Readers 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. One of the more unusual recent releases is the CD Five from Swedish born vocalist Anders Holst. Its unusual for the fact that with only five tracks it is essentially the equivalent of a 1960’s ‘EP’ and its unusual because Holst’s voice has none of the usual R & B influence that tends to permeate the bulk of smooth jazz vocal recordings. There is something of Michael Franks in his voice, something reminiscent of Peter Skellern and, hidden in there somewhere perhaps, the wistfulness of Leonard Cohen. Anders Holst, who is now based in New York, has co-composed four of the five tracks and the entire album is characterized by consistently excellent production.
‘Never Look Back’ is a rolling number with the injection of excellent strings that serves to set the track apart while ‘Love Me Like A River’ is a dreamy tune with understated sax and lyrics that fit well with Holst’s vocal style. ‘Anfield Road’, being the home stadium of European Champions Liverpool Football Club, is a tenuous link to that clubs famous ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ anthem although here used in a strictly non soccer context. It’s likely the majority of listeners in the USA will completely miss the point but it’s a nice tune nevertheless. The hugely Skellern like ‘Verrazano Bridge’ does what good ballads do best in inviting the listener to be absorbed by the story the song is telling and the feel good ‘Until The End Of Time’ is a nice uplifting love song that benefits from guest appearances by Gerald Albright and Paul Jackson Jr. on saxophone and guitar respectively.
Nice and uplifting is an apt description for the entire collection. Holst never gets remotely close to being soulful yet his voice is at times compelling and both the musical arrangements and supporting artists is top notch throughout.
The fact that Five is, for many reasons, out of the ordinary may yet present Anders Holst and his management with their biggest challenge. Ultimate success will hinge on finding appropriate routes to market in order to match what Holst has created to an appreciative listening public. Only time will tell if they can pull it off yet there deserves to be a place for an album like Five that dares to be different.
Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
Coming up at Gitmo: Guitarist Peter White, pianist Alex Bugnon, saxophonist Paul Taylor and the Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman.
Over the past year, the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – also known as Gitmo – has been in the news due to alleged abuses at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.
More than 500 foreign military prisoners from the war on terror are detained at the Detention Center’s Camp Delta. This Labor Day, however, the mood at the base will be lightened during the third annual Guantanamo Bay Jazz Festival.
Scheduled to perform are guitarist Peter White, pianist Alex Bugnon, saxophonist Paul Taylor and the Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman. White and the Rippingtons also performed at last year’s event.
More than 6,000 people representing all five of the armed forces – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – will be on hand. Smooth Jazz has a history at the base. It was back in 1997 that Spyro Gyra made the trip as they performed for the troops following singer Sheryl Crow.
Interview by Paul Adams
Paul Adams Music
My main job is working as a composer, but I do album reviews on a sparing basis. I'm especially drawn to write about music that I feel has great potential to counterbalance some of the "sameness" I hear in some music today.
Narada sent me Kazu Matsui's album Stone Monkey awhile back and I admit I put off listening for awhile. My mistake. This is interesting, creative, and risk taking in it's boldest sense. We spoke by phone when he was in LA working on a movie soundtrack with James Horner. Talking to the guy made me feel a sense of simpatico. He is forthright, open, and hasn't let the "business" end of music temper his attitude. Supported by charming bits of elfish laughter, this review/interview was a gas!
PA: You are in the USA doing music for the Zorro 2 soundtrack?
Kazu: Yeah, It’s called Legend of The Zorro, with Katherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas.
PA: I got a hold of you because of the excitement I felt when I heard your new album Stone Monkey. The thing that excited me was that there doesn’t seem to be much risk taking in Instrumental or New Age music. There does seem to be a “sameness”. But you threw everything in this album but the kitchen sink
Kazu: (Laughter) Right
PA:Why did you take such a risk?
Kazu: Well if I am making a living ONLY on my music it might be risky. But, I write books and produce, and my living depends on those things (Kazu produces all of the recordings by his wife Keiko Matsui). Fortunately I have a deal that the record company (Narada) allows me to make all the creative decisions
PA: That was a very good deal
Kazu: Yeah (Laughter) I don’t know if I can continue that, but anytime they can cut me! (Laughter)
PA: Well, I find it an irony that we live in a time where we have very sophisticated composing tools, but I don’t see music in the market place pushing artistic boundaries. Matter of fact it seems less “chance taking” now than 25 years ago. I’m excited to see people push parameters and hope that there will be a place for those who want to do that.
Kazu: I hope so too. But now the outlet of music is shrinking in some ways. They only seem to want certain types of music and that’s a problem.
PA: Another interesting irony is that you mentioned that you don’t make a living from album sales. NOW, if you don’t have that market already defined and you have other means of support, this allows you more freedom in composing. So, lack of success in sales can foster more creativity! There are no executives telling you what and how to do something!
Kazu: Yeah. We used to make albums in one or two months in the studio. However we don’t need it anymore. You can have five thousand dollars worth of equipment and you can make an album. Technology has advanced so much that ones creativity can flourish. Unfortunately the market system is in the middle of a maze. We don’t know what to do. Internet is helping and killing part of the industry too. WE are in transition. I think we’ll be OK. And again, we are able to create using this technology and come up with great stuff. We may need to work on something else to make a living so it is a special time.
PA: I agree with you 100%
Kazu: Of course we need an (marketing) outlet because we want other people to listen. We haven’t figured out what to do, but this internet is either killing us or make us flourish. It can go either way
PA: Well it’s filled with irony
PA:What is going to happen? It’s such a blessing and I curse. I’I've always believed that the internet was going to be a continuation of the same. Most folks will drift to Rolling Stone or People magazine. Pop icons will attract the most attention. BUT, there’s going to be a place where you can find something different. Something more unique. They cannot make us go away
Kazu: Yes, exactly
PA: I had a friend in a band called Gentle Giant. Another in a band called Happy The Man. Of course progressive rock died a painful death and these groups couldn't’t make music after they were dropped by the label. Because of this revolution in technology They can NOW record their own albums. So we have guys like you who can take these tools of MIDI, DIGITAL RECORDING, SAMPLING, COMPUTER AND LIVE INSTRUMENTATION and make a complete cool mix of that.
Kazu: Yes, um hum. Yes, exactly what I was talking about. It is a great time.
PA: I want to make a turn and ask about your interest in the shakuhachi flute which you blend with this technology. How old were you when fell in love with this instrument
Kazu: I think I was about 16 or so.
PA: Some find that the pentatonic scale of the flute may pose a limitation (Pentatonic scale has 5 notes and is usually in a fixed scale ).
Kazu: I like limitation
PA: Tell me more about that
Kazu: If I have more talent in western music some may find the Shakuhachi to be at a disadvantage. However my music taste and ability is limited. I love music, but I don’t read western notation. I’m more like a “street player.” For a street player, limited technique is our “ballpark”. We stay there and we remain in the true character of the instrument. This limitation is a cultural thing in Japan - like Kabuki (Kabuki theater is an old and established performance and theatrical art form) In the last 300 years we don’t change or evolve. Even in the limited thing, there is so much depth. Like a comedian in Japan, he is saying the same joke for years. Everybody knows how the same joke goes. This comic theater called Kyogen has played the same joke for years and still people “dig it.” Like Shakespeare, many people know the story or the lines, but many people go to the theater to hear an artists interpretation of it.
PA: I have an injury to my left hand and have found that the limitation may have helped me to paint with a different color on the guitar and not fall into the trap of playing the same thing everyone else.
Kazu: Yeah, because of my limitation I never really go for the technique. I never wanted to play faster or jazzier, it was never fun for me. But at the same time, the music depth is so wide and deep, even with the limitation, one can go very far. There is an analogy to Indian Raga scales here. I have tendency to go to a theatrical emphasis on the music. I always like going into some world or different dimension or other world.
PA: think that’s evident for you, as well as your production of your wife Keiko Matsui’s albums. I’ve seen your stage shows and there is definitely a sense of cinema or theater there.
Kazu: Yeah. I like to create imaginative stories with the music. The music as a journey.
PA: You have had the opportunity to play with some of the finest and best trained musicians in the world. Explain how you marry your sense of “street playing”simplicity with their trained virtuosity.
Kazu: Well, as I said, I am a visual player. I can’t explain to them in western harmony what to do. But often I ask them to use their imagination. For example I’ll ask them to imagine an elf sitting on a mountain top. Good musicians understand this and they can bring out their own creativity to adapt to this. We both create an atmosphere.
PA: So there is an openness to those musicians you play with
Kazu: Yes. Their ability and knowledge of theory will not inhibit their use of simplicity.
