June 30, 2005

“People” make Richard Elliot’s world go round

Single Top 5 as the R&B saxophonist’s new "Metro Blue" album hits record stores; album Top 10 at iTunes

The reign of King Richard continues.  Already ruling radio with a hot Top 5 single, “People Make The World Go Round,” R&B saxophonist Richard Elliot is prepared to conquer the album charts with yesterday’s launch of Metro Blue, his fourteenth solo disc.  Made available on iTunes two weeks in advance of the album’s street date, download sales have already placed the CD in the Top 10 on the Jazz Albums chart.  The record holds the distinction of being the debut release from the ARTizen Music Group record label, which Elliot is a partner of.  The single was made available for a limited time as a free download on a number of online portals resulting in the track’s Top 10 position on Billboards Online Download chart.  For those who purchase the album, the CD contains a link to download a free bonus track, “Mystery,” which isn’t available elsewhere.

Elliot produced Metro Blue with Rick Braun and the two collaborated on nine new songs for the collection.  Joining them in the studio were Jeff Lorber, Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Dwight Sills, Gregg Karukas, Lenny Castro, Rex Rideout, Ronnie Garrett, Nate Philips and Phil Davis.

The moody album reveals a different persona than on previous Elliot recordings.  The best new school and old school stylings meet in distinctly modern urban settings with retro horn sections and vintage keyboards flourishes.  Throughout his career, Elliot has been known for delivering knockout covers of R&B classics.  For years, he’s wanted to redo The Stylistics’ haunting “People Make The World Go Round.”  “I’ve always loved this song.  It doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio.  I’m glad that I waited to do the song with Rick (Braun).  He added a hypnotic chill rhythm underneath a more traditional arrangement.  It came out sounding really different,” said Elliot.        

While his impressive collection of #1 albums and radio singles has made him an icon in the contemporary jazz radio and recording worlds, another component to Elliot’s enduring and expanding popularity is his reputation as a dynamic concert performer.  To support the release of Metro Blue, Elliot has teamed with Braun, White and Jonathan Butler for the stellar Jazz Attack U.S. concert tour, which began in May with dates that run throughout the summer. 

Having already demonstrated his business acumen a decade ago by co-founding a cutting-edge Internet multimedia company, Elliot is now partnered with Braun, their long-time manager Steve Chapman, and industry veteran Al Evers to create the ARTizen Music Group.  The missions of the label are to explore unique and innovative ways to market music to the smooth jazz lifestyle and to embrace and exploit the Internet and the digital delivery of music.  Although the initial releases will be new product from Elliot and Braun, who is in the midst of recording his first set for the label, 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.  Visit the label online at www.ARTizenmusic.com.

Although he’s been a seminal voice on the instrumental music scene for almost two decades and his music helped spawn the evolution of a new radio format, Elliot is excited about the now.  “This (Metro Blue) is a very important record for me.  There’s a lot of newness, both in the music creatively and on the business side of things with our new label venture.”

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:47 AM

Euge Groove Goes Retro With A Real Album

The saxophonist releases details on his new project.

Saxophonist Euge Groove has just finished work on his fourth solo album, his second for the Narada label and follow-up to 2003’s Livin’ Large. On the new album, Just Feels Right, Groove decided to look back to the past and make an album with a beginning and an end - he wrote the first song first and continued to the end to make the album a cohesive whole.

"We decided that we were gonna try and do like a real retro ‘70s type of an album," says Paul Brown, who produced the CD. "We got some great old musicians, and it’s a very live-oriented type of record. Euge has definitely got that screaming tenor. He’s got that barrelhouse thing going on. I think it’s cool. Everybody loves Euge, you know?"

Although there is a cover of “Just My Imagination,” the album features other original material with titles such as “Get Em Goin’,” “Straight Up,” “This Must Be For Real” and “Ballerina Girl.” There are eight full songs and three interludes, called “gimmealilclick,” “gonnatakeyouhigher” and “cantstopthefunk.”

Musicians include Clarence McDonald keyboards, Freddie Washington on bass, Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, David T. Walker on guitar, Lenny Castro on percussion and James Gatson on drums.

Just Feels Right will be released on Aug. 30.

Just Feels Right

1. gimmealilclick
2. Get Em Goin
3. Chillaxin
4. Just My Imagination (Runnin Away With Me)
5. gonnatakeuhigher
6. Straight Up
7. This Must Be For Real
8. Just Feels Right
9. cantstopdafunk
10. 12:08 AM
11. Ballerina Girl

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:21 AM

June 29, 2005

The Theo Ross Interview

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It’s one of the curiosities of smooth jazz that so few artists make use of that most sensuous and smooth of instruments, the flute. With the notable exceptions of Dave Valentin, Alexander Zonjic and, to an extent, Nelson Rangell the sound of the flute remains a relative rarity in the genre.

theo_ross.jpgSomeone trying to change all that is UK based flautist and voice artist Theo Ross who’s new release Cut The Chord is available now. However, it is not only with his choice of instrument that Ross is setting out to be different. By producing four outstanding tracks on what is essentially the equivalent of a 1960’s ‘EP’ he is making a statement that quality is always more important than quantity. Recently I got together with Theo Ross to talk about the man and his music and we began by discussing why he had gone with the EP concept. ‘Originally’, he said, ‘I was going to add a cover version to the CD but’, he added, ‘I reserved that idea for the next album. This time around I felt it was important for me to provide a “snapshot” of who I am through my own compositions’.

Ross grew up listening to such diverse talents as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Mark Murphy, Dave Valentine, Hubert & Ronnie Laws, Weather Report, Santana and the majority of the output of the time from the Stax and Motown stables.

He has crammed these influences and more into Cut The Chord, a succinct showcase for Ross’s talents with four very different but always excellent tunes. When I asked him about the writing and recording process he explained that ‘all of the tracks are based on slightly unconventional chord progressions that are simple and direct. The melodic lines are all derived from the harmony, and the lyrics were added once the harmonic structure was set. Much of the sound colour was developed prior to recording. Then the vibe, tempo and texture was integrated during the production stage, which added vitality and an objective dimension to the concepts’.

What he means becomes immediately obvious at the first listening. ‘Lovestruck’ is breezy and warm with a lush mid tempo beat that flows along to provide a platform for his skilful playing and a vibe that threatens to make this one seriously catchy.

Following on from ‘Lovestruck’, ‘Nightfalls’ comes as quite a surprise. Ross regales the listener with his cool yet fulsome vocals on a tune with a simple but memorable chord structure that makes it reminiscent of a romantic interlude from a Broadway musical. Theo then gets funky with ‘Without You’, a track that contains an infectious hook that he replicates with more of his mellow vocals and intricate flute playing woven around the compelling beat. It’s a number that is sure to play well in a concert setting and it is live performing that really excites Ross. ‘Performing live really captures the spontaneous moment’ he commented. ‘It allows me to convey the expression and emotion of an idea; and hopefully connect with fellow performers and the audience’. Ross has played at some of the leading contemporary jazz venues in the UK and cites the Pizza Express in Dean Street, The 606 Club, The Albert Inn and the Lichfield Jazz Festival all as places where the music connection moved into another dimension and became magical.

The final track of Cut The Chord, ‘Could Be’ is laid back, atmospheric and dreamy with Ross’s melodic playing again to the fore and a guitar solo by Tim Cansfield that is a real bonus. Its perfect chill out music for the end of a hard day.

Being an artist in a genre that he defines as ‘Electro/Acoustic Smooth or New Jazz’ he is only too aware of the limitations of performing solely within the UK market. The way he sees it the few UK radio stations that are dedicated to Smooth Jazz are doing a great service to the listening audience and have helped launch the careers of some excellent artists. However, the opportunities for live performances are few, and when he sees artists such as Peter White and Acoustic Alchemy playing and recording in the USA he comes to the realization that to succeed it is beneficial to be positioned where the core audience is. That’s why, when he looks forward two years, he would hope to be established in the USA, signed to a major smooth jazz label and reaching as wide an audience as possible both through his CD sales and his live performances. A breakthrough into writing for film and the use of voice as another area of exploration are both facets of his ambition that he is looking to cultivate.

With Cut The Chord Theo Ross has the way forward. With its essence of simplicity and variety it demonstrates in only a few tracks a taste of the quality that we can look forward to on albums to come.

