March 29, 2005

A quartet of Choices from the prodigious Bromberg

Four diverse album releases showcase the versatility and virtuosity of one of music’s most respected bassists

Acclaimed musician-producer Brian Bromberg recently released his thirteenth solo album, Metal, through the Artistry Music record label and the prolific, diverse and uniquely gifted bassist has three more albums – Choices , It’s About Time, and Brian Bromberg - scheduled for re-release over the next few months. One would be hard pressed to find another artist who moves between musical genres with such aplomb and has deservedly garnered the same level of respect and praise from fellow musicians and the media as Bromberg has. Within the jazz arena, Bromberg has maneuvered back and forth amongst the hard-line traditional jazz world and the commercial contemporary jazz genre with unequaled grace and accomplishment. His partnership in the new Artistry Music label has provided him the rare opportunity to explore his creative muse in new musical directions as well as give a second chance to some of his previous releases, which warrant another listen.

Bromberg calls last year’s Choices album the best smooth jazz album he’s ever recorded. The collection will be reissued by Artistry Music on May 24. Produced by Bromberg, who wrote or co-wrote the music, the album was revamped after the meticulous professional went back to the lab to make it even better. Half of the record was remixed and the entire disc was re-mastered. The title track, featuring Bromberg on his guitar-sounding piccolo bass accompanied by keyboardist Jeff Lorber, will be serviced to smooth jazz radio. One song on the original album was replaced with “Relentless,” a smooth jazz radio hit featuring sax star Richard Elliot. The track originally appeared on the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards CD and was never before released on a Bromberg album.                  

Metal marks new territory for Bromberg. The answer to his award-winning 2002 release, Wood, the collection is a truly unique rock fusion record that astoundingly was recorded without guitars. All the melodies and rhythms that sound like guitars were played by Bromberg on a piccolo bass. Although you’d never know it by listening to the album, it was recorded by just Bromberg and drummer Joel Taylor, along with keyboardist Dan Siegel, who appears on two tracks. Bromberg produced and composed the material, which recalls guitar gods and rock fusion greats. The record is unlike anything that’s been done before and captures an entirely new dimension of the virtuoso bass player, who unveiled the B2 line of basses that he designed with Dean Guitars at January’s NAMM convention. Jim Roberts, founding editor of Bass Player magazine and author of American Basses, wrote in the album’s liner notes, “And when it comes to hearing it all, and playing it all, nobody does it better than Brian Bromberg… Maybe I’m prejudiced, but you can always tell that Brian is a bass player at heart – even his most wailing ‘guitar’ solos display the logic that comes from a deep knowledge of harmony. And you can tell that he knows jazz, too, because of his attention to thematic development and contrasting solo voices.”

It’s About Time was Bromberg’s “first real hardcore, New York-kind-of-jazz record that is still approachable,” according to the musician, who produced the acoustic project in 1991. Scheduled to be re-released on April 5, the album has been remixed and re-mastered and now sounds as if it was recorded with today’s state-of-the-art digital recording and mastering equipment. Bromberg, who recorded the collection while playing a 300-year-old acoustic bass, was joined on the record by such jazz stalwarts as Freddie Hubbard, Ernie Watts, Mike Garson, Mitchell Forman and David Bromberg.        

Mining his extensive catalogue even further, Bromberg’s 1993 self-titled album will be re-released this summer (date soon to be announced). It’s a Bromberg-produced smooth jazz collection that boasts guest appearances by Jeff Lorber, Lee Ritenour, Kirk Whalum, and Toots Thielemans.  “One of the greatest things about having our own record label is having the opportunity to reissue some of my music that may have slipped through the cracks for a variety of reasons,” said Bromberg. “It’s important that we give this music the chance to be heard.”

Earlier this year, Bromberg earned his first gold record for the production work he did on Chris Botti’s When I Fall in Love album.  Bromberg is a much in demand producer after the success he’s had producing Jeff Kashiwa, Richard Smith, Kim Waters , Alan Broadbent, and Jeff Berlin, amongst others.

Bromberg, along with soul singer-songwriter Rahsaan Patterson, their long-time manager Lucille Hunt and veteran marketing executive Denny Stilwell launched Artistry Music earlier this year with the release of Patterson’s third album, After Hours. Based in Los Angeles, the label is distributed in the United States by Ryko Distribution. 

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:36 PM

March 28, 2005

Berks Jazz Fest 2005

I had a great time at this year's Berks Jazz Fest with took place in Reading, PA from March 11-20, 2005. This festival is unique because it is a community operated festival which originated 15 years ago and since that time has grown from a 3 day event to a festival spanning 10 days featuring over 130 artists covering many different genres of jazz and related styles of music. Concerts are held at different venues across town giving each one the setting it needs. The vibe at this unique festival is easy going and open minded, providing me with a great time among fellow smooth jazz aficionados. I made a lot of new friends and met many people from the industry like Steve Quirk from England (trying to syndicate his Fusion Flavours radio show in the US), Dave Love from Heads Up Records, Melanie Maxwell from Smooth Jazz News and many fellow journalists and webmasters. I also had the opportunity to spend lots of time with fellow smooth jazz writers and contributors to this site Jonathan Widran and Beverly Packard and husband Michael who were so kind to be my hosts during my stay at the festival.

JaaredPeterWhite.jpgThe first concert I attended was the one of Peter White featuring Jaared which was a blast as usual. He had David Sparkman with him on keys and vocals (who has done an own CD named Livin' For Love available at his site). The concert was very entertaining with Peter White delighting the crowd with his witty stories between tracks and heartfelt playing. Jaared, who has been part of Peter White's group for quite awhile, added some great sax playing to the proceedings and complements Peter's guitar playing nicely. Covers of 70ies soul and funk tracks brought a nice slant to the show, revealing where his musical heart lies. I enjoyed his show so much that I caught his second set later that day knowing that it would be different and so it was - the later show ended with a funk medley containing "Brick House" by the Commodores, which brought the audience to their feet. I definitely was not disappointed!

Chris-Botti-2.jpgOne of the bigger venues was the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, which was appropriate for the double bill of trumpet player Chris Botti opening for sax legend David Sanborn. Chris Botti's set was very enjoyable, providing us with some sharp trumpet playing. His band is very special with some rock touches and excellent drumming by Billy Kilson creating a lot of tension. Chris Botti successfully has escaped smooth jazz cliches and found his own attractive style which in a live setting is quite exciting as opposed to his more laid back studio recordings. After a short intermission, it was time for David Sanborn who was definitely grooving with an excellent band. It was without a doubt one of his better performances, and the slapping bass solo was a highlight of the show. His classic song "Lisa" was well received.

Miles-to-Miles.jpgNext day the afternoon show was called Miles To Miles after the album led by Jason Miles featuring an all-star cast dedicated to Miles Davis' music. Among the musicians appearing that I was familiar with were Tom Harrell on trumpet, David Sanchez on sax, Barry Danielian on trumpet and Bernie Worrell on keys. DJ Logic handled the turntables giving the proceedings a special touch with his scratching sounds. The music mostly covered newly written songs by Jason Miles who has worked many years with Miles Davis, trying to capture the spirit of the man. In between songs Jason told stories about him and Miles, which inspired this project which gave it a special touch. The music was groovy and contemporary but definitely not smooth - but Miles wasn't either... I would like to mention especially Tom Harrell who suffers from schizophrenia and has to rely on heavy medication in order to be able to perform. His odd behavior on stage (often standing there motionless with his head down) and his playing, which was great but sometimes suddently stopped, posed quite a challenge to the rest of the band thus unintentionally creating situations the way Miles might have done. This was a superior performance by a great group of musicians bringing us a heartfelt project reliving the spirit of Miles Davis.

Pieces-of-a-Dream-2.jpgIn the evening it was back to the Performing Arts Center where Pieces Of A Dream and Boney James were waiting for us. I have been a fan of Pieces Of A Dream ever since they entered the scene, being protégées of the late Grover Washington Jr. Today Eddy Baccus provides the sax playing, sometimes emulating the sound of Grover to an astonishingly real extent. It was great to hear this legendary group featuring James Lloyd on the keys and Curtis Harmon on drums giving us the good stuff we have come to love over the years. Their opening act lasted only an hour (so I hope to be able to catch them someday again for a full concert), paving the way for smooth jazz super star Boney James.
Boney-James-2.jpgBoney was backed by a tight band (with Sam Sims on bass) providing some smooth urban grooves for his sax playing. Boney entertained the crowd with his numerous hits and his stroll in the audience had more than one excited female dancing next to him. Outstanding, great fun and one of the highlights of the festival.

82Stanley-Jordan-3.jpgMonday was a night off with Tuesday being dedicated to the concert of Stanley Jordan appearing on the smaller stage of the Albright College Wachovia Theatre. Stanley Jordan appeared solo, with only his guitar and a broad array of music for us. He improvised a lot, taking us on a musical journey brimming with technical brilliancy. There is no other player I am aware of who plays with the unique "tapping" technique Stanley Jordan uses. Not smooth jazz but definitely inspiring.

Tom-Grant.jpgKeyboard player Tom Grant, who recently released his acoustic set of standards called Nice Work If You Can Get It, was scheduled for a special event called Jazz Dinner at the Windham Hotel which took place from 5-7 pm during four consecutive days. Tom played songs from his vast catalog on the grand piano while people were having dinner. I really enjoyed hearing Tom in this setting and he was accepting requests and provided a good time for everybody attending. Later, we also had the opportunity to spend some time with him and found him to be a really nice person.

Loeb_Concert.jpgChuck Loeb was scheduled to appear with trumpet player Rick Braun for a straight ahead set but unfortunately, due to health problems (Rick had pneumonia which prevented him from airtraveling), a replacement had to be found. Fortunately sax players Eric Marienthal and Jeff Kashiwa along with local trumpet player John Swana came to the rescue to fill the bill. All involved handled the situation very well providing a great set of mostly acoustic jazz, giving the players an opportunity to show their chops. I was aware of the fact that Eric Marienthal is a very versatile player but Jeff Kashiwa blew me away - he is a very accomplished player who can compete in the straight ahead field as well and baffled me completely. Chuck Loeb was always on top of things, leading the set with his masterful and smooth guitar playing and entertaining the crowd with his dry humor. Chuck's wife of 25 years, Carmen Cuesta, who he met in Spain while on tour with Stan Getz,  provided a nice break singing two songs. A very entertaining set and a revelation for me.

95Jeff-Golub.jpgNext evening guitar player and crowd pleaser Jeff Golub was on. His bluesy set entertained the numerous fans in attendance with his playing ranging from soft, low sounds to the full screaming of the guitar. A special bonus was keyboard player Philippe Saisse being part of the band adding his hit rendition of "Moaning" to the set. Talent seemed to be present in abundance at this festival.

87All-Star-Jam-1.jpgAfter this concert we changed venues for the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam which is held every year. This time we had Gerald Veasly (bass), Keith Carlock (drums), Tom Grant and Joe McBride (keys), Jeff Kashiwa and Kenny Blake and Eric Marienthal (sax), Chuck Loeb and David Cullen (guitar) and John Swana (trumpet) on stage with special guests Jeff Golub (guitar) and Mitch Forman (keys) to join the party later. As well for a couple of numbers appeared Bakithi Kumalo (bass) with his wife singing a great version of "My Funny Valentine". The set was directed by Chuck Loeb giving all involved lots of room to jam and stretch out providing us with a great evening of jazz.

