April 29, 2005

Dance to the Music

Special-EFX-&-Desert-Dance-.jpgChieli Minucci and Special EFX reunite with Desert Dance Theatre for a night of ‘Sensory Memory’
Beverly J. Packard

Don’t look now, but while some of us attended the concerts of artists we love this past month (for me it was Matt Bianco Trio in Philadelphia), there was a rare performance going on in Scottsdale, Arizona. While we watched stages complete with artists and their instruments, the stage in Scottsdale added one more component: an entire dance theatre. The seeds of this performance were planted 19 years ago when Chieli Minucci and Special EFX traveled to Scottsdale to join the Desert Dancers in their first collaboration.

Founded in 1979, Desert Dance Theatre is a contemporary dance company offering a variety of quality programs to schools and communities. The company has performed throughout Arizona, Mexico, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico and New York. Programs reflect positive messages through music, dance and storytelling, and focus on a variety of significant themes such as cultural diversity, prominent people who have fought for freedom in America, and important issues in contemporary society.

DesertDawnLisaChow&Husband.jpgBefore the show, Lisa Chow, (pictured with husband and partner Step Raptis), Concept and Creative Art Director for the Desert Dance Theatre, remarked, “We are thrilled about this joint venture and reunion, bringing Chieli and Special EFX back over from New York. We plan to give our audience a whole new experience of contemporary jazz music and modern dance. This was such a hit 19 years ago, we just had to do it again.”

She states, “Desert Dance Theatre blends art, education and entertainment into exciting concert dance that appeals to audiences of all ages. The repertory ranges in mood from comical to dramatic, abstract to lyrical. The original choreography, by a variety of artists, combines elements of modern dance, ballet, jazz and mime. Most of the company's work is created collaboratively within the company or with artists of other disciplines (live vocal and/or instrumental music, video, theatre, visual arts).”

The performance, entitled ‘Sensory Memory,’ was an exciting collaboration in which both groups performed selections from past and current repertory. It was a night when the audience could hear and see the lyrical, head bopping melodies and house inspired body shaking rhythms of Minucci and Special EFX, as interpreted by Chow and the Desert Dance Theatre dancers.

Chieli Minucci commented, “What a fantastic night we had collaborating with Lisa Chow's Desert Dance Theatre. Set in the beautiful Scottsdale Performing Arts Center theatre, near Phoenix, we performed on Friday, April 8th, on a gorgeous, moonlit night.”

DesertDanceTheatreStepRapti.jpgChieli and Special EFX, joined by percussionist Step Raptis, performed during the first half of the show. A brief intermission segued into the highlight of the show – their collaborative presentation, as Special EFX performed five selections set to new choreography executed by the Desert Dance Theatre. This exciting collaboration fused modern dance and contemporary jazz music into one creative, innovative, and spectacular performance.

The five selections included the following: two selections from Special EFX albums – Jazz Lambada (Just Like Magic, 1990) and George Can’t Dance (Catwalk, 1993); three selections from Chieli Minucci’s solo album releases -- Courageous Cats (Jewels, 1996), My Girl Sunday (Sweet On You, 2001) and Still Waiting (from his latest release, Got It Goin’ On, 2005).

Chieli summed up a phenomenal night, “It was a great night. The music was beautifully choreographed. The dances were sensational, reflecting the choreographer’s vision combined with the intended meaning of each song -- from primitiveness, to feminine elegance, and urban slickness to total earthiness. This was a night we'll never forget."

For more information about the Desert Dance Theatre, visit www.desertdancetheatre.org

untitled.bmpFor more information about Chieli Minucci and Special EFX, visit www.chielimusic.com

Happy Jazzin'

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

Photo credits: Compliments of Chieli Minucci and the Desert Dance Theatre

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 12:45 PM

Secret Garden Snippet - Michael Brandeburg - Midnight

brandeburg.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time its news of the recent release from the Santa Rosa CA based keyboard player Michael Brandeburg.

Written, arranged and produced by Brandeburg, Midnight is a collection of nine tight chill out tracks designed, it would seem, to be played specifically at the bewitching hour. Part of the magic comes from the collection of outstanding musicians that Michael has assembled to support him on the project. Windham Hill recording artist Ray Obiedo makes more than one significant contribution on guitar while Norbert Stachel on sax and flute is outstanding throughout. With Jess Petty variously on trumpet and flugel horn complementing Mark Van Wageningen on bass and Billy Johnson on drums the winning formula is complete.

Particularly notable is ‘Moonlight’ with Stachel to the fore on sax, the hypnotic ‘Caribbean Dream’ that gives Petty the chance to shine on trumpet and the title track where Sachel serves up more cool sax laced with Brandeburg’s excellent piano.

When Brandeburg indulges himself with the albums only cover, Bert Bacharach’s ‘The Look Of Love’, it proves to be a sensation with Jess Petty, this time on flugel horn, sending shivers down the spine. Obiedo excels on the Latin flavoured tribute to ‘Jobim’ and on the haunting ‘Velvet Lady’. The album is already enjoying good airplay and that’s hardly surprising as there is barely a weak track on the entire collection.

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelbrandeburg.com where sample tracks from the CD can also be heard.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:38 AM

April 28, 2005

Saxophonist Richard Elliot is in a funky, retro Metro Blue mood

Debut album for the ARTizen label hits stores June 28th, co-headlining the Jazz Attack Tour
Like a booming metropolis, saxman Richard Elliot is a rhythmic force of funk and fire, diverse and distinctive, passionate and powerful, soulful and seductive. A consistent chart-topper, Elliot will release the Metro Blue album on June 28th. It’s his fourteenth solo collection, yet his debut for the newly launched ARTizen Music Group record label, of which he is a partner.  Elliot’s emotive sax and Rick Braun’s muted trumpet and flugelhorn help set the tone on the first track being serviced to smooth jazz radio, a cover of The Stylistics’ moody classic, “People Make The World Go Round.” 
Metro Blue was produced by Braun and Elliot, who collaborated on nine original songs. Joining them in the studio were Jeff Lorber, Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Dwight Sills, Gregg Karukas, Lenny Castro, Rex Rideout, Ronnie Garret, Nate Philips and Phil Davis. The record sounds slick and contemporary yet recalls dusty vintage funk records from the 1970s when hot horn sections and cool keyboards helped create the vibe. On tracks like “Inside Out,” “Say It’s So,” “Mystique,” and “Maxi’s,” Elliot’s sax is muscular and robust, blowing big hooky choruses over R&B beats and dance grooves. When the tempo slows, as on “Camella” (named for Elliot’s wife), “People Make The World Go Round,” and the title track, Elliot chills, backing off the intensity in favor of romance and gentle melodies. 