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 8:09 PM

June 28, 2005

Take an eclectic adventure with Praful to the Pyramid In Your Backyard this summer

Otherworldly electronic, ethnic and jazz riffs piloted by the saxophonist “Moon Glide” across radio waves and from coast to coast on a U.S. concert trek

Multi-instrumentalist Praful is back with his sophomore album, Pyramid In Your Backyard, and it is a mind-blowing collage of electronic club, world music and jazz.  Recently released by Rendezvous Entertainment in association with N-Coded Music and Therapy Recordings, the record was produced, recorded, arranged and mixed by Roberto Adani, Daniel Wolf and Praful, who also composed the seventy-plus minute mix of a dozen new trance, dance, world music and chill jazz grooves.  The first track serviced to radio was “Moon Glide,” a song unlike any other heard on commercial radio.  It features Praful’s gravity-free saxophone hovering gracefully over modern tango rhythms and spiced with haunting chords from a Wurlitzer piano.

The music on Pyramid In Your Backyard is as genre defying as Praful himself, who perilously juggles hyperkinetic drum & bass dance vibes, funky electronic trip-hop beats, cool jazz nuances, spacey rock riffs, and poetically poignant  melodies wrapped in luxurious veils of sacred Sufi chants, primal African percussion, sensual Brazilian overtones, passionate Latin accents, and bliss-inducing, ambient meditations.  While playing a myriad of instruments, including saxes, flutes, harmonium, guitar, tanpura, keys, piano and even voice (“Naked”), Praful’s unique vision and artistry remain the focal point.

Pyramid In Your Backyard was recorded at Adani & Wolf’s Studio De Boot, a boat floating peacefully in an Amsterdam canal, the city Praful currently calls home.  This proved to be an idyllic setting since it secluded the musicians, allowing them to channel their varied influences from a place deep within.  Amongst the international passengers at the sessions at sea were Sandhya Sanjana (vocals), Katia Moras (vocals), Sudha (vocals), Afra Mussawisade (percussion), Rene Dissel (electric and acoustic basses), Martin Denev (keyboards), Serigne M. Gueye (bugarabu, djembe), Rasiko (guitar), David Rothschild (trombone), and Sushi (barking).  Yes, barking.  

About the album title, Praful, the German-born citizen of the world said, “I found the title to be fitting because backyards are casual places often cluttered with people’s belongings, while the pyramid stands for something deeper and spiritual.  It is a symbol for a place inside us all, but we don't always connect to it.  That’s just like my music.  It’s casual and you can just hang out and have fun, but there is a deeper meaning to the music if you tune into it.”

Debuting with the autumn 2003 album release, One Day Deep, Praful found himself in the Top 10 on three Billboard charts: Electronic, Hot Club and Contemporary Jazz.  Although he admits he never even heard the term “smooth jazz” in Europe, the lead single from the CD, “Sigh,” took Praful to #1 on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz airplay chart and went Top 10 on the college radio electronic chart.  The song helped spur the formation of the new “chill” radio format, now spinning off from smooth jazz radio.  However you describe it, Praful’s sound is audacious and inventive.

To support Pyramid In Your Backyard, Praful will spend the summer on a major U.S. concert tour with sax star Dave Koz, guitarist Marc Antoine, and R&B vocalist Jeffrey Osborne.  Koz is co-founder of Rendezvous Entertainment, which releases Praful’s records in the U.S.

Praful’s Pyramid In Your Backyard contains the following songs:

“Moon Glide”                                                           “Naked”
“Says Kabir”                                                            “Azul”
“Acredite”                                                                 “Drop To The Ocean”
“April Seven”                                                          “Wishful Walk”
“Eternity”                                                                  “Ponto De Partida”
“Hand-Cart Puller”                                                   “We Live On”

Catch Praful performing with Dave Koz, Marc Antoine and Jeffrey Osborne on the following dates (solo club dates may be added):

July 7                       Fresno, CA                              Saroyan Theatre
July 8                       Sacramento, CA                      Radisson Hotel Grove Amphitheatre
July 9 & 10              Temecula, CA                          Thornton Winery
July 13                     Atlanta, GA                               Chastain Park Amphitheatre
July 14                     Louisville, KY                           Palace Theatre
July 15 & 16            Chicago, IL                              Navy Pier Skyline Stage
July 17                     Detroit, MI                                Jerome Duncan Fox Theatre                
July 20                     Cleveland, OH                         State Theatre
July 21                     Kettering, OH                           Fraze Pavilion for the Performing Arts
July 22                     St. Louis, MO                           The Roberts Orpheum Theatre
July 23                     Apple Valley, MN                     Music In The Zoo
July 29                     Henderson, NV                       Sunset Station Amphitheatre
July 30                     Oakville, CA                             Robert Mondavis Summer Festival
July 31                     Saratoga, CA                           Montalvo Center for the Arts
August 19                San Diego, CA                        Humphrey’s By The Bay
August 20                Concord, CA                           Chronicle Pavilion
August 21                Hollywood, CA                        Hollywood Bowl

Posted by Peter Böhi at 12:30 PM

June 27, 2005

Berks Summer Jazz Series

BerksSummerJazzSeries.jpgSince the official opening of Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base in Reading, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 2004, jazz aficionados have been pleased to be entertained by an assortment of talented musicians from near and far away. The Jazz Base was a key venue during the ten day Berks Jazz Fest in March, and no one is surprised that the line-up of great music will continue every Thursday evening throughout the summer.

Fans may not realize, however, that the Jazz Base is now the home of the officially designated Berks Summer Jazz Series. This series, which includes every show held at the Jazz Base, will also highlight an impressive selection of some very well-known artists throughout the summer.

ChuckLoebJB.jpgThe Berks Summer Jazz Series was kicked off this past Thursday evening with Chuck Loeb, a musician who is familiar to Berks Jazz Fest crowds as the one who arranges and leads the Berks All Star Jam every year. This year at Berks Jazz Fest 2005, Chuck also gave us an awesome show with his own band and featuring saxophone player David Mann. Chuck is always a welcome addition to the Jazz Fest – often he is more in the background, arranging and making sure everything goes well, enhancing the expert skill of other artists, but this year, with a separate show, he was able to take a more prominent role, and everyone would have to agree that he is nothing less than a ‘class act.’ It seemed all of us got more of a taste of just how accomplished he is, and so he was a superb choice for the opening of the Berks Summer Jazz Series. The show featured the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, Gerald Veasley, and Chuck’s very talented band. (more pictures and a recap of the show to follow)

In addition to Chuck Loeb, there are a number of additional surprises in the line-up for the summer, including the following:

Thursday, June 30th, is a release party for Gerald Veasley’s November 21st, 2004 live CD recording of At The Jazz Base! which will be available on July 26th. For any of you who were there in November, this promises to be a great night of reminiscing. If you missed the recording session, here’s your chance to hear some of the music recorded on the CD, and share in the excitement of the upcoming release.

Jaared.jpgJaared, an accomplished saxophone player, broke onto the smooth jazz scene in 2000 with a hit solo album entitled Foreward and is currently touring with Peter White. He and Peter did a show at Berks Jazz Fest, and now he will return to Berks as part of the Summer Jazz Series on July 28th. Voted one of the top five saxophonists of the Washington, D.C. metro area, he was also nominated as Best New Artist of the year at the 3rd Annual Smooth Jazz Awards in 2002, and he has been gathering loyal fans ever since.

Nick Colionne.gifNick Colionne, who has worked with artists like the Impressions, Natalie Cole, and Curtis Mayfield, will perform on August 26th. His songs have been recorded by people like Paul Anka and Johnnie Mathis. A successful solo artist, he makes a great connection with the audience and his show also promises to be a great time of jazz!

AAatBerks.jpg Acoustic Alchemy, an English band with a long track record of hit albums, played Berks in 2004, and will return on September 22nd, this time to the intimacy of the Jazz Base. This is a band that has made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to develop a huge fan base in the United States. If you’ve never heard them, you’re in for a treat – they are extremely talented and quite entertaining. Those who caught their show the first time here in Reading have been waiting excitedly for them to return. Their trademark is the pairing of two guitar players, Greg Carmichael on nylon string and steel string guitar and Miles Gilderdale on the steel string and electric guitar. The way the two guitar players complement each other is totally engaging to the listener. The pleasant and humorous demeanor of all the band members is fun to watch and also speaks to their wonderful connections to the audience.

We hope to see you at the Jazz Base this summer if you’re anywhere within driving distance, and if you’re not close enough, remember those coming from out of town and staying at the Sheraton in order to attend Jazz Base shows will receive a special package deal.