PA: So, if a well schooled musician modulates to a different key because he wants to make change this is a problem?
Kazu: Yeah, I’m not a fan of this. I appreciate their vocabulary but it may be that keeping things simple within the key may be necessary for what I am doing. I am looking for emotion. Limitation helps to create space. Sometimes when I produce Keiko, I tell her to cut notes. I ask her to listen to silence. I want to feel the silence between the notes. I think I have a problem when a jazz player uses too many notes.
PA: find there’s an analogy w/ pop music - say Rap or Hip Hop - music simple in form. My problem is that there is no space. Everything both vocally as well as rhythmically is constantly busy. I think they and their producers realize that all this activity does all the work for the audience. It doesn’t force them to use their imagination. It almost grabs you physically and pulls you in - it does all the work so to speak. What’s your feedback on my little theory?
Kazu: Simple music is popular. Some Rap is very creative. Sometimes I just want to listen to the groove but I can’t hear the words.
PA: Lets take a turn. Here. You took up with the Shakuachi flute when you were younger. What pop music influenced you when you were younger?
Kazu: When I started to produce my own album, I asked others to tell me what I should listen to to get a good example of contemporary music. I was told to listen to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I listened to them hundreds of times. I listened to Quincy Jones' productions.
PA: Ah, Here we are back to the visual cues of music
Kazu: Yeah, I imagine visuals of watching the moon or traveling through the jungle. If you listen to Stone Monkey, it is very visual. It all comes from my travels. Twenty years ago I drove from England to India and this left a deep impact on me. All these experiences come back to me and I want to express this in my music
PA: Stone Monkey is very cinematic. I am thinking of the Cirque Du Soleil.
Kazu: Yeah I love them.
PA: When you were a very young man, what other music did you listen to?
Kazu: Well, like in high school I listened to Santana, Coltrane, The Doors and anything theatrical. Anything that told a story.
PA: Tell me about your interest in Coltrane
Kazu: Others introduced me to him. I especially like the simple work as on Love Supreme. Sometimes he played many many notes but he used space very well, You can feel the silence behind it. I don’t know how he does it (Laughter). I liked him more than other jazz musicians
PA: Isn’t it great to live in a time with this digital chip? At one time people argued that it was evil, but it can be a marvelous tool.
Kazu: Yeah, those people don’t understand. Like, I love the use of the drum machine. I believe these digital tools have spirit. I believe everything has spirit, and should be seen as this. Sometimes machines makes more sense. I don’t like it if a live drummer doesn’t feel or connect with the visual aspect. Sometimes these machines can express what we want to say. They are part of the universe.
PA: So, it’s how we USE those machines that makes the real difference as to their validity?
Kazu: Yes, to use them, you have to feel as if you and the machine are part of the universe. There is a relationship there. The creative mixture of human and machine is the way to go. After all, nature, the universe, includes the computer
PA: So if it’s here, it’s part of nature, otherwise
it wouldn’t be here?
Kazu: Yeah, (Laughter). Exactly. Certain people block themselves into a narrow interpretation, but sometimes a narrow thing can go deeper.
PA: Once you put up rigid judgment, there is an opportunity to miss something. This takes me back to what you said about time and space in music. Of not playing. Those moments can allow deeper penetration what you have created
Kazu: Yeah, and people should judge from what they hear and not be negative about what tool was used to create the music. There are times when I even use sample CD’s to cut and paste into the music I compose (Many top musicians have out CD’s containing grooves they have played - allowing you to paste them into your project)). AND, if I do this, it is almost like I have involved this musician in the album. It’s like having another player easily accessible.
PA: So, even though they are samples, you are still communicating with him
Kazu: Yes. I spoke to a number of well known musicians that have sample CD’s of their work and phrases. They assured me that using their samples and phrases was OK.
PA: in Stone Monkey you have a lot of mixes with grooves that involved a bit of sampling.
Kazu: Yes, I was helped with the project by Hajime Hyakkoku who was able to paste many musical statements using the Macintosh computer. I didn’t want to use JUST drum machine, but to mix all the elements together of machine, sampler, and live individual voice. I am influenced greatly by this new technology
PA: Yes, you might say it is like being a sculptor - working with clay. You can place your sound, stand back, take some away, add proportions, ad infinitum. It’s a joy
Kazu: Exactly, and these techniques are there for everybody. For a few thousand dollars you have your own studio. This is a time that so many people - who didn’t have a chance to be in music - can now create. Anybody who is interested can create music. It’s a great time
PA: Everything we do can be done in the living room. We can exchange files with others, and the creative process unfolds.
Kazu: Yes yes! Actually I am now making a documentary about the Dali People in India. I can shoot - edit - and do everything by myself with hi digital quality. This is the first time I have made a film - apart from Keiko’s DVD’s. Again, I can do it all myself.
PA: Well you have an album that is much like a story or film. You’ve been talking about theater and as I previously remarked, your music is very visual.
Kazu: Yeah, I love our imagination
PA: I’ve been taking your album with me on my journeys to the river where I lay and allow my imagination to flow. I find the varied elements to be calming - even in their most dynamic sections. As I said previously, you threw everything in this album but the kitchen sink.
Kazu: Yeah but you know - some of the critics say I went too far (Kazu is laughing as he says this), I was not as New Age as I was supposed to be - but why not (More laughter)?
Kazu: the music industry is doing so bad right now and everybody is trying to chase the same rabbit. Everything sounds all the same. It’s OK to try to make a living, but the industry is killing creativity because they don’t budge. Sometimes artists produce work that doesn’t reach full appreciation in their time
PA: Yes, that means we need a day job
PA: An interesting irony here. As I said earlier, perhaps it’s the guy who is somewhat unsuccessful, that is more successful. He doesn’t have the bound duty to produce for the market. His day job allows him to paint his pictures the way HE see them
Kazu: Right . And many times, people have quit music because of the business difficulty. Well, because of the new technology, they can now come back and continue to produce. We don’t have to rely on the money from the record companies. AND, they don’t have the money anymore anyway. What we have to do is to find a market on the internet - I don’t know how to do it - but we need to develop new marketing strategy
PA: I’m really glad we had this time to talk. I feel a connection with your creative process because you seem to be drawn to the idea of making passionate interesting music, rather than just commercial music that can get boring and lackluster over time
Kazu: Yeah Yeah Yeah. And I hope XM radio will do great (Referring to the new satellite radio subscription services like XM and Sirius that are not as bound to the same play lists as commercial radio)
PA: OK, AND THIS LEADS TO THE QUESTION: Where does your album Stone Monkey fit? In what genre is it placed? New Age, World Fusion?
Kazu I’m not sure. Narada is a good label and well recognized. I just hope everybody will, get further into this subscription radio and listen to music that is good
PA: This leads to some of the new internet stations like LIVE 365
Kazu: Yes, I am hopeful to see how these stations develop
PA: Again, they don’t have the same constraints as commercial radio.
Kazu: YES exactly As long as people have choice. If they choose me or they don’t choose me that’s OK. I just want them to have choices available. I want to see stations available that will offer something different
PA: When will you be done with your current work on the James Horner soundtrack ?
Kazu: I will go back to Japan next week.
PA: What was it like working with James?
Kazu He is great. AND, he knows how to work with “street Players” which is what I consider myself. He uses ethnic players very well. When we did Legends Of The Fall (Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.), James brought in many folk players to work with the symphony. AND the orchestra members really appreciated their talents. The good composers let the street players play (Within their styles). And the blend of the folk and orchestral traditions add a great deal to the overall sound of the music
PA: Well, thank you for the interview. It was so good to talk and hear you speak of the unique approach of blending technology and street playing, with schooled and traditional orchestra. Your album Stone Monkey is truly daring and I think one of the most adventurous albums I’ve heard in a long time. It is a melting pot of the worlds sounds and traditions. I think many will appreciate your courage in making an album that truly pushed boundaries
Kazu: Thank you
The last 3 pictures are by Jun Sato, used with permission. Thanks Jun!
Bryan Anderson - Beaufort Avenue (2005)
Bass player Bryan Anderson offers a relaxed smooth jazz set with beautiful compositions and heartfelt playing. Very recommended.
Down To The Bone - Spread Love Like Wildfire (2005)
Groovy tracks with a full horn section, screaming organ and catchy compositions make this another outstanding release by this British combo.
Steven Lee Group - From The Ground Up (2003)
Headed by guitar player Steven Lee this group delivers some great smooth jazz and outstanding playing putting you in a laid-back mood.