RichardElliotMetroBlue.jpg“This album release really represents a turning point for me,” said Elliot. “The creative experience of working with Rick (Braun) coupled with the freedom of controlling our own destiny with the new label is pushing me into new directions creatively. I feel so lucky to be working with such inventive and creative people.”
To help launch and support the album release, Elliot is teaming with Braun, White and Jonathan Butler for the luminous Jazz Attack U.S. concert tour, with dates now through summer. Although his career began in a recording studio backing Motown legends such as Smokey Robinson and The Temptations, the stage has always been a big part of Elliot’s repertoire ever since he was a teenager when he toured with Melissa Manchester.   He went on to spend five formative years performing with Tower Of Power. While his highly successful solo recording career has made him an icon in the contemporary jazz radio world, Elliot has always devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to his live performance schedule, one that helped him connect with fans across the country, forging an enduring relationship. 
Off stage, the Scotland-born, Los Angeles-reared Elliot has demonstrated his astute entrepreneurial skills as a co-founder of innovative Internet multimedia company PacificNet. He’s now partnered with Braun, their long-time manager Steve Chapman, and industry veteran Al Evers to create the ARTizen Music Group. Although the initial releases will be new product from Elliot and Braun, other artists will be signed to the label for new releases and ARTizen will release catalogue pieces from veteran artists. The Sherman Oaks, California-based record company is distributed in the United States by Ryko Distribution.                                                              
Richard Elliot’s Metro Blue album contains the following songs:
“Inside Out”                                                              “Chill Bill”
“Camella”                                                                 “Mystique”
“Coastline”                                                               “Mango Tango”
“People Make The World Go Round”                       “Maxi’s”
“Say It’s So”                                                              “Metro Blue”

Catch Elliot co-headlining the Jazz Attack concert tour on the following tour dates (dates may be added):
* April 28                  West Palm Beach, FL                               SunFest
May 13                    Henderson, NV                                       Sunset Station Hotel & Casino
May 14                    Phoenix, AZ                                            Celebrity Theatre
May 15                    Newport Beach, CA                 Newport Beach Jazz Festival                  
May 28                    San Diego, CA                                        KIFM-FM Anniversary Party
May 29                    Fresno, CA                                              Tower Theatre
May 30                    Half Moon Bay, CA                   Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Resort
May 31                    Harrisburg, PA                                        Whitaker Center
June 2                     Glenside, PA                                            Keswick Theatre
June 3                     Richmond, VA                                          Kanawha Plaza
June 4                     Westbury, NY                                          North Fork Theatre at Westbury
June 5                     Washington, DC                                       Capital Jazz Festival
June 6                     Durham, NC                                            Carolina Theatre of Durham
June 9                     Clearwater, FL                                        Ruth Eckerd Hall
June 16                   Milwaukee, WI                                         Potawatomi Bingo Casino
June 17-18              Chicago, IL                                              Skyline Stage/Navy Pier
June 19                   Dublin, OH                                               Wendy’s Corporate Headquarters
June 21                   Cleveland, OH                                         Playhouse Square/Palace Theatre
June 22                   St. Louis, MO                                           Orpheum Theatre
June 23                   Kettering, OH                                           Fraze Pavilion
June 24                   Southfield, MI                                           WVMV-FM Smooth Jazz Festival
June 25                   Saratoga, NY                                           JVC Fest/Saratoga Performing Arts Center
June 26                   Hampton, VA                                           Hampton Jazz Festival
July 2                       Healdsburg, CA                                       Rodney Strong Vineyards
July 16                     Pasadena, CA                                         Pasadena Jazz Festival/Brookside Park
* July 22                  Carlsbad, CA                                           Four Seasons Resort Aviara
August 5                  Sacramento, CA                                      Radisson Hotel Outdoor Grove
August 6                  Woodinville, WA                                       Chateau St. Michelle
* August 12              Newport Beach, CA                 Hyatt Newporter
* August 14              Temecula, CA                                          Thornton Winery
* August 27              Akron, OH                                               Lock 3 Live Amphitheatre
* Not a Jazz Attack concert date – only Richard Elliot with his band

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:17 PM

April 27, 2005

Gerald Albright Finds A Home

Gerald Albright has reached an agreement with a new label.

GeraldAlbright.jpgSmooth jazz saxophonist Gerald Albright has signed to Peak Records. Albright joins a roster that includes Peak co-founder Russ Freeman and his band the Rippingtons, Paul Taylor, David Benoit, Eric Marienthal, the Braxton Brothers and the most recent singing, guitarist Lee Ritenour.

Gerald’s most recent album, Kickin’ It Up, was released in June 2004 by GRP label and featured the No. 1 smooth jazz single called “To The Max.” Gerald’s first album for GRP, Groovology, was released in 2002. Before that, the saxophonist was signed to Atlantic Records.

Expect a new release from Albright early in 2006.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:28 AM

Rick Braun, Dave Koz and Gerald Albright on Jonathan Butler CD

Jonathan Butler's debut for Rendezvous Entertainment will be released on May 17. It is by far the guitarist's best smooth jazz work.

j_butler.jpgGuitarist and vocalist Jonathan Butler has called on trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonists Dave Koz and Gerald Albright for his upcoming album called, simply enough, Jonathan. The album is Butler’s first for the Rendezvous Entertainment label, which Koz co-founded, and also features Dave Dyson on bass, Greg Wachter on keyboards, Eric Valentine on drums and David Diggs with string arrangements.

"Thanks to Dave Koz for twisting my arm and talking me into it," Butler says.

The album marks a return to Butler’s smooth jazz roots, as there are nine instrumental songs and two vocal tracks, “Baby Love” and the first single, a cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” featuring blues guitarist Jonny Lang on electric guitar. Instrumental songs, which feature Jonathan’s acoustic guitar, include “Rio,” “10 Degrees South,” “Sweet Island Love” and “Sprit Of Our Nation.”


1. Rio (Jonathan Butler)
2. Mandela Bay (Jonathan Butler)
3. 10 Degrees South (Jonathan Butler)
4. Randy's Song (Jonathan Butler)
5. Fire and Rain (James V. Taylor)
6. Precious Things (Jonathan Butler)
7. Sweet Island Love (Jonathan Butler)
8. Baby Love (Jonathan Butler)
9. For a Friend (Jonathan Butler)
10. Spirit of Our Nation (Jonathan Butler-David Batteau)
11. Move Me (Jonathan Butler)

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:24 AM

April 26, 2005

Chris Standring Creating Music Label For "JazzTronica" Music

Chris Standring he's excited about his upcoming CD, which he plans to release on his own label.

ChrisStandring_bw.jpgSmooth jazz guitarist Chris Standring, who has released three solo albums with two record labels, has decided create his own label. Chris and his longtime musical partner Rodney Lee will focus on music that they’re calling "JazzTronica," which has elements of smooth jazz, traditional jazz and chill music.

Chris says he’ll eventually invite other artists to record on the label, drawing on the talents of producers in Europe. Standring, whose last album was called Groovalicious, is now in the middle of writing and recording the debut CD for the label, which at this point does not have a name. The CD is expected early in 2006.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:49 AM

April 23, 2005

Hiroshima’s Obon: Reflection and Celebration

An Interview with the founders of the band about their latest CD, to be released April 26, 2005, by Heads Up International
Beverly J. Packard

Hiroshima.jpgHiroshima’s contemporary jazz music is not simply music, but is also a significant contribution to the world. Significant because Hiroshima has a unique ability to lift us to spiritual places. To celebrate that which is worth celebrating and to encourage us to be wise about each other. Diversity is their middle name, and the varied cultural and religious influences that form the heritage of the band itself only enhances their credibility.

With a name like Hiroshima, none of us can be surprised that the music they make reaches deep within us and has so much to say. To come ‘up from the ashes’ is perhaps the longest journey to be made, and to associate one’s music with that concept would easily cause it to resonate with meaning. Their latest CD, to be released April 26th and entitled Obon, is no exception, with its deeply rooted meaning, timing, and style. It is offered as a tribute to the musicians, places and events that have inspired the band.

Obon continues the tradition of giving something back to the world, both in its commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, as well as in its tribute to the loss of relatives fighting as American war heroes in Europe. In addition, it marks the contemporary jazz band’s own 25th anniversary of their recording career. And it happens to celebrate the debut of their very first instrumental album in those 25 years. So this album is a blend of reverence and joy.

In an interview with Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto, founders of Hiroshima, they explain it best:

BJP: Congratulations on 25 years of Hiroshima’s recording career! Dan, you’ve mentioned that Obon represents a new beginning for Hiroshima. Would you tell us what is involved in this new beginning and the factors that led up to it?