These days there are so many great festivals and shows around the country that feature the best of contemporary jazz music, and with this new series, Berks continues to do all it can to keep jazz music lovers in a year-round jazz state of mind.

Visit www.geraldveasley’sjazzbase.com to see a complete listing of all the shows to be held in the Berks Summer Jazz Series.

Happy Jazzin’

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

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 4:51 AM

June 26, 2005

Dave Koz Wins DJ Award For Second Straight Year

Dave Koz has been recognized once again for his morning radio show in Los Angeles.

Dave_Koz2.jpgSaxophonist Dave Koz on on June 24 won for the third time in the Smooth Jazz personality/show of the year category at the Radio & Records national industry convention in Cleveland.

Koz also won that award last year and in 2002. He won for “The Dave Koz Radio Show,” a morning show on KTWV-The Wave in Los Angeles. Sharing in Dave’s award was co-host Pat Prescott.

For the second time in a row, Koz was also nominated in the syndicated personality of the year for the syndicated version of his radio show, which was won by the duo of Bob & Tom.

Also among the winners were WNUA of Chicago, KSSJ in Sacramento and WCJZ of Charlottsville, Va., for stations of the year in their respective markets; Paul Goldstein of KTWV in Los Angeles for program director of the year; Suzanne Berg of the Verve Music Group for promotion executive of the year; Kelly Cole of KiFM in San Diego for music director of the year; and Verve Music Group for label of the year.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:47 AM

June 24, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - The Neurons

FCoverNEURONS.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. I receive all manner of CD’s for review but one item that recently dropped into my mailbox has completely blown my mind. It’s the CD titled Dance by ex Ray Charles tour band trumpeter / flugelhorn player David Hoffman and Paul Adams. They are both from Peoria Illinois and, as well as pursuing solo careers, record and perform as The Neurons.

Dance is an album that almost defies description comprising as it does afro influenced percussion, jungle beats and off the wall vocal snippets but, buried within it, are several standout dance tracks. Its been written many times that to really hit the mark in soul, dance, R & B or smooth jazz the music must have two components, rhythm and melody. Not surprising then it’s the more melodic tunes that come to the fore in this eleven track selection that is packed with rhythm. ‘Luminosity’ is tremendous with real Hardcastlesque qualities while the flamenco flavored ‘Spanish Horizon’ gets the job done too. The flute on ‘Shuffle and Suspense’ is a surprising but pleasing choice and ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ is a tight tune woven together with unobtrusive vocals and a great beat. Finally ‘Island Girl’, with delicious Spanish language female vocals, is further confirmation of the eclectic nature of the recording.

To find out more, check David and Paul’s websites at www.pauladams.org and www.davidhoffmanjazz.com. Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:54 PM

June 22, 2005

What We're Listening To -- June

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

Sandro Albert, The Color of Things: Sandro Albert, a Brazilian guitarist, is a breath of fresh air and a must-listen for those who enjoy the Brazilian-themed guitar work by Pat Metheney, Lee Ritenour and Brian Hughes. Grand statements are realized here, and Albert shows his chops on songs such as the title track and “Minas to Rio.” One especially noteworthy track is “Aguas,” if only because it features the late, great Mark Ledford’s vocalese, sounding as fresh as when he brightened Metheny’s music.

Jason Parra & the X Factor, Two Reasons: Smooth jazz trumpet music straight out of Boise, Idaho. Building on funk and R&B influences, Parra delivers a mostly grooving set that recalls Rick Braun, especially on “Aguamala” and “What Goes Around.” Good stuff.

Various Artists, Motown Remixed: The originals are still cool, of course, but what’s not to like about hearing Marvin Gaye’s original vocals on “Let’s Get It On” with a pumped-up rhythm section? Some songs work better than others, but overall there’s a lot here to like. It’s like revisiting the past while moving forward. Weird, I know.

Marcus Click, Movin’ On: Smooth and sassy, saxophonist Marcus Click delivers smooth jazz that sometimes feels just about right. Other times, such as on “Smooth Ride” – a song I keep returning to – he’s creating music that steps just a little outside the comfort zone and is the better for it.

Vic Juris, A Second Look: Juris is a veteran musician who has created a quintessential acoustic jazz guitar record. He knows when to be fast and furious and when to let the music breathe. The result is a CD that shows off Juris’ skills but also is remarkably easy and relaxing to listen to. This is why people around the world love American jazz.

P E T E R * B O E H I

Jackiem Joyner - This Time Around (2005)
This sax player caught my attention on the recent Marcus Johnson DVD "In Person Live" and now comes up with his debut album full of sweet and soulful sax and flute playing with lots of mellow contemporary grooves - another rising star next to Eric Darius.

Jefferson - Jeff Our Son (2004)
Guitarist Jefferson offers a funky and groovy album with memorable compositions, lots of great guitar playing backed by a competent band with smoking sax and keyboard solos.

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach - First Name Basis (2005)
Beautiful smooth jazz album by veteran trumpet player Gabriel Mark Hasselbach delivering catchy songs over a polished contemporary backdrop. Contains a nice cover of Lisa Stansfield's "Been Around The World".

Al Turner - It's Good To Have Friends (2005)
Bass player Al Turner delivers a funky album full of heavy bass playing and groovy jazz-funk tracks boasting "friends" like Everette Harp on sax, Paul Jackson Jr. and Earl Klugh on guitar among others.

Jeff Golub - Temptation (2005)
Guitarist Jeff Golub hits the bulls eye again with his latest album. Funky, groovy, mellow, finger-snapping, jazzy - you name it. A pure delight from beginning to end and very recommended.

PS: The Jackiem Joyner, Jefferson and Al Turner CDs are available at CDBaby.com.

D E N I S * P O O L E

'Confounded' by Steve Cole from his current release Spin. A piece of smooth jazz that shows a new side and an added depth to Steve's music.

'Come As You Are' by Mindi Abair from the album of the same name. For a little girl Mindi sure has a big big sound.

'Strawberry Letter 23' by The Brothers Johnson. A track to challenge Kool and The Gangs 'Summer Madness' as the chill out track of all time.

'Wish You Were Near' by Acoustic Alchemy from their 2001 release Aart. For those of you who have not rediscovered AA post 'The Beautiful Game' get out and check them out now.

'The Secret Garden' by Brian Culbertson from his CD Something Bout Love. I have been doing some work this month with Lisa Taylor from the Culbertson fan club so I got the chance to get into his music all over again.

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

Gerald Veasley, At The Jazz Base! (Heads Up)

Jason McGuire, Distancias (Bolero Records)

Brian Bromberg, Choices (Artistry Music)

Jonathan Butler, Jonathan (Rendezvous Entertainment)

Down To The Bone, Spread Love Like Wildfire (Narada Jazz)

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

Queen Latifah, The Dana Owens Album, 2004. What a versatile singer – soft and sultry, big and powerful, talking her way through some songs to make a point, she can serenade you so you strain to catch every phrase, or she can belt it out and make you listen. Unbelievable version of ‘California Dreamin’ beginning with just her voice, then the guitar and violins creeping in, leading to a symphony sound reminiscent of some Elton John songs of yesteryear, working up to an ending with definite jazz phrasing and capped off with some flamenco guitar. Great organ accompaniment, especially on ‘Simply Beautiful. Great phrasing and dynamics on gospel-flavored ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ and a perfect rendition of ‘Hello Stranger.

Tom Grant and Valerie Day, Side by Side, 2005. What a winning combination these two are, Day being the lead singer of the ‘80s group NuShooz with a subsequent career all her own, and Grant having been a successful pianist/vocalist in many genres of music. Each of them brings to this venture their love of jazz, spontaneity, and enormous talent and appreciation for each other. Includes 13 familiar tunes – songs like Charade, On the Street Where You Live, Midnight Sun, Up On the Roof (that one is an incredible rendition) and others. Upbeat and fun listening!

Gerald Veasley, At the Jazz Base! 2005. I was at this recorded session, and listening to the CD brings back all the excitement of having been there to see the performance of Gerald and his awesome band, with Will Brock and Peter Kuzma on keyboards, Eric Greene on drums, Pablo Batista on percussion, and Chris Farr on saxophone. Listeners will witness how Gerald brings us all under his spell as he asks us to ‘Sit …back..and relax.’ (interview and recap of the recording session coming soon…)

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 4:24 AM

June 21, 2005

Gregg Karukas Is Looking Up

Veteran keyboarist Gregg Karukas has signed to a new label.