NexLevel - Level One (2004)
NexLevel is a Columbus-based band that specializes in smooth jazz, rhythm & blues and urban contemporary gospel styles of music. Don't miss it!
D E N I S * P O O L E
'Miss You' by Danny Federici from his forthcoming CD Out Of a Dream. This is sure to be one of the smooth jazz covers of the year.
'Old Friends' by Paul Brown from his new CD The City that is out this week. An excellent overall recording that is that much more confident and assured than his debut album of last year.
'Love Will Never Let You Down' by Brian Culbertson from the CD Its On Tonight due out on July 26. A very special track indeed.
'The Rain' with vocals by Culbertson collaborator Ledisi from the concept album Def Jazz due out in August. This one will be a major player.
'Steppin' Up by Mark Hollingsworth from his new CD On The Mark. Ex session man Hollingsworth steps center stage to great effect.
J O N A T H A N * W I D R A N
Rena Scott, Let Me Love You (Amor Records) – The one time backup singer for Aretha Franklin and featured performer with The Crusaders works up a soothing and romantic, ballad heavy collection that makes for the perfect soundtrack to a balmy summer night.
The Reverend Al Green, Everything’s OK (Blue Note)
Don Murray & Vuelo, Romanza (Whaling City Sound)
Patrick Yandall, Just Be Thankful (Apria Records)
David Pack, The Secret of Moving On (Peak Records)
NEW & NOTEWORTHY
O’2L, Doyle’s Brunch (Peak Records)
Mark Carter, West Coast Groove (Mark Carter Productions)
Jeff Golub, Temptation (Narada Jazz)
Steve Cole, Spin (Narada Jazz
Jim Brickman, Grace (Windham Hill/RCA Victor)
B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D
Harry Hmura, Passion, 2003 (Stormcloud)
This is a debut CD by Harry Hmura, guitarist and composer who has had an impressive career including playing festivals all over the world. Well known for his contributions to Latin Jazz, he also spent five years with Brian Culbertson before embarking on his own career. Passion is filled with just that -- passion! His skill is firmly established on the first track and simply continues all the way through. 'Lucky Lady' is an especially compelling Latin jazz track. One thing that strikes me about his playing is that he rarely gives the guitar any break in the song, he just fills in everywhere in a completely effective and tireless performance on many of the songs. He can communicate anything and everything with that guitar.
He'll have a second CD coming out soon, so this is a good time to catch up with what he's done on Passion (if you haven't already), so that you can be in the same position I'm in -- on the edge of your seat waiting for 'the new one,' which will be entitled Face to the Sun. Stay tuned for the release date and more about Harry Hmura. Visit harryhmura.com.
Others I'm listening to:
Chuck Loeb, When I'm With You (2005, Shanachie)
Robin Avery, The Way You Hold Me (2005)
Najee, My Point of View (upcoming)
Will Brock, A Letter From Eye to I, (DHP Records)
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Paul Brown, The City: The great smooth jazz producer does it again on his sophomore solo recording. The first single is classic Brown – light guitar riff over vocalese. But he dares to rock on “Real Mutha For Ya,” a cover of the Johnny “Guitar” Watson classic with voice-box effects on the guitar. Cool stuff.
Bebel Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto: Just as solid as her classic Tanto Tempo, Gilberto’s latest features another intoxicating mix of Brazilian bossa-electronica sung in Portuguese and English. The highlight here is the memorable “All Around.” A remix CD is already out. A real discovery for smooth jazz fans.
Brian Culbertson, It’s On Tonight: The pianist’s latest won’t be released until later in July, but reserve your copy now. This CD of “slow jams” actually begins with the uptempo “Let’s Get Started,” a feel-good ride. Twelve songs, all great, with a few well-placed vocals mixed in with the instrumentals. Best track – the dreamy, “Dreaming of You.” The album is by far Culbertson’s most consistent.
Suzanne Ciani, Silver Ship: The queen of new age-piano music returns with another masterpiece that will have you dreaming of tall ships cutting through fog-shrouded water. OK, maybe not, but see what her music can do to you?
Richard Elliot, Metro Blue: The veteran saxophonist has never sounded better, and his knack for writing pure pop songs in unquestioned. Especially delicious are “Coastline,” “Mango Tango” and the top smooth jazz cover version of the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round.”
Readers 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. A CD well worth looking out for is the debut release from sax player Mark Hollingsworth. With On The Mark he has teamed up with veteran writer and producer James Wirrick to deliver nine sparkling originals and one quality cover that is sure to move this long time session and sideman to center stage.
A graduate of Berklee, firmly centered in Los Angeles but with his roots in his home town of Chicago, Hollingsworth has worked with top notch artists from Stevie Wonder to Santana and Ray Charles to Quincy Jones. For the last three years he has been a featured member of the Greg Adams band and it was while touring that people began asking if he had his own solo album. Consequently the idea for On The Mark was born.
The title cut, dedicated to his childhood hero Tom Scott, is all about the thrusting sax that one would associate with Scott himself while ‘Catch This’, another dedication, this time to Cannonball Adderley, is less smooth and more funky but none the worse for that. The CD is full of nice surprises from the Latin rhythm and superior guitar work of James Wirrick on ‘Bahia Moonlight’ to the big brassy sound of ‘Hot Nights’. Other standouts include the delightfully R & B tinged cover of the Jeffrey Osborne recording ‘Back In Love Again’, featuring excellent backing vocals from Kelly Moneymaker and Bernadette Barlow, and ‘Sunset Rose’, catchy yet mellow and a superb example of classic west coast smooth jazz. Two personal favorites are the haunting, Boney James like ‘Prairie Rains’ and the catchy feel good ‘Steppin Up’.
All in all On The Mark is a well crafted collection that deserves to hold its own in the ultra competitive market of smooth jazz saxophone. Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
You can e-mail the saxophonist or send him a letter.
Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Michael Brecker, who has played on many popular smooth jazz recordings, has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, known as MDS. It’s a blood disorder that can lead to leukemia. Brecker, who is 56, is said to be seriously ill and has cancelled all of his scheduled concerts for the time being. He is now undergoing chemotherapy at the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York City and is scheduled to undergo a bone-marrow transplant.
Brecker has had a storied career, and has collaborated in the studio with artists such as David Benoit, George Benson, Larry Carlton, Bob James, Earl Klugh, Chuck Loeb, David Sanborn, Diana Krall and many others. Recently, Brecker performed on the album by Jason Miles' Maximum Grooves called Coast to Coast and was a special guest on an album by steel pan player Andy Narell called The Passage.
In May 2004, Michael signed with the Heads Up recording label – home to Spyro Gyra, Marion Meadows, Pieces of a Dream, Nestor Torres and others – and was due to release a new album sometime in 2006. If you would like to send Brecker a get-well message, you can e-mail email@example.com.
You can also send a letter to:
Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center
1275 York Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Premier smooth jazz guitarist George Benson has split from his record label.
After releasing four CDs with the GRP/Verve Music Group record label since 1996, guitarist George Benson and the label have parted in what the label called a mutual agreement.
Benson’s last CD for Verve, which is part of the Universal Music Company, was last year’s Irreplaceable. That CD was originally to be a collection of vocal tracks, but the singer and guitarist halted its release, at the request of the label, to rework the project to include three instrumental songs and create more of a smooth jazz flavor. In stepped uber-producer Paul Brown, and one of the two songs he produced, “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” paid off. It topped the R&R smooth jazz chart for six weeks.
Irreplaceable followed Absolute Benson in 2000, Standing Together in 1998 and That’s Right in 1996, all of which went to No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart.
Benson also actually released a few albums for Verve in the 1960s before beginning associations with the A&M and Warner Bros. labels, among others.
Rainbow Promotions presents the 18th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival on the weekend of August 12th, 13th and 14th., 2005. The festival takes place again at the idyllic seaside setting of Rainbow Lagoon Park on Shoreline Drive in Long Beach, California. As the longest-running annual jazz festival in Southern California, the Long Beach Jazz Festival is poised to be the most exciting festival ever as Rainbow Promotions, guided by veteran concert promoter Al Williams, adds an international flavor to its mix of traditional and contemporary jazz.
Williams, who will also perform with his Al Williams Jazz Society on August 14, says of this year’s Long Beach Jazz Festival lineup: “Jazz has been embraced by the world for decades. It is only proper that the Long Beach Jazz Festival reflect that same love for such an enduring genre. We feel that this is one of the most exciting lineups in our proud history, and will also stand as one of the best we’ve ever presented.”