Ray-Charles-Tribute.jpgOn Friday, I saw the Heads Up Super Band with a special program of Tribute to Ray Charles at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Hotel. The blind Joe McBride was perfectly entitled to lead this effort, giving us renditions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "Hit The Road Jack" among others. The group was supported by a horn section and some great background singers. The intimate club setting made this concert a very memorable one and the positive response of the packed club makes one hope that this program will be brought to more people in the future.

Groovin-for-Grover-1.jpgLater that night one of my personal highlights came in the form of sax players Gerald Veasley, Paul Taylor and Richard Elliot, who where Groovin' For Grover. Jeff Lorber was on the keys, providing a funky backdrop and many outstanding solos. We are glad that he is well again after his kidney transplant and firing on all cylinders. The first half of the set was dedicated to individual songs from each one of the headlining sax players, while the second part was dedicated to Grover's music. They gave us their renditions of "Black Frost", "Let It Flow" and - naturally - "Mr. Magic" which brought the crowd to their feet. Superior stuff by some of the genre's best players.

Sax-Pack.jpgAs if we didn't have enough sax previously, there was the next wave of sax sounds due in the shape of the Sax Pack as saxophonists Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and Steve Cole call themselves collectively. Chuck Loeb opened the show with a great set featuring sax player Dave Mann and keyboard player Mike Ricchiuti. They gave us another polished set of great straight ahead and smooth jazz of the highest order. A great surprise was drummer Josh Dion who provided some incredibly soulful vocals provoking shouts of approval from the audience. Watch out for his debut album, which is due shortly. After that the sax pack entertained the crowd with a selection from their catalogs with Steve Cole standing out, providing the most energetic performance. As a suprise Marion Meadows joined his three colleagues for the encore.

96Joe-McBride.jpgSaturday, the Heads Up Super Band performed a set in Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base, playing songs from their own catalog. It was a joy to hear these great musicians in this intimate club setting with drummer Keith Carlock (who performed with Sting and Steely Dan) being incredible to watch and Gerald Veasley shining as supreme bass player. The next album by Gerald Veasley which will be released later this year was recorded live at this club and will be aptly titled Jazz Base!.

Paul-Jackson-Jr.jpgAfter that we drove to the Sovereign Performing Arts Center where the highlight of the festival was about to happen: The First Energy Berks Jazz Fest 15th Anniversary Concert, which was a lavish smooth jazz extravaganza. Led by director Jason Miles who put 5 months of work into realizing this project, we had his band, Maximum Grooves, as house band, backing the incredible array of performers during the evening. After the opening track by the band, the first guest stepped up: Jay Beckenstein from Spyro Gyra played a song, next was Marion Meadows, then came guitar player Paul Jackson Jr., followed by Jaared who is such an energetic performer (currently unsigned and seeking a new label). After a break came Walter Beasley, then Paul Brown who played the hit single from his debut album and Van Morrison's "Moondance," Kim Waters and eventually special guest Deodato, who played his classic "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (which has haunted him ever since as he jokingly admitted). Vocal appearances were given by Mike Mattison from the Derek Trucks Band (who sang "Just The Two Of Us" featuring Kim Waters) and Maria Muldaur. The closing song was Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," bringing all together for the rousing finale. Outstanding!

Michael-Lington.jpgSunday was the WJJZ 106.1 Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch, which was held at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom and featured popular sax player Michael Lington. People were seated at large tables and after the buffet,  the show started. Michael Lington provided some great sax playing showing himself to be a great entertainer and crowd pleaser. On drums was Ricky Lawson, underscoring the level of musicianship at this festival. A nice touch was when Michael selected a person in the audience who didn't come with a loved one and played her a beautiful rendition of "Everything Must Change" standing right next to her which gave me goose bumps. He played all his hits including "Once In A Lifetime". Smooth jazz at its best!

Harvey-Mason.jpgThe festival ended with the concert of supergroup Fourplay at the Scottish Rite Cathedral featuring legendary players Bob James (piano), Nathan East (bass), Larry Carlton (guitar) and Harvey Mason (drums). In this rather intimate venue the group had a very good setting to give us an entertaining set of their best songs which encompassed "Bali Run" and "Westchester Lady". It is always a joy to witness the perfect interplay by these supreme artists and the inspired solos of the inimitable Bob James.

MeetTheArtist.jpgAnother great feature of this festival was the Meet The Artists event after each concert, giving fans the opportunity to meet and greet their favorite musicians. Usually there was a table set up for the artist to sit while fans patiently waited in line for their turn. CD covers, T-Shirts and hats were signed, pictures taken and brief conversations with the artists held. Most had a genuine interest in their fans and took their time to fulfill the various requests. They expressed their appreciation for the support they get, giving us fans the feeling of camaraderie. In addition to these events, artists were around at the hotels and you were bumping into them all the time. This setting made the Berks Jazz Fest very special to me.

With the Fourplay concert ended 10 days of music. Apart from these concerts were many more I couldn't attend like those by Manhattan Transfer, Yellowjackets and Bob Mintzer Big Band, Spyro Gyra, Steve Smith, Al Jarreau, Victor Wooten, Joyce Cooling, Tim Warfield Sextet, Joey De Francesco and many others. Despite this fact, I came home more than satisfied and must say that this festival is one of the best in the US. Not only because of the incredible lineup, but also because of the friendly people who run the festival. Being a community event with over 200 volunteers giving their free time for the festival makes things special and driven by the love of music. They all did an outstanding job helping so that things ran smoothly. I thank all of those who have participated in this festival and have done their best to make this event so memorable for me. Special thanks go to Mike Zielinski and John Ernesto. I will be back next year!

Pictures by R. Andrew Lepley, used with permission (thanks, Andrew!).

Posted by Peter Böhi at 10:07 AM

March 27, 2005

Behind The Scenes At Berks

PPFeedbackShow.jpgThe music of the 15th Annual Berks Jazz Fest faded with the final notes of Fourplay this past Sunday evening, but the memories gathered over ten days of great shows, precious time spent with the artists, fun with fellow jazz fans and with each other are still vivid in our minds.

Smooth Jazz Vibes publisher Peter Boehi arrived in Reading Friday, March 11, the first day of the festival, followed by music journalist Jonathan Widran on Monday evening, and the three of us had what we all agree is the first of many future reunions. The ten days flew by as we busily covered shows, talked to artists, took side trips in the area, and had more fun than any of us could have imagined. We hope you’ll enjoy this look at some of the ‘behind the scenes’ highlights of the week before we get into coverage of the individual concerts.

BehindScenesLunch.jpgOur first behind the scenes event was lunch with Berks Jazz Fest’s General Manager John Ernesto and Mike Zielinski, Publicity and Marketing Director. We had a great time getting better acquainted with these two gentlemen. Here we are at the Wyndham Hotel with Mike Zielinski.PPLunchwithMikeZ.JPG

We were invited to appear on the ‘Feedback’ radio show on the local WEEU radio station the following day. This show is held at the Wyndham Hotel every morning of the Jazz Fest. Peter and Jonathan did a great job of sharing opinions about this festival, music journalism and the mission of Smooth Jazz Vibes. It wasn’t long before the host of the show, realizing I wrote the article he read on Berks and that I must be the ‘local connection,' insisted I share the microphone with the other two. We all answered more questions and I felt like a real celebrity being there with Peter and Jonathan!

BehindScenesPagoda.jpgOf course all newcomers to Reading must visit the Pagoda, the landmark home of the Berks Arts Council set on the mountaintop overlooking the city. We climbed the five floors to the top of the Pagoda to get the best view.

Jonathan accompanied me to my school district one day and spoke to two high school groups about a career in music journalism. He told them of his own efforts leading up to this career, which included a stint trying to ‘make it’ in Hollywood. The students found him fascinating and he enjoyed the time with them. Part of the emphasis of the Berks Jazz Fest is to include educational activities, so along with the Bass Boot Camp Gerald Veasley runs, and other clinics that were held, Jonathan did his part to share his knowledge with up and coming writers.

PPChocolateWorld.jpgWeeks before his arrival, Jonathan lobbied for a trip to Hershey (as in Hershey’s Chocolate, HersheyPark), so one morning we headed west and went on the special tour of Chocolate World, saw the 3D show complete with special glasses and felt (and acted) like kids again. We spent enough time in the souvenir department to buy the whole place out, which Jonathan nearly did in order to take goodies home to all his special people in California. He was so fun to watch – and he’s so generous – even I received my own soft pillow in the shape of a Hershey kiss.PPChocWorldJon&Bev.jpg

PPKoP.jpgPeter enjoyed Hershey, too, but his favorite trip had to be to the King of Prussia mall, a very large mall halfway between Reading and Philadelphia. His favorite store is the Apple store, where he could check out all the new computer accessories – anything to enhance his listening of more and more of the music he loves. Without question, Peter does the IPod shuffle very well!PPAppleStore.jpg

BehindScenesPeanutBar.jpgWe ate lunch at the Peanut Bar, a quaint local favorite on the main street of Reading. It’s got great food, and it’s a place where peanut shells crunch under your feet as you walk to your table, the signal that you, too, may drop your peanut shells right on the floor!

We also ate at the ViVa Good Time Bistro and Lounge, a relatively new restaurant housed in an old knitting factory; it’s spacious with a great atmosphere and we were so happy to have Tom Grant with us on this occasion. His part in the festival was four evenings of dinner shows, two of which we had attended, and participation in the All Star Jam.

BehindScenesLoveQuirk.jpgAll during the festival, we had a great time connecting with others in the business of recording and promoting music, everyone from Dave Love of the Heads Up record company, to Steve Quirk of British radio, to Melanie Maxwell, of the Smooth Jazz News magazine and many others who promote contemporary jazz on the Internet. Many people already know Jonathan – artists who saw him immediately approached with their own special hugs, and everyone was delighted to meet Peter as this site is one of the oldest, well-respected sites on the internet and many have been following it for years. As for me, I’d say I was the one just happy to be part of it all – enjoying everyone making new friendships and connections and learning new ways of getting more publicity out about this genre of music we all love.

The shows we saw were Peter White (two shows), Pieces of a Dream, Boney James, Chris Botti, David Sanborn, Stanley Jordan, Carmen Cuesta opening for Chuck Loeb, Eric Marienthal, Jeff Kashiwa, and John Swana, Jeff Golub, the Berks All Star Jam, Heads Up Super Band (2 shows, one with the band’s music and one as a tribute to Ray Charles), Groovin’ for Grover, The Sax Pack with Chuck Loeb and David Mann opening, the 15th Annual Concert featuring Jason Miles and about 15 other artists, Michael Lington and Fourplay.

BehindScenesBoney&Boehi.jpgThere were so many highlights of traveling around with Peter and Jonathan. One of them was watching Peter, who normally prefers to stay in the background, begin to enjoy getting his picture taken with artists and also being introduced to everyone. After getting a picture taken with Boney James, I could see he was thrilled as he looked at his digital camera shot and exclaimed, "Boney and Boehi" for all to hear!