GreggKarukas.jpgSmooth Jazz pianist Gregg Karukas – best known for his No. 1 smooth jazz single “Night Shift” – has signed to the Trippin N Rhythm recording label, which also features Smooth Jazz musician Paul Hardcastle.

Karukas has completed a new album for the label called “Looking Up.” The upcoming album, Gregg’s 10th, features guest performances from trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist and flutist Andy Suzuki, and a host of guitarists – Peter White, Richard Smith, Michael O’Neill, Ricardo Silveira and Thom Rotella.

Karukas says the 11-song album is the culmination of a year’s effort to explore new grooves and write songs that focus more on the acoustic piano. In addition to a song called “Corner Club” that is dedicated to the music of Brazilian vocalist Milton Nascimento, the album features such titles as “Girl in the Red Dress,” “London Underground,” “First Flight Home” and “Isabella.”

Looking Up will be released on Aug. 16.

GreggKarukasLookingUp.jpgLooking Up

1. Girl in the Red Dress (Gregg Karukas)
2. London Underground (Gregg Karukas)
3. Looking Up (Gregg Karukas)
4. Relentless (Gregg Karukas)
5. First Flight Home (Gregg Karukas)
6. Show Me the Way (Gregg Karukas)
7. Corner Club/Clube da Esquina (Gregg Karukas)
8. Isabella (Gregg Karukas)
9. CrossRhodes (Gregg Karukas)
10. Deep Into You (Gregg Karukas)
11. Lost in Negril (Gregg Karukas)

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:26 AM

June 14, 2005

Modern Times reflect big changes for guitarist Marc Antoine

New album due August 16, major summer tour with Dave Koz & Friends
Modern times call for modern measures.  After creating a distinctive classical, Latin jazz, flamenco sound that has repeatedly lead him to the top of the charts, guitarist Marc Antoine adventurously stretches his creative muse in new directions on Modern Times, his seventh solo album, scheduled for release on August 16th from the Rendezvous Entertainment record label.  The festive “Bella Via,” on which Antoine drives his signature acoustic guitar along a shuffling Latin percussion groove, will be the first cut going for adds at contemporary jazz radio on July 11th.   
It’s rare for a successful artist in peak form to audaciously step outside of the proven to push the creative envelope, reinventing himself as a new musical persona, but that’s exactly what Antoine is doing with panache.  Recording the album in his studio in Madrid, Spain, Antoine produced Modern Times with European dance music producer-club DJ David Ferrero and collaborated on nine new compositions.  The album reflects a confident step into foreign terrain for Antoine.  Known for his acoustic guitar bravura, he plays electric guitar on several cuts and even croons a cool lead vocal on the romantic samba cover, “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets,” a song originally recorded by Sting.  The Paris-born musician has affection for incorporating his world travels and various cultures into his music.  Antoine continues his affair with Spanish, Latin and European rhythms and riffs, but he expands his itinerary on the new record to include musical excursions into South Africa (“Umbele”) and India (“Cantar al Amor”), the latter of which features sacred chanting.  Throughout the album, the production boasts plenty of vocal samples, sometimes dreamy or sometimes haunting female backing vocals, and hip club beats and grooves that set an array of vibes upon which Antoine’s moody and melodic guitar meanders. 

“Years ago, I read a quote from Miles Davis about when he ventured into entirely new creative directions.  He said that he found someone from outside of his (jazz) world to collaborate with.  That’s exactly what I did on Modern Times.  David (Ferrero) is very well known in the club world and he brought an entirely fresh sensibility to my music,” explained Antoine.  “Although people primarily know me for my acoustic flamenco guitar sound, for years I’ve also done sessions on electric (guitar) for Celine Dion, Queen Latifah and others.  I wanted to explore a different musical palate by using an electric guitar on some tracks.  I think some might be caught off guard by this album, but I’m pleased with the way it came out and I hope people will listen to it with an open mind.”   
To support Modern Times, Antoine will spend the summer on a major U.S. concert tour with sax star Dave Koz, R&B vocalist Jeffrey Osborne and Praful, a cutting-edge sax player who incorporates ambient vibes and electronic dance beats to his music.  Koz is co-founder of Rendezvous Entertainment, for which Antoine records. 
To date, Antoine has scored four number one singles – “Sunland,” “Mas Que Nada,” “Mediterraneo” and “Funky Picante.”  He has deployed his guitar finesse to recordings and concert performances by some of the most distinguished and diverse artists in music, including Sting, Cher, George Benson, Basia, Soul II Soul, Selena, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Will Downing, David Benoit, Rick Braun, Peter White and Richard Elliot.         
Marc Antoine’s Modern Times contains the following songs:
“Modern Times”                                                       “Can You Feel It”
“Samba Hood”                                                         “Shake It Out”
“La Belle Dame Sans Regrets”                                “Cantar al Amor”
“Camden Town”                                                     “Bella Via”
“Umbele”                                                                 “If You Believe”

Catch Marc Antoine performing with Dave Koz, Jeffrey Osborne and Praful on the following dates:
June 10                   Reading, PA                            Reading Eagle Theatre
June 11                   Winona, Ontario                       E.D. Smith Farms
June 12                   Westbury, NY                          North Fork Theatre
June 16                   Albuquerque, NM                    Sandia Amphitheatre
June 17                   Denver, CO                             Paramount Theatre
June 18                   Phoenix, AZ                            Celebrity Theatre
June 23                   Philadelphia, PA                      Merriam Theatre
June 24                   Richmond, VA                          Kanawha Theatre
June 25                   Raleigh, NC                             Meymandi Concert Hall
June 26                   Charlotte, NC                           Belk Theatre
July 7                       Fresno, CA                              Saroyan Theatre
July 8                       Sacramento, CA                      Radisson Hotel Grove Amphitheatre
July 9 & 10              Temecula, CA                          Thornton Winery
July 13                     Atlanta, GA                               Chastain Park Amphitheatre
July 14                     Louisville, KY                           Palace Theatre
July 15 & 16            Chicago, IL                              Navy Pier Skyline Stage
July 17                     Detroit, MI                                Jerome Duncan Fox Theatre                 
July 20                     Cleveland, OH                         State Theatre
July 21                     Kettering, OH                           Fraze Pavilion for the Performing Arts
July 22                     St. Louis, MO                           The Roberts Orpheum Theatre
July 23                     Apple Valley, MN                     Music In The Zoo
July 29                     Henderson, NV                       Sunset Station Amphitheatre
July 30                     Oakville, CA                             Robert Mondavis Summer Festival
July 31                     Saratoga, CA                           Montalvo Center for the Arts
August 19                San Diego, CA                        Humphrey’s By The Bay
August 20                Concord, CA                           Chronicle Pavilion
August 21                Hollywood, CA                        Hollywood Bowl

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:58 PM

June 11, 2005

CD Reviews: Jonathan Bulter, Richard Elliot, Praful, the Rippingtons and More

Want to hear some good new music? Check out releases by Jonathan Butler, Richard Elliot, Down to the Bone, Praful, the Rippingtons and others.

Jonathan Butler
(Rendezvous Music)

If you’re one of those people who swears that Jonathan Butler makes the prettiest acoustic guitar instrumental songs on the planet, you need to pat Dave Koz on the back. The smooth jazz star is the one who convinced Butler to sign to his Rendezvous Entertainment record label. And here’s the good part – nine of the 11 songs on Butler’s self-titled debut on Rendezvous are instrumentals. Not just instruments, but the hooky and alternately gorgeous and upbeat kind that typified his biggest radio successes, “Dancing on the Shore” and “Song for Elizabeth.” This is big news for Butler fans, since his last album, Surrender from 2003, was half vocals and the one before that, 2000’s The Source, contained just two instrumentals.

Ironically, the CD’s first single is a vocal version of James Taylor’s classic “Fire and Rain” with rockish electric guitar accompaniment by 24-year-old blues guitarist Jonny Lang. But that song, and the other vocal track called “Baby Love,” fit in perfectly with the CD’s overall mellow and bouncy vibe. But of course it’s instrumentals that really shine, beginning with the first track, the tropical-flavored “Rio,” which features the distinctive trumpet of Rick Braun and Butler’s spine-tingling scatting in tune with his guitar. Two other tropical-flavored songs by Butler, who grew up in South Africa but now calls Southern California home, include the bouncy “Mandela Bay” and “10 Degrees South,” both which feature the background female trio of Jodie Butler, Kurt Lykes and Toni Field. Jodie is Butler’s daughter.

