Chieli Minucci will shortly be releasing his first DVD.
Smooth jazz guitarist Chieli Minucci has just wrapped up video editing for an upcoming DVD that features Chieli and his veteran band called Special EFX. The DVD is not taken from a show – instead, the footage comes from a live studio recording in June from Toronto.
The DVD, which is untitled at this point, will be released in the enhanced, high-definition format. The songs, which are taken from Special EFX and also Chieli’s solo albums, include “Courageous Cats” from the Jewels CD; “Speak to Me” from Masterpiece; “Daybreak” from Global Village; “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” from Renaissance; “Cruise Control” from Butterfly; and a medley of “Still Waiting/Jewels Part 2” from Jewels and the current CD called Got It Goin’ On.
"I wanted to capture what my band has been doing live onstage," Minucci says. "At this point, when people come to see us perform live, it’s a combination of Chieli Minucci songs and Special EFX songs all kind of medley-ed together."
The DVD will be released by Shanachie early in 2006.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. What began at the New Orleans-based Essence Music Festival of 2000 as a cool idea by Clarence O Smith to charter a cruise ship for a trip from New Orleans to Mexico has ended as Love Pages, a superior musical project featuring some of the best artists in the genres of R & B and jazz. Clarence enlisted the help of musician, producer and friend, Duke Jones to recruit a band from the festival to play on the ship and The Cafe Soul All-Stars, a gathering of seasoned session musicians, were born.
With Duke Jones on trumpet, Chris Albert also on trumpet, Bobby Lyle on keyboards, Kaspar Galli on guitar and keyboards, Steve Williams on drums, Rene McLean with sax and Alex Blake on bass the combination was an instant success and after listening back to the nightly sessions that they recorded while on board it was obvious to both Clarence and Duke that this music just had to be heard by a wider audience. Duke, the man behind many classic R&B bands from the 70's onwards, was then asked to put together a line up that would make the band's name and the concept of the album a reality.
Duke exceeded all expectations in bringing together heavy weights such as George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Glenn Jones, Vesta, Christopher Williams, Jon Lucien and Maysa, not to mention Boney James, Roy Ayers, Kenny Garrett, Kim Waters and the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section. By blending these guest performers with the core of the Cafe Soul All-Stars the stage was set for a very special recording and so it proved as Duke summoned up his long time friend Norman Connors to collaborate on production for a finished work that checks all the right boxes
The big, tight and jazzy sound that the collective engender is most obvious on the instrumental tracks that are scattered throughout the album. ‘Urban Jungle’, with guest performances from Kenny Garrett on sax and Roy Ayers on vibes, is a thumping tune with a feel that is indicative of its title and Roy Ayers re-appears on the cool and breezy ‘Pier 69’ where his vibes stand out like stars in the night. Best of the instrumentals is ‘Brazilian Heat’. It’s a genuine foot tapper that turns out to be a real Bobby Lyle smooth jazz master class.
Maysa features twice. First up for her is ‘I’m Changing’, a chunk of smooth R & B, where her vocals blend well with Bob Baldwin on keyboards and Kim Waters on sax. Her distinctive tones also bless the complex ‘Stay In My Heart’. It starts out as a romantic ballad then, first with wailing guitar and then a kicking brass section, turns into something altogether more powerful. Also big and urgent is the atmospheric ‘U And I’ with Denise Stewart on vocals and the magnificent Earth Wind and Fire horn section in support.
With a title like Love Pages its not surprising that romance permeates the collection The legendary George Benson features on both vocals and guitar with the romantic ‘Pages’, a track on which Nils also plays guitar and where production is shared between Gerald McCauley and Paul Brown. Just as romantic is ‘To Be With You’ where the vocals of Jon Lucien are the perfect choice for a number that is dreamy and evocative of warm Caribbean seas. ‘One More Bridge To Cross’ featuring Vesta is a slow jam that just oozes soul and builds to a strong climax while the Patti Austin composition ‘You Don’t Have To Say Your Sorry’ with heartfelt vocals by Debi Gilchrist has a sparse beauty that is all its own. It was performed and recorded during the last night of the 2000 cruise.
‘Sheba’ is hypnotic and different with vocals by Ida Onyanango, backing vocals by Denise Stewart and the spoken word by Nichelle Holiday. It’s up there as one of the best tracks on the album and right there with it is ‘Used To Be’ where Christopher Williams combines with Shirley D for a mid tempo dance floor filler. Just as good is ‘Don’t Make Me Cry’. It’s another romantic ballad where contributions from Boney James, Paul Jackson Jr. and Bobby Lyle give it the wow factor and the vocals of Peabo Bryson give it the soul.