Another highlight for me was on the way to Hershey in the car. We had decided to have a 'face-off' between Jonathan and me, with Peter as the judge. We each brought CDs to play and the contest was to see who knew the most words to the music. We played Steely Dan, Chicago, and Jonathan had a great CD of a bunch of oldies from the 70s and 80s. We sang our hearts out and it was pretty obvious Jonathan and I were rather evenly matched. On Jonathan's CD were songs I hadn't heard in years, and in some cases I had an emotional reaction to this poignant trip down memory lane. One of the songs was the theme from Rocky, and this was Peter's favorite of the oldies (no vocals and all those horns) -- of course we sang the instrument parts and thoroughly enjoyed belting out those notes leading to the climactic ending to the song. In the excitement of Rocky and then arriving at Hershey, we forgot to ask Peter for an actual verdict!

So there you have it, an idea of what it was like at the Berks Jazz Fest for the three of us. Three jazz aficionados who will now be lifelong friends and on any given day, might resemble The Three Musketeers, The Three Stooges, or just plain Three Amigos.

AllAtDinner1.jpgHere are Michael, Peter, Jonathan and I at dinner after the last show on the final night of the festival. To all the artists and fans we saw at Berks, we hope you arrived home safely and that the music is still ringing in your ears....We hope to see all of you next year!

Happy Jazzin'

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo credits: Michael Packard, Peter Boehi

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 7:50 AM

March 26, 2005

With New CD Coming in September, Chris Botti Wants To Be Like Miles Davis

Trumpet player Chris Botti says he's working on a new CD that is an extension of When I Fall in Love. Look for it in September.

chris_botti_blue.jpgChris Botti, whose breakthrough album of jazz standards called When I Fall In Love has sold more than 500,000 copies, will do more of the same for his next project. Botti says he wants to follow the model of Miles Davis, who recorded several albums with the same theme with his partner, Gil Evans.

“Miles did those collaborative things with Gil Evans," Botti says. "Hopefully this could be my sort of thing too, and he did three or four of those records. I think it’ll be the logical extension to When I Fall in Love. We’re going have a couple of other surprise guests on the record and it’s going be done in very much the same way as the last one, in probably eight or nine days in Los Angeles and in London.”

Although he is currently busy touring, Botti says he and producer Bobby Columby are selecting songs for the new album, which will be recorded in June and released by October.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:14 AM

Ottmar Liebert Working On An Album With No Titles

Ottmar Liebert plans something a little different with his next project.

OttmarLiebert.jpgFlamenco guitarist Ottmar Liebert is now working on the second in what he’s calling the Blue solo series. The first album, from 2002, was an album of lullaby songs called In the Arms of Love: Lullabies 4 Children + Adults. Liebert says, however, that the new album called Tears In The Rain will not be another lullaby record. Instead, the album will be unique in that it will not have any recognizable titles – each track will have a series of numbers taken from the time and date they are recorded.

Liebert says he wants listeners to hear the music without any suggestions from him as to what the song may be about.

Liebert is also working on a new holiday CD.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:10 AM

March 22, 2005

Song of the Week: Dalminjo – “Bossa Note”

Dalminjo, a new artist with a Brazilian-sounding name and a hit called “Bossa Note,” is – wouldn’t you know it – from icy Norway. Dalminjo is actually the name adopted by Ole Roar Granli, a producer who has previously recorded under the name ORG Lounge.

Anyway, it just goes to show how influential Brazilian music is worldwide, especially in the chill/downtempo genre.

Dalminjo has the groove down pat, with nicely repeating acoustical guitar chords, soft percussion and lush background vocals straight from a Bond movie.

This delicious song is from Dalminjo’s CD Fjord Fusioneer on the Kriztal label.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:20 AM

March 18, 2005

Visa Problems Postpone Matt Bianco Featuring Basia Tour

Matt Bianco Featuring Basia will now begin its U.S. tour in April.

An international snafu – in large part caused by restrictions put in place after September 11th – caused the cancellation of the first leg of the US. tour of Matt Bianco Featuring Basia.

Basia reports that the band’s tour manager submitted the members’ visas too late, and when the band tried to enter the country from their native England they were told their papers were not in order. A visa is required for both visits to the U.S. and those seeking residence.

“We’re sorry to the fans who missed our first four shows,” Basia says, referring to gigs scheduled for last week. “It’s a sign of the times, and none of us had been through this recently.”

Matt Bianco Featuring Basia recently released an album called Matt’s Mood with the single called “Ordinary Day.” The album marks a comeback for Basia, who hasn’t toured in the States since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the band has worked out its travel arrangements and will now begin its U.S. tour on April 5 in Minneapolis. All of the cancelled shows have been rescheduled or will be rescheduled shortly.

The tour will feature Basia and Matt Bianco's Danny White and Mark Reilly. In addition, numerous other musicians who appeared on Matt's Mood will join the tour, including trumpeter Kevin Robinson. Robinson, who appeared on all of Basia's solo albums, has been in a relationship with the singer for 14 years.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:56 AM

March 17, 2005

Spring Jazz As The Weather Warms Up!

As the weather turns in the desert to warmer temperatures, jazz gets alive again.

The legendary sounds of pop-Brazilian keyboard jazz master Sergio Mendez is at the Suncoast Hotel March 18-20. The following weekend at the same venue is eclectic new age pianist Giovanni, March 25 and 26.

Keiko Matsui brings her unique keyboard artistry to the Boulder Station Hotel, Saturday April 2nd in the Railhead Showroom.

Hall & Oates, riding high on their latest release single of the classic R&B cover, "I'll Be Around", bring it on at the Green Valley Ranch Hotel Friday, April 8th.

And special congrats to contemporary jazz saxophonist Rocky Gordon's daughter, Mikalah Gordon, for making the esteemed Top 12 on American Idol.

Posted by Danny Desart at 6:39 PM

March 16, 2005

Hillary Clinton Invites Chris Botti To Perform At Fundraiser

Chris Botti will be the only performer at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.

chrisbotti3.jpgLast year, the world discovered that Oprah Winfrey is a huge Chris Botti fan when she praised his music before he performed on her popular TV show. Now it can be assumed that Botti has a huge fan in another of one of America’s most powerful women: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The senator has invited Botti to be the only musical performer at fundraiser in New York City on March 21. While Botti will be playing at the event at the Hudson Theatre in Manhattan, this is not a standard Chris Botti show – tickets are $1,000 per plate. Botti even wants his fans to know that while the event is open to the public, its purpose is to support Clinton more than it is a chance to see him perform. Clinton's six-year term in the Senate expires next year, and speculation has it that she may even make a bid for the presidency in 2008.

Performing at the fund-raiser for the former First Lady of the United States is just part of what’s been an incredible run for the very successful Botti. He recalls when he knew he had officially crossed over into superstardom before performing last year at a Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway:

“I walked into this press conference, and there was this long table and a million photographers," he says. "And the artists that were supposed to play at the performance that night were all there. Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Cyndi Lauper, Joss Stone, Patti LaBelle, myself, Andrea Bocelli. And it was hosted by Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey. And I kind of sat there and said to myself – being the only instrumentalist on the bill, playing in front of worldwide television – I just said, 'Well, I feel that the sound of my instrument crossed over at the moment.' And then I freaked out.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 11:39 PM

March 15, 2005

CD Reviews: Steve Cole, Acoustic Alchemy, Chuck Loeb, Paul Taylor and more

Want to hear some good new music? Check out releases by Steve Cole, Chuck Loeb, Acoustic Alchemy, Nelson Rangell, Ken Navarro, Nils, Tim Bowman, Jason Miles and Urban Knights.

Steve Cole

SteveCole_Spin.jpg Here’s proof that it’s never too late to learn a musical instrument. Steve Cole, who is definitely known for his supreme saxophone sounds, taught himself how to play the guitar for his new CD because he wanted to conceptualize the songs on the instrument. Although you hear Cole strumming his guitar throughout the CD, have no fear – the guitar is in the background and the sax is of course in the foreground. Cole has guitarists (and writing partner) David Hiltebrand, Tim Pierce and Michael Thompson strumming on tracks, as well as Ricky Peterson on organ and Todd Sucherman on drums.

The result is an organic, mostly soft-pop instrumental project that has much in common with a CD called Off the Beaten Path that fellow saxophonist Dave Koz released in 1996. Like that CD, Spin is acoustical in nature and for the most part eschews the glossy, high-production values associated with many smooth jazz works.

Cole says he was inspired on Spin by modern pop singer/songwriters such as Jason Mraz and John Mayer, and the inspiration shows on such tunes as “The Real Me” and “The Things I Do,” which you can visualize with some clever words. But throughout the CD, Cole’s memorable saxophone melodies are once again, of course, the main attraction and make the issue of words mute. Selections such as “Thursday” and “The Real Me” are as good as anything he’s done, but his acoustical approach really pays off in songs like “Spin,” which has a joyous sound while offering rapid beats and bluesy organ riffs. Cole has a way with a ballad, of course, which he does so well here with “Simple Things” and “A Letter To Laura.”

Many artists say their new CDs are unlike anything they’ve done before, but on Spin Cole can say that with a straight face. In addition to the acoustical element, he ends the CD with a hidden track that has an orchestral riff a la Praful and features some very jazzy sax with an undercurrent of chill/downtempo music. It’s delightful. Also different is “Serenity,” a gorgeous midtempo number also borrowing elements from chill music.

If this excellent CD is any indication, it’ll be interesting to see what Cole has planned to follow it up.
Smooth grade: A

Acoustic Alchemy
(Higher Octave)

The veteran smooth jazz band Acoustic Alchemy continues its focus on a more organic, acoustical sound as displayed on the band’s last album, Radio Contact. This is the band’s fourth album without guitarist Nick Webb, who died seven years ago, and now the chemistry between original member Greg Carmichael and the other guitar player – Miles Gilderdale – is reaching its peak. Webb brought the band a classical guitar sensibility that still sounds fresh today, and Gilderdale offers a blues and soul vibe and even does some scatting (he was a singer in a rock band in an earlier life), as he shows on the funky “Say Yeah.”

The title of Acoustic Alchemy’s 13th album refers to its roots as a British band that has found its niche in America. Old fans will find much to enjoy on this new CD, as the interplay between the nylon and string guitars – the band’s trademark – sounds amazingly fresh in songs such as the ballad “Cherry Hill” and “The Crossing.” These two tracks, and some others, retain the familiar soft touch that Acoustic Alchemy has long been known for.

Having said that, there is still room for advancement and new ideas, shown on “Lilac Lane,” which offers a blistering electric guitar solo and a steady, chill music-like tempo. Likewise, “So Kylie,” which makes reference to Australian dance-pop queen Kylie Minogue, is a late-night dance number with several electronica elements and an irresistible “nah-nah-nah-nah” chorus. “Trinity,” a reggae number, recalls the band’s “Jamaica Heartbeat” from the classic Back on the Case CD from 1991. Elsewhere, the band keeps things fresh with different styles – the feel-good Motown groove of “The Detroit Shuffle,” the Steely Dan-wink of “She Speaks American English,” and the jazzy swing of “The 14 Carrot Café,” a song named after a Seattle restaurant the band frequents when visiting the Pacific Northwest.