Of course, Butler knows his way around a ballad, which he proves on “”Randy’s Song” – where Koz handles the sax – “Precious Things,” “For a Friend,” “Sweet Island Love” and “Spirit of a Nation.” The CD closes with “Move Me,” a bluesy midtempo number with Gerald Albright on sax. Kudos also need to be given to Butler’s band, which includes Dave Dyson on bass, Greg Wachter on keyboards, Eric Valentine on drums and David Diggs with the string arrangements.

This is an amazing return to form for Jonathan Butler. It's hard to imagine anyone else creating a smooth jazz CD this year that's so consistent from beginning to end.

Smooth grade: A+

Richard Elliot
Metro Blue

Saxophonist Richard Elliot has more than just a fleeting interest in his 15th release. Metro Blue is the first CD of all-new material by the ARTizen Music Group, a smooth jazz label based in Southern California and co-founded by Elliot and fellow musician and trumpeter Rick Brun. Elliot shouldn’t have much to worry about here, as his robust tenor saxophone consistency lays thick grooves atop some darn tempting pop songs. Produced by Braun and Elliot, the CD once again pays tribute to what must be Elliot’s favorite R&B from the 1970s, the Stylistics. Elliot’s last CD featured a cover of group’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Metro Blue’s first single is a sexy reading of the sweet soul band’s “People Make the World Go Round.”

As Elliot’s albums always are, Metro Blue is heavy on the brass, which is to be expected from a former member of the seminal band Tower of Power. Braun blows his trumpet throughout, sounding especially vivid on “Inside Out,” an upbeat number that starts the CD. This song’s sure to draw raised fists during the Jazz Attack tour this summer, which Elliot is starring in. As will the funky “Mango Tango,” which lays down a groovy echoing sax line, and “Maxi’s,” powered by a Travolta-esque disco beat. Any Richard Elliot CD must have at least song where he coaxes some growls from his sax, and that track here is “Mystique,” which also offers some pretty sweet picking by guitarist Peter White. On “Chill Bill,” Elliot perhaps winks at the chill-music sound filtering into smooth jazz, but the song is more of a traditional ballad. As are the title track and “Camella,” which he sweetly named after his wife.

I remember reviewing Elliot’s last CD in 2003, Richochet, and observing that like many of his albums it was dogged by inconsistency. There’s no such problem here, as each of the 10 songs are solid and, in turn, make for a promising debut ARTizen debut.

Smooth grade: A

Pyramid in Your Backyard
(Rendezvous Entertainment)

First things first: Except for the lead track called “Moon Glide,” the new CD by Dutch saxophonist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Praful is nothing like his smashing debut, One Day Deep. But some background is in order: That album was originally released way back in 2001, but hit the U.S. by storm in 2003 thanks to a U.S. distribution deal and the hits “Sigh” and “Let the Chips Fall.” That album helped Praful become a leader in the chill music crowd, exposed many smooth jazz listeners to the format and even helped Praful get a high-profile gig on the Dave Koz & Friends tour this summer.

With Pyramid in Your Backyard, Praful avoids mining the successful grooves that populated One Day Deep, which would have been the easy and logical thing to do. But, working with producers and Rendezvous labelmates Adani & Wolf, Praful has made a wonderfully exotic CD that further explores his love of Brazilian and Indian music. The album has several guest vocalists singing in English, Portuguese and Indian Hindi. Among them are Sandhya Sanjana from India and Katia Moraes from Brazil – who is a member of Praful’s band – and even Praful himself. The Brazilian bossa nova tracks, “Acredite,” “Ponto de Partida” and “Eternity,” are smooth and sophisticated, while the Indian-flavored tunes, especially “Says Kabir,” are exotic and unusual to Western ears but still maintain the familiar percussion-heavy beats Praful employs to great effect.

Standout instrumental tracks include the spare and jazzy “We Live On,” where you can hear for yourself – and appreciate – Praful’s skill on the sax. “Hand-Cart Puller” features a guitar loop, bountiful percussion and a rapid pace, while “Drop to the Ocean” is a chill/electronica classic with jazzy sax interludes. “Wishful Walk” comes straight from the Pat Metheny school of samba, with a languid beat and wistful vocalese, while “Naked” is a quiet smooth jazz gem with soothing vocals by Praful. And then there's "April Seven," a dirge-like slice of erotic exotica that washes over you like a great movie soundtrack. It's very moody.

Pyramid in Your Backyard takes a little getting used to if you’ve listened to One Day Deep a million times. But it quickly becomes apparent that Praful has made a compelling and worthy sequel on his own terms.

Smooth grade: A

The Rippingtons Featuring Russ Freeman
Wild Card

The Jazz Cat may be back, but as the title of their newest album suggests, he’s leading listeners down a different alley this time. It was five years ago that the Rippingtons’ leader, guitarist Russ Freeman, traded Colorado’s snowy climate for the warm sunshine of Florida’s Boca Raton, north of Miami. Freeman played around with some Latin rhythms on 2000’s Life in the Tropics, as many in the smooth jazz genre do. But on Wild Card, the Latin influence has certainly rubbed off on Freeman and his crack band.

There’s much hear to enjoy for the everyday Rippingtons fan, especially those who appreciate Freeman’s guitar playing. I’ve always considered Freeman to be underrated as a guitarist since he’s much more known as the leader of one of the few actual bands left in the genre. What’s been most enjoyable has been his classical acoustic guitar playing, which he does here on eight songs. It’s quite a treat, as are the well-known Jerry Hey horns, Eric Marienthal’s distinctive saxophone throughout and especially on “Lay It Down” and the title track, and R&B singer Chante Moore’s vocals on a cover of the soul standard “Till You Come Back to Me.”

There’s also some beautiful Rippingtons standards like the closing track “In the End” and “King of Hearts,” both offering the type of pretty guitar ballads the band is famous for. On “Into You,” smooth jazz producer Rex Rideout’s touch is evident throughout the delicious soul groove. And on “Moonlight,” Freeman switches to the electric guitar on a song that has “hit” written all over it.

But the Latin sound is the thing here, and Freeman shines with the laid back, tropical “Gypsy Eyes” and the “Mulata de Mi Amor,” both of which will have you licking the salt off your margarita glass. “Spanish Girl” is the quintessential Rippingtons number, a funky midtempo thing with Latin strings, while “Paradise” is one of the most complex songs the band has ever done. There are layers of classical and electric guitar, and three minutes in there’s even a brief synth guitar solo a la Pat Metheny. It’s a majestic song.

Of course, the two songs that Rippington fans will be talking about are the two with Spanish-language vocals: “El Vacilon” and “Mulata de Mi Amor.” The former features the female singer Albita and the background vocals of the group Ozomatli, while the latter has the robust vocals of Willy Chirino. Don’t skip the tracks, since they fit in perfectly what the Rippingtons are trying to do – and succeeding – on this amazing CD.

Smooth grade: B+

Down to the Bone
Spread Love like Wildfire
(Narada Jazz)

Although considered a smooth jazz band as far as radio goes, Down to the Bone on its sixth CD continues to pump out its hard grooves and brassy horns that defy easy pigeon-holing. The core band remains the same, with producer and composer Stuart Wade, members Neil Angilley and Neil Cowley on keyboards, Paul “Shilts” Weimer on sax, Tony Remy on guitar, Richard Sadler on bass and percussion and Neal Wilkinson on drums.

Like the chill music counterparts, the groove is, of course, the thing. Unlike many of those bands, however, DTTB has incorporating more and more live music on its CDs, with a warmer sound the result. Guest stars always make DTTB CDs fresh, and the big one here is flutist Jeremy Steig, who has performed with legends like Jimi Hendrix, Bill Evans, Jan Hammer and Johnny Winter. He adds a new sound to the DTTB jams “Memphis Groove” and the Brazilian-influenced “Wildfire Woman.”

The standout radio track on Spread Love Like Wildfire is “Tiburon,” which was co-written by Tim Best, who assisted with the song “Brooklyn Heights” on the band’s debut CD. The song has much of the same groove as that classic CD. Like that work, the groove here is relentless, and Down to the Bone remains one of the grooviest groove bands in any musical genre.