Dan: Life is cyclical. This first 25-year cycle really represents several cycles within it. We have seen so many musical evolutions, and we have always tried to grow with each new change—yet stay true to our sound and our audience. We remember when we were first signed to a record deal, we kept hearing we’d never make it because we didn’t fit into any category. Now we hear that we sound too ‘distinctive and ethnic.’
June: So we are full circle—BUT we keep growing and discovering, and “Obon” reminds us to pay tribute to our ancestors as well as to celebrate.

BJP: This is the first instrumental album you’ve made. Can you tell us what went into that decision?

June: Yes, Obon is our first instrumental album. Like life itself, it was part situation, part inspiration. Our lead vocalist and good friend, Terry [Steele], had decided to go solo. These kinds of changes used to devastate me, but as I started growing up, I realized change can be made for the better, like the legacy of the city of Hiroshima—up from the ashes. It becomes a perfect situation for us to SIMPLIFY. In particular, we wanted to feature our keyboard player from Hawaii, Kimo Cornwell. Having played with so many top acts, including Frankie Beverly and Maze, Al Jarreau, and on and on, Kimo is phenomenal. WE have an exciting young taiko drummer, Shoji Kameda—and we decided it was time to make Dan take some time between writing and producing to play more sax and flute. Having less gives more breathing space . . .air . . .life. There is a beauty and new energy in that.

BJP: I am definitely enjoying the greater use of Kimo, especially his piano playing and of Dan on the saxophone and the flute! How did you arrive at the concept of Obon for this new CD? Would you share some of the highlights for you of this past year or two as this project evolved?

June: Dan actually came up with the concept of “OBON.’ Reflection and celebration. It represents so many things to us—25 years of recording, the 60th year anniversary of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II-- along with the 60-year anniversary of the passing of my Uncle Katsu, who died an American war hero fighting in Europe to rescue the ‘lost’ Texas battalion—while my father’s family was still incarcerated. And virtually every song has a story. An in-depth explanation of the songs can be found on our website, www.hiroshimamusic.com.

BJP: The word ‘obon’ is a fascinating one – it makes sense that in the reverence for those who have died we must allow ourselves also to celebrate their lives, their example, their legacy to us -- is there anything about the original meaning you want to further explain?

June: Our Japanese roots are so rich and we are always trying to learn about them. Obon is a buddhist observation. In our band we are baptist, catholic and buddhist—it’s all about the spirituality of life. We move forward in the steps of those who came before, to guide and inspire us.

BJP: The CD truly does have more of a ‘celebratory’ feel to it as compared to the more ‘reverent’ nature of much of your music I have enjoyed so much. How do you think fans will react to this change?

Dan: We like to think our fans really appreciate our commitment to what we do—and that we celebrate diversity and variety in our music, as we do in our lives. We often explain our music by using food as an example. And we do love food! No one wants to eat burgers for every meal. We like to think every record we make has its own journey. The departure to a more upbeat project is really like our earlier work.

BJP: That makes sense. I’m most familiar with your more recent music, since I discovered you last year just before you came to perform at the Berks Jazz Fest ……..Is there a message in creating the album around a concept of Obon at this time in history? For instance, partly in response to recent events/tragedies/loss of life in the world?

June: It goes back to the Tao—the yin and the yang. It is the timeless cycle of life. When we endure tragedy it makes us more grateful for what we have, and who we can share that with.
Dan: OBON is taking the time to observe all of these things, and to learn to be positive and always have compassion.

BJP: I see the tour begins on the East Coast on May 1st -- the day of the concert at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.) – is there any significance to beginning the tour in that location?

Dan: May is Asian-Pacific Heritage month in America. We are very proud to be part of this celebration. It is in itself our OBON!

BJP: I know from visiting your website that cooking is a favorite activity for you both (and perhaps others in the band, too!) Your recipes look very good and I just may try some of them! I noticed one of your songs, Swiss Ming, is inspired by Chef Ming Tsai on television. Can you tell us more about how he became part of this song?

June: Dan did the theme music for Ming’s emmy award–winning food network show, “East Meets West” and his other show, “Ming’s Quest.” Subsequently they became good friends, and Dan wrote the music for his current hit cooking show, “Simply Ming,” on PBS. The band played the music for all the shows, and last year had an extraordinary dinner at his restaurant near Boston, Blue Ginger. We often plan our tour around cities where we have favorite restaurants!

BJP: Diversity is a great word to describe the various people, events and places that have inspired you. Thinking over the last 25 years, can you describe the vision, or world view, that has been the heart of Hiroshima and that is expressed in your music?

Dan: I think ultimately that it’s about ‘valuing’ every human being. Thank God for all the things that make us different. Our whole sound is based on that notion, about creating a new mix from song to song and CD to CD. It makes everything filled with discovery and passion. That we will never compromise.

BJP: Please share with us the ancestors that have played a key role in inspiring who you are today, those whose lives you include in the celebration that is Obon.

June: For me, it would have to be my mother who passed on quite a while ago, but since OBON encompasses living as well, it would include my daughter Lani, my bandmates, my musical mates, family friends and our fans. I’m so grateful.
Dan: We are ‘sansei’ which means third generation. It doesn’t matter what your culture, its about respecting and enhancing your heritage—which is the title of the last track on “OBON” and I think it addresses the question far better than I can describe in words.

BJP: I couldn't agree more! What a great song that is! June, could you please tell us why the koto instrument has such a special appeal? It seems part piano, part harp, part violin, all wrapped up in one. There's a soothing or calming effect that seems to be associated with it. Does it seem to affect many people in that way?

June: The (o)koto (as in the first "o" given in Obon to give honor), is an ancient Japanese instrument that came/imported to Japan from China around 700 AD. It was strictly a court instrument until introduced to the public in the 17th Century. The koto is approximately 6 feet 3 inches long, about 10 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep. It has 13 strings with 13 moveable bridges. It is hollow and made of kiri (paulownia) wood. The kiri tree is only grown in Asia with heart-shaped leaves.
When I first heard the okoto (played by my teacher Kazue Kudo), I fell in love with the sound. I believe a lot has to do with the instrument was a connection to my homeland Japan; but I also believe that because it's made from wood, it's strongly connected to Mother Earth. There is something very special about trees -- their roots anchor this beautiful creation to Mother Earth and can hear what's going on around the world but at the same time the branches spread to the sky embracing spirituality. So with this combined with the koto being long and hollow, a sound of deep resonance and reverberation is the outcome that soothes the ears and sometimes heart and soul.

BJP: And I believe that is a good way to characterize the experience of listening to the music of Hiroshima -- it soothes the ears, the heart and the soul of so many of us. Thank you so much, Dan and June, for sharing your thoughts during this important time and most of all, thank you for your music. Every time I listen to Obon, I become more enthused about it. This album is another masterpiece of creativity and spiritual emphasis.

Hiroshima will perform at a free outdoor concert at the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. on May 1st, and will also perform May 2nd at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. Please visit www.hiroshimamusic.com, to see their complete touring schedule and to learn more about them.

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

Photo compliments of Heads Up International

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 8:40 PM

Obon: Review of the CD

Beverly J. Packard

Obon CD Cover.bmpObon (Heads Up International) features Dan Kuramoto as composer, producer, and on keyboard and woodwind instruments; June Kuramoto on the koto; Kimo Cornwell on piano and keyboard; Danny Yamamoto , drums and percussion; Dean Cortez on bass; and Shoji Kameda as Taiko drummer and percussionist.

Obon is Hiroshima's third Heads Up recording, and it continues to reflect their musical message of diversity. Says Dan Kuramoto, "Every Hiroshima record is an attempt to reflect the diversity of our society. That diversity is the heart and soul of our music."