Whether listening in England or America, fans will certainly have plenty to cheer for on this latest effort by one of smooth jazz’s best-loved bands.
Smooth grade: A

Chuck Loeb
When I’m With You

After the European and techno inspired eBop, veteran electric guitarist returns with a CD that may just be his best work yet. It’s not a mainstream jazz album, but a smooth jazz one with an organic feel that simply keeps music first and gimmicks at bay. Paying homage to some of his musical heroes, first and foremost is the late saxophonist Stan Getz, who Loeb toured with for several years. What better song than Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema,” which Getz played on and brought Brazilian bossa nova to the world?

Next up is Ray Charles, one of the musicians who continuously has inspired Loeb. After Charles died last year, Loeb says he felt compelled to write “Brother Ray,” a swinging jazz and blues shuffle that’ll have those toes a-movin’. And “Double Life,” which leads off the CD, is a bluesy number dedicated to another Loeb mentor, the great guitarist Jim Hall.

Loeb can craft a smooth jazz hit as well as anyone out there, and has done so again with the unforgettable “Tropical.” His mellifluous and lyrical guitar has never as good, and the funky and tropical undercurrent will have you reaching for a margarita. And on the title track, Loeb provides a nice change of pace thanks to gorgeous vocals from his wife, singer Carmen Cuesta. It’s dreamy. And then there’s “And Then Some,” which gets into some real jazz playing.

This is the kind of music that Loeb’s many fans would follow him all over the world for. His guitar practically sings, and the jazz suits him well.
Smooth grade: A

Paul Taylor

Saxophonist Paul Taylor’s sixth solo album in 10 years since leaving the Rippingtons isn’t too much of a departure from his polished and sexy sound, which probably suits his many fans just fine. One thing you’ll notice, however, is that Taylor plays more songs on the lower-sounding alto saxophone, which is a change from his previous reliance on the Kenny G-like soprano. Still remaining are plenty of memorable melodies, inspired playing and the overall urban vibe Taylor’s known for.

The first single, the title track, picks up where Taylor’s big called “Steppin’ Out” from his previous album of the same name, left off. There’s the deep bass lines driving the song along, a disco beat in the background and a mélange of saxophones and horns. Elsewhere, there are bits of reggae, bits of funk, bits of Latin, bits of pop and jazz, all providing an up-to-date smooth jazz listening experience.

Taylor reached way back for the CD’s one cover song, the Terry Lewis/Jimmy Jam song from the 1980s called “Tender Love,” a hit for the group Force MD’s. Handling the vocals here is reggae star Maxi Priest (“Close To You”), whose vocal chops only improve with age.
The album utilizes three producers – Rex Rideout, Barry J. Eastmond and Dino Esposito – and features guest appearances by keyboardist Jeff Lorber, guitarist Dwight Sills, bassist Alex Al and drummer Ricky Lawson, among others.

Romantic and energetic as ever, Paul Taylor is another one who seems to improve with each outing.
Smooth grade: B

Ken Navarro
Love Coloured Soul
(Positive Music)

After two CDs with the Shanachie label, guitarist Ken Navarro has returned to the label he founded more than 10 years ago for his latest project. The 10 songs here signal a return to Navarro’s gentler, more acoustic side, and features two fantastic cover songs – a rousing take on Laura Nyro’s “Stone Soul Picnic” and a quiet reading of John Klemmer’s classic “Glass Dolphins.” Of course, those familiar with the veteran guitarist’s work know that he’s able to write some of smooth jazz’s most happy and memorable hooks, and once again he’s able to bring a few more bubbling to the surface. Exhibit A – the CD’s opener, “You Are Everything.”

While some of Navarro’s songs are enhanced by their simplicity, he also cannily combines radio smarts with some pretty amazing guitar playing, which he does on the song “Breathe.” It spins a driving, chugging rhythm section anchored by drummer Andre Webb and percussionist Kevin Prince, but mostly offers some pretty fast guitar picking by Navarro. Not that there was any doubt, but “Breathe” shows Navarro can play – furiously at times – but still works as one of the best smooth jazz songs to come around lately.

On this well-rounded CD, Navarro of course throws in midtempo pop gems like “Parallel Lives” and “You Did It Again.” He also goes for some very jazzy sounds with “Let It Go,” featuring the sparkling piano work of longtime bandmember Jay Rowe. And on “Summer of Love,” Navarro and Rowe quietly share a song that’s as beautiful as anything they’ve done together, and as gentle as a lullaby. It’s a perfect way to finish another winner.
Smooth grade: B+

Nelson Rangell
My American Songbook Vol. 1

Saxophonist and flutist Nelson Rangell, on his 14th album, decided to record songs that were close to his heart. Seeing as how he selected songs from the great American Songbook, it no wonder he’s calling it “volume one.” But as trumpeter Chris Botti showed on last year’s When I Fall in Love, smooth jazz artists are certainly capable of reinterpreting established songs without alienating their smooth jazz bases.

Rangell certainly couldn’t have picked a better song to begin with than Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from the movie West Side Story. A brief prelude, with handclaps, captures the spirit of the gritty but uplifting movie, and Rangell’s flute playing gives the tune an light touch. Whether intentional or not, Rangell also captures the Latin energy nicely, this time on his sax, by segueing into Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” which features upbeat percussion throughout. He returns to the flute once again for “Freda,” a song by bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker. Longtime jazz-fusion fans may recognize this gem as performed the classic band the Yellowjackets, and on this tune and elsewhere on the CD, Russ Ferrante of that band plays the piano.

A bookend to “Freda” is “Sonora” by Hampton Hawes, which is one of Rangell’s most popular songs in concert. What makes that song so popular – and why it stands out here – is that Rangell whistles the melody. It may bring up images of classic Western movies, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a beautiful song, enhanced by Chuck Loeb’s tender acoustic guitar solo.

Nelson also interprets Earth Wind & Fire's "That's The Way of The World" and Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” while getting down and jazzy on the classic “Cherokee” and a very old traditional song called “Billy Boy.” And he combines “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” with James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” giving those classics a very fresh new sound. The one original on the project is “Don’t Forget Those Forgotten,” a ballad where Rangell’s sax has never sounded better.
Smooth grade: B

Pacific Coast Highway

Every once in a while, a relatively unknown musician comes along to produce a smooth jazz CD that is as good as anything on the record store shelves and contains one killer song that radio embraces. Meet Nils, a guitarist who is anything but an overnight sensation after having performed with such bigwigs as Paul Brown, George Benson and Gabriela Anders. Nils, who was born in Germany and now lives in Southern California, says he garners his musical inspiration from the scenic road running up the West Coast that he named his album after. That song, “Pacific Coast Highway,” is also the name of the single that has everyone’s attention.

Nils’ musical background shows how he was able to attract top players to the project. In addition to Albright, Chante Moore and Siedah Garrett add background vocals to “Cruisin’” while guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., keyboardist Rob Mullins, drummer Steve Ferrone and percussionists Alex Acuna and Steve Reid all contribute mightily.
Of course, there are plenty of CDs with only one great song on them. This isn’t one, as Nils shows he has the knack for smooth jazz pop melodies while keeping the listening fresh by switching between electric and acoustic guitars. The CD’s title reflects the music’s spirit, as Nils offers top-down car songs with titles such as “Cruisin’,” “Summer Nights,” “Baja California” and “Keep Rollin’,” the latter with a sax solo by Gerald Albright. By the way, if “Keep Rollin’” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a Nils original that none other than Benson recorded on his Standing Together CD. Here, producer and co-writer of that song, Gerald McCauley, adds the Benson-like scatting.

Although Nils’ cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” isn’t too surprising, it’s got a groovy hip-hop beat, and his sashaying update of the 1980 Toto classic “Georgy Porgy” will brighten any mood.
Smooth grade: B+

Tim Bowman

This Is What I Hear
(Liquid 8)

Tim Bowman is one more example of a longtime session player who has struck it big in smooth jazz. The 45-year-old guitarist is getting tons of radio play for his breezy hit single “Summer Groove,” which comes from his third CD that is stuffed with winning hooks and dexterous guitar playing.

Bowman is a Detroit native with gospel-music influences, which come through on the project. His young life revolved around the church, where he taught himself to play in front of worshippers before getting a scholarship to the Detroit Music School. After briefly settling into work in the General Motors assembly line, he scored a gig with the gospel group the Winans. Bowman played with the band throughout the 1980s when the Winans were the best-selling gospel group in the country.

After leaving the group, he began a solo career which has reached an apex with This Is What I Hear. Bowman has a relaxed, easy way on the electric guitar, which in addition to “Summer Groove” he shows on songs such as “Dance,” “Candy’s Groove” and “New Day.” Bowman is equally adept on the acoustic guitar, and on the ballads such as “Miracle” and “Acoustic Rain” he makes his instrument sound as sweet as the best of Earl Klugh. Bowman also acknowledges his faith in the vocal tracks “Angels,” “This Song’s For You” and the rollicking gospel flavored “My Praise.” Supplying the vocals are Marvin Winans (founder of the Winans), Kayla Parker (who has collaborated with Oleta Adams and Brandy) and Bowman’s son, Tim Jr.

Even if Bowman’s gospel tracks aren’t your cup of tea, the album taken as a whole is highly recommended for its majority of instrumental smooth jazz tracks.
Smooth grade: B

Urban Knights
Urban Knights VI
(Narada Jazz)

Ten years after piano legend Ramsey Lewis created the first in a series of albums by a group called the Urban Knights, the band has decided to concentrate on a core group of musicians. Over its 10-year-history, the collective known as Urban Knights has featured many rotating stars enhancing its polished Chicago jazz-funk sound: Grover Washington Jr., Gerald Albright, Dave Koz, Earl Klugh and many others. In this new direction, Frayne Lewis concentrates on a group featuring guitarist Bobby Broom, keyboardist Kevin Randolph, bassist Maurice Fitzgerald, saxophonist Nick Bisesi and drummer Quinjuan Anderson.

The new focus mixes equal parts modern, drum-heavy funk-pop (“Sly” and the radio-friendly “Fall Forward”) and many nice, quiet classic jazz moments. Ramsey Lewis guests on a romantic new version of his song “Close Your Eyes and Remember,” and a reading of Usher’s “My Boo” is a pleasant surprise. In fact, the band is at its best when updating classic songs, such as Usher’s and jazz greats by Stanley Clarke (“School Days”) and Wayne Shorter (“Footprints”). Shorter’s classic is especially invigorating, with Randolph’s jazzy piano playing taking the place of Shorter’s sax and Maurice Fitzgerald handling the familiar bass line.

New songs aren’t bad, either. Smooth jazz fans will love the samba lines in “Memorias Belas,” a soft and sexy vibe with a classic mellow jazz rhythm. This assured effort should guarantee a seventh CD by the Urban Knights.
Smooth grade: B+

Jason Miles
Miles to Miles: In the Spirit of Miles Davis
(Narada Jazz/Rendezvous)

If anyone was to make an album of original songs with the late, great trumpeter Miles Davis in mind, it had to be New Yorker Jason Miles. The producer behind popular Smooth Jazz concept albums featuring the music of Ivan Lins, Weather Report and Grover Washington Jr. considered Davis a mentor and performed on some of his later fusion albums, including Tutu and Amandla.