Smooth grade: B

Lee Ritenour

Veteran smooth jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour, who has been making CDs for 30 years now, celebrates his signing with a new label with a live studio recording that showcases four distinct phases of his career. It has Ritneour’s acoustic jazz period (“Blue in Green”) and his Brazilian music with vocalist Ivan Lins (“She Walks the Earth”), the fusion era (“Captain Fingers,” “Night Rhythms”) and his most current music, featuring songs from his Wes Montgomery tribute (“Boss City,” “Lil’ Bumpin’”) and the compilation “Twist Of Motown” (“Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” with Chris Botti sounding very soulful on the trumpet solos).

The CD is a companion piece to a DVD by the same name. The DVD was shot in a recording studio with a small audience (hi-definition and surround sound), and the music on the CD has an incredible studio sound with the live interaction of all the great musicians on the project. They include veterans Botti, Eric Marienthal, Dave Grusin, Patrice Rushen, Harvey Mason, Ernie Watts, Dave Carpenter and others. Ritenour also showcases two new vocal talents. Kenya Hathaway, the sister of vocalist Lelah Hathaway, contributes her own song called “Possibilities,” and returns to duet with Grady Harrell on Ritenour’s smash hit, “Is It You.”

Because of the fresh interpretations of familiar songs performed live, OverTime becomes not just another artist’s look back over a career, but an artist’s look back who obviously still has a lot to say with his music. For those looking for brand-new music from Ritenour, there’s good news – he’s now working on a melodic album which should be out early next year.

Smooth grade: B+

(Rendezvous Entertainment)

Camiel is the third chill/downtempo act to be signed by Dave Koz’s Rendezvous Entertainment, following Praful and the duo of Adani & Wolf. Like his Amsterdam labelmates, Camiel provides plenty of musical moments appealing to smooth jazz fans. But, also like his labelmates, there’s a sexy European vibe that can either sound fresh or weird, depending on your musical inclinations. The inside of the CD shows two scenes with Camiel strumming a guitar, but this is not a guitar-driven CD.

There’s the feeling with this CD that you never know which direction it’s headed or even if there’s a road map. That’s refreshing. For example, things begin with the downtempo and mellow “Sunset,” programmed drums bouncing happily along in the background. More than halfway through the tune, Camiel offers a pretty guitar solo that rides over swirling synth sounds. “I’m Ready” follows “Sunset,” and features an orchestral disco hook straight from 1970s. Pretty cool. There are other disco forays, as well, with soulful female, “get into the groove”-type lyrics.

There are many great moments: “Sintra” offers Larry Carlton-like guitar playing and lyrical female vocalese; “No Fuzz” is a strange trip with weird vocal-like warbling and a salsa-like melody so infectious you wish Camiel would have given it more of a presence; “El Alba” has a Spanish guitar lead that would sound appropriate on a Marc Antoine CD; and “Eighty-Eight” is an intoxicating, swirling five minutes of bossa beats, guitar, organ and vocalese.

What everyone who hears this CD will be talking about, no question, is the continuing dialog of a man who narrates the pursuit of a classy woman he meets at a bar called Thatcher’s. Preposterously humorous, it continues with “Follow Her” and continues elsewhere on the CD on an interlude and with “I Would.” Soft background music accompanies the man’s escapade, which is narrated by an American living in Amsterdam named Boyd Small. Also narrating a tune is one Cristina Arenas Gonzalez. She speaks in Spanish on “Sigume,” and I’m pretty sure she’s not the woman being chased from Thatcher’s bar. I could be wrong, but she speaks so fast in Spanish I couldn’t get much of what she was saying.

Different. But exotically also very cool.

Smooth grade: B

Various Artists
Golden Slumbers: A Father’s Love
(Rendezvous Entertainment)

Rendezvous Entertainment, a smooth jazz label, has taken a big step with Golden Slumbers: A Father’s Love, a vocal album featuring an all-star cast of some of the most popular singers in the world. The CD is a sequel of sorts to the Grammy-nominated Golden Slumbers: A Father's Lullaby from 2002, which was filled with appropriately sleepy lullabies. This CD, which is “a celebration of the important role father play in their children’s lives,” is more upbeat and diverse enough with its country, folk, jazz, gospel, soul and pop songs.

The CD is the creation of saxophonist Dave Koz, who performs on the album, and his brother Jeff Koz, who also collaborated on the first CD. The 13 songs are reverential in nature, of course, and in most cases poignant and heartfelt. When praising dads, country music singer Buddy Jewell takes Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” in a new musical direction, and of course the lyrics will always manage to pull heartstrings. Richard Marx’s emotive phrasing speaks universally of a father’s responsibilities in “That’s My Job.” Daughter are sung to in Michael McDonald’s “When Scarlett Smiles” and Loudon Wainwright’s “Daughter.” Universal odes to children are handled with great tenderness by Solomon Burke on “Life Is Just a Matter of Time,” Will Downing on Billy Joel’s “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel”) and Jon Secada on “Find Me in Your Dreams.”

With Dave Matthews’ “Baby” and Carlos Ponce’s “You’ll Be in My Heart” (written by Phil Collins), listeners will hear the universal longings of parents as protectors. But perhaps the CD’s most touching tune is collaboration between smooth jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum and his brother Kevin Whalum on vocals. The song is in memory of Kirk’s son, Evan, who died after only three days on this earth.

Rounding out the CD are “You Touch My Heart” by Phil Collins, Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” as sung by R&B legend Smokey Robinson, and “Children,” a spoken-word piece by famed actor James Earl Jones inspired by a poem called “The Prophet” by legendary poet and philosopher Kahil Gibran.

A portion of proceeds from Golden Slumbers: A Father’s Love will benefit the National Fatherhood Initiative, which works to improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion who grow up with involved, responsible and committed fathers. The CD will also be released in conjunction with the NFI’s annual National Golden Dads campaign sponsored every Father’s Day, where celebrity fathers reach out into the community.

Smooth vocal grade: B

Keiko Matsui
Walls of Akendora
(Narada Jazz)

Keiko Matsui’s Akendora may only exist only inside her head, but it’s a place you’ll find yourself revisiting many times over.

Matsui’s latest takes its title from a mythical location of peace. That’s in character for the pianist and composer who for more than 18 years has crafted an art form of grand, cinematic sweeps of sound. Her CDs have a comforting sameness but are filled with new, concurrent strains of energy and melancholy that listening a pleasure. On the eclectic Walls of Akendora, Matsui truly throws everything into the pot, offering pop, jazz and R&B grooves while topping it off with trendy downtempo rhythms.

A wailing trumpet segueing into a swing jazz number signals the CD’s departure from the norm. But “Overture for the City” is about as frantic as it gets. That leads into one of the pure pop of “Crystal Shadow” and its repeated bass line holding up Matsui’s understated piano performance. “Gentle Sounds” sure sounds like the hit of the bunch, while the quintessential Matsui piece, “Bay of Destiny,” offers pretty piano, orchestration a shakuhachi flute from her husband and co-producer Kazu Matsui’s shakuhachi. So beautiful, and it may have you scrambling once again for the best Yanni compositions from the early 1990s.

“Canvas” provides Akendora’s most nutritious listening. It opens with whistles and a Brazilian bossa-boogie rhythm that shakes into thought-provoking and head-nodding downtempo grooviness. Longtime Matsui fans will enjoy her updating of her classic “Mountain Shakedown” from her 1997 CD Under Northern Lights, while those in a jazz mood will dig the swing-jazz of “Walking Through It” and sophisticated drum brushes of “Blue Butterfly.”

As a treat, the CD adds a bonus DVD with eight live performances of songs from previous CDs recorded at a show in Tokyo. There’s also a video of her song “Wildflower” and a home movie shot from the road in 2004. It looks like Matsui enjoyed herself almost as much as her fans surely did.

Smooth grade: A

Doyle’s Brunch

The first thing you should know is that the band’s name is pronounced “O’Toole.” Apparently the duo of Jane Mangini (keyboards) and Al Pitrelli (guitar) are big fans of the British actor Peter O’Toole. Mangini is the main force in the band, as she is the writer, producer and mixer. The second is that “eclectic” doesn’t quite do justice to this band, which is equal parts chill, downtempo, smooth jazz, new age, funk and rock.