Obon has the distinction of being the first instrumental album in the 25 year history of Hiroshima. There is greater use of the saxophone, flute and piano, to the listener's delight, and there is wonderful percussion and bass throughout the album. The band continues the use of a variety of traditional Asian instruments, including the ever-popular koto, a stringed instrument, the shakuhachi, a five-holded bamboo flute, and the powerful taiko (literal word for drum). Songs are well placed and each one has special significance.

The opening track, Swiss Ming, with its great piano work and instrumental effects, grabs your attention and heralds in the celebratory theme of the CD....

Swiss Ming's dynamic transitions have its serious tones, foreshadowing the reverent nature of the CD, as well. It is inspired by the classic Les McCann/Eddie Harris album Swiss Movement and Chef Ming Tsai, host of the cooking show Simply Ming on public television.

Halfway through is Obon two-five, standing for the 25 years of Hiroshima’s recording career. Taking advantage of Shoji Kameda’s booming taiko drum to send the official signal to celebrate, the song also quiets to a reverence and features June’s delicate koto playing --in the end it’s a compelling call to both celebration and reflection.

China Latina is a soft and steady, beautifully melodious blend of piano and koto. The saxophone becomes prominent later in the song, and it moves into a rather jazzy rhythm by the end of the song. It was written by Dan Kuramoto and bassist Dean Cortez for the group’s co-founder June Kuramoto – according to Dan, "a girl from Japan, raised in Los Angeles and trained as a classical kotoist, who made her dream of integrating music and cultures together a reaality." Paris, another sweet and soft melody, features the flute and is June’s lullaby to the City of Light.

Kototso-han is a more haunting song that draws you back to former times with traditional Asian instruments and features more great percussion.

Atomic Cafe features the bass, koto, saxophone, great percussion, effective key changes, and works up into a bit of a frenzy near the end. It recalls a ‘70s hangout in LA’s little Tokyo district.

One Thursday Morning is a great central song, in which the koto is prominently featured and draws you in; the koto has such a unique sound -- a little piano, a little harp, a little violin -- the perfect blend. This song reflects on the week gone by and the weekend coming up. No wonder it's a favorite!

Mr. Robben features almost a big band sound, drums and special instrumental effects; it includes a lot of saxophone and is very positive, commanding and celebratory. It is jazz keyboard sensation Kimo Cornwell’s tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Pharoah, dedicated to jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, really moves and features a lot of piano and saxophone.

The Lighthouse
begins with a very pretty piano sound, later changing to a more complex, jazzy sound with prominent bass guitar. This one is a tribute to the legendary jazz club in Hermosa Beach, California, which was a center for west coast jazz in the 1950s.

Heritage is the beautiful ending and exquisite blending of koto and piano and flute. It’s fitting to end on this note of poignant optimism, and it reminds us that yes, even in our reverence, we can celebrate the ones who have gone before us as well as celebrate all who surround us today.

Says Dan Kuramoto, “Obon is both tribute and celebration. It is a new beginning for us.”

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

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 8:37 PM

Hiroshima in Concert

Beverly J. Packard

The richness of the sounds of the all the instruments that make up Hiroshima, along with the awesome talent of band members is perhaps best appreciated in a live concert setting. I had the opportunity to see them perform at the Berks Jazz Fest last year, and the impressions of that concert have stayed with me...

JuneKuramotoBerks.jpgAs I got to know their music in the months before I saw them in concert, I was so moved by a few of their songs that I went to their website to tell them so, and I received a gracious note in return from June Kuramoto, who is one of the band’s founders along with Dan Kuramoto.

June explained to me the origin of the song that so haunted me from the time I heard it, entitled 'A Thousand Cranes.' What is moving to me are the children’s voices, so well placed in a seemingly poignant yet optimistic triumph over something difficult. So clear was the message that it prompted me to ask June about it. She explained the song captures the story of a young Japanese girl of 12 named Sedaka, caught in the bombing of her native land. By age 12, her family was confident she had escaped the effects of radiation, but, alas, she had not. Realizing that she had developed leukemia which could not be cured, she and her family set out to make a thousand paper cranes, a tradition in her country to bring healing and health. Her story so inspired June that when June’s own mother faced illness years later, June wrote the song and her own family began making their own thousand paper cranes.

Although I knew ‘A Thousand Cranes’ would not be played at this concert, I looked forward to simply being in the presence of this band and to the other songs I knew would be played that day. I expected the band to enter the stage area close to the start of the first song. Usually clapping breaks out at the sight of the artists, one of whom will continue the audience connection by chatting and welcoming the crowd in a boisterous and enthusiastic way. But this was not the way of Hiroshima.

Danny--HiroshimaBerks.jpgThey came onto the stage quite unobtrusively, appearing to carefully and meticulously make sure all was ready, seeming to use the time to prepare their own minds and hearts, oblivious even to the vast audience that had already gathered. One could have heard a pin drop. It seemed we all sat, awestruck, at the nearly worshipful atmosphere that was created before our eyes. There was a reflective, spiritual orientation to what they were doing. They communicated a special kind of reverence -- a great respect for, first, their own instruments and each other, then the music they played, then for their fans and by the end of the concert, it was obvious there is a respect and reverence for people everywhere.

This atmosphere continued throughout the evening as they went through songs that were favorites for many, such as Turning Point, Mix Plate, The Door is Open, Time on the Nile, Caravan of Love, The Quiet Storm, a tribute to Native Americans, and ending with an encore of One Wish, to everyone's delight! We learned a little bit about the taiko drum and also the koto that evening. It was quite a fascinating evening and the memory of how they looked and how they sounded is still with me, after these many months. But it can easily be explained: it's simply the effect a band like Hiroshima has on a fan who is listening not only with his ears, but with all of his heart and soul.


Happy Jazzin'

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

Photo credits:
Andrew Lepley
Michael C. Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 8:33 PM

April 22, 2005

Richard Elliot Calls On Top Stars For New CD

Saxophonist Richard Elliot's Metro Blue will be the first all-new CD for the Artisan label.

jazz-richard-elliot.jpgThe first album of all new material by one of smooth jazz’s newest record labels have some of its biggest stars represented. Artisan Records, which was co-founded last year by trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Richard Elliot, called on some heavy hitters for Elliot’s new album called Metro Blue.

Recruited for the project were Braun, guitarist Peter White and keyboardists Brian Culbertson, Jeff Lorber, Gregg Karukas and Rex Rideout. Also on the album are bassists Nate Philips and Ronnie Garrett, drummer Michael White, guitarist Dwight Sills and keyboardist Phil Davis.

The CD, co-produced by Elliot and Braun, features such titles as “Inside Out,” “Coastline,” “Chill Bill” and a cover of the classic “People Make the World Go Round.” The latter is the first song released to smooth jazz radio.

The CD is Richard’s follow-up to Ricochet, which was released in 2003 by the GRP label. Metro Blue will be released on June 28.

Metro Blue

1. Inside Out – 4:10
2. Camella – 4:06
3. Coastline - 4:34
4. People Make The World Go Round - 4:25
5. Say It’s So - 4:13
6. Chill Bill - 4:01
7. Mystique - 4:28
8. Mango Tango - 4:38
9. Maxis - 4:01
10. Metro Blue - 2:55

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:24 AM

Song of the Week: Steve Cole – “Spin”

SteveCole_Spin.jpgThe first single from saxophonist Steve Cole’s new CD is called “Thursday,” and it’s a catchy number. But the real pop gem on Spin is the title track. The jaunty track features Cole on tenor sax and guitar and has funky Hammond B-3 background jive by Ricky Peterson. This is a toe-tapper to end all toe-tappers, a head-shaking pop nugget that will have you smiling all day. Just try to get the melody out of your head.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:23 AM

April 20, 2005

Keb' Mo' To Serenade Mindi Abair at wedding

Mindi Abair has called on a good friend to sing her first song at her wedding reception on Saturday.