On August 12, japanese pianist Keiko Matsui brings her special brand of jazz to the festival, and is joined by popular Japanese-American jazz ensemble Hiroshima. Closing the first day is the Special Storm, featuring guitarist Norman Brown, soulful crooner Peabo Bryson, songwriter/vocalist/pianist Brenda Russell and the high-energy of saxophonist Everette Harp.
On August 13, afro-jazz stylist Hugh Masekela makes a rare Southern California appearance. Jazz vocalist Michael Franks, British jazz combo Down To The Bone, smooth jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb, bay area jazz guitarist Joyce Cooling bring their special flavor to the festival. And South Floridians Seville will perform a tribute to Motown. And on August 14, dynamic vocalist Rachelle Ferrell, urban soul artist Angie Stone, popular pianist Bob James, former Blackbyrds keyboardist Kevin Toney and the Al Williams Jazz Society featuring vocalist Barbara Morrison command the stage. The highlight of the last day of the Long Beach Jazz Festival is a tribute to the legendary Ray Charles, which will feature former members of his band, former members from his background vocal group the Raylettes, and special guests.
Tickets are available through Rainbow Productions at (562)-424-0013, or online at Ticketmaster.com. Vip tickets - $135 on Friday, and $160 per seat on Saturday and Sunday - include dinner, wine service and backstage access. Reserved box seating tickets are $50 on Friday and $65 per seat on Saturday and Sunday. General admission/lawn seating is $40 (prior to August 10) and $45 at the gate. Friday gates open at 5pm, with showtimes starting at 7pm. Saturday and Sunday gates open at 11:00am.
Bank of America returns as presenting sponsor of the 2005 Long Beach Jazz Festival. Other sponsors include Northrup Grumman, Budweiser, Alize, Jazziz Magazine, Charter Communications, Bet Jazz and Southwest Airlines. Co-sponsors include KTWV-FM, KKJZ-FM and KJLH-FM Los Angeles.
About Rainbow Promotions
Rainbow Promotions is the producer of the Long Beach Jazz Festival, the San Diego Smooth Jazz Festival and multi-mini-concerts presented year-round. For 18 years, Rainbow Promotions has presented the Long Beach Jazz Festival, the city’s second-largest event behind the Long Beach Grand Prix, and averages 30,000 in attendance over the three-day event. For more information regarding the Long Beach Jazz Festival, go to: www.longbeachjazzfestival.com, or www.rainbowpromotions.com.
Read my review of last year's 17th Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival.
Paul Hardcastle's 19-year-old daughter, Maxine Hardcastle, makes a smashing debut on Hardcastle 4, especially on the smoldering "Smooth Jazz Is Bumpin.'"
The latest smooth vazz vocalist to hit the scene is a teenager, Maxine Hardcastle.
Yes, she is the daughter of British smooth jazz composer Paul Hardcastle. Maxine sings and has co-writing credits on three song on the new CD that was released last week called Hardcastle 4. They are “Smooth Jazz Is Bumpin'," “Was It Love” and “Where Are You Now.”
The budding young singer's voice is a real treat, and recalls frequent Hardcastle collaborator Helen Rogers. (Rogers will be back on the next Jazzmasters' CD. Maxine was the inspiration for an old Hardcastle song called "Maxine," and she also had a spoken-word monologue throughout a song called "Look to the Future" from the Hardcastle 2 album released in 1996.
Ironically, Maxine turned 19 years old in April. You may recall that Hardcastle had a worldwide dance smash back in 1985 with the song “19,” which used spoken-word reports from Vietnam throughout the song that described the average age of American combatants as 19.
"It’s the first time that she’s actually done something really popular in the studio, and she really likes this type of music," says Paul Hardcastle. "Who knows? She could have her own album out in a couple of years time. We don’t want to rush her into it. Her songwriting’s getting very, very good at the moment, and I think she’s got a great future ahead of her."
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. That delicious space somewhere between smooth jazz and R & B where rhythm and melody blends with a soulful groove is where many smooth jazz artists aspire to be. Some achieve it fleetingly, others never at all, yet Brian Culbertson has managed it consistently over a career that is just about to reach even greater heights with the July 26 release of his debut album on GRP, Its On Tonight.
That Culbertson left his listening public on such a high with his 2003 Come On Up has made the wait seem even longer but now, with what is being promoted as a ‘12-song seduction suite’, his eighth album in all, he is back with a sensuous collection full of the vibe that we have come to associate with him. The song writing collaboration he struck up on Come On Up with Stephen Lu is again in evidence as the partnership contribute some of the strongest numbers in a collection that has no weak links.
From the first note of the first track, ‘BFO’, which has a vocal contribution from Ledisi and is pure Culbertson throughout, the listener knows a treat is in store. ‘Hookin Up’ has already been identified as the first number to be lifted for radio play and is more classic Culbertson. In fact Culbertson classics abound. ‘Forbidden Love’, ‘Secret Affair’ with Chris Botti providing some standout trumpet and ‘Touch Me’ are all examples of the artist at the very top of his game.
The word infectious is perhaps overused in music reviews but it’s a word that sums up this hallmark sound that gets in your head and wont go away: with tracks like ‘Dreaming Of You’ you will never want it to. This lean, semi acoustic number with haunting violin from Culbertson’s wife, Michelle, is simple in its construction yet stunning. The title track, which will inevitably be seen by many as the centerpiece to the CD, has lyrics penned by Marc Nelson and is blessed by the luscious vocals of Will Downing. It marks the point in the album to really turn the lights down low.
Even though this is unashamedly a ‘make out’ album Brian has recorded only original songs and opted not to include any covers of bedroom classics. His thinking here is that if people are buying the record for the purpose for which he intended, he didn't want to do any remakes. Culbertson reasons that cover songs will evoke memories and he doesn’t want to put any memories into listeners’ heads other than the new ones they are creating themselves while in the moment.
Talking of ‘in the moment’, the track ‘Sensuality’, complete with the subtle horns that are a Culbertson trademark, puts you right there while ‘The Way You Feel’, enriched by Boney James on sax, has a simple melody that is hard to forget.
The ultra sexy and seductive ‘Wear It Out’, that features Az Yet vocalist and Babyface protégé Marc Nelson is in the late night R & B groove while the killer cut from the entire collection comes courtesy of ‘Love Will Never Let You Down’. With vocals from Patti Austin, an incredible contribution from Kirk Whalum on sax and some wonderful Culbertson playing it’s a number brimming with soul and is so far off the feel good scale its out of sight.
As Culbertson basks in the afterglow of the final track ‘Reflections’ he can consider that his aim to create a concept album has been well and truly successful. In laying down grooves designed to accompany every stage of romance he has not only provided a backdrop for people to chill out, relax and do what they need to do he has, into the bargain, come up with what will undoubtedly be one of the smooth jazz sensations of 2005.
Pianist Gregg Karukas hopes his new smooth jazz song will be greeted with a postive outlook.
The terrorist attacks in London on July 7 – three of which occurred in the city’s subway system – created quite a coincidence for a new song by pianist Gregg Karukas. The first smooth jazz single from his upcoming album called Looking Up is called “London Underground.”
On his website, Karukas says the attacks hit close to home since his new record label, Trippin N Rhythm, is based in London and one of his oldest friends from grade school lives in the city. Karukas, who recorded “London Underground” months ago, says he and record label have decided to stick with the name of instrumental song because they hope its positive outlook will help soothe and unite people in their need to confront violence.
"It is quite a coincidence considering I came up the title to the first single, ‘London Underground,’ a few months ago, mostly as a tribute to Trippin N Rhythm records, since they’re based in England," says Karukas. "I can only hope the upbeat vibe of ‘London Underground’ will somehow has a positive impact. Music does have power, and I’m now even more dedicated to speaking out, and playing out, on behalf and tolerance in the world."
Looking Up will be released on Aug. 16.
Every musician seems to have his characteristic sign of bliss while playing his instrument. Gerald Veasley was the first to reveal this quite clearly -- his tell-tale head-bobbing, front and back and side to side, can’t be missed. No doubt all artists eventually exhibit this sign if we’re paying attention, and Chuck Loeb is no exception; there is an unmistakable sign of the fun he’s having. After just a few minutes of getting warmed up, it’s not long before he begins swaying back and forth with his guitar, first side to side, then up to one side and down to the other side, and by the time Chuck is going straight down to the floor in order to play his guitar the way he means to, it’s all over – he’s in guitar heaven. From then on, the rest of the show seems even more fun for him than it is for his audience, and that’s saying a lot!
