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. What began at the New Orleans-based Essence Music Festival of 2000 as a cool idea by Clarence O Smith to charter a cruise ship for a trip from New Orleans to Mexico has ended as Love Pages, a superior musical project featuring some of the best artists in the genres of R & B and jazz. Clarence enlisted the help of musician, producer and friend, Duke Jones to recruit a band from the festival to play on the ship and The Cafe Soul All-Stars, a gathering of seasoned session musicians, were born.
With Duke Jones on trumpet, Chris Albert also on trumpet, Bobby Lyle on keyboards, Kaspar Galli on guitar and keyboards, Steve Williams on drums, Rene McLean with sax and Alex Blake on bass the combination was an instant success and after listening back to the nightly sessions that they recorded while on board it was obvious to both Clarence and Duke that this music just had to be heard by a wider audience. Duke, the man behind many classic R&B bands from the 70's onwards, was then asked to put together a line up that would make the band's name and the concept of the album a reality.
Duke exceeded all expectations in bringing together heavy weights such as George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Glenn Jones, Vesta, Christopher Williams, Jon Lucien and Maysa, not to mention Boney James, Roy Ayers, Kenny Garrett, Kim Waters and the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section. By blending these guest performers with the core of the Cafe Soul All-Stars the stage was set for a very special recording and so it proved as Duke summoned up his long time friend Norman Connors to collaborate on production for a finished work that checks all the right boxes
The big, tight and jazzy sound that the collective engender is most obvious on the instrumental tracks that are scattered throughout the album. �Urban Jungle�, with guest performances from Kenny Garrett on sax and Roy Ayers on vibes, is a thumping tune with a feel that is indicative of its title and Roy Ayers re-appears on the cool and breezy �Pier 69� where his vibes stand out like stars in the night. Best of the instrumentals is �Brazilian Heat�. It�s a genuine foot tapper that turns out to be a real Bobby Lyle smooth jazz master class.
Maysa features twice. First up for her is �I�m Changing�, a chunk of smooth R & B, where her vocals blend well with Bob Baldwin on keyboards and Kim Waters on sax. Her distinctive tones also bless the complex �Stay In My Heart�. It starts out as a romantic ballad then, first with wailing guitar and then a kicking brass section, turns into something altogether more powerful. Also big and urgent is the atmospheric �U And I� with Denise Stewart on vocals and the magnificent Earth Wind and Fire horn section in support.
With a title like Love Pages its not surprising that romance permeates the collection The legendary George Benson features on both vocals and guitar with the romantic �Pages�, a track on which Nils also plays guitar and where production is shared between Gerald McCauley and Paul Brown. Just as romantic is �To Be With You� where the vocals of Jon Lucien are the perfect choice for a number that is dreamy and evocative of warm Caribbean seas. �One More Bridge To Cross� featuring Vesta is a slow jam that just oozes soul and builds to a strong climax while the Patti Austin composition �You Don�t Have To Say Your Sorry� with heartfelt vocals by Debi Gilchrist has a sparse beauty that is all its own. It was performed and recorded during the last night of the 2000 cruise.
�Sheba� is hypnotic and different with vocals by Ida Onyanango, backing vocals by Denise Stewart and the spoken word by Nichelle Holiday. It�s up there as one of the best tracks on the album and right there with it is �Used To Be� where Christopher Williams combines with Shirley D for a mid tempo dance floor filler. Just as good is �Don�t Make Me Cry�. It�s another romantic ballad where contributions from Boney James, Paul Jackson Jr. and Bobby Lyle give it the wow factor and the vocals of Peabo Bryson give it the soul.
Arguably the best track on the CD by some distance is �What You Gonna Do�. This is infectious R & B and then some with lead vocals by Glen Jones and backup from the excellent Terrell Carter. It has already been identified as the first single to be lifted for radio play.
Love Pages is executive produced by Clarence O. Smith. It is an eclectic mix of soul and jazz that flourishes through the musical freedom that has been afforded to the entire project. Consequently there is something in it to enjoy for virtually everyone that declares a liking for that vast expanse of music between jazz and R & B.