This project is unique, though, since there is only one update of a Davis song, “Flamenco Sketches,” and it’s a dandy with guest stars Marc Antoine on guitar and Keiko Matsui on keyboards. The rest of the CD does an uncanny job of approximating the kind of music Davis would probably be making today if he combined his jazz skills on the trumpet with his groundbreaking jazz-fusion vibes and a dash of in-the-pocket smooth jazz.

Miles has assembled a fist-rate band, including Michael Brecker, Gerald Albright, the late Bob Berg and the foundation of James Genus on bass and Gene Lake on drums. The music is the thing here, so not every song features the trumpet, although when it does Barry Danielian, Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker and Nicolas Payton are up to the task. Miles adds his expertise on the keyboards, drum machine and computerized loops, and the result is a rollicking good time.

The beats are slamming and in your face, such as on the opener called “Ferrari.” Elsewhere, album scratches and fuzzy guitar sounds create a swirling, dense cacophony of modern-day jazz-rock fusion Davis would surely approve of.
Smooth jazz-fusion grade: A

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:35 AM

Dave Koz Announces His Friends For Annual Summer Tour

Dave Koz has named the three artists who will join him on his annual tour.

DaveKoz_ship.jpgProducer and saxophonist Praful, guitarist Marc Antoine and vocalist Jeffrey Osborne will join saxophonist Dave Koz for the fourth edition of the Dave Koz & Friends Summer Nights tour.

Osborne performed on the tour last year, but it will mark the debut on the summer tour for Antoine, who has previously joined Koz on his annual Christmas tour. The show is also the debut for Praful, the Amsterdam-based artist who has scored hits with “Sigh” and “Let The Chips Fall.” Praful, like Antoine, is signed to Dave’s Rendezvous Entertainment label.

You can expect the tour schedule for this year’s Dave Koz & Friends Smooth Summer Nights tour, which will visit more than 25 cities in the U.S., to be announced soon. Meanwhile, all of the artists will be reunited in November on the inaugural Dave Koz & Friends At Sea cruise of the Mexican Riviera.

For information on the cruise, you can go to

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:31 AM

March 11, 2005

Praful's New Album: "Pyramid in Your Backyard"

Praful has finished his follow-up to One Day Deep for Rendezvous Entertainment.

Praful, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist who packs a punch on the saxophone, has completed his follow-up album to One Day Deep. That album, originally released in 2001 in the Netherlands but re-released by Rendezvous Entertainment in the U.S. in 2003, produced the mega-hit called “Sigh.”

Praful describes the new CD, Pyramid in Your Backyard, as “jazz meets electronica” with many world-music elements. It features 12 songs and is produced by Praful’s labelmates on Rendezvous, the duo of Adani & Wolf.

The album has several guest vocalists, singing in English, Portuguese and Indian Hindi. The vocalists include Praful himself, Sandhya Sanjana from India and Katia Moraes from Brazil. Pyramid In Your Backyard is expected to be released on May 31. It will have its official debut, however, at the Maison Royal festival March 26-27 in Amsterdam.

Pyramid in Your Backyard

PrafulPyramidBackjard.jpg1. Moon Glide
2. Says Kabir
3. Acredite
4. April Seven
5. Eternity
6. Handcart Puller
7. Naked
8. Azul
9. Drop To The Ocean
10. Wishful Walk
11. Ponto De Partida
12. We Live On

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:07 PM

Song of the Week: Matt Bianco Featuring Basia – “Ordinary Day”

It’s great to welcome back an old friend, Basia, back to smooth jazz radio with her hit single “Ordinary Day.” The song opens the new album Matt’s Mood and features a soft bossa-nova beat and Basia's as-fresh-as-ever vocals.

Part of Basia’s vocal appeal has always been her European/cosmopolitan roots, which includes a slight accent that contributes to her sophistication. Contributing to the song is guitarist Peter White, brother of Matt Bianco original member Danny White, who plays keyboards on the CD. Another original member, Mark Reilly, provides vocal accompaniment.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:06 PM

March 9, 2005

Contempo March 2005

WillAckerman.jpgRevisiting ancient catalog gems in the planning process of creating and recording Returning: Pieces for Guitar 1970-2004, Will Ackerman realized that there are two distinct ways to view a 29 year old composition. First, there’s the perspective of the acoustic guitar icon’s fans, who may no longer number enough to fill the Hollywood Bowl or Carnegie Hall — as they did in his early 80’s heyday, when the term “new age” was truly new — but are still rabid enough to maintain a sentimental attachment to the original recordings that inspired a phenomenon.

Although Ackerman is currently playing “The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter” with much more conviction, passion and dynamics than he did on his 1976 debut The Search For the Turtle’s Navel, that cheaply made recording bears a deep historical significance; it inspired him to create Windham Hill Records, which over the next fifteen years became the premier purveyor of New Age Music. “We dared to be different in the disco era, and by treating the music and fans with love and respect, created a cultural movement that endures,” Ackerman says.

The label’s roster began with cousin and fellow guitarist Alex de Grassi and grew to include George Winston, Michael Hedges, Shadowfax, Liz Story and Tuck & Patti. After producing numerous gold and platinum recordings of his own music and many of his artists, Ackerman sold his interest in the company to BMG in 1992. He still retains control of the publishing catalog from 1976-1992.

Still, Ackerman has long been his own worst critic, and until contemplating the idea of Returning, never listened back to his old recordings. It was, of course, those fans who pointed out that he was playing his classics with much more vigor and heart. So, fresh off a Best New Age Album Grammy nomination for his 2001 date Hearing Voices, he decided to do some long overdue time traveling. Although he considers his seminal solo piece “The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter” probably the best song he ever wrote, he cringed upon listening to it when he pulled out …the Turtle’s Navel for the first time in years.

“It was a joke,” he says, “very metronomic and hurried, completely reflective of a kid entering a studio for the first time who had no money, a limited concept of dynamics and no sense of the emotional power a song could have. The kid who recorded that was basically scared to death. Just being in the studio was intimidating. I was just trying to get the notes in the right order and avoid any terrible mistakes. And yet, the notes and the writing were there. I was astounded at the difference 20 years of playing the song live had made. The emotional impact of it was totally different. I’m a much more mature player, and I wanted to showcase that over an entire recording.”

With an adult-sized budget and an incredible array of new technological advances to work with, Ackerman — a native of Palo Alto, California who has lived for years in (where else?) Windham County, Vermont - beautifully realizes the rich, emotional potential of eleven of his beloved songs, including “Anne’s Song,” “The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit,” “Hawk Circle,” “In The Region of Clouds” and “Processional.” Technophiles might be fascinated to know that Returning is a 96/24 recording mastered by Bob Ludwig, and that Ackerman is also working on a second version of the album in a 5.1 surround mix. Over the years, Ackerman gradually added other instruments to his recordings mix, and by 1983 was recording his pieces exclusively with an ensemble. Returning marks the first time many of these pieces have been heard stripped down to just the guitar.

“Thirty years of audience reactions has helped me hone in on what works,” says Ackerman, who is planning this year to release an as yet untitled book detailing his deep emotional life’s journey and success as a businessman. “I wanted the songs to reflect where I was with them live. Having better guitars helps tremendously, of course. My early performances were played on good off the rack production guitars, long before I knew that handmade guitars existed. Today, I’m playing Froggy Bottom guitars made by Michael Millard and Andy Mueller, two of the most talented guitar builders on earth. The sound that comes from one of these instruments is simply unique and irreplaceable.”

On a more personal level, Ackerman at 55 reached a stage where he stared out at the Vermont snowball on a February day and began contemplating what he will leave behind when he was gone. “After eight years of personal therapy, I can finally accept people’s thanks for what my music means to them,” he says. “The concerts I give are more meaningful and I have a renewed confidence in the ability of my songs to touch and inspire people’s lives. I knew I wanted these songs to be left behind in a way that more completely reflected my knowledge of what they were meant to be. The most important criteria was feeling emotionally connected to every single note.”


FavoredNationsLogo.gifAs founder of the Encino, California based independent jazz label Favored Nations, legendary guitar master Steve Vai has built a thriving creative home for legends dedicated to the fostering the art of their axe, most recently adding Adrian Legg, Stanley Jordan and Tommy Emmanuel to the company’s ever diversifying roster. With the recent release of James Robinson’s label debut Colours, the company shows a deep commitment to the future of the instrument as well.

The return of Stanley Jordan to the realm of studio recordings after a decade long hiatus is the biggest news. Dreams of Peace, the culmination of his long association with the popular Italian jazz ensemble Novecento, is an artsy blend of ambient music, funky and smooth soul-jazz and blistering rock fusion featuring appearances by legendary jazz artists Randy Brecker, Guy Barker, Dave Liebman and Danny Gottlieb.

Tommy Emmanuel chose the title Endless Road as a colorful metaphor about life’s mysterious twists and turns. Yet it could apply equally as well to the multi-talented guitar virtuoso’s breakneck touring schedule, which tops 300 dates a year throughout Europe, the U.S. and his native Australia. In many ways a follow-up to his 2000 solo recording Only, the new all-acoustic recording reflects Emmanuel’s last six years on the road as a solo performer.

From 1993-96, the British born Adrian Legg was voted Best Fingerstyle Guitarist by the readers of Guitar Player magazine. On Inheritance, his second release for Favored Nations and ninth overall, Legg blends his well known acoustic sound with a sonic arena that harkens back to the musical textures of his childhood life before the guitar—which includes electric rock, folk, Irish jig and traditional church music.

Although he’s the rookie in this bunch, James Robinson has been something of a regional legend in San Francisco and his native San Jose for years. Larry Carlton once remarked of his fanciful fingerstyling that he’s “an extraordinary talent that deserves to be heard.” But it’s doubtful that Robinson will need that sort of hype once guitar fans get wind of his very accessible, pop-oriented mix of Latin, Brazilian, Middle Eastern and jazz influences.


1) Nicholas Gunn, Breathe (Gemini Sunn) – It’s been nearly 12 years since the flutist/keyboardist, composer and producer redefined the joys of Southwestern flavored Native American styled music via Afternoon in Sedona. Incredibly, he’s still finding new and innovative ways to mine the emotional, spiritual and very percussive riches of that region and its indigenous culture.
2) Philip Martin, Fourpoint (Carzino)
3) Joss Stone, Mind Body & Soul (S Curve)
4) The Crickets & Their Buddies (Sovereign Artists)
5) Doobie Brothers, Live at Wolf Trap (Sanctuary)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 7:24 AM

March 8, 2005

In Our CD Players This Month: March

D E N I S * P O O L E

The Poole family household sound system is running hot with the following sounds this month:

‘Gilding The Lilly’ by The Kevin Chandler Band from the CD Chicago Soul Sessions Volume 1. This is one of the stand-out tracks from a new collection on the Listen Up label from a stellar line up of Chicago's underground artists.

‘I'll Try Something New’ by Demo Cates from his CD Smooth - Try Something New. A great cover of a classic tune that until now has slipped through the net.