Chuck Loeb is such an accomplished guitar player; he’s done so much in a varied career that goes beyond being a successful recording artist to include wide acclaim as a composer, arranger, educator, and producer. Loeb is so well known, has played with so many artists, has produced, encouraged and helped so many to get where they are today, that by now he’s in that elite category of ‘mentor extraordinaire.’ Watching him as the arranger and bandleader for ten or more uniquely talented musicians each year at the Berks Jazz Fest All Star Jam, one can’t miss his ability to bring together a team of players, his willingness to step into the background and enhance the contributions of others, and his competent leadership on stage during the performance.
During this year’s Berks Jazz Fest, fans were able to witness an equally accomplished side of Chuck Loeb. There was opportunity to watch what he does when he takes the stage with his own band. It was an exceptional performance, and it gave us a chance to see the side of him that confirms his heart is still at the place where it began at the start of his career -- playing the guitar for the sheer enjoyment of it.
It was no surprise that Loeb and band members Brian Killeen (bass), Matt King (keyboards), and Josh Dion (drums) were included in the line-up for the Berks Summer Jazz Series. These band members, immensely talented yet young enough to greatly benefit from Loeb’s years of experience, seem to afford him a perfect combination -- at the same time Chuck is enjoying himself so much, he has a chance to influence and shape the performance of those getting firmly anchored in this genre of music. This band is phenomenal together, and to watch all of this in the intimate setting of a place like Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base ranked up there among the best of live music.
It seems there is no separation between Chuck Loeb and his guitar: they operate as one. It’s not just the swaying, but he holds it close to him, as he would a dance partner, totally engrossed in his plan for it and taking it along with him where he wants to go. Ever the leader, he is first and foremost leader of that guitar. Yet he remains aware of everything else that is going on. As he stops playing for someone else to solo, he might get busy taking care of all kinds of things. It almost seems the whole show is just a practice session for him, he’s so relaxed as he walks from side to center stage (unobtrusively, really), and of course we all know that it's not a practice session. By definition, practice is not synonymous with perfect, which this show surely was! With his ability to multi-task, no wonder he can organize a bunch of musicians with seeming ease and with the amazing results of shows like the Berks All Star Jazz Jam as well as this show featuring his own band.
Chuck has the respect of his players, who look to him to confirm they are right where he wants them. There is no confusion, something that’s attributed to his clear leadership as well as their individual abilities. Band members work hard at giving a flawless delivery of what Chuck wants – he stretches them beyond what they might think they are capable of, only to find that he was right, the talent was there all along to follow through with what was needed. It’s fascinating to see how Chuck’s trust in their ability at certain demanding points of the performance take them all right over the top. One could see the intensity of the bass player when this happened, and the ever-so-slightly questioning look of the keyboard player, both of whom quickly picked up on where Chuck was taking them. As for the drummer, he appeared ready for every minute of every song -- he had ‘carte blanche’ on the performance and he seemed to know it. (He’s been with Chuck the longest of the three, so that by now he and Chuck form a oneness that’s quickly coming with the other two players).
All three band members have remarkable talent. The keyboard player, the newest member of the band, obviously had a lot of fun and did a superb job of following Chuck, staying with him through every song, and the bass player's quality of concentration served him well. He appears to be the kind of player who will go on to even greater heights of bass playing. The drummer was quite interesting to watch; he somehow seems to crawl over the entire drum set while he’s playing, and so he’s playing with his entire body. Throughout the evening, the ending of each song was amazingly crisp and often surprising, again the mark of a carefully orchestrated plan by a capable leader in Chuck Loeb and the incredible response of the band.
Joining the band for a few songs were Gerald Veasley himself and also the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, including Mike Anderson on sax, Rob Diener on trumpet, and Bill Miller on trombone. Veasley and Loeb have an easy comaraderie, and the Berks Jazz Fest horns rose to the occasion every time with some memorable soloing.
The first set included 'Balance' from the CD of the same name, then three cuts from his latest CD, When I’m With You, including 'Double Life,' 'Uppercut,' and 'Brother Ray' with the Jazz Fest Horns and Gerald Veasley sitting in, followed by his popular current hit, ‘Tropical,’ during which there was an unbelievable solo by Loeb.
The second set began with the upbeat 'Jump Start' (When I’m With You), continued with the beloved Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia,’ which featured the drummer as vocalist in an entertaining and memorable performance, then ‘Sarao,’ (All There Is) and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints,’ which featured Veasley, ending with 'Billy’s Song'(In A Heartbeat), a medley that includes, ‘eBop,’ ‘Pocket Change,’ and ‘Just Us.’ The encore was a reprise of ‘Jump Start,’ and by the time it ended, the audience was on its feet for the second or third time!
Chuck explained earlier the meaning of 'Sarao,' a Spanish word for ‘a kind of party, where you hang out with friends’ – Chuck’s solo on the song was a party all its own! The entire performance was the stuff of live CD recording sessions, complete with fervent appreciation of the audience, lending credibility to the notion that ever since Veasley himself recorded a CD at the Jazz Base, the venue may have taken on an identity of its own. Loeb also declared his keen fondness for Berks as a place to play, mentioning that it’s so relaxed and happy here. It’s fair to say Berks fans are ready for a 'Sarao' any time Chuck Loeb feels like taking the stage!
Gerald Veasley summed it up best when he said, “….. the show was fantastic. Chuck inspires me as a composer, bandleader and musician. It's always a pleasure playing with him.”
Visit Chuck Loeb’s website at www.chuckloeb.com to learn more about him, his latest CD, When I'm With You, and his enormous contributions to the music world.
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo Credits: Michael Packard
Acoustic Alchemy displays its strong points in concert.
The last time the veteran smooth jazz band Acoustic Alchemy performed at Seattle’s Jazz Alley, just last year, audiences were treated to a trio setting. When the band wrapped up its current U.S. tour on July 10 at the same venue, the band was in full force. That meant the place was jumping.
Acoustic Alchemy is led by guitarists Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale, the latter who became a permanent member after the unfortunate death of Nick Webb several years ago. Gilderdale brings a rock edge to the band’s live performances, which is not surprising when you consider that honed his chops jamming in a rock band. Gilderdale’s rock pedigree was evident from the get go as he laid down plenty of rock riffs throughout “Shelter Island Drive” and “Georgia Peach.” Gilderdale can sing and scat, too, which is evident on the band’s first single called “Say Yeah” from its current CD called American/English. In concert, lucky fans are treated to several minutes of scatting instead of the few measly seconds on the radio track.
Original member Carmichael, of course, is a treat to behold as well. While Gilderdale uses a pick, Carmichael prefers the guitar au natural – he plays it like a bass with his fingers. It looks painful, but he’s surely built up major protective calluses during his worldwide jaunts.
Together, Carmichael and Gilderdale complement each other nicely, never more so than on “Detroit Shuffle” when their give-and-take sounded lifted straight from the movie Deliverance. On that song, dedicated to the Motown style, they threw in a few snippets of “How Sweet It Is” and “Jimmy Mack.”
The duo was backed admirably by the touring band: Frank Felix on bass, Eddie M. on sax, Greg Grainger on drums and Fred White on keyboards.
The lads are now back in London, but will return to the States in September. Wherever you are, you deserve to catch a show by the legendary Acoustic Alchemy.
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. Having recently heard a track that I consider to be a contender for best smooth jazz cover version of the year, the Jagger Richards, Rolling Stones smash ‘Miss You’, by Danny Federici from his up coming album, Out Of A Dream, I jumped at the chance to talk to him about his music and his arrival on the smooth jazz scene.
For those of you not up to speed with life on the ‘other side’ of the Hudson River, Danny Federici is one of the founding members of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band having now performed with them for over thirty years. His keyboards have been the backdrop to some of their greatest songs and its his organ you can hear on the classic anthem ‘Born To Run’, his piano playing on the blockbuster ‘Born in the USA’ and his accordion that sounds like a carousel on the sleepy beach serenade ‘4th of July Asbury Park’.
He explained to me that working with Springsteen afforded him unique flexibility in finding the time to develop his own projects. It’s not uncommon for there to be a two year break between tours or studio recordings and, in addition, Springsteen’s iconic status allows him the space to occasionally pursue his own solo projects. So it was both before and throughout his tenure in the E Street Band that Federici composed many instrumental pieces but never got around to recording them. This all changed when work that he had started in LA, while writing short instrumental pieces aimed at film and television, was expanded and used, in part, for his 1997 debut album Flemington, a project that was later reissued with one additional track and renamed as Danny Federici.