Saxophonist Mindi Abair is now sorting out last-minute details for her wedding on April 23, which will be held in her native Florida. Mindi will be tying the knot with studio musician and composer Jason Steele.

"We chose the 23rd because it’s a special date in my family," Abair says. "My birthday’s May 23, my parents got married on April 23 and my grandmother’s birthday was November 23. You know, lots of 23s."

The wedding will be very private, and good friend and blues musician Keb’ Mo’ will perform the first dance for the new couple at the reception. He’ll sing his song called “Every Morning.” Meanwhile, R&B legend Smokey Robinson popped into the studio during rehearsals for the Guitars & Saxes tour last week to wish Mindi good luck on her big day. Mindi was rehearsing Smokey’s “Crusin” with fellow Guitars & Saxes members Wayman Tisdale, Jeff Golub and Warren Hill. Wayman covers the song on his latest album.

"I’ll be a missus very soon," says Abair. She plans to use the name Mindi Abair-Steele in her personal life, but will continue with just Mindi Abair in her recording career.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:44 AM

Coca-Cola Ad Pokes Fun At Smooth Jazz

A new billboard campaign for an energy drink takes a poke at smooth jazz music.

Coke_ad.jpgHave you seen the new billboard for a beverage called Full Throttle Energy Drink? Well, here’s what the ad says: “Do not expose to smooth jazz. 16 ounces of raw energy.” As you can see, the Coca-Cola Company is making a little fun of smooth jazz’s perception – for some, anyway – as nice, quiet music that you can relax to. And for those of us who enjoy it that way, there is some truth to the perception.

But Coca-Cola may not want to place the billboards near any of the high-energy smooth jazz festivals now beginning to dot the landscape. That would include Guitars & Saxes, with saxophonists Warren Hill and Mindi Abair, guitarist Jeff Golub and bassist Wayman Tisdale, which began over the weekend in California. Not to mention Jazz Attack, with trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Richard Elliot, guitarist Peter White and guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Butler.

As anyone who has seen these shows will testify to, the last thing these energetic performers need is 16 more ounces of raw energy.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:37 AM

April 16, 2005

Basia Returns With Matt Bianco

Why did the singer Basia spend 10 years away from the recording studio?

basia3.jpgWhen considering the 2005 comeback of the smooth jazz singer known as Basia, it’s difficult not to consider the similar re-emergence of Anita Baker. Like Baker, Basia was extremely popular on the smooth jazz airwaves more than 10 years ago thanks to sophisticated, hummable tunes like “New Day for You” and “Cruising for Bruising.” Like Baker, also, Basia disappeared after 1994 to take a break from the rigors of recording and touring and to tend to family matters.

Basia is back now, touring more than 25 cities in the U.S. this month and in May. She’s also singing lead vocals on a new CD called Matt’s Mood. It’s not technically a solo Basia CD, as she’s reunited with a group called Matt Bianco, a band featuring Danny White and Mark Reilly with which she embarked on her musical career as a backing vocalist in the early 1980s.

More on Matt Bianco and Basia in a minute.

What everyone wants to know right now is the following: What specifically has been Basia been doing with herself over the past 10 years? Well, for one thing she’s been in a healthy and committed relationship. Once divorced, Basia and trumpeter Kevin Robinson have been a couple for 14 years. Robinson played on all of Basia’s solo albums and contributes to Matt’s Mood. Perhaps because she’s experienced divorce, Basia says she’s in no hurry to get married.

“Music is very important to us, and we have so much in common musically,” says Basia over the phone from her home in London. “He lives and breathes music and is involved in a lot of workshops where he shares his skills. Kevin is an amazing jazz musician.”

But while Basia says her relationship with Robinson brings her much happiness, she found herself under a cloud of inconsolable grief a few years ago when her mother, Kazia Trzetrzelewska, died. “I didn’t work for a long time after she died,” Basia says. She eventually tried to focus on a solo album with White, who was instrumental for much of her solo success. “Danny and I tried, but I just couldn’t put my heart into it. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t sing and was in such incredible grief.”

At age 45, Basia is quick to laugh, seems genuinely happy with her life and her new music and the upcoming U.S. tour. But she admits her mother’s passing crippled her artistically for a couple of years. Kazia was a sounding board, Basia says, so much so that she relied on her for what worked on her CDs and what didn’t. “I lost the most incredible force behind my music. She was such a fan. I realized that a lot of music I did for her.”

When Basia was ready to make music again, White and Reilly played her some tunes they’d been working on and asked her if she wanted to be part of it.

mattbianco_2005.jpgBasia’s comeback was officially on, and Matt’s Mood was released in the U.K. last year and on March 1 this year in the U.S. “Matt Bianco’s style is more refined now, and it’s great to be a part of it,” says Basia. “There’s always been elements of jazz, Latin and R&B, which I love.”

Most vocalists show their talents at any early age. That was certainly the case for Basia Trzetrzelewska, who was born in the Polish industrial town of Jaworzno. At the tender age of 15, she won a national talent competition and shortly after joined an all-girl band called Alibabki that toured Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for two years. She then joined a Top 40 cover band called Perfect after moving to Chicago to live in the Polish community and became inspired by musicians such as Prince, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

Basia moved to London in 1981, where she wrote commercial jingles for such companies as Kleenex and British Airways. Her musical break came when she teamed up with a keyboardist named Danny White, who had placed an ad in the music magazine Melody Maker for a vocalist to join his band called Bronze. (White just so happened to be the brother of a guitarist whose claim to fame at that point came as a session player on albums by folk-rock singer Al Stewart. That guitarist, as you might have guessed, is Peter White, now one of the biggest stars in smooth jazz.) Danny White and Basia soon joined the British band Matt Bianco, who were part of a sophisticated pop-jazz movement in the UK that also boasted Sade, Swing Out Sister, Everything But the Girl and Simply Red. The duo was instrumental in the success of Matt Bianco’s solo CD called Whose Side Are You On? in 1984, although Basia is modest about her input. “I was just a girl who came to help the record sound good as a backing vocalist,” she recalls.

The next year, Basia left the group to focus on a full-fledged solo career, taking musical partner White with her. “The reason I left is because the music I was writing didn’t seen to fit the band,” Basia says. “I get bored easily, and I wanted to try different things – I like to sing samba, but I also like to have a good scream.”

Matt Bianco continued as a popular group with Reilly and keyboardist Mark Fisher and, while never quite breaking through in the U.S., was extremely popular in the U.K. The band released eight acclaimed CDs over a period of 15 years.

Basia, of course, was able to cross over to success in the U.S. immediately with her debut CD in 1987, Time and Tide. Her sophisticated voice, made even more so by her slight accent, was heard on such hits as “New Day for You” and “Time and Tide.” The CD went to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart – and stayed there for two months – and her next release three years later, London, Warsaw, New York – also went to No. 1 That project featured such memorable songs as “Cruising for Bruising” and “Baby You’re Mine.”

Basia’s next album, 1994’s The Sweetest Illusion, didn’t have the same success as her first two works. It remains her last solo effort, although she did release a live CD in 1995 called Basia on Broadway.