‘Athens Park’ by Paul Jackson, Jr., from the CD Still Small Voice. Quite simply a piece of quintessential smooth jazz

‘19 (Slow Version’) by Paul Hardcastle from the CD Paul Hardcastle 1983-2003. Classy smooth jazz with an edge.

‘Slam Dunk’ by Euge Groove from the CD Play Date. Euge Groove can do no wrong with the Poole's.

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

Jonathan Widran gives the nod to these recently released CDs:

Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin’ On

Pamela Williams, Sweet Saxations

Chuck Loeb, When I’m With You

Nelson Rangell, My American Songbook, Volume I

Acoustic Alchemy, American English

Bobby Caldwell, Perfect Island Nights

Paul Taylor, Nightlife

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

Tom Grant, Hands: The Tom Grant Collection
There’s an element to enjoy in each song: the movement of 'Angel’s Crossing,' the compelling 'Mamba to the Moon,' the stirring 'Private Beach' with its interesting chord progressions, the driving beat of 'Change,' the expert vocal harmony on ‘Every Day Is Up,’ funky ‘Bernie’s Groove’ (featuring Najee), upbeat ‘Hang Time’ (featuring Paul Jackson, Jr.), the superb lead in to ‘Happy Feet,’ and the final, touching selection of ‘Heidi’s Song.’ It’s been a great way for me to begin my discovery of Tom Grant’s music. My favorite song, ‘Morning Show,’ has a melody and beat that go together perfectly; and when the song seems to be ending, it’s only a transition to an enthusiastic buildup that ultimately returns to the beginning of the song. It’s a song of celebration with a fun, surprising ending. In fact, this CD has a recurring theme of the delightfully unexpected. I can’t wait to continue my journey of discovering more of Tom Grant's music.

Eumir Deodato, Deodato 2
The album that followed Prelude, which contained ‘Also Sprach Zarahustra’ (better known as the theme from 2001 Space Odyssey). The unwritten rule of having to match or improve on a subsequent CD needn’t have been applied after the blockbuster Prelude catapulted Deodato to #1 instrumentalist and #2 Jazz Artist of the Year. Deodato 2 has great compositions and arrangements of its own. Invigorating ‘Super Strut’ and ‘Skyscrapers’ are great listening and dancing tunes, and renditions of Moody Blues’ ‘Night in White Satin’ and Steely Dan’s ‘Do It Again,’ are both impressive, especially the flute on the latter. Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess’ measure up, as well. ‘Latin Flute’ is another energizing tune and ‘Venus’ has a classical feel to it with a very steady and engaging blend of piano and guitar. This artist will be part of the Berks Jazz Fest's 15th Anniversary Concert to be held March 19th.

Vital Information, Come On In
Having recently heard this band at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base in Reading, Pennsylvania, I knew before the show the caliber of each of the players. They played a number of songs from this, their 11th album, and listening to it only reminds me of the privilege of being there to see a band who will surely go down as one of the most talented and strong combinations of players in history.

P E T E R * B O E H I

Bernard Alcorn, Late Arrival (2000)
This guitarist hails from Chicago and delivers some warm Wes Montgomery style guitar playing over contemporary beats.

Joe Kurasz, Soul Searching (2003)
Groovy organ jazz with a very contemporary feel boasting catchy tunes which set you in a good mood. Very recommended.

Morris Pleasure, Elements of Pleasure (2004)
Funky instrumental music from Earth, Wind & Fire's music director and keyboard player Morris Pleasure with enough jazz elements to attract us smooth jazz fans.

Black & Brown, File Under Funk (1995)
Released on Italy's Irma label this group delivers a funky brand of instrumental music which fits well into the acid jazz and lounge mould. Currently my favorite type of music, really worth to hunt it down.

Andre Delano, Full Circle (2004)
This is truly a quality release by sax player Andre Delano with the right mix of funk and jazz. You find it at like the albums from Bernard Alcorn and Joe Kurasz.

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

Chuck Loeb, When I’m With You: Chuck Loeb’s latest is a more of a true reading of the guitarist than his last, electronic-influenced project. Here Loeb plays jazzier and more acoustic, shining on the smooth jazz single “Tropical.” Loeb also writes three songs dedicated to idols: “The Girl From Ipanema” for Stan Getz, with whom he played with for a couple of years; “Double Life” for legendary guitarist Jim Hall, who taught Loeb a thing or two in private lessons; and “Brother Ray” for the late, great Ray Charles. The latter is the one song on the CD that will no doubt shine a smile on your face.

Soul Ballet, All the Pretty Lights, Vol. 1: Soul Ballet, the project by Rick Kelly, has had the nation’s No. 1 smooth jazz single with “Cream” for more than a month. If that song from his DreamBeatDream CD intrigues you, you might want to check out this CD of remixes of some of Soul Ballet’s most requested romantic songs, mostly from the first two projects. But there are also two new songs. Perfect music to get romantic to.

Michael Buble, It’s Time: Michael Buble, a young Frank Sinatra and just as popular with the masses, swings on new and old classics such as “How Sweet It Is” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” But the two tracks I keep returning to are just sublime. “Home” is an original track he wrote that speaks to universal longings and is stunningly beautiful: and “Quando, Quando, Quando,” a classic by Englebert Humperdinck, is given a fresh spin by Buble and pop singer Nelly Furtado. It’s sublime.

Various Artists, Café Del Mar, Vol. 8: The latest in an excellent series of chill/downtempo music features the hard-to-get “Pina Colada” (Jazz Mix) by Digby Jones and has an excellent remix of vocalist Dido’s “Worthless.” Classy vocals and cool beats make this another winner.

Bryan Lubeck, Acoustic Vineyard: Mellow smooth jazz promoted on the CD cover as “smooth jazz and Latin styles.” Lubeck is an acoustic guitarist who mixes mild touches of flamenco with romantic melodies to provide a gorgeous and relaxing music experience. Available at or here.

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 5:49 AM

March 7, 2005

Reflections CD Sequel Is Next For Peter White

Guitarist Peter White is planning a sequel to one of this most popular CDs.

PeterWhite.jpgPeter White has confirmed that he is working on the follow-up to his popular Reflections album from 1994. That CD remains one of the guitarist's most popular, and featured a collection of cover tunes from the 1970s. They included "Walk On By," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "The Closer I Get To You," which all had Boney James on the saxophone.

“I was going through some of my old tapes, and I found my original demos for Reflections," he says. "And I forgot that there are so many songs on there that I never used. It’s quite amazing. You know, beause I think we put 10 songs on the Reflections CD. I have another 10 songs which never made it to the CD.”

White says that once again he wants to recruit some of the top names in smooth jazz for the project, which he is now in the process of finalizing the song selection. He says he’s got some classic songs from the 1970s in mind, but also has many tunes that he's hung onto.

While working on the project, White is gearing up to do some more touring in support of his current album, Confidential, which includes the smooth jazz hits “Talkin’ Bout Love” and the current “How Does It Feel.”

White will be performing in the brand-new Jazz Attack tour with Rick Braun, Richard Elliot and Jonathan Butler begining April 8 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 9:40 AM

March 6, 2005

Berks Jazz Fest: Let The Music Begin

PagodaBerks.jpgLike softly falling snowflakes that accumulate into a beautiful sight in the last breath of winter, jazz will soon be sprinkled over an entire city for an idyllic ten days. With a promise to be both memorable and soul-satisfying, the picture completes itself with the addition of local, regional, national and international performers and fans alike, instructional workshops by gifted virtuosos, the appetizing cuisine of jazz-minded chefs, and the beckoning ambiance of every club and restaurant in town.

Reading, Pennsylvania is gearing up for its 15th Annual Berks Jazz Fest, and the line-up of artists couldn’t be more exciting! Dates are set, venues are booked, and hotels and restaurants are preparing for the influx of people who will descend upon this city. The annual promotional day at Borders was held last Sunday, so those of us who live here know we are on the home stretch!

SovereignPerformingArtsCent.jpgDates of the festival are Friday, March 11th through Sunday, March 20th. There are ticketed and non-ticketed events throughout the ten days, and the schedule, along with great bios of the artists written by our own Jonathan Widran, can be seen at

WyndhamHotelBerks.jpgMain venues are the Wyndham Hotel, The Sheraton Hotel, the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, and the Scottish Rite Cathedral. In addition to the Sheraton Ballroom, the Sheraton is also home to Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base, which will also feature a number of shows. These are very familiar to those of us who live in the area and to returning fans.

ScottishRiteCathedralBerks.jpgBut those who ‘drop in on Reading’ every year for the Berks Jazz Fest have surely begun to notice that in addition to the major venues, there’s an ever-widening circle of participation by the entire community in the excitement surrounding this festival.


To give you an idea of just how much community participation there is by now, try visiting any one or all one of the following locations during the festival. Each one will have some connection to the jazz music scene, typically a combination of live jazz performers and jazzy cuisine. A great blend of music and food, two favorite things in life for many of us, especially jazz fans who like to sit down and listen attentively to the music. (Though we sometimes dance in our seats and find it impossible to sit down for long!)Pieces2.jpg

ViVaGoodLife&BistroBerks.jpgHere’s a listing to keep you hopping during your visit to Reading: places where jazz will surely be sprinkled in one form or another! Jimmy Kramer’s Peanut Bar, ViVa Good Life Bistro & Lounge, Adrienne’s at Centre Park, Café Waldorf, The Works at Wyomissing, PAL Center for the Arts, Albright College Wachovia Theatre, Maniaci’s Italian Bistro, Suburban Tavern and Restaurant, Bell Tower Salon Spa (sponsoring a Happy Hour), Borders Café, Boscov’s East Greenery Restaurant, Pike Café, Inn at Reading Ballroom, Evergreen Country Club, Institute of the Arts, and at least 5 different local churches. Many of these places have their own websites, so you can visit ‘virtually’ before you get here in person. Take down the addresses, get yourself a Reading city map, and you’re on your way. And if you resist the temptation to wear the hat you bought last year showing Reading’s mountaintop Pagoda or some other ‘mark of the tourist,’ you’ll simply fit right in as one of the locals! We’re looking forward to seeing you all over Reading, not at just the main venues! (And I'm kidding, of course, please wear your hats!)

InstituteoftheArtsBerks.jpgAbout the Reading city map, one is included in the Reading Eagle program that is free and can be picked up in many locations around the city. To be distributed along with the local paper Sunday, March 6, manager John Ernesto was giving out copies to those of us at the Jazz Base on Thursday evening, so we had a sneak preview. It’s jammed full of all the events, artist bios mentioned above (16 pages of them!), jazzy items you can buy in local shops or at the venues, and will supply you with all the information you need to satisfy your appetite for food, music, and shopping for anything you might want to take home.

DavidCullenBorders2005.jpgThe annual tradition of promoting the jazz fest was held once again at Borders on Sunday, February 27, with less than two weeks in the countdown until opening night. The afternoon’s festivities included sale of Berks Jazz Fest merchandise, paving the way for the new shirts, mugs, and other memorabilia that we all like to collect. It also featured a performance by Reading’s own David Cullen, local guitarist.