Now, with Out Of A Dream, due out on V2 Records on July 26, Federici, in collaboration with musical director and producer Mike Cates, looks set to consolidate his initial success. Cates has recording credits that includes playing sax for Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Al Green, Barry White and the Rolling Stones so it’s no surprise to find that it was Cates who talked Federici into covering The Stones number ‘Miss You’. It is also his saxophone that laces the track with standout playing. ‘Miss You’ has already been identified as the first track to be lifted for radio and is being picked up by stations across the country at a rapid rate.
That said Out Of A Dream is not a CD built entirely around ‘Miss You’. His intrigue with art, dreams, cinema and the newness of the day, combined with the love he has for his wife and children, provides the foundation for ten tracks that stand and can be judged on their own considerable merits. Indeed Out Of A Dream comes straight from the heart of Danny Federici and, when I asked him how it was that someone who the fans see as totally rock orientated should turn to smooth jazz, he made it clear that this is music that has always been with him. He is refreshingly detached from the current smooth jazz scene and, although he admits to being a long time admirer of David Sanborn and to being enthused by the work of Brian Culbertson, he is very much his own man and Out Of A Dream is testimony to that. The recording is further enriched by the quality of the collaborating musicians who collectively sport an impressive array of credits. Percussionist Daniel de Los Reyes (James Taylor, Sting and Ricky Martin), Jon Johnson on guitar (Earth Wind and Fire), Juan Van Dunk on bass (The Police, KC and The Sunshine Band) all play a part while Todd Parsnow (Bootsy Collins) adds his chugging guitar on ‘Miss You’. The combination makes Out Of A Dream something way above the average.
As well as ‘Miss You’ Danny adds a second cover with his version of the much recorded Bob Dylan composition ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’, another track clearly destined for radio play. It’s the last tune on the album and in common with the best of ‘last track’ selections the production manages to engender a nice build quality that makes this the perfect choice as a live gig play out number.
It’s when the album taps into his own compositions that perhaps the true Danny Federici emerges. ‘Light Is Calling’ is a super laid back tune with an irresistible and hypnotic hook and when I asked him about ‘Two Oceans’, a quality ultra smooth example of top class smooth jazz piano playing, he told me it was all about the emotions of east coast and west coast living. Moving to LA he had slipped effortlessly into the calm west coast lifestyle yet a visit back to New York City led him to rediscover the energy of the place and made him realize that it was the place to be. Now, with a home in the West Village, that curiously European feeling district of the city with green spaces and people eating in small cafes, he feels he is right in touch with the heartbeat of the city and an atmosphere that fuels his creative engines. In fact that West Village vibe was responsible for another stand out track, ‘Fragments Of An Afternoon’, a tune that conjures an image of the city late in the day, heat rising from the sidewalk and people going about their business, all observed from, perhaps, the window of a Starbucks coffee shop.
Other notable tracks include ‘Maya’, where Federici brings a Grusin like orchestral quality to this love song written for and named after his wife and, ‘Venus’s Pearl’, with a nice full sound, a catchy rhythm and wailing sax that all combine to provide a lovely feel. ‘Green Apples’, written by Danny for his kids, is a deconstructed piece of work where simplicity is a virtue while the title track finds more superior Mike Cates sax playing and a number that is without question classic late night smooth jazz in the making.
Now, after all those years playing in the background to huge stadium audiences, Danny is revelling in being center stage and performing in small intimate venues where he can really connect with the crowd. Connecting he certainly is and with Out Of A Dream he might just have one of the sensations of the smooth jazz year.
Joe McBride does something a little different on his latest CD.
Ready for a smooth jazz version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”?
Pianist Joe McBride offers one for your listening enjoyment on his upcoming CD called Texas Hold ‘Em. The Dallas native's is calling his cover of the Iron Butterfly classic “In A Garden of Eden.”
Unlike the original 1968 version, which clocked in at more than 17 minutes, McBride's’s jazzy version is just a little more than three-and-a-half minutes.
The rest of the 11-song CD features McBride with his group of local musicians known as the Texas Rhythm Club.
Texas Hold ‘Em, McBride’s seventh release for the Heads Up label, will be available on Sept. 27.
Nelson Rangell, renowned sax/flute veteran of smooth/contemporary jazz, brings his sound to the Henderson Pavillion in Henderson/Las Vegas Thursday, July 7th for a special concert.
The weekend of July 7th and 8th you'll find the legendary group, Spyro Gyra, performing in the Suncoast Showroom at the Suncoast Hotel. Interesting to add that keyboardist and co-founder Tom Schumann has recently made his home in Las Vegas, setting up shop for his recording studio.
Dave Koz and Friends brings his Smooth Summer Night Tour 2005 to Texas Station July 29th. Special guests include the legendary vocalist Jeffrey Osborne, guitarist Marc Antoine, and the dutch smooth sax sensation, Praful.
The title of Keiko Matsui’s third album, 1990’s No Borders, has proven remarkably prophetic over the past 15 years as the composer-keyboardist has become one of contemporary jazz’s great global ambassadors. While the bulk of her 70-plus annual concert dates happen in Matsui’s native Japan and her adopted home of the United States - she and husband/producer Kazu Matsui live in Huntington Beach, California half the year - Matsui has truly emerged as a musical citizen of the world.
She squeezes in this early April interview from the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, where she is performing on a bill with Jane Monheit and Roberta Flack at Earl Klugh’s A Weekend of Jazz at the Broadmoor. The next week, she’s off to Moscow for her first-ever performance in the Russian capital city. Matsui’s been in parts of the former Soviet Union before, with dates these past few years in Latvia, Kiev in the Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. She’s played Johannesburg, South Africa annually since 2002. The crowds are enthusiastic everywhere, but for the best combination of food and beautiful scenery, nothing beats Istanbul.
“Everyplace I go, it’s wonderful to hear that people are passionate towards my music and very much into the concert, even if they are unfamiliar with some tunes going in,” she says. “Playing in front of 15,000 folks in Johannesburg, I heard something from the stage and wondered, are they singing? Turns out, after just one or two choruses, they were humming along, then chanting my name over and over. They also lit a bonfire there.
“They don’t have traditional radio outlets in these places,” Matsui adds, “but they’ve seen me on BET Satellite. In Hong Kong and Vietnam, I heard they use my music as background for TV shows. One of the girls at a top figure skating tournament in Moscow used my song ‘Whisper From the Mirror.’ There are so many unique ways to reach people. It reminds me how, despite our different religions and cultures, we can put our minds and hearts together through music and find common ground.”
True to her deep spiritual and often mystical nature, Matsui doesn’t limit her travels to physical realms. The million-plus fans who have bought at least one of Matsui’s previous recordings — her catalog from 1986 to present totals over a dozen — will likely be pouncing on maps of Japan or some other mystical Eastern land looking for the locale which inspired the title concept of her latest Narada Jazz disc Walls of Akendora. But it’s a place she created in her mind, where she escapes for contemplative ventures and moments of inner peace.
“Akendora is a fictional place of my own device,” she says. “It’s an imaginary city of another dimension, where everything is in harmony, all cultures exist in balance and man is at one with nature. I want the music to inspire a sense of adventure, where listeners can go and have wonderful experiences and enjoy beautiful visuals. I hope that I can communicate with my fans in this special place.” The mother of two daughters, 16-year-old Maya and nine year old Mako, adds, “The ‘walls’ do not refer to any barriers around this haven, but rather milestones. It’s like marking your child’s height on the wall. It’s about seeing where you have been and where you can go.”
Those who board the Akendora Express hoping for a return to Matsui’s jazzier side after several classical and world beat oriented releases will find ample rewards. She focuses on spirited, even swinging jazz, both free-form and ultra-playful. “Blue Butterfly” is a spacious, ambient jazz exercise with crazed piano runs and faint horn calls. She also spruces up her 1989 genre classic “Mountain Shakedown” with trip hop textures, a quicker bassline and richer piano improvisation.
“I’m always asking myself, why am I creating music, and as a musician, what can I do for a world in need?” she says. “I’m always looking to get involved and give something back. The world is getting more complicated and I think it’s hard to find solutions to our problems only with our heads. I think when people open up to music’s healing powers, together we can feel the oneness that the earth was intended to be. Someone recently told me that musicians have the magical power of shamans, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do my part.”
The recent return of Basia with Matt Bianco has led many smooth jazz fans to mourn the radio format’s early days — before pop oldies became the norm - when new vocalists and vocal albums had more of a presence. The sultry, intimate tones of Carol Duboc would have been all over the map in those days, but in 2005, the L.A. based singer-songwriter considers it a great accomplishment to hit the Radio & Records’ Indicator chart, which tracks more of the smaller market (and more openminded) stations.