It’s no wonder, then, that more than 10 years later Basia fans are excited by the release of Matt’s Mood, even though it’s technically not a Basia solo album. It was released in the U.K. as simply by Matt Bianco, but in the U.S. is billed as Matt Bianco Featuring Basia, which speaks of the singer’s enduring popularity here.

basia4.jpgMatt Bianco’s sophisticated jazz sound has always been its staple. The band’s name is actually based a character they made up due to the group member’s love of spy movies and theme music. By all accounts, Matt’s Mood – co-written and produced by all three members – has already found its audience. A huge hit in the U.K. and Japan, it has already spawned a couple of hit singles. In the U.S., the first single is called “Ordinary Day,” and it’s not hard to see why this particular song was picked to go to smooth jazz radio. It’s almost a time warp to Basia’s three solo records, with her pop-perfect voice surrounded by an infectious Brazilian-Latin shuffle rhythm.

Basia’s lead vocals are featured on the majority of the songs, but Reilly does get a chance to show his vocal skills as well, such as the charming ballad of regret, “Never Meant To,” and on the Manhattan Transfer-like bop of “Golden Days,” where Basia provides vocal backing. There’s even a funky instrumental chill music tune called “Matt’s Mood III,” which longtime fans will know is a continuation of sorts of the instrumental songs “Matt’s Mood” and “Matt’s Mood II” from the debut Matt Bianco CD.

Also featured on the CD is the late Ronnie Ross, a well-know saxophonist and session player in the U.K. who died at age 58 in 1991. Ross, who performed on the first three Matt Bianco projects, is perhaps best known for his sax solo in Lou Reed’s seminal “Walk on the Wild Side.” Danny White had retained several of Ross’ sax demos, which he used on three songs on Matt’s Mood: “Ronnie’s Samba,” “La Luna” and “Slip & Sliding.”

Will Basia ever record another solo CD? “In a perfect world,” Basia says, “I’d be happy to make another CD with Matt Bianco. At the same time, I’m writing songs that do not suit the band. In an ideal world, I’d make two records – one of my own and one with Matt Bianco.”

Most of the 10 guest musicians will be featured on the upcoming Matt Bianco Featuring Basia tour, with one notable exception – Peter White, who plays guitar and accordion on five tracks. White is, of course, involved in his own tour this year, the new Jazz Attack.

The Matt Bianco Featuring Basia tour was actually to begin earlier, but was postponed after the band have travel problems. “We’re sorry to the fans who missed our first four shows,” Basia says, referring to gigs scheduled for March. “It’s a sign of the times, and none of us had been through this recently. We’re really forward to bringing our music to our fans.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:15 AM

April 13, 2005

What We're Listening To

SteveCole_Spin.jpgJ O N A T H A N * W I D R A N

New and Noteworthy:

Steve Cole’s Spin

Jeff Golub’s Temptation

Keiko Matsui’s Walls of Akendora

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

Hiroshima, Obon, 2005
Another masterpiece of creativity and spiritual emphasis, the concept and the music complement each other well. Fans of Hiroshima won't be disappointed. I recently interviewed founders Dan and June Kuramoto, and they shared their insights into the development of this project. Stay tuned…

Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin’ On, 2005
Plenty of variety on this fantastic CD. The title track showcases Chieli's typically awesome talent on the guitar; fully half the CD consists of individually unique, upbeat, dancing tunes, any one of which could be chosen to climb radio and record charts; 'Love Is Always Young' is a melodious remake of one of father Ulpio Minucci’s stirring compositions, featuring Bob Bowen on bass; 'Still Waiting' is a great update of a favorite Philip Hamilton vocal, and 'Destiny' is an elusive track which will draw you in when you least expect it. Watch for a few gems in the form of hidden tracks, dueling on bass guitars with Jerry Brooks and Gerald Veasley, golden vocals by Steve Oliver, great saxophone input by Jeff Kashiwa, David Mann, and Kim Waters, and a fun collaboration between Chieli and Marion Meadows. Also features Jay Rowe on keyboards, Lionel Cordew on drums, Philip Hamilton on percussion. This one is hard to take out of your CD player!

Tom Grant, Reprise, 2001
Continuing my journey to discover more of Tom Grant’s music, this one has a lot of favorites from the 80s and 90s, which are now becoming favorites of mine, too! New ones I’m captivated by are 'Alpha Centauri' and 'Witchi Tai-to' with its lead-in of 'Lakota Ghost.' ‘Change’ and ‘Restless’ are two more that showcase Tom’s talent for composition and playing. Includes familiar favorites 'Angel’s Crossing,' 'Bernie’s Groove', and 'Heidi’s Song.' Timeless in its appeal, Tom Grant's music is always captivating.

Acoustic Alchemy, American English 2005
Another in a long line of successive, successful CDs, this one easily connects with their fan base and will likely draw in new fans. If you haven’t yet begun your collection of the music of ‘the Lads,’ don’t wait any longer! This is a group you will not tire of – I predict many of their CDs will become your favorites.

Matt Bianco, Matt’s Mood, 2005
After ten years, it’s quite a satisfying experience to hear new music featuring Basia’s beautiful voice, with her wonderful pitch and extensive range and also to get to know her as part of the trio that is Matt Bianco. Watch for an article – and interview – after I see her in concert April 16th in Philadelphia.

P E T E R * B O E H I

Jeff Lorber - Flipside, 2005
Boasting an all-star lineup Jeff Lorber delivers a first-rate smooth jazz album with lots of groovy tracks and great keyboard playing.

3rd Force - Driving Force, 2005
This album smokes! A great CD brimming with catchy compositions and soulful playing. Outstanding!

James Gabriano - Riviera Sunrise, 2004
Independent release available at CDBaby.com by acoustic guitar player James Gabriano with an all-star cast and some bright and easy on the ear playing with the right groove.

Amedeo Bianchi - Coming Home, 2003
Superlative smooth jazz album by this Italian sax player who I learned about only recently. Well produced, well played, great compositions, heartfelt playing, groovy songs which put a smile on your face. Don't miss out on this one!

Hiroshima - Obon, 2005
Latest release by this classic outfit which is definitely a winner. Memorable compositions and their unique eastern flair make this another unmissable CD for any smooth jazz lover.

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

Alex Cortiz, Mesmerizing: Amazing chill music from the Netherlands producer that forgoes vocals and instead pumps up the downtempo jam, if that makes sense.

Acoustic Alchemy, American/English: The veteran band simply is at the top of its game once again. Early fans of the group will appreciate the many pretty guitar melodies.

Steve Cole, Spin: A great new album from the Chicago-based saxophonist. The “spin” in this case refers to the CD’s acoustical nature. Stick around for the hidden track.

Matt Bianco Featuring Basia, Matt’s Mood: This is one that refuses to leave my CD player. In addition to the single “Ordinary Day,” the cocktail sensibilities and Brazilian rhythms make this a cool trip, baby.

Eastern Sun, In Emptiness: Brian Saitzyk and John Kelley give downtempo beats a new age sensibility in this masterpiece. “Rapture At Sea” is possibly the song of the year.

D E N I S * P O O L E

quintingerardw.jpg‘Smooth Jazz Flavor’ by Quentin Gerard W from his debut CD Fnkysax

‘My Time’ by Mike DiLorenzo from his CD Urbanized.

‘You Don't Know My Name’ by Pamela Williams from her CD Sweet Saxations.

‘Rainforest’ by Paul Hardcastle, one of his earliest and greatest tracks from the CD Paul Hardcastle 1983-2003

‘Across 110th Street’ by Bobby Womack from (as well as as other places) the soundtrack from that incredible movie Jackie Brown

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 4:32 AM

April 12, 2005

Song of the Week: Jonathan Butler – “Fire and Rain”

j_butler.jpgWhether singing the songs of Bob Marley or here with smooth jazz icon James Taylor, guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Butler has no problem making someone else’s song his own. Butler’s vocals can be both tender and masculine at the same time, the slight break in his voice adding even more poignancy. Of course, Butler’s gospel tendencies (his most recent album is praiseworthy) come through with the backgroung choir and a special emphasis on the classic line “look down upon me Jesus.”