Oh yeah. They’re a little weird, too, but in good way. The duo previously worked with an experimental collection known as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, an equally indescribable group.
But no means should you let the unique nature of O’2L get in the way of listening. Amid the many musical and voice samples, there is some genuine music going on here. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into, including an uptempo cocktail-lounge version of the Doors’ “Riders of the Storm.” Track such as “Senor Wilhelm” show off Pitrelli’s manic guitar playing, which he honed while jamming with such metal band Megadeth and shock-rocker Alice Cooper.

“Come and Get It” and “Lonely Women” hark back to the soulful fusion days, while tracks such as “Cali” and “Missing Kate” are reflective, new age-type pieces.

And there’s plenty of playfulness. “Knock Knock” has a Manhattan Transfer-like vocal thing going and, believe me, the barking dog sounds work. “City Chicken” is a funky, cabaret-type groove with wailing guitars, organs and an acoustic piano melody Joe Sample would be proud of.

Different? Oh yes. Fun? Yep. Worth listening to? Go for it.

Smooth grade: B

Posted by Brian Soergel at 10:54 PM

June 10, 2005

Culbertson At Kimballs East

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. Brian Culbertson is and always has been all about his music. Whether it be his early individually produced and recorded offerings or his later more collaborative releases, it has been his music that has set him apart. Suffice to say that, of late, Brian has had his ups and downs. Yet, an enforced change of label plus problems with his previously state of the art website has not detracted from the constantly high standard that Brian brings to his live performances. This time, courtesy of Culbertson fan extraordinaire Lisa Taylor, we are able to provide a snapshot of his performance at Kimball’s East in Emeryville, CA, May 6 to May 8 and, in addition, an insight into his incredible fan base.

Brian is not alone in having a loyal and sometimes fanatic band of followers but, over the last eighteen months, Lisa, who came late to Culbertson’s music, has traveled far and wide to hear him play. Enraptured by his contribution to the 2003 Dave Koz Xmas Tour, she was inspired to follow him through 2004 to venues as far apart as Chicago and Oakland with several other places in between. Not only that, she has assumed a pivotal role in the excellent, but currently off line ‘fans forum’ that will be up and running again just as soon as BC gets the new website together this summer.

The connections made through this ‘fans forum’ have afforded opportunities to meet up with other Culbertson fanatics and to collaborate with them in showing support for Brian. A great example of this togetherness was demonstrated when BC fans, Lisa, Carole Lynn, Phyllis, Mitch, Janine and Wayne, representing different cities throughout the United States, came together earlier this year to create a fan based t-shirt. They wanted something they could wear to show solidarity and that would display BC’s unique smoothness on the keyboard and funkiness with his trombone. More than 30 of Brian’s closest most dedicated fans purchased this exclusive fan t-shirt to wear at Brian’s performances.

2005 has seen Lisa’s tour itinerary ramp up even more as she travels the country with other fans and family members alike, taking every opportunity to see Culbertson perform.

Culbertson_LongBeach04.jpgConsequently, when Culbertson kicked off his stint at Kimballs, Lisa was there to see both him and his band which this year has the additions of 22 year old sax sensation Eric Darius, Brian’s dad Jim Culbertson on trumpet and former ‘Az Yet’ lead vocalist Marc Nelson. As well as performing the best from his back catalog, Culbertson was also providing a pre-release peak of his new recording, It’s On Tonight that is due out on July 26th. On the romantic title track, it will be Nelson handling the vocals along with Will Downing in a combination that promises to be a highlight of the smooth jazz year.

In fact, on that first night, Darius was out of town in Bakersfield, CA opening for David Benoit, so his sax slot went to the ubiquitous Jeff Kashiwa who did a great job as stand in. It’s On Tonight, in its pre-release billing, has been described as one of Culbertson’s most sensuous releases to date and when he performed the track, ‘On My Mind,’ this hype was confirmed. Brian always plays well to the female members of his audience and with ‘On My Mind,’ one of the sexiest songs that he has ever composed; he was again wooing the women in the house. His sensual moves just made them holler and from the chatter in the audience it was clear that they liked what they saw and heard. With Culbertson connecting with his material like never before, he turned up the sex appeal a few notches from the more reserved demeanor he displayed throughout his 2004 touring season.

No Culbertson gig would be complete without his trademark horn sessions where Brian switches keyboard for trombone and plays along with trumpet and sax. Predictably, both with Kashiwa Friday and Darius for the remainder of the shows, the horn section brought down the house. The Culbertson band with Jorge Evans on guitar and Felix D Kat on drums provided awesome support throughout and, in the intro to the horn session, Eddie Miller on the keyboards and the legendary Mike Logan on Hammond organ cooked up a storm with their unique funk combination. It sounded like someone had just let James Brown’s house band in the door.

Turning to several of his previous releases, Culbertson peppered the set with old favorites. ‘Get It On’ from Nice & Slow, ‘Say What?’ from Come On Up plus ‘The Secret Garden,’ ‘Back In The Day’ and ‘Something Bout Love’ all from the Somethin’ Bout Love CD were included to great effect and unanimous audience approval.

The show closed with Brian’s wedding song, ‘Our Love,’ also from the Come On Up CD. At both the Saturday and Sunday shows, Eric Darius took this already beautiful song to another level with his sensational sax playing and on stage presence. Darius is certainly going places quickly and his current CD, Night On The Town, is one to watch.

Some folks might wonder why there are fans that go to multiple concerts. Who better to answer that question than Lisa Taylor who was at Kimballs for all three days, and all six shows of the Culbertson visit. The way she explains it, she takes something different from each and every performance. Each skit may be similar but the musical parts are quite different. Brian may play one song a certain way then change it around for the next performance. She now sees and hears more than Culbertson simply playing. She has attained a new level of listening and enjoyment of the music. With fans like Lisa, live music is indeed in safe hands and with a new release like It’s On Tonight, Brian Culbertson is set to reconfirm his iconic status in the smooth jazz market.

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 7:29 AM

June 8, 2005

Showtime Comedy "Weeds" Will Feature Music By Nils

Guitarist Nils is creating music for a cable TV show.

Nils-1.jpgSmooth jazz guitarist Nils, whose “Pacific Coast Highway” has topped the Smooth Jazz charts for four weeks, is now busy working on the score for a new U.S. cable TV show called Weeds.

Nils, who full name is Nils Jiptner, was raised in Germany and now lives in Southern California.

The comedy stars Mary-Louise Parker as a PTA mom who sells marijuana to help get by after her husband dies. The show co-stars Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon and is created by Jenji Kohan, who also created the HBO series “Tracey Takes On …”

As a composer for both television and film, Nils recently provided original music and re-mixes for the 2004 and 2005 Independent Spirit Awards. He also recently composed music for an independent movie called Sinners that was released on video in 2004.

Weeds will debut on Showtime Aug. 10th at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. If you're in the San Francisco area on June 16, you can catch Nils as he'll be performing at a brand-new club called Shanghai 1930. The show is sponsored by San Francisco smooth jazz radio station KKSF.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:27 AM

June 6, 2005

Smooth Guitar Sounds For June!

It's a guitar players month in the desert. June 2nd hosted Koch Records recording artist Steve Oliver. His hookish melodic guitar sounds lit up the Henderson Pavilion in Henderson, Nevada last Thursday to an enthusiastic crowd.

Ottmar Liebert, a multi-faceted guitarist who attracts not only smooth listeners, but classical and world music aficionados as well, will be performing in the Railhead Showroom at the Boulder Station Hotel, Saturday, June 11th.

Also June 10th and 11th in the Golden Nugget showroom is the legendary guitarist/vocalist George Benson.

Another legend appearing the following weekend is guitarist Larry Carlton bringing his signature sound to the Suncoast showroom June 17th through the 19th.

Posted by Danny Desart at 6:35 PM

June 3, 2005

Kirk Whalum Will Cover Babyface Songs

Kirk Whalum will pay homage to Babyface.

Saxophonist Kirk Whalum, who last month signed a recording contract with the Rendezvous Entertainment record label, is recording an album based on the songbook by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. It is expected to be released in September.

Babyface, of course, is a singer, producer and songwriter who has had top hits on his own and has written them for many others. Whalum has toured with Babyface and recorded one of his songs – on his 1993 album called Cache he includes Babyface’s “Love Saw It.”

It was back in 1998 Whalum released a cover album of some of his favorite songs called For You.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 9:40 PM

It's No Mystery: ARTizen Offers Free Richard Elliot Song

Saxophonist Richard Elliot recorded a song called "Mystery" that can only be downloaded - for free. You do have to register, however.

