement of the concert prompted me to dig out this magnificently fashioned, Jason Miles-produced 2001 all-star tribute disc, which features Albright doing “Winelight,” Elliot covering “Take Me There” and Taylor jamming with Peter White on “Come Morning.”
2) Eric Clapton, Me and Mr. Johnson (Warner Bros.)
3) Alan Hewitt Project, Noche De Pasion (215 Records)
4) Grady Nichols, Sophistication (Grady Nichols Music)
5) A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield (Warner Bros.)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 7:00 PM

July 1, 2004

Dave Koz & More Heat Up July!

Dave Koz continues his Summer Nights tour this month with a visit to the Sunset Station Amphitheater at the Sunset Station Hotel in Vegas, Friday, July 9th, starting at 8pm. The concert will feature Wayman Tisdale, Jonathon Butler, and Rick Braun.

Trumpeter Greg Adams performs July 6th at the Green Valley Pavilion in Henderson/Las Vegas on July 6th.

David Sanborn, along with the Robert Cray band, just kicked it up at Sunset Station last week on June 25th

Trumpeter Greg Adams brings his nine piece band in on July 6th at the Green Valley Pavilion in Henderson/Las Vegas on July 6th.

The All That Jazz concert coming on Saturday, July 31st at The Aliante Park in North Las Vegas was to have the Steven Lee Group featuring Rocco Barbato playing with saxophonist Rocky Gordon and his band, KGB, but instead will feature blues-jazz guitarist/singer, Billy Ray Charles. Rocky will perform selections from his latest release, Echoes, which features the single, Hip Bop.

Upcoming concerts in Vegas at the Boulder Station Hotel:
Al Jarreau - August 14th
Norman Brown - September 25th
Boney James - October 8th
Dianne Schuur - October 9th

Posted by Danny Desart at 8:44 PM

Smooth jazz stars ready to launch the ninth Guitars & Saxes concert tour

Smooth jazz stars ready to launch the ninth Guitars & Saxes concert tour - Antoine, Golub, Groove & Hill comprise the all-star lineup set to visit 21 cities

For the past nine years, one of the most popular attractions for adult summer concert goers is the Guitars & Saxes tour, which features the collaborative efforts of four smooth jazz stars.  This year’s edition is certain to be a highly entertaining crowd pleaser as guitarists Marc Antoine and Jeff Golub will make the trek with saxophonists Euge Groove and Warren Hill.  The artists will open and close the show playing on stage together.  In between, each artist will have his own turn to take over the stage to play his individual hits, which includes plenty of #1 singles from chart-topping albums.  Since jazz has always been about improvisation and collaboration, fans can expect unique pairings and trios to share the stage throughout the concert as well, especially since these musicians have made guest appearances on each other’s albums.

EugeGroove.jpgFirst to take the stage for a solo set will be saxophonist Euge Groove (Steven Eugene Grove), which is appropriate since he’s tirelessly energetic and enthusiastic.  Groove was a long-time sideman to such luminaries as Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Richard Marx and Tower of Power.  In 2000, he launched his solo career with two #1 radio singles and a #1 track on the MP3 jazz chart.  Through just three albums, including his new release, Livin’ Large, Groove has already topped the charts often enough to become a smooth jazz radio staple.  He strives to create music that is timeless, utilizing elements of jazz, pop and R&B as his muse.  His records are built upon the dual foundation of quality songwriting and top-notch musicianship.

MarcAntoine.jpgAdding culture and romance to the evening will be flamenco-jazz guitarist Marc Antoine, a Parisian who now resides in Madrid, Spain.  The gypsy spirit and classical soul of Antoine’s recordings can’t help but transport instrumental fans seeking musical paradise.  Through his collection of six albums and chart-topping singles, Antoine has created a unique sound that incorporates jazz, flamenco, Latin, dance and Euro-pop.  The title track of Antoine’s latest album, Mediterraneo, is currently in the Top 10 on the smooth jazz radio singles chart.

WarrenHill.jpgToronto native Warren Hill co-starred in the first Guitars & Saxes concert tour when it was conceived by agent Bob Engel of Variety Artists International in 1995.  Hill’s first love was rock and roll, but he fell in love with the sax after discovering jazz.  He had mainstream pop successes with Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole and was a part of the hit movie soundtracks for Reality Bites and Body of Evidence, the latter of which starred Madonna.  His seven albums have spawned #1 singles in a variety of radio formats, proving Hill’s crossover appeal.  Performing and songwriting from the heart are amongst Hill’s many talents.  He’s passionate and charismatic and he infuses both into his music, which is soulful, emotive, and romantic.

JeffGolub.jpgThe last to take the stage for a solo set will be Jeff Golub, whose soul-jazz grooves are edgy, gritty, and funky.  Golub thrives on the concert stage and he aims to capture the live sound in the studio, where he has recorded six albums and a bevy of #1 singles.  After years as a highly coveted sideman backing such artists as Rod Stewart, Vanessa Williams, Ashford & Simpson, John Waite and Billy Squier, Golub formed his own band and released a debut album in 1994 under the band name Avenue Blue.  By the time Golub started recording under his own name five years later, he was already an image artist in the smooth jazz format.  Smooth jazz moniker aside, Golub pushes the envelop musically, emphasizing creativity and spontaneity in the spirit of jazz, but drenched with soulful and bluesy nuances.

Backing the Guitars & Saxes cast are Dave Hooper (drums), Randy Jacobs (guitar), Ron Jenkins (bass) and Ron Reinhardt (keyboards).

 

The following is the 2004 Guitars & Saxes tour itinerary (changes and additions are possible):

 

July 14              San Diego, CA               Humphrey’s

July 15              Saratoga, CA                The Garden Theatre

July 16              Sacramento, CA            Radisson Hotel

July 17              Healdsburg, CA             Rodney Strong Vineyards

July 18              Pasadena, CA               Central Park

August 9 & 10    Alexandria, VA                The Birchmere

August 11          New York, NY                 Spirit Cruise Ship/Pier 63 - Chelsea Piers

August 12          Richmond, VA                The Canal Club

August 13          Glenside, PA                  Keswick Theatre

August 14          Huntington, NY               IMAC

August 15          Annapolis, MD               Ram’s Head

August 17          Toronto, ONT                 TBA

August 18          Sterling Heights, MI         Freedom Hill Amphitheatre

August 21          Chicago, IL                   Navy Pier Skyline Stage

August 22          St. Louis, MO                  The Pagent

September 10   Newport Beach, CA       Hyatt Newporter                        

September 11   Las Vegas, NV                Spring Mountain State Park

September 12   Temecula, CA               Thornton Winery

September 17   Austin, TX                       One World Theatre

September 18   Houston, TX                   Verizon Wireless

September 19   San Antonio, TX              Travis Park at Navaro

Posted by Peter Böhi at 1:07 PM