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. It�s difficult to categorize someone who has been on the scene for the past twenty years as a new comer but guitarist Kenny Carr is really making an impression with his debut solo release Friday At Five. It�s a really excellent piece of work but something else that marks it out is the length of time the recording has been �in the can�. The album was recorded in a small Manhattan studio in 1997 and, to create more of a live feel, no sound barriers were used to separate the musicians, much like recording sessions of years gone by. The venture, originally intended to be a demo project, as well as an opportunity to reunite with some old friends who were now professional musicians in New York City, was finished in two days but somehow ended up in storage.
Those �old friends� were guys that he had grown up with in Santa Cruz and it was the inspiring natural beauty of that location which set the stage for Kenny�s musical career. He found himself surrounded by talented and aspiring musicians who became his closest friends. By his early teens he was studying jazz theory with vibraphonist Rob Lautz as well as renowned trumpeter Ray Brown. By age sixteen he was performing at local venues where he met drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Anders Swanson, as well as 2004 Grammy nominated saxophonist Donny McCaslin. In 1981, Kenny and his fellow Santa Cruz musicians were invited to open up for Carmen McCrea and Freddie Hubbard at the Mount Tamalpais jazz festival. After high school, Kenny attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and during his final year in 1986, he received the call to audition for Ray Charles. He toured worldwide with Charles as his guitarist for over ten years.
Then came the Friday At Five session and eight years on the music remains as fresh as the day it was recorded. The first track, �New York Shuffle� is pure Steely Dan with both a fine organ solo and Becker-esque guitar from Carr while �Rays Riff� is big band bluesy where both John Bailey on trumpet and Don McCaslin on sax excel. In fact McCaslin�s contributions are significant throughout. His solo on �Movin On� where a laid back groovy beginning gives way to Carr�s wailing guitar backed by understated horns is exceptional and McCaslin is also to the fore on �Exit 16�, a huge and brassy number that finds the band flirting with a classy straight ahead style.
Three of the tracks do not feature horns. On the primarily acoustic �Fly Away� Carr flies solo for this gentle melody with acoustic guitar, acoustic piano and electric guitar while his haunting evocative playing on �Santa Cruzin� is complemented by a sophisticated keyboard solo from John Dryden. One of the albums standouts is �Gramercy Groove�. This little gem starts out with a hugely catchy riff, evolves into an edgy piece of smooth jazz and ends up really rocking. The best track of the CD is �Coast To Coast� where Carr turns it down for a tight piece of smooth jazz played over a killer bass line from Andy Hess and more great work from the brass section of McCaslin and Bailey.
Friday At Five is a quality collection of music that falls somewhere between smooth jazz and adult contemporary. I encourage you to check it out.