RichardElliotMetroBlue.jpg?If you want to hear purchase Richard Elliot’s upcoming album called Metro Blue, you have to wait until it’s released on June 28. But, right now, you can download a song called “Mystery” that Richard recorded especially for his fans to download off the Internet. You can find the four-minute song at www.artizenmusic.com, a website that was unveiled this week.

ARTizen Music is the new record label that Elliot and trumpeter and partner Rick Braun debuted late last year. By the way, you won’t find “Mystery” on Metro Blue. The song was recorded during the same session as the new CD, but specifically for the free Internet download.

"It was done as an additional track to ‘Metro Blue,’ but for the specific purpose of not putting in on the CD," Elliot says. "You can only get it on the website. And it’s 100 percent free. You don’t have to buy the CD to get the track. We’re embracing the online side of things whole-heartedly. We know it’s been a little bit of a dilemma for some of the larger labels. All new technologies have challenges that you have to overcome."

Posted by Brian Soergel at 1:10 AM

June 2, 2005

Contempo June 2005

DaveKoz_ship.jpgAs one of smooth jazz’s biggest stars, Dave Koz has been many things to many people—from top-selling recording artist to morning show co-host on 94.7 The Wave in Los Angeles — but this November 5-12, he’ll be adding a whole new chapter to his resume. Dave Koz & Friends at Sea sets sail from San Diego for a weeklong cruise to Mazatlan, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta aboard Holland America’s m.s. Oosterdam. His friends are among the biggest names in the genre — Chris Botti, David Benoit, George Duke, Wayman Tisdale and Kirk Whalum.

Koz has a bit of island experience to draw from. He flew into St. Thomas last January for a special concert that was part of the 2nd Annual Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise, a popular event that will run again out of Fort Lauderdale aboard the m.s. Zuiderdam January 21-28, 2006, headed for San Juan, Nevis and St. Barths.

According to the saxman, some 60% of the cabins for the 2006 run of the Hill cruise were sold by the time the 2005 cruise returned to port. But wait, there’s more. Fans who prefer to hop islands in the Gulf of Mexico can hop aboard The All-Star Cruise (November 11-20), which is being billed by its promoters, Mark Vrabel and Tony LaBarbera, as “the ultimate Smooth Jazz Experience.”

This one, on the Carnival Elation, leaves from Galveston, hits Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel and Belize, and features a mix of established artists (Peter White, Mindi Abair, Craig Chaquico, Brian Culbertson) with newer faces (Nick Colionne, Alan Hewitt). Vrabel and LaBarbera tapped the gregarious Rick Braun as host, and the trumpeter is also something of an adviser, suggesting the recent addition of Gerald Albright to the established lineup. Al Jarreau (Friday) and Boney James (Saturday) are slated to perform at pre-cruise land shows the nights before the Sunday launch.

Clearly, the open sea is becoming the hippest place for fans and artists alike to experience what gushing smooth cruisers often call the event of a musical lifetime. All you need is a few grand, a week off and a rabid desire to interact with your favorite stars. Late night jam sessions, autograph sessions, even mini-seminars where participating artists talk about their craft add to the intimacy.

“Artists and promoters are constantly trying to figure out new and exciting ways to bring music to the people who support us,” says Koz. “I think the success of Warren’s cruises and the high anticipation and aggressive sales for the new ones are due to the feeling of exclusivity, where only 900 couples or so can experience what is truly a ‘floating backstage.’ Fans can marinate in all this music for a week and interact with artists, both formally at autograph sessions and informally at the pool or bar. That makes this a very personal experience they can’t get anywhere else.”

zuiderdam_exterior.jpg“Regular festivals have the vibe of set up, play, tear down for the next act, with minimal opportunity for spontaneity or hang time,” he says. “On a ship, we’re a captive audience. Artists can not only come up and jam impromptu with the headliners, but also act as fans themselves. It’s the ultimate working vacation for us, keeps us employed between summer festival season and any Christmas touring. We have a chance to slow down, relax and enjoy a deeper companionship with our fans. My mom’s gonna love it, too.”

Jazz cruising is not limited to the smooth genre. Michael Lazaroff, executive producer and financier of the Hill and Koz cruises, along with promoter Scottland Concerts, also helms The Jazz Cruise, currently in its 5th year (October 29-November 5) and billed as “straight ahead jazz’s only full-ship charter.” Vrabel and LaBarbera, however, believe that the relatively small, tight knit community of smooth jazz artists and the genre’s fans — who, demographically speaking, lean upscale - lends itself perfectly to a fun-filled, action packed week at sea.

Part of the pre-launch research for their All Star Cruise is an alliance with 22 top smooth jazz stations, which have helped them better understand the potential audience for their event — from six figure professionals who travel often to their secretaries who’ve been saving for a while, age 35-55, multi-racial, and perhaps most importantly, 50% prone to coming again if they have a good time.

“The average smooth cruiser is a huge fan of one or two of the artists who leaves loving others they had never heard of,” says LaBarbera. Vrabel adds, “We’re bringing together a sophisticated audience with similar tastes and values, finding folks who are passionate about the music and have the need to share this with some 1,900 other people who feel the same way. They’re excited about spending that week getting so close with the stars.”

While Koz, LaBarbera and Vrabel are all optimistic that the genre can support three annual cruises, they know it’s not the quality of the ship, the rooms, the buffets or the ports that will sell the experience. “It’s purely artist driven,” says LaBarbera. “They will come because they are getting something they can’t get anywhere else.”

Koz adds, “Looking at the flier with the names that will be on my cruise, I am blown away by the variety. That’s what people are responding to. When we first announced a Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, people’s interests were piqued, but they weren’t sold. The minute they found out the lineup, sales started skyrocketing. They’re putting their money on the lineup that appeals most to them.”

For information on The All-Star Cruise, please call 1-877-529-9729 or visit www.allstarcruise.com. For Dave Koz & Friends At Sea, 1-877-DAVE-KOZ or www.davekozcruise.com. For Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise 2006, call 877-330-JAZZ or visit www.warrenhillcruise.com.

MATT’S MOOD: Fans who remember the early days of the format (even before it was officially dubbed “Smooth Jazz”) will be excited about the return of Basia, truly a long lost prodigal daughter, as part of a reunion of the original Matt Bianco lineup on Matt’s Mood (Decca). Funny thing, though — the new disc, which captures the sensual lounge jazz vibe that is so popular in 2005, sounds like it could have been recorded just after the British based trio’s only previous full length project, 1984’s multi-million selling Whose Side Are You On?

The nine vocals on Matt’s Mood — some led by Basia, some featuring her harmony lines behind the ultra-cool leads by Mark Reilly - run the gamut from those flavors to deeper explorations of the trio’s lifelong passions for classic soul, Latin and Brazilian styles.

For Reilly, the playful samba-flavored “Ordinary Day,” perfectly captures the seamless connection between 1984 and 2004. “This for me, sums up Matt Bianco,” he says. “It has a really nice bossa groove, Basia’s vocal is so inviting.”
The third link in the chain is Basia’s longtime partner, keyboardist Danny White, who has always been the singer’s sonic architect. He also invites his well-known brother, Peter White to add his trademark acoustic guitar and accordian lines to four tunes.

The trio toured the U.S. throughout April and May. “This has really been such a therapeutic process for me,” says Basia. “I have so much more life experience to draw from now. The chemistry works between us. I love working with Mark, and enjoy the interplay of our voices. Making music is the only thing that gets me going like this, and everything about this project was so natural. It’s great to be back.”

Personal Taste

1) Steve Barta, Another Life Brazil (Steve Barta Music) –The late Herbie Mann, who makes a final appearance here, called the versatile, Brazilian styled pianist, “a curious blend of Aaron Copland and Antonio Carlos Jobim.” This easygoing collection features brilliant guest spots by Dori Caymmi and Hubert Laws.
2) Stanley Jordan, Flying Home (EMI Manhattan)
3) Michael Buble, It’s Time (143 Records/Reprise)
4) Secret Garden, Earthsongs (Decca)
5) Real Piano: A Collection (Real Music)

New and Noteworthy

1) Devoted Spirits: Tribute to Earth Wind & Fire (Thump Records)
2) Urban Knights VI (Narada)
3) Tobaj (Tobaj Music)
4) Chuck Loeb, When I’m With You (Shanachie)
5) Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin’ On (Shanachie)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 6:31 AM