Cullen is not only well-known in Berks, but he has also performed throughout North America for Classical Guitar Societies, Jazz Festivals, and Performing Arts Series. He was a featured soloist in the 2004 New York Guitar Festival, and has performed with Will Ackerman, Samite, Michael Manning, Victor Wooten, the Jaco Big Band, and with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He earned his Bachelor of Music in Classical Guitar Performance from the Hartt School of Music. He has released 9 CDs and written two books entitled JAZZ: CLASSICAL AND BEYOND, and GRATEFUL GUITAR. He teaches at Elizabethtown College, Albright College, and Kutztown University.

B0000AUHRA.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgCullen is no doubt best known for his participation, along with other guitarists, on an album dedicated to the music of Henry Mancini that captured the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Recording. Dave played his contribution to the album, 'The Days of Wine and Roses.' He also played a rendition of Weather Report’s 'Birdland,' and a tune he wrote entitled 'Go Ahead and Play,' reminiscent of his days at the Downtown Tavern in Reading, a place where if the crowd loved your playing, you’d know it, and if they didn’t care for your playing, you’d know that, too. If they liked you, they’d give you the message, ‘Go Ahead and Play!’ The Downtown was a great place to learn the blues, to get your chops, according to Dave. He sure did show his chops on this song!

B00006OANA.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgDave had a little conversation going with himself up there, and it was quite entertaining. He wondered if there were any Grateful Dead fans in the audience, and he sensed some hesitation, so he quickly added, “Hey, it’s ok if you are, there’s nothing wrong with that.’ Then he showed us the Grateful Dead shirt he designed to cover his guitar, a picture of which landed on a CD cover; he’s dubbed this the Grateful Guitar. Then he tried to figure out which Grateful Dead song to play, and decided on 'Casey Jones,' because it has sort of a ragtime feel to it.

Dave went on to explain that he began playing guitar at age 7 in California. He came from a large family – Mom, Dad and 9 children, and he learned guitar by watching group lessons on television. He had a special book that went with the lessons. Dave played a special number, entitled, 'Blue California,' in honor of his early home.

DavidCullenJillHaleyBorders.jpgCullen’s wife, Jill Haley, a talented oboe player who plays for various symphony orchestras in Reading and the surrounding area, came in near the end of Dave’s performance to play one song with him. Never seeing her set up and place the oboe in her lap, and thinking she did not bring it and did not plan to play, he went into his last number, announced it, and ended the show. Fortunately for us he realized his mistake and quickly got our attention and explained his wife came to play and they were going to play. It was a wonderful number, 'Exploding Colors,' from the CD of the same name featuring both of them. I never realized how magnificent the guitar and oboe sound together -- it was beautiful, peaceful, and after hearing it, I was glad copies of that CD were available for purchase.

BJPwithJohnErnestoBerks.jpgLots of familiar, ‘behind the scenes’ Jazz Fest faces were to be seen at Borders that day, and at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base on Thursday evening, including Berks Jazz Fest General Manager John Ernesto,. I was able to ask him about ticket sales. “Ticket sales are good this year,” he explained, then quickly added, “Now that we’re under two weeks and counting, this is the period when a lot of work still needs to be done.”

Connie Leinbach, Executive Director of the Berks Jazz Fest and the Berks Arts Council, mentioned that volunteer coordinators are working hard to get every venue covered as far as seating, merchandise sales, fan surveys and lots of other jobs that are needed. I ran into Al Seifarth, gifted flutist who will be playing during the festival. (look for his name in the schedule). He happens to be a former high school teacher of mine who’s been active on the local music scene ever since I can remember.

SpencerProductionBerkswithM.jpgAt the Jazz Base, I also caught up with Gary Spencer, Production Manager for the Jazz Fest and Mike Anderson,, who handles Marketing and Publicity as well as stage management. Mike has been busy bringing us a weekly radio show featuring various artists leading up to the opening concert on Friday, March 11th. (see photo showing Gary and Mike setting up for a second, awesome performance of the season by the Tim Price and Rachel Z Jazz Encounter at the Jazz Base.)

So Berks is nearly ready for this most special event held every March. And adding to the excitement for me is that three of us from this site, Smooth Jazz Vibes, will be coming together this year for the first time, including originator in 1995 and host of this site, long time jazz aficionado Peter Boehi, who will come all the way from Switzerland, and Jonathan Widran, music journalist extraordinaire, coming in from California. If you see us hanging out at a main venue or at one of the many other events happening around town, do come up and say hello, we’d love to meet you!

In closing, the time has come to say, “Let the music begin!’ In a rapidly shrinking number of days and hours, this city will light up with JAZZ.

BerksJazzFestLogo.jpgI wish you ALL the Happiest of Jazzin’ at Berks,

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo credits: Michael Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 6:20 AM

March 5, 2005

The Colors Of Brown, White and Braun

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. In this final look back at the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 (WHSJC) the Secret Garden gathers together snippets and impressions of what was a truly memorable experience for all concerned.

RickBraun_live.jpgIronically, the person billed to head up The All Star Cruise out of Galveston Texas in November 2005, Rick Braun, was the one who perhaps suffered most from the sea sickness that afflicted both artists and fans during the Warren Hill event. Prevented from performing earlier in the week he came back triumphantly on the final evening with an exquisite set laced with standouts. Not least among these were ‘Kisses In The Rain’, the title track from his 2001 CD, where he was joined on stage by Peter White, and ‘Notorious’ from his 1997 Body and Soul, played as a duet with Kirk Whalum. The collaborations kept on coming with ‘Use Me’, also from Kisses In The Rain, for which he was joined by Euge Groove, and his big hit ‘Green Tomatoes’, from his CD Esperanto that he played, as on the original recording, with Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown. The performance simply re-enforced Braun’s standing as the preeminent smooth jazz trumpeter of today.

PeterWhite_live.jpgMajor artists playing together with a house backing band and all with limited opportunity for preparation practice or rehearsal may be a fact of smooth jazz cruising life but it also has the potential to cause some problems. It certainly seemed that way for Peter White who started off his Sunday evening late show appearance with his usual energy and a selection from his current CD Confidential. Although held down tightly by Michael Manson on bass, the excellent Michael Logan on keyboards and Sean McCurley on drums, Whites complex arrangements were clearly too much for the house horn section, The Harris Brothers. They messed up the introduction to ‘Talkin Bout Love’, causing White to restart the number and, overall, threatened to give the set an under par feel. Fortunately when there is a ship stacked brim full with musical talent this does not have to be a big deal as up stepped Euge Groove to play two fantastic duets with White and, in the process, lift the entire show. Warren Hill also played along with White to good effect but, not for the only time during the WHSJC, the real stars were the fans. When Peter did ‘That Lady’ from his 2001 CD Glow and threatened a diversion that at first sounded like it was going to be ‘The Theme From Shaft’ but ended up as ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ the audience picked up on it immediately and sang along with no prompting whatsoever.

NormanBrown_live.jpgWhen, later in the same show, Norman Brown followed White, his melodic soulful and controlled guitar was faultless. With Manson, Logan and McCurley again holding it down, and no need in his arrangements for a horn section, Brown glided through his set showcasing the best from his considerable discography. For the second time in the same evening smooth jazz gave a nod to the Isley Brothers as Brown covered ‘For The Love Of You’ and well and truly kept the old school connection firmly in place.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:50 PM

March 4, 2005

Bobby Caldwell - Perfect Island Nights

Reviewed by: Mary Elizabeth Simeone

Turn the lights down low and get cozy, when you listen to Bobby Caldwell’s new release, Perfect Island Nights. Once again, Bobby delivers heartfelt love songs to which we can all relate. He also revisits some old classics songs, which were due to be heard once again. This album is laced with the “blue-eyed soul” Caldwell has brought to listeners since his 1979 hit, “What You Won’t Do for Love.”

The first cut on the album, “In the Afterlife” not only has a great sound, but also suggests that romance can be so intense, it will “go on in the afterlife”. “Can’t Get Over You” is yet another Caldwell love song that pulls at your heartstrings. The vocals and harmonies in “Crazy for Your Love” are fantastic. Snuggle up with your honey for this one!

“I Need Your Love” is a powerful song, written by Tom Keene, who wrote “Through the Fire” for Chaka Khan. Caldwell’s soulful voice forms a perfect marriage with this song. Bobby also took on a song written by the great Phil Perry. Close your eyes and listen to “Perfect Island Night”. You’ll be transported to a moonlit beach filled with passion and ocean breezes.

Caldwell teamed up with Deniece Williams to revisit the 1972 hit, “Where is the Love”. What a great song! And, a fitting tribute to the original artists, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

In 1963 Japan made the charts with a song called, “Sukiyaki”. It was one of a few foreign language songs to ever make the charts. Keeping the integrity of the original sound, Bobby Caldwell wrote his own English lyrics to produce a haunting little song. It’s quite unlike the other songs on the album, but it’s one that will linger in your mind all day long.

“Have you ever wanted something so bad it makes you blind… and each night it’s the last thing on your mind” Love that line from “Donna”! This song has a Latin flavor that grabs you right from the guitar intro.

Perfect Island Nights song for song, is a great album! Thank you, Bobby Caldwell, for bringing more romance into the world!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:07 PM

March 3, 2005

Song of the Week: Acoustic Alchemy – “Say Yeah”

Miles Gilderdale, one half of the guitar duo that leads the veteran band Acoustic Alchemy, comes into his own on this delicious song from the band’s new album called American/English.

It’s a bouncy funk fest with a slight reggae beat, and Gilderdale sings the vocal chorus while also showing his skills as a scat-master, his vocals keeping time with the guitar a la George Benson.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:10 PM

Concord Release Schedule - March through August

Here is the full release schedule for the upcoming months of Concord Records.

In 2005, Concord Picante (Concord’s home to such Latin jazz all-stars as Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Tania Maria and Charlie Byrd) celebrates its 25th Anniversary. To mark the occasion, they have planned a slew of Latin-related releases, including Diane Schuur with the Caribbean Jazz Project (“Schuur Fire” out 4/5), “Classic Picante Regrooved” (5/17) featuring DJs Mario C., Cuica, Los Amigos Invisibles, among others, and a 4-CD anniversary box set (5/3).

Also on the Latin side of things, legendary pianist Eddie Palmieri celebrates 50-years in music with Listen Here! His collaborators for this new jazz project include David Sanchez, Regina Carter, John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Nicholas Payton and Christian McBride (out 6/14). Another Concord favorite, Poncho Sanchez, brings us his first new recording in two years. The jovial conguero is joined by The Tower of Power for some more of his distinctive Latin jazz and soul/funk rhythms (8/9). And, hot off the success of their Grammy win for Street Signs', Ozomatli releases their first live recording, Live From the Fillmore', which includes a bonus DVD disc of interviews and live footage (7/19). Even The Rippingtons mix it up with a few Latin rhythms on their May 17 release, Wild Card'. The CD features very special guests Albita & Willie Charro.

Many of Concord's most favorite and popular artists have new CDs coming in the months ahead, including the irreplaceable Keely Smith, who brings us a special tribute to Louis Prima called Vegas '58 – Today (4/12); the always talented and always distinctive Curtis Stigers (I Think It's Going to Rain Today on 4/19); Marian McPartland, who, with a few of her closest friends (Norah Jones, Phil Woods, Karrin Allyson and more), celebrates her 85th birthday at Birdland (85 Candles – Live in New York out 3/15); and Gary Burton showcases some of the most lauded young musicians of today with Next Generation (4/12).

