What We're Listening To

B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D

SteelyDanPianoJazz.jpgMarian McPartland�s Piano Jazz Radio Broadcast with Steely Dan. (Broadcast 2003, CD release 2005) What a discovery this CD has been � a blending of my all-time favorite band with a jazz pianist who has hosted the Piano Jazz show for over 25 years now. Anyone who is familiar with Steely Dan knows of the jazz elements used in their music since the early 70�s, and this CD is eight tracks of memorable, intriguing and entertaining conversation between Marian McPartland, Donald Fagan and Walter Becker, punctuated by renditions of 'Limbo Jazz,' 'Josie,' 'Mood Indigo,' 'Star Eyes,' 'Hesitation Blues,' 'Things Ain�t What They Used to Be,' 'Chain Lightening,' and 'Black Friday.'

McPartland, whose quite accomplished career began at the age of three as she played Chopin by ear, discovered Steely Dan during a visiting nephew�s sharing of Donald Fagan�s Nightfly, and later when she heard Two Against Nature, she �fell completely in love with their music.� No doubt her admiration only grew as she learned that Steely Dan loves jazz and that they love Duke Ellington. Their conversation is priceless; she makes a comment about their lyrics and how they sometimes have to �wriggle [the lyrics] into the music.� The explanation? They were determined to write stories that would set apart each song from another, but in the process, the music often didn't have enough syllables in which to fit the entire story � so sometimes a piece is missing. Dan fans well understand this fact, and devote hours, days, even years figuring out the meaning of their lyrics!

The music played on this CD uses a smaller band, so it's more simplified, but no less effective, in demonstrating the jazz heritage and passion of all three players. Fagan and Becker are joined by Jay Leonhart on bass and Keith Carlock on drums, and on a few songs, by McPartland herself, and what a treat it is to hear all of the music they played on the show. Just a totally fun listen, bringing in some great history not only of Steely Dan as the guests, but also jazz greats like Duke Ellington and W.C. Handy. Her wrap-up of her time with them? �I think they had a ball, and I certainly did. Those guys are so funny and so witty and deadpan.�

Despite their sometimes crazy antics during interviews (which fans know can provide more comedy than one can put into words), I�ve always sensed a certain modesty with Don and Walt, and I loved listening to the more gentle and obviously �in awe� side of their personalities that came across on this show � they were, after all, in the presence of a truly legendary lady in the world of piano jazz. And perhaps for this reason, she was more successful than many in getting into the heads -- and hearts -- of two of the most creative minds in contemporary music.

Any Steely Dan fan and any fan of jazz music will thoroughly enjoy the time these three musical legends spent together. Learn more about Steely Dan and the fascinating Marian McPartland on the web.

P E T E R * B O E H I

kennybrooks2.jpgKenny Brooks - Jetstream (2005)
Guitarist Kenny Brooks offers some great smooth jazz guitar playing over contemporary grooves. Another outstanding artist waiting to be discovered at CDBaby.com.

Althea Ren� - Flute Talk (2000)
I just discovered this female flute player at CDBaby.com. This is some absolutely top-notch music with warm flute sounds over cool urban beats. Don't miss it!

David Lanz - The Good Life (2004)
Picture perfect smooth jazz by former new-age piano player David Lanz boasting some of the genre's best players. Incredibly well done and going down like champagne!

Brian Bromberg - Jaco (2002)
Despite not being exactly smooth jazz this CD has been a favorite on my CD player. Brian Bromberg is one of the most versatile bass players around and his homage to the late Jaco Pastorius is nothing short of breathtaking still retaining some smooth jazz appeal.

Camiel - Sunset (2002)
This album by guitar player Camiel falls more into the lounge or chill out genre but still offers plenty of jazzy guitar playing to appeal to us smooth jazz lovers. Nice change of pace and worth our attention.

B R I A N * S O E R G E L

pjcover200.jpgWarren Hill, Pop Jazz: The veteran saxophonist�s latest is also the name of his new Internet-based record label and features covers of classics like �Low Rider,� �Come Together,� �Back at One� and �Play That Funky Music (White Boy).� There are some ballads, but the hard-edged funk grooves are what stand out, especially on �Bridgin� The Gap,� where Hill plays like you�ve never heard him on CD.

Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin' On: The veteran guitarist provides plenty of meat on this CD, despite the generic smooth jazz title. �Love Is Always Young,� a song Chieli adapted from one of his musician father�s original songs, is as beautiful a ballad as you�re going to hear this year. And �Chic� is a hard-driving, hand-clapping gem with another smooth jazz star, Steve Oliver, providing wordless-vocal accompaniment to Chieli�s guitar.

Lin Roundtree, Groovetree: One song rocks and another has vocals, but the rest of the tracks by the trumpeter are nicely mellow. It�s romantic magic that should appeal to Chris Botti fans. And it�s exceptionally polished smooth jazz for an independent label.

Michael Brandenburg, Midnight: This is mellow music from a keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in northern California. Especially attractive are a cover of Burt Bacharach�s �The Look of Love� and Brandenburg�s own �Velvet Lady,� which is mellowness personified. Never rough, this CD puts the �smooth� in smooth jazz.

Brian Bromberg, It�s About Time: Originally released in 1991, the straight-ahead jazz album by bassist Bromberg swings with the sounds of acoustic jazz. Bromberg is one of the most talented musicians and composers going, and this CD reminds us of that. The CD, by the way, has been remixed, remastered and was just re-released by Bromberg�s own Artistry Music.

D E N I S * P O O L E

Acoustic Alchemy, �The Crossing,� from their new CD release American English. Could turn out to be THE release of 2005.

Juliette Leon, �Unconditional,� from the CD of the same name. Fresh new urban sounds from an artist based in the UK who is new on the scene.

Flautist and vocalist Theo Ross, an extended play collection titled Cut The Chord. Who said EP's were out of date?

Steve Cole, �Thursday,� from his latest CD, Spin. WNUA are playing this all the time so it�s hard to avoid but, despite initial concerns, it kind of grows on you.

Hall and Oates, 'Shes Gone,' from their classic release Abandoned Luncheonette. H and O will be touring the UK this month as part of their renaissance. Renaissance? I don't think they ever quite went away. Great stuff!!

J O N A T H A N * W I D R A N

NicolasBeardeAllAboutLove.jpgNicolas Bearde, All About Love (Right Groove Records)
The cover of the soulful vocalist�s disc finds him offering a few dozen roses, and his easy way with a mix of covers and originals delivers big time on the promise of romance with a few touches of edgier blues for good measure.

Beyond the Sea, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Atco/Rhino)

Bobby Caldwell, Perfect Island Nights (Music Force Media Group)

The Chris Walden Big Band, Home of My Heart (Origin)

Tim Bowman, This Is What I hear (Liquid Records Entertainment)