Arguably the best track on the CD by some distance is ‘What You Gonna Do’. This is infectious R & B and then some with lead vocals by Glen Jones and backup from the excellent Terrell Carter. It has already been identified as the first single to be lifted for radio play.
Love Pages is executive produced by Clarence O. Smith. It is an eclectic mix of soul and jazz that flourishes through the musical freedom that has been afforded to the entire project. Consequently there is something in it to enjoy for virtually everyone that declares a liking for that vast expanse of music between jazz and R & B.
by Beverly J. Packard
Yes, I was at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base again!! You see, on November 4th a very special band was scheduled to play. I've heard them before, both live and on CDs named for them. I can summarize my reaction to this night of music with one word - speechless. A writer with no words. And that was after only the first set; after the second set, I was -- twice as speechless. The music is still filling my head and it's still hard for me to capture this night in words.
But there's no way to tell you about the show if I remain speechless. Typing the words might make it a little easier to convey my thoughts, so let's take the plunge and see where this goes.
The special band is named the Heads Up Super Band. Heads Up because that's the record company the main players --- Gerald Veasley, Kenny Blake, Joe McBride and Keith Carlock are signed with. Super because when a record company decides to put together a powerful combination for a concert or collection of songs on a CD, the result is truly Super. Super players with a super sound putting on a super concert. And that created an audience of super fans.
The fans were on the edge of their seats from the very first note and they were wonderfully expressive throughout the entire show! They couldn't sit still and they couldn't be quiet. I was hoping Gerald wasn't going to give us his usual plea to 'sit back'and 'relax' because it was obvious we weren't going to be able to do that on this night.
I'm not sure what it was that propelled all of us into sheer enthusiasm almost immediately. It might have been the look of expectancy on Gerald's face at the outset, or maybe it was Kenny Blake's total comfort up there and the way he literally seems to 'speak' with his saxophone; for him, playing is as easy as talking. Perhaps it was knowing that Keith Carlock, a drummer who might shy away from the limelight but is oh so present in every song, was here after having played with bands like Sting and Steely Dan.
It could have been the addition of the talented Berks Jazz Fest Horns -- the Shiny Horns, as Gerald calls them (Bill Miller on trombone, Chris Heslop on Baritone, Rob Diener on trumpet, Mike 'Bad' Anderson on saxophone) or the lovely Joelettes (Susan Ernesto, Toni Lynn, and Tracy Hamlin. Now that I think about it, it had to be all these things. But pushing us over the edge, I believe, was one additional factor I haven't yet mentioned.
I think we should simply call him Joe. Everyone knows him. Everyone loves him. What a picture of enthusiasm, what a picture of love for music and musicians and fans. After watching Joe McBride play the piano closely for the first time during the Berks Jazz Fest a few years ago, I wrote the following about him: 'When vision cannot distract, music seems to take a faster path from the heart to its expression.' I have the same thought about him now.
Everyone really does call him Joe, everyone except his stage woman, Susie Ernesto, who responds to him with 'Oh Johnnie' during that heart-breaking but crowd-pleasing number 'I Believe.' It's true we could say Joe created sympathy for himself in that song, when his woman went off with 'Johnnie Ernesto', and he certainly created some empathy when he jokingly tried to tell us he was afraid of the dark. Joe has a seasoned sense of humor, and his stage presence, sense of timing and rhythm is simply not to be surpassed. Gerald and the rest of the band enjoyed Joe's setting the tone and gladly indulged him for a fun-filled night.
The band had opened the Rehoboth Jazz Festival Wednesday and played the Jazz Base on Thursday. Rehoboth must have been a great warm-up because the Jazz Base show began in the pressure cooker with heat escaping from the pot in all directions.
The concert, a tribute to Ray Charles, included 'Night Time,' 'I Got A Woman,' 'I Believe,' 'Hit the Road Jack,' 'You Don't Know Me,' and 'Let The Good Times Roll.'
During the break, there was time to go outside for some fresh air and over the hotel radio came Steely Dan's 'What a Shame About Me' from their Two Against Nature CD featuring Keith Carlock on the drums! How exciting to know he was with the band, preparing for the second set, which included 'Hallelujah,' 'Georgia,' 'Unchain My Heart,' 'What I Say,' 'America,' and a fun reprise of 'Let The Good Times Roll.'
It was a super show, with a super ending. I continue to be amazed at Gerald's skill in leading a band, in fostering so much fun, audience connection, and last, but not least, in his head-bobbing that is not only to the quarter beat, but also occurs in double time, half time and syncopated time, as needed. I can't believe I didn't mention that before now!
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael C. Packard
You weren't dreaming if you thought you heard a song called "Pacific Coast Highway" a lot this year.