“Use Me,” Duboc’s torchy take on the Bill Withers classic and first single from her Gold Note Music disc All Of You, has received airplay in places like Houston, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and several cities in Alabama. Duboc’s doing even better at XM Satellite Radio, and in May did a West Coast tour of Borders Bookstores, which also hosted dates in support of 2003’s Duboc. Thanks to her regular Sunday Brunch performances at Spaghettini’s in Huntington Beach, California, she’s also been interviewed on Los Angeles’ influential 94.7 The Wave. Making her publicist’s job even easier was her recent memorable film appearance as Pumpkin, a backup singer for a band managed by Vince Vaughn’s goofball character in Be Cool.
True to the album’s inviting balance of covers and Duboc originals, the second single is her soothing title track. In addition to 60’s hits “Sunny” and “Blackbird,” she also discovers gentleness in The Police hits “Every Breath You Take” and “Spirits In The Material World.”
“In the past, I’ve always written everything I sing, but I enjoyed the new challenge of interpreting pop and rock classics to fit my voice,” says the singer, whose composer resume includes cuts by Chante Moore, Patti Labelle and Stephanie Mills. “I’m working here with the band I’ve had for two years, and I’m particularly fond of the subtleties of John Leftwich’s upright bass and Land Richards’ beautiful brushes. But I approached all the songs from the point of view Darrell Crooks’ guitar, using his chords as a starting point for these arrangements. Taking the jazz quartet approach automatically softens things.”
After several years of success as an R&B songwriter under the tutelage of mega-producer Teddy Riley, The Kansas City born and raised Duboc saw an Al Jarreau performance which inspired her to consider a jazz-oriented vocal career. “A friend invited me to a live recording session for Al’s (1994) Tenderness album, and it changed my life. I loved the idea of using my voice as an instrument, since my favorite thing to do is write for instruments. So I focused my passion and followed my philosophy of never simply duplicating a song, but finding something authentic about myself within it.”
Currently riding high on the charts with Sweet Sensations, her bestselling album to date, soulful saxtress Pamela Williams is also featured on two upcoming Shanachie compilations — an R. Kelly collection and a gathering of classic R&B hits entitled Touch Me in the Morning, which includes performances by Will Downing. Williams plays lead on “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “Betcha By Golly Wow” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Close the Door.”
1) Rena Scott, Let Me Love You (Amor Records) – The one time backup singer for Aretha Franklin and featured performer with The Crusaders works up a soothing and romantic, ballad heavy collection that makes for the perfect soundtrack to a balmy summer night.
2) The Reverend Al Green, Everything’s OK (Blue Note)
3) Don Murray & Vuelo, Romanza (Whaling City Sound)
4) Patrick Yandall, Just Be Thankful (Apria Records)
5) David Pack, The Secret of Moving On (Peak Records)
New & Noteworthy
1) O’2L, Doyle’s Brunch (Peak Records)
2) Mark Carter, West Coast Groove (Mark Carter Productions)
3) Jeff Golub, Temptation (Narada Jazz)
4) Steve Cole, Spin (Narada Jazz)
5) Jim Brickman, Grace (Windham Hill/RCA Victor)
Brian Simpson has toured with Dave Koz for years as his musical director and keyboardist. This summer he releases his debut album It's All Good. You can catch Brian live this summer on Dave Koz's Smooth Summer Nights Tour. Visit DaveKoz.com for tour details. Click here to pre-order the album and listen to samples.
Tom Braxton has spent many years as Wayman Tisdale's saxophonist. In addition to continuing to back up the big man, this month he will take center stage and release a solo album on Rendezvous titled Bounce. The album will be released on July 26 nationwide. Click here to pre-order the album, and listen to samples
For the first time I attended the Capital Jazz Festival, which took place from June 3-5, 2005, in Columbia, MD, near Baltimore/Washington DC. Concerts were held in the Merriweather Post Pavilion in an amphitheater like setting with the seated area covered and the lawn behind in the open where people were sitting in their beach chairs and tents creating a special - as one performer put it - "Smoothstock" atmosphere. Unfortunately the weather was a bit unpleasant on Friday evening with some rain when the festival opened with Chaka Khan and George Benson. Saturday the weather was sunny with only light clouds, while Sunday was a hot and beautiful summer day, allowing the music to be enjoyed under perfect conditions. In the wood behind the concert area there was a marketplace area with many vendors offering art, CDs, food and the like. In addition, there were booths promoting upcoming smooth jazz cruises, the venerable Melanie Maxwell acquiring subscribers for Smooth Jazz News and booths of local smooth jazz stations Smooth Jazz WJZW 105.9 (Washington DC) and Smooth Jazz WSMJ 104.3 (Baltimore) whose radio personalities took on the responsibility of announcing the artists between sets. Usually the playing time was 60 minutes, with 30 minutes in between for setting up the next band; this time could be used to check out the marketplace, get some food or just wander around on the premises checking out all those cool folks. Sound-quality in general was good although the venue suffered from booming basses reverberating through the theatre.
The festival was opened Friday night by singer Chaka Khan who started out in 1973 with the band Rufus. She appeared with a competent band and some illustrious background singers (among them Karen Bernod), who provided some beautiful backing vocals and later in the show individually got their short solo spots. Chaka gave us many of their great hits including "Ain't Nobody", a number of Rufus songs reliving those old funk days, some songs from her latest release Classikhan and as encore - you guessed it - "Through The Fire". The set was warmly received and Chaka proved to be in good shape. A highlight of the show was the cameo appearance of the later scheduled George Benson who sang the classic "My Funny Valentine" with Chaka.
The set of George Benson with his great band (Michael O'Neill on guitar, Stanley Banks on bass and Kenya Hathaway on percussion and vocals) was thoroughly enjoyable. George is such a consummate performer with a vast catalog of familiar hits, so giving us a pleasant concert must have been an easy task for him. Songs like "This Masquerade", "Love X Love", "Give Me The Night", "On Broadway" and "The Ghetto" put the crowd in a party mood with George playing guitar accompanied by his trademark scatting. The jazz song "Moody's Mood" was graced by the vocals of Kenya Hathaway, who stepped down from her percussion set to duet with George - absolutely gorgeous. The younger daughter of the late Donny Hathaway showed not only to be a radiant beauty but a great artistic talent as well.
Next day at noon the Sax Pack featuring saxophonists Marion Meadows, Jeff Kashiwa and Kim Waters were on. Their band consisted of Carl Burnett (guitar), Dave Hiltebrand (bass), Clide Davis (drums) and Jay Rowe (keyboards). Their set featured individual tracks from each artist with some group efforts for good measure. Jeff Kashiwa got some crowd participation with his hit song "The Aah Ooh Song" which delighted the audience. Kim Waters is such a polished and smooth player and I always enjoy hearing him. Marion Meadows, who always boasts sharp looks, delivered some beautiful sounds on the soprano sax. This was a good set by some of the genre's best players, putting us in a good mood.
Female sax player Mindi Abair proved that good looks and chops are not exclusive of each other. It was my first time seeing her live and she literally blew me away. With a good number of radio hits under her belt, she created lots of positive vibes in the audience, "Lucy" being one of them. She had a good band with her, bass player Andre Berry stood out with his slapping playing getting lots of appreciation from the audience. Thumbs up for Mindi Abair!
Lee Ritenour and Friends was next, with "friends" meaning old cohorts Ernie Watts on sax, Patrice Rushen on keyboards and Alex Acuna on drums, with rising star Brian Bromberg on bass. This high caliber band, fronted by guitarist Lee Ritenour, brought us a selection from their vast catalog, which will be represented on an upcoming CD called Overtime. Reaching back as far as the fusion sounds of the Captain Fingers album, they played songs from various stages of Lee Ritenour's career with the Wesbound album being a most notable station. Great to see these veteran players going strong. The set was totally enjoyable and thinking about the amount of talent and experience gathered on the stage was mind boggling.
Joe Sample is an icon and a living music legend, having being part of the Crusaders. Appearing in an acoustic trio format with Jay Anderson on acoustic bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, Joe played acoustic versions of some of his best known compositions like "X Marks The Spot". He even made some trips back in history with a stride piano track from the early 20th century. Despite the acoustic format the set was well received and you could feel the appreciation this artist received from a knowledgeable audience. Besides, one could relax after the high octane performances which preceded this set and go to the roots of jazz, which is never a bad thing.