Concord also have some new faces on the label this year. Debby Boone plays homage to her mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney, with Reflections of Rosemary. The CD is a very warm and heart-felt tribute featuring songs closely associated with the Girl Singer, as well as tunes that were chosen for more personal reasons (4/26). Other new girl singers, Mary Haskell (3/15), Rita Coolidge (6/14), LaToya London and Erin Boheme have releases on their way, while favorite female vocalists Karrin Allyson and Nnenna Freelon (a tribute of Billie Holiday) are on the schedule for the Fall.

Here's the full schedule, subject to change and additions (labels are in parenthesis).

March 1: O'2LDoyle's Brunch (Peak)

March 8: VariousJazz Moods: Sounds of Spring (Concord Special Projects)

March 15: Mary HaskellInspired: Standards Good for the Soul (Concord)

Paul TaylorNightlife (Peak)

Marian McPartland & Friends85 Candles: Live in New York (Concord Jazz)

Marian McPartland Piano Jazz with Steely Dan (The Jazz Alliance)

March 22: Bobby DarinLive at the Desert Inn (Neon Tonic)

April 5: Diane Schuur w/ Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz ProjectSchuur Fire (Picante)

Scott Hamilton w/ Bill CharlapBack in New York (Concord Jazz)

April 12: Gary BurtonNext Generation (Concord Jazz)

Keely SmithVegas '58 - Today (Concord)

April 19: Curtis StigersI Think It's Going to Rain Today (Concord Jazz)

April 26: Debby BooneReflections of Rosemary (Concord)

May 3: Various - Concord Picante 25th Anniversary Collection (Picante)

May 17: VariousExplorations: Concord Picante Regrooved (Picante)

VariousClassic Picante Original Grooves (Picante)

Jamie OldakerMad Dogs & Oakies (Concord) (features Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Vince Gill and more)

The RippingtonsWild Card (Peak)

May 24: VariousPlayboy Jazz: Jazz After Dark II (Playboy)

Tony BennettSings the Rogers & Hart Songbook (Concord)

June 14: Eddie PalmieriListen Here (Picante)

Dave WecklTBD (Stretch)

Rita CoolidgeTBD (TBD)

David BenoitOrchestral Stories (Peak)

David BenoitCharlie Brown Christmas (Peak)

June 28: Fred Martin Choir / Jackson BrowneTBD (Concord)

July 12: Marian McPartland Piano Jazz with Elvis Costello (The Jazz Alliance)

July 19: LaToya LondonTBD (Peak)

Ozomatli Live at the Fillmore (Concord) (CD and DVD)

August 9: Poncho Sanchez (with the Tower of Power) – TBD (Picante)

Erin Boheme – TBD

Christian Scott – TBD

Taylor Eigsti – TBD

August 23: Nnenna Freelon – TBD

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:09 PM

March 2, 2005

Meet Tom Grant

Tom-Grant-venue-photo.jpgTom Grant will soon be on his way to Reading, Pennsylvania, home of the Berks Jazz Fest. Four nights of dinner shows at the Wyndham Hotel gives fans the opportunity to hear this wonderfully talented performer/composer sing and play acoustic piano. Dinner shows will be Wednesday, March 16th, through Saturday, March 19th. He will also join the Berks All Star Jam at their annual concert to be held on Thursday, March 17th, at 10:00 PM in the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom.

With a musical career that spans more than 30 years and the release of his 20th album last year, Grant has had a lot of success in the smooth jazz genre with songs that have topped the charts. His latest album, Nice Work If You Can Get It, is his response to requests of his many mainstream jazz fans. So now I would bet that everyone is happy!

I can’t wait to hear Grant perform live, and had the opportunity to talk with him as he prepares for his trip to Berks from his home state of Oregon. But first I have a confession to make. Just a few months ago, I didn’t know who Tom Grant was.

It was the day Brian Soergel, writer for this site, mentioned a contest Tom Grant had set up, a contest where fans could submit to him some ideas for lyrics to a song yet unwritten. If your lyrics were chosen, you’d get a free CD, and if your lyrics eventually became part of a released song, at the very least you'd be listed on a real CD! Thinking it would be great fun to try my hand at writing lyrics, I went to Grant’s website, listened to some song clips to try to get a feel for the kind of music he plays, and off I was, writing lyrics. I sent them to Grant and, realizing he lives in the Pacific Northwest, I remember telling him that I suppose he doesn’t get to the East Coast very often, but that I hoped he would someday!

Imagine my surprise when it was announced recently that he was a major new headliner to be added to the Berks Jazz Fest! I couldn’t believe it! Now I would have a chance to meet him and get to know his music first-hand.

Having whetted my appetite with song clips, I began my search for the album that I thought might best introduce me to his music. The first one I acquired is the collection album entitled, Hands. One listen from the beginning to the end of this album was plenty to convince me that more CDs need to be on the way to my door. And they are! As is often the case, I'm way behind many of you who've been enjoying Tom Grant's music for years.

Hands is filled with great compositions, wonderful melodies and most tracks include something delightfully unexpected! Joined by Paul Jackson, Jr. on upbeat Hang Time and Najee on funky Bernie's Groove, I have a number of favorites already from this one CD, which I'll feature this month for the Smooth Jazz Vibes In Our CD Players column.

Grant's was a musical family. An early start in his musical career was influenced greatly by his father, who had been a vaudeville tap dancer, and was in movie chorus lines, including Ziegfield. The elder Grant also owned a record store, and had Tom playing the piano at age 4. This led to playing drums at around the same time, and ten years of lessons followed for both Tom and his brother.

In addition to the influence of his father and brother, Grant had an especially good classical teacher who was trained in Vienna, which resulted in his having technique that was always strong. He liked pianists like Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and other instrumentalists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, from whom he learned the value of being ‘lyrical’ as an instrumental musician. He felt that horn players seemed more lyrical than the piano players he was listening to.

As time went on, Grant played with Tony Williams and Joe Henderson and other big jazz names. These players helped him along to gain skill, perspective, and confidence. As he explained, “The people that you play with help to shape your sound and your style. I played with my idols by playing along with the records, and later in life I got a chance to actually play with these same people on stage.”

Tom-Headshot.jpgI asked Grant to talk about the various genres of music he’s played and how he would characterize the music he plays at this point in his career. He answered, “I studied classical music for about five years and still play some these days. I’ve been a jazz pianist since earliest memory. I’ve played in rock bands in college and beyond and I’ve played country, folk, rock, Irish, and whatever I’ve been called on to play. My first love is jazz.”

I wondered if Grant has pondered what his music means to him in the overall scheme of his life. He has. Music brings him a sense of calmness and well-being. He hopes that he transmits that to the listener. “There is joy in music for the player and for the receiver. I play music because it is my calling in life. I hope it conveys a joy and benevolence that people can apply to their own lives and thus improve, if only in the tiniest way, the quality of life on earth,” he added.

What goals does Grant have for his future as a musician? “I’d like to play in new venues, meet new musicians, and grow as a musician and as a person,” he said. I’m certain the staff of the Berks Jazz Fest as well as the fans would be honored to play a part in his moving ahead toward reaching some of those goals.

Already I know Tom Grant to be very gracious, friendly and well-loved as an artist and as a person. Like so many artists I have met, he’s willing to communicate not only through his music, but also his words. To me, this is the essence of what keeps fans coming back to our music. We have artists who allow us to connect with them as people and in turn, we allow artists to connect with us as real people, too. We don’t have screaming, out of control melee scenes with our musicians (well, sometimes we might approach that at the end of a show!) but rather,in most cases, there is an easy, mutual and respectful friendship. If it’s even half as satisfying to the artists as it is to the fans, then I’d say we have a great thing going.

So while you’re in Reading, be sure to Meet Tom Grant: a player with so much talent for singing, playing, composing -- able to adapt to the changes in the music scene while remaining true to his first love of music – jazz. Soulful and down to earth, willing to reach out to fans and include them even in developing the lyrics for his songs, I believe he’s going to make an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of Berks Jazz Fest fans during this exciting 15th season.

For more info on Tom Grant and his music, visit

Happy Jazzin,'

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 4:13 PM

March 1, 2005

New Ultrablue Project Features Pete Belasco and Gabriela Anders

Pete Belasco, whose latest smooth jazz single is called "Hurry Hurry," has updated an American classic for a new CD by the group called Ultrablue. Also on the CD are Gabriela Anders and Nestor Torres.

PeteBelasco.jpgSaxophonist and vocalist Pete Belasco and vocalist Gabriela Anders have completed songs for the new CD by the group called Ultrablue. The group released a CD called Dusk 2 Dawn in 2003 that featured core members John Smatla and Dave Stryker and had guest appearances by Belasco and saxophonist David Mann.

On the upcoming album, Belasco performs on a track called “The Summer Knows,” the familiar theme song by Michel Legrand from the 1971 movie Summer of ’42. "It's a beautiful piece; I had such a blast doing it," says Belasco. "It's a really moody, dark, vibey saxophone song, and just so much fun. I could do that all day.”

Anders adds her vocals to a song called “Destiny.” Other guests include flutist Nestor Torres on the track “Jungle Fever,” trumpeter Randy Brecker on “Soul Candy” and vocalist Philip Hamilton on “Indiscretions.”

The still-untitled album is expected to be released this summer.

Meanwhile, Belasco will peform March 19 in New York with pianist Eliane Elias. He’ll also be doing songs from his latest CD called Deeper, which features the Smooth Jazz hits “Deeper” and the current “Hurry Hurry.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:23 AM

Big-Screen Movie Recruits Rendezvous Smooth Jazz Artists

Dave Koz, Praful and Marc Antoine will have their music featured in an upcoming movie called Cages.

Rendezvous Entertainment, a smooth jazz label co-created by saxophonist Dave Koz, will have a major musical role in an independent movie that is now in post-production.

Cages, filmed in Singapore and directed by Graham Streeter, called on Rendezvous to provide music for the film’s soundtrack and for several parts in the movie. Featured in either the movie or soundtrack will be music by Rendezvous artists, including Koz’s “Love Changes Everything” and “Remembrance,” Praful’s “Sigh,” Marc Antoine’s “Castellana Hood” and “Gotham” and two songs from the Rendezvous Lounge project, “Mezz Bar Blue” by Astro and “Ocean Beach” from the Black Mighty Orchestra.

Among Cages stars are Mako Iwamatsu, the veteran Japanese actor who starred as Admiral Yamamoto in the 2001 blockbuster Pearl Harbor, and Zelda Rubinstein, who starred in “Poltergeist” and in the TV series Picket Fences. The movie tells the story of Ali, a single mother who is forced into the streets with her blind 8-year-old son.

“The director is a good friend of Frank Cody, who’s one of the Rendezvous partners," says Koz. "That’s how the connection was made. We started hearing about this film and saw the storyboarding. We all were interested in being a part of it. So we’ll see what happens. This is definitely our first foray into that area of the business."

Cages is expected to be released by the end of year.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:16 AM