If you haven't heard the song called "Pacific Coast Highway" by Nils, you should do yourself a favor and check it out. If you haven't heard it, you probably didn't listen to a smooth jazz radio station this year.
That song by the veteran session player new to the smooth jazz scene in 2005, has been named the U.S.'s No. 1 smooth jazz single for 2005 by Radio & Records, a trade publication serving the radio industry.
The song was No. 1 for seven weeks. Although saxophonist Richard Elliot’s hit single called “People Make the World Go Round” took the top spot for 11 consecutive weeks, Radio & Records’ year-end chart is based on the total number of times a song is played, or “spinned.” “Pacific Coast Highway” was played almost 1,000 times more than the No. 2 song, Soul Ballet’s “Cream.” Nils’ current single, “Summer Nights,” also made the chart at No. 99 for the year. Coming in at No. 3 behind Soul Ballet is guitarist Tim Bowman’s “Summer Groove,” followed by “Pick Up the Pieces” by saxophonist Kenny G, “Two of a Kind” by saxophonist Michael Lington and “Let It Free” by saxophonist Dave Koz.
Rounding out the top 10 singles of the year are saxophonist Boney James’ “Stone Groove” with Joe Sample on piano, “Thursday” by saxophonist Steve Cole, “Nightlife” by saxophonist Paul Taylor and “XXL” by saxophonist Euge Groove.
D E N I S * P O O L E
'Auld Lang Syne,' by Steve Cole, a previously un-released track that appears on the WNUA Sampler CD Volume 18.
'This Christmas,' by Patti Austin from the N Coded Album Tis The Season.
'Sleigh Ride,' by Boney James from the release on Warner Bros Boney's Funky Christmas.
'In The Bleak Mid Winter,' by James Taylor also from his 2004 Christmas album on Hallmark
J O N A T H A N * W I D R A N
George Benson, Live (GRP)
Rick Braun, Yours Truly (ARTizen)
Ramsey Lewis, With One Voice (Narada Jazz)
Boy Katindig, Groovin’ High (Kool Kat Productions)
B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D
Acoustic Alchemy, Arcanum
Ken Navarro, Ablaze in Orlando
Paul Hardcastle, Hardcastle 4
Special EFX, Masterpiece
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Norman Brown, The Very Best of Norman Brown (GRP): This new CD features music from Brown’s early music on the MoJazz label. It happens to include some of the guitarist’s best songs, such as “Better Days Ahead” and “Lydian.”
Craig Chaquico, Holiday (Higher Octave): Jazz rock sounds for the holidays from the pride of Ashland, Ore.
Various Artists, Nu Jazz Sessions (Groove Gravy): Remixes of Sarah Vaughan and McCoy Tyner standards plus originals by Praful and Physics make this a way cool collection.
Ramsey Lewis, With One Voice (Narada Jazz): The 70-year-old piano icon makes his very first gospel CD. It’s jazzy, soulful and reverential. There’s also a reggae tune, “Keep the Spirit.”
Steve Oliver, Snowfall (Oohla Productions): Ten re-imagined classic holiday tunes from the guitar and vocalist. Sublime.
P E T E R * B O E H I
Gerardo Frisina - The Latin Kick (2005)
This CD is by no means a smooth jazz CD but since it has given me lots of pleasure I want to mention it here. This is a smoking afrocuban latin jazz album with lots of congas and timbales, fiery brass and spirited soloing underpinned with a subtle dance groove. Cool!
Marc Antoine - Modern Times (2005)
To be honest: I have been buying Marc Antoine CDs because he was a mainstay of the smooth jazz scene but never really enjoyed his music - until this great CD came along. This album grooves and employs current dance and house rhythms which elevate the music to the next level. Congrats Marc!
G-Sax - White (2005)
This is a top-notch sax player from Switzerland offering his second CD full of smooth sax playing and cool grooves done really well. Covers include "Captain Of Her Heart" and Sade's "Smooth Operator". Check it out at www.g-sax.ch!
Dwayne "Smitty" Smith - This Is Me (2005)
Bass player Dwayne "Smitty" Smith who played with many luminaries of the genre comes out with a beautiful solo album full with memorable melodies and contemporary grooves and top-drawer guest artists (like Gerald Albright). Don't miss it!
Darren Gholston - D's Mood (2005)
One wonders why such great sax players like Darren Gholston are not wider recognized. This totally contemporary, cool and urban album features the leader on sax and boasts a wide array of first-rate smooth jazz. Recommended!
Dear readers of our site
All contributors of Smooth Jazz Vibes wish you and your families happy holidays and all the best for the new year. We look forward to more great music from our favorite artists and new discoveries and developments to be enjoyed. Thanks for visiting our site and supporting what we do!