Taylor’s classic is born again.

The song is the first single from Buter's upcoming CD called Jonathan. It's due May 17 via Rendezvous Music.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 2:29 PM

April 11, 2005

April Smooth Jazz Is Not Foolin' Around!

Top pop saxman Michael Lington kicked off the month this last Thursday, April 7th, in style at the Henderson Pavillion in Henderson, Nevada, a neighboring city in the Las Vegas area. This Thursday even is held each month and will feature keyboardist Freddie Ravel and guitarist Richard Smith in May.

Rising high on his smooth trumpet sounds was Chris Botti at the Suncoast Showroom at the Suncoast Hotel this last weekend, April 8th and 9th.

The biggest event this month will be the one we have mentioned periodically earlier this year. The 12 Annual Jazz & Rhythm & Blues Festival Friday, April 22nd and Saturday April 23rd at the Hills Park in Summerlin in Las Vegas, presented by the founder, Michael Schivo. Smooth jazz' biggest names performing day and night are George Duke,Kim Waters, Ronny Jordan, Down To The Bone, Paul Taylor, and Paul Jackson Jr. The Friday R & B portion will feature United We Funk, Lakeside, The Dazz Band, The SOS Band, and Confunkshun.

Posted by Danny Desart at 7:25 PM

April 8, 2005

Contempo April 2005

MindiAbair_sax.jpgForget family, friends, fans and significant others — Mindi Abair’s closest, most enduring companion throughout her meteoric rise in smooth jazzdom is none other than her treasured Selmer Mark VI, the vintage alto she’s played exclusively since she was 13.

The saxophonist, whose second release Come As You Are is perched in the Top Ten on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart as its title single is all the rage at radio, remembers the way her father Lance — who played B-3 and sax touring with numerous R&B bands when she was growing up — tricked her into getting the horn that became her best friend.

When Abair’s school-issued sax had to go in the shop, she took the liberty of bringing dad’s instrument to school on the sly, and fell in love with its robust tone (“which filled up a room with its warmth”) and easier fingering. She continued sneaking it even after her own was fixed, till one day Lance caught on and forbade her to do it again. Then he had a great idea.

Over tacos at Lucy’s El Adobe in Hollywood, the namesake of her breakthrough 2003 single “Lucy’s,” which was #1 on Radio & Records’ airplay chart for a record breaking nine weeks (and declared by the publication as the “top played cut of the year”), Abair — who grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida — tells the sweet coming of age tale: “My mom, dad and I were visiting D.C. and walked by this store called Washington Music. It was like sax heaven in there, and dad and I started testing all sorts of models. He said he wanted to buy a new one for himself so I could have the one I kept stealing. He led me to the Selmer and told me to try it first. I liked it even more than his! He said, keep playing, it’s yours. My mom and I had tears in my eyes. It was like a Christmas movie. He tricked me, but he got his sax back and I’ve been playing the one he bought me ever since.”

Abair’s fans have gotten to know Lance pretty well this past year, as daughter has invited father to join her onstage for rousing versions of “Mercy Mercy Mercy” at the City of Lights Festival in Las Vegas, back home at the Come As You Are release party at Hollywood’s Garden of Eden, and over four nights at Jazz Alley in Seattle, where Lance and her mom currently make their home. The goosebump factor was undeniable each time.

“The first show in Vegas, my band was skeptical but in no time, they realized how good dad was and how, even unrehearsed, we played perfectly in synch, as if it were instinctive and somehow genetically ordained,” Abair says. “I remember watching my dad rock out when I was a kid, and it brought back great memories. He was signing autographs and everything.”

That sort of family spirit provides the underlying creative energy of Come As You Are, which — like her debut It Just Happens That Way — is produced by Abair’s longtime friend from her Berklee College days, Matthew Hager. Amidst the always spirited, just edgy and funky enough pop-jazz fare and three instantly likeable vocals are two decidedly straight ahead pieces which find the saxtress exploring deeper emotional, “real jazz” territory than ever before. “New Shoes,” a sly and soulful piece driven by the upright bass of Stan Sargeant and a piano harmony line by Russell Ferrante, features Lance on tenor and horn arrangements by Abair’s old college roommate Karen Guthery. Ferrante and Abair wrote the more honking, swinging Cannonball-esque affair “26 Hemenway,” which is included as a lengthy hidden track.

“My first album captured the quirkier aspects of my personality, and was all about exploring my pop sensibilities and having a good time,” she says. “A lot of it was fun ‘ear candy’ which made me smile. I felt like I wanted to go deeper on Come As You Are, to push myself into some new areas and show different aspects of who I am. I felt like it was time to open up more and explore what’s inside and some of my other influences. The vocal ‘I Can Remember’ was an emotional response to several good friends who passed away recently. ‘New Shoes’ expresses Matthew’s and my love for the Pink Panther and Henry Mancini’s theme. People forget I used to play a lot of gigs with jazz trios and quartets. Every song on here reflects some aspect of who I am. Album cuts like these explore more of an artist’s real soul.”

Lunch at Lucy’s is scheduled two days after a Tsunami Relief fundraising concert at Knott’s Berry Farm, sponsored by 94.7 The Wave Los Angeles and featuring a lineup of Dave Koz, Wayman Tisdale, Michael Lington, Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun, Peter White, David Benoit and Michael McDonald. Abair’s participation in this event prompts a heartfelt discussion about the spiritual and emotional role of musicians on a planet full of suffering: “Music’s not only something that can bring people together to raise money for crucial purposes, but it can also help people in ways that are less tangible. Music has the power to heal and make you feel, whether it brings out joy or a healthier way to grieve. My job is to get people in touch with their emotions, and touch them either by providing an escape or tapping into something deeper. You always wonder if what you do matters. But then people come up to me and tell me how my music played a role in their life, as a soundtrack for a wedding or even a funeral, and the answer is clear. What can I do to help? Do the thing I do best. Make music.”

After Pat Metheny’s vitriolic commentary on Kenny G’s 1999 Unforgettable-like “duet” with Louis Armstrong, the megaselling saxman probably figured that tandems with some popular living artists were a better way to go. At Last…The Duets album is yet another huge hit for the saxman, and might actually earn him a bit of credibility beyond the AC pop world since he’s working with no less than Arturo Sandoval on a beautiful rendition of the title track, and best of all, trading fours on his little heard alto with David Sanborn on “Pick Up The Pieces.” Old and new school soul never had it so good on Earth, Wind & Fire’s rendition of Outkast’s “The Way You Move.” Well-rendered cuts like these will probably appeal to folks inclined to dismiss the G-man. Generally, though, the project plays it safe but appealing as it teams him with numerous familiar vocal legends (Daryl Hall, Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan) and instrumentalists (Burt Bachrach, David Benoit) on adult standards both ancient and very recent.

The best sax album of early 2005 is, by a long mile, Paul Taylor’s Nightlife. Taylor’s been unstoppable this past year, with the title track from his 2003 disc Steppin’ Out becoming Radio & Records’ third biggest genre airplay cut of 2004 as he was on tour with the all-star Groovin’ For Grover gang. He also performed and made his acting debut on the soap One Life To Live. Nightlife, his fourth release on Peak Records, finds him playing slightly more alto than soprano, a nice change of pace. The collection also mixes retro soul with hip-hop, includes sizzling live horn textures, touches of Latin and reggae, a vocal by Maxi Priest and the production expertise of Rex Rideout, Barry J. Eastmond and ambient trip-hop master Dino Esposito.