Singer Ledisi came next with a truly entertaining set. Bordering jazz, soul and r&b, Ledisi is somewhat of a chameleon, and opening her concert with this Herbie Hancock composition was an appropriate choice. Talking extensively between songs, she gave us some insight into her life and motivation as an artist. It was moving to hear that she quit her well paying but frustrating day job in order to pursue a career as a singer meaning some hard times to go through. Her spiritual side was obvious and showed that Ledisi is not trying to make hits but rather express herself as a unique artist. Despite claiming that she is not doing jazz, everything she did was in the spirit of improvisation and soaked in jazz. Her concert was a lot of fun and had some comedy aspects when Ledisi joked with the audience and danced around the stage. It was hilarious the way she complained in a lengthy song about the fact that they don't do soul songs like they used to do. She sang incredibly jazzy and soulful with Al Jarreau coming to mind. Her concert was totally entertaining and enlightening. Catch her if you can!
When night came, it was time to party with Boney James. Coming with a great band laying down a phat sound, Boney could stretch out on sax, delivering his unique brand of playing. What I like about Boney is the way he can play soft and restrained one minute and burst out into the most intense playing the next. His music is sensual and steamy and with the added urban background leads to an irresistible mix. His band got some moments to shine, especially guitar player/vocalist Norris Jones and bass player Sam Sims delighted us with their talents. When Boney descended into the audience he was immediately surrounded by a number of excited females dancing next to him, which he obviously enjoyed tremendously. This concert was one of the highlights of the whole festival for me.
To top the proceedings, next was the ever popular Brian Culbertson. With Eric Darius replacing Michael Lington on the sax, Brian had his regular touring band with him (with father Jim on trumpet) and was ready for a party. Despite being plagued by some technical problems, they managed to bring some first-rate smooth jazz and funk to the proceedings. Always great is the part of the concert when Brian plays the trombone and funks it up with sax and trumpet (reminding me of Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns). Brian has a new CD called It's on Tonight coming out very soon - a song from that upcoming album featuring vocalist Brian Nelson from the group Az Yet, bringing a soulful vibe to the concert. Brian communicated easily with the crowd and delivered a totally entertaining and uplifting set. Too bad that the technical problems caused the mix to be sub-par.
Sunday had Paul Jackson Jr. at noon opening the official part of the festival (after the appearance of this year's "Jazz Challenge Winners" Phaze II). Appearing for the first time at the Capital jazz Festival, Paul Jackson Jr. played some of his best known songs with a first rate band. Grooving on guitar like the funky version of George Benson, he delivered an hour of top notch guitar playing. Hilarious were his "old school" rants between songs and his medley of familiar funk classics at the end of the concert. Glad to see him perform and pursue a solo career despite being one of the busiest sidemen on the scene.
Spyro Gyra is one of the classiest bands around, still going strong after almost 30 years. Original members Jay Beckenstein on sax, Julio Fernandez on guitar and Tom Schuman on keyboards fronted the band with newer members Scott Ambush on bass and the outstanding Ludwig Alfonso on drums completing the band. They drew from their vast catalog and offered a varied selection of songs, with compositions from each member of the band. Great contributions from all and the final delivery of "Morning Dance" concluded a satisfying performance.
Songstress Lalah Hathaway is the elder daughter of the late Donny Hathaway. Her set was truly soulful and rooted in the classic days of heartfelt soul which wants to express something and move the listener. Her voice sounds similar to her father Donny's raspy singing and possesses a very soulful quality. Her set was jazzy and subtle and her band was of a high caliber, especially notable were the great keyboard solos by Peter Horvath. Background vocalist Theresa Jones did an outstanding job as well. With her music owing as much to jazz and soul, Lalah proved to be an excellent part of the festival.
Bass player Marcus Miller, with his colorful band, represented the spirit of jazz and improvisation. Funkin' on the bass, leading his stellar band in the spirit of Miles, with whom he collaborated for years, provided a very entertaining hour of music. Saxophonist Keith Anderson and trumpet player Michael "Patches" Stewart were called by the leader when appropriate and provided an element of surprise. Dean Brown on guitar was great to watch pouring all himself into every note he plays when soloing. A surprise guest appeared in Lalah Hathaway, who sang Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" in a spontaneous performance improvising with the band. Marcus Miller's concert was very well received and he was forced to return for an encore which climaxed in a dixieland performance with the band marching across the stage led by Marcus with his bass clarinet. Classy!
At 6pm the Jazz Attack was scheduled for a special 2-hour performance. The Jazz Attack is a smooth jazz superstar group comprising of Richard Elliot on sax, Peter White on guitar, Rick Braun on trumpet and Jonathan Butler on guitar/vocals. The concert was opened by Rick Braun, who started playing in the audience walking to the stage. They played hit after hit with Peter White's "Bueno Funk" being one of the highlights of the concert showing Peter White's funny side dancing like a ballerina to the slow parts of the song. The deeply religious Jonathan Butler had his spot too getting a chance to get "Falling in Love with Jesus" off his chest before singing his current radio single "Fire and Rain". Richard Elliot provided some ultra soulful sax and brought it over the top with his rendition of "When A Man Loves A Woman" with some help by the incredible singing of Jonathan Butler. And above it all was the cool trumpet of Rick Braun holding things together. To top it all the band had Dwight Sills on guitar, Dave Dyson on bass, Rayford Griffin on drums and Ron Reinhardt on keyboards. A superlative show which is very recommended.
The festival was closed with the appearance of Kenny G, who had his 49th birthday that day. The set was totally polished and professional without any weaknesses. Kenny started out in the audience walking slowly down the aisle and stood on top of a little stage surrounded by his fans. Still looking fresh. Kenny performed many of his most favorite songs supported by long time band members Robert Damper on keyboards, Vail Johnson on bass and John Raymond on guitar. Great new additions were drummer Jonathan Moffett (who played with everyone from Janet Jackson to Madonna), Ron Powell on percussion and Karl Martin on keyboards. Percussion player Ron Powell delivered a great percussion solo which ended in an acrobatic show with a tambourine, while Vail Johnson slapped the bass like only he can. A little birthday surprise was part of the concert as well like a demonstration by Kenny G of his circular breathing technique which he brought to perfection and an unplugged version of "Summertime". Kenny G played beautifully and his familiar songs were warmly received by his many fans in attendance. The set was closed with "Pick Up The Pieces" and "Songbird,” bringing a truly memorable festival to an end.
Pictures by Peter Böhi. Sorry for the lack of pictures from Saturday but VIP seats were sold out and I was sitting too far away from the stage to make useful pictures. If you can help me out please send me your pictures. Thanks!
Legendary vocalist Luther Vandross, whose music crossed over into the smooth jazz genre, was one of the best.
The music world lost one of its biggest stars on July 1 when the legendary Luther Vandross died at age 54. Luther, who suffered a debilitating stroke on April 16, 2003, died at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, at 1:47 p.m. ET, surrounded by family, friends and a medical support team, a statement from the hospital said.
Ironically, earlier on July 1 a free concert in New York City honored the continuing legacy of Vandross. The concert was sponsored by Divabetic, a diabetes-awareness organization inspired by Vandross with the encouragement and support of Luther’s mother, Mary Ida Vandross.
"You know, Luther always was careful to say that it’s not how you sing that makes the difference," remembers saxophonist Kirk Whalum, who performed on many of Vandross' CDs. "In other words, what inflections you use or what cute little riffs you might sing or, you know, any of that. It’s really the sound of your voice that impacts people. And I think that’s another way of saying that it’s really God’s gift that really impacts people."
Luther, of course, has had numerous top hits, such as “Any Love,” “Stop to Love,” “Give Me the Reason,” “Here and Now” and many, many others.
His last album, "Dance With My Father" sold about 442,000 units in its first week of release ending June 15, 2003, according to industry retail monitor Nielsen SoundScan.
In July 2004, the GRP label released “Forever, For Always, For Luther,” which featured some of the biggest names in smooth jazz lending their talents to a tribute album in honor of Vandross. The first single from that album, “Your Secret Love” by saxophonist Richard Elliot, went all the way to No. 1 on the smooth jazz charts.
And earlier this year, it was announced that record label mogul Clive Davis was planning another tribute to Vandross, this time on his Arista label, which Luther was signed to. In another tribute to Vandross, over the Memorial Day weekend, several Smooth Jazz performers united in tribute to the great singer on a special live tour called Forever, For Always, For Luther. The tour, produced by Vandross’s good friend Rex Rideout and Art Good of the nationally syndicated JazzTrax radio show, starred saxophonist Kirk Whalum, keyboardist Brian Culbertson, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and vocalist Lalah Hathaway.
The concert also was performed June 18 in Bear Bear Lake, California, and will be a big part of the 19th annual Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival in October.