Peter Böhi, Editor
I have updated the software which runs the site to the latest version (MovableType 3.2). If you should encounter any irregularities please send me an e-mail. Thanks for your understanding!
Just when you thought the remarkably diverse and expansive 16th annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest couldn't get any bigger and better ... well, think again.
The lineup for Berks Jazz Fest 2006, which runs March 17-26 at multiple venues throughout Berks County and which is presented by the Berks Arts Council, now includes the City Rhythm Orchestra saluting the Music of Frank Sinatra & Friends; a very special Michelle and Brian Culbertson project featuring traditional hymns; charismatic keyboardist/vocalist Joe McBride; sax sensation Kenny Blake; and precocious vocalist Liz Longley.
The festival already has a bright constellation of stars such as Dianne Reeves, Joe Sample, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Ramsey Lewis, David Benoit, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Gerald Veasley, Kurt Elling and the Robert Cray Band, among many others. In addition, three spectacular ensemble shows -- The Music of Marvin Gaye & Motown; Ivan Lins & Friends; and a Tribute to Wes Montgomery -- punctuate the lineup.
The City Rhythm Orchestra, the 15-piece big band from Philadelphia, will play a stirring tribute to Frank Sinatra on Tuesday, March 21, at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom at 7:30 p.m. The band has been dazzling audiences for many years with its distinctive style and sound -- stellar horns, a rocking rhythm section, innovative arrangements and versatile vocalists. Its Sinatra salute promises to be an extraordinary experience.
Soprano Michelle Culbertson will sing traditional hymns from her new CD Be Still My Soul while husband Brian accompanies her on the piano in a special concert on Sunday, March 26, at Atonement Lutheran Church at 4 p.m. The album was produced and arranged by Michelle and Brian and also includes two original songs composed by Brian and noted songwriter Lindy Robbins.
Another notable addition to the festival lineup is vocalist Liz Longley, a senior at nearby Downingtown High School who will do an opening set for pianist prodigy Taylor Eigsti and guitarist phenom Julian Lage on Monday, March 20, at the Albright College Wachovia Theatre at 7:30 p.m.
Longley combines a variety of influences to create a sophisticated sound that belies her young age. Her extraordinary voice has been described as captivating and compelling.
Joe McBride, whose signature sound has ushered plenty of soul into smooth jazz over the years, will have multiple gigs at the festival. He and his Texas Rhythm Club band are performing Wednesday, March 22, at 9 p.m. at the Peanut Bar Restaurant.
McBride also is doing three special dinner shows at 5 p.m. at the Wyndham Reading Hotel Thursday through Saturday, March 23-25. On Friday and Saturday he will be joined by Kenny Blake, notable for combining traditional jazz leanings with modern rhythm and blues.
Brian Culbertson, as previously announced, will perform with special guest saxophonist Eric Darius on Saturday, March 25, at the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom at 10:30 p.m. Darius also has joined the stellar Berks All-Star Jazz Jam lineup of Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Veasley, Chieli Minucci, Ken Navarro, Joe McBride, Kenny Blake, Steve Smith and Tom Coster.
Chuck Loeb, the renowned guitarist, composer, arranger, producer and recording artist, has joined the cast of the highly anticipated Ivan Lins & Friends ensemble on Saturday, March 25, at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.
The Jason Miles production also includes acclaimed Brazilian composer/pianist Ivan Lins himself, sensational vocalist Jane Monheit, renowned vocalist Brenda Russell, pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias, acclaimed saxophonist Nelson Rangell, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, percussionist Cafe, percussionist Vinny Colaiuta, David Letterman Band bassist Will Lee, and top jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell.
Concert tickets can be purchased by:
Stopping by the Sovereign Center Box Office, Seventh and Penn streets, Reading, to place your order in person.
Box Office hours
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Stopping by the Sovereign Performing Arts Center Box Office, 136 N. Sixth St., Reading, to place your order in person.
Box Office hours
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday
Ordering online at www.berksjazzfest.com
Call Ticketmaster at 215.336.2000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Have a credit card ready.
For more information on the festival, click on www.berksjazzfest.com
For more information on the Berks Arts Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes all the arts in an effort to enrich the quality of life in Berks County, click on www.berksarts.org
Friday, March 17 -- Dianne Reeves plus Joe Sample, Sovereign Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m., $45 and $38
Friday, March 17 -- The Inn of Blues: Mose Allison plus Guy Davis, Inn at Reading Ballroom, 8 p.m., $28
Friday, March 17 -- Pieces of a Dream, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 10:30 p.m., $30
Saturday, March 18 