1) Pamela Williams, Sweet Saxations (Shanachie) – The soulful saxtress has been a smooth jazz favorite for years, but has never overwhelmed with the kind of in your face melodies, horn textures, retro-ambience and emotional pull she brings to this very inviting date.
2) Aj, Joy Ride (Integy Records)
3) Lisa Lauren, It Is What It Is (Planet Jazz)
4) Shapes, The Big Picture (Burnin’ Down The House)
5) Kazu Matsui, The Stone Monkey (Narada)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 7:16 PM

April 7, 2005

Quintin Gerard W - Fonky Or Not?

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. This time we look at a new and exciting CD release that promises to make saxophonist Quintin Gerard W one of the sensations of 2005.

Fnkysax is, for Gerard, more than an album. It is a new expression of music terminology, an abbreviation of ‘fonkysax’ that carries with it his trademarked tag line of ‘So you like a little fonk with your Jazz uh? He also provides his own pseudo dictionary definition of the word ‘Fnkysax’ as “the method of playing saxophone characterized by incorporating elements of Funk, R & B, Gospel, Blues and Jazz supported by the underlying foundation of the urban culture and experience.” It’s a catchy marketing trick but it’s backed up by the substance of his music, an urban slant that Boney James would be proud of and a sensuality that makes more than a nod in the direction of Kenny G. The result is a powerful combination that instantly grabs the listener.

QuintinGerard_bw.jpgQuintin Gerard W grew up in Norco, Louisiana and attended Destrehan High School. His early days with the District VI Honor Jazz and Concert Bands of New Orleans found him performing with, now local legend, Harry Connick Jr. When he was awarded a scholarship in music at Loyola University in New Orleans it offered the opportunity to study under noted jazz master Ellis Marsalis. It was when Quinton relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1989 that he began to meet and play with many of the top names in Smooth Jazz.

He has performed live with the likes of Jeff Lorber (on the Worth Waiting For tour), Kenny Garrett, Najee, Dave Koz, Ron Brown, and Hollis Gentry III. Quintin Gerard W.'s other saxophone friends include Jay Beckenstein from Spyro Gyra, Jeff Kashiwa of The Rippingtons and Kirk Whalum. Also, as a member of the San Diego based fusion jazz group Under The Lake, he has opened for Joe Sample at the Maui Cultural and Performing Arts Center in Hawaii, and Stanley Jordan at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, California.

Quintin’s recording credits include work with Charlie Wilson, the late Rick James and a long list of major commercial recording sessions. These include the opening theme for B.E.T.'s Comic View plus MCI, Levi Strauss, Estee Lauder, and Sears Kenmore television commercials.

quintingerardw.jpgNow, with his debut CD, Quentin has taken all of those experiences and influences and added to them his own undeniable talents as writer performer and producer. The result is sensational. Right from the first track the album is up and running with ‘Smooth Jazz Flavor’, a sweet smooth urban tune with great sax playing and a compelling catchy vocal hook. It is already lined up for radio exposure and the radio edit is included as a bonus track. With a title like ‘Fnkysax’, fonky sax, the listener is expecting a fair measure of funk and it is first found on the title track that delivers just what its name promises with subliminal urban vocals and stand out playing from Gerard. ‘Opportunity’ offers a cool rap introduction over a terrific underlying beat, excellent sax playing and haunting background vocals. It’s a track that, as they say, has got the lot and when Gerard reprises it in radio edit format its different but just as good.

‘The Weekend’s Here’, with its very effective use of backing vocals, keeps the funky urban vibe going but, despite Quintin Gerard W’s obvious flair for the urban groove, he is perhaps at his best with smooth sensuous tunes like ‘Elnora’, the sexy late night smooth jazz tune ‘Now and Forever’ and ‘Days We Remembered’ with its delightful interplay between sax and keyboards that just longs to be part of a movie score.

Fnkysax is an album crammed full of stand outs. On ‘Hipnotized’ Gerard manages to generate a real Euge Groove feel while ‘Flute Fnk’ is just that, a breezy funky flute number played over a beat that simply rolls along. It’s inconceivable that a collection of the quality of Fnkysax will not make Quintin Gerard W an overnight smooth jazz sensation.

Check out more on Quintin via his website at www.quintingerardw.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:43 PM

Secret Garden Snippet - Gwen Laster

GwenLaster_bw.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time more about jazz violinist Gwen Laster.

Her current CD, I Hear You Smiling was featured in these pages in October 2004. At the time it was commented that “right from the first track, ‘Rasputins Running’, the hypnotic grove is established and it just keeps on going. The music draws you in and takes you to another world. It’s compelling, fresh and totally original. A real stand out track is the soulful ‘Send Love To The Equation’ with vocals by Bitte Strauchn and haunting violin from Laster.”

Well, her fans in the New York area can catch Gwen in concert at 8-00 PM on Saturday, April 9, 2005, at The Howland Center, 477 Main St. Beacon, New York where she will be accompanied by Joe Scott on piano, Tony Lewis on drums and Damon Banks on bass. Call 845 831 4988 for reservations.

Also she can be heard on Thursday, April 7 at 1:00pm on WHVM 950 AM where John Nelson, editor of Pulse Magazine, will be interviewing Gwen to promote the concert and playing tracks from I Hear You Smiling.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:26 AM

April 3, 2005

Bona Fide Finishes Long-Awaited Third CD

Marc Antoine and Chuck Loeb make guest appearances on Soul Lounge.

slimman.jpgThe smooth jazz group Bona Fide, which will release its third album, Soul Lounge, on the A440 Music label, called on superstars Marc Antoine and Chuck Loeb for its new project. Antoine and Loeb both play guitar on a song called “Midnight Train” and Antoine also performs on the song “23rd Of May.”

The album is the follow-up to The Poe House in 2001 and Royal Function in 1999, which produced the No. 1 smooth jazz hit “X Ray Hip.” The instrumental group Bona Fide is led by Tim Camponeschi, who also records vocal albums under the name Slim Man.

The all-original, 11-song album features the songs “Funk Box,” “The Journey,” “B. More Knights” and “Bona Fide Club,” among others, and once again has many references to the band's hometown of Baltimore.

The CD is expected to be released this summer. Meanwhile, Camponeschi and Bona Fide are firming up touring dates to support the album, and will perform April 16 and April 17 in Washington, D.C.

Soul Lounge

1. Midnight Train (Tim Camponeschi) - 3:29
2. Bona Fide Club (Tim Camponeschi) - 3:34
3. Girard’s (Tim Camponeschi) - 5:32
4. 23rd of May (Tim Camponeschi) - 3:58
5. Funk Box (Kevin Levi) - 4:08
6. The Journey (Tim Camponeschi) - 4:13
7. B. More Knights (Joe Ercole) - 2:55
8. Rosebank Gang (Tim Camponeschi) - 3:23
9. Bromo Tower (Tim Camponeschi) - 3:04
10. Soul Lounge (Tim Camponeschi) - 6:35
11. Deep Chill (Tim Camponeschi) - 13:02

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:36 AM

April 1, 2005

Song of the Week: Dave Koz – “Let It Free”

It seems that every Dave Koz CD has that magical song with the killer hook. I never thought he’d top “Together Again” from The Dance in 1999, but the saxophonist comes close with “Let It Free,” the No. 1 song on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz charts for two weeks now.

Interestingly, the song – written by Dave and his brother, Jeff Koz – was named by a second-grade girl at her school's career day. The Koz brothers played the as-yet untitled song and asked the class for suggestions. “A young lady raised her hand,” Dave recalls, “and she said, I think you should call it ‘Let It Free.’ My brother and I look at each other and we go, hmm. That’s actually good!”

"Let It Free" is the third No. 1 song from the CD Saxophonic, following "Honey-Dipped" and "All I See Is You."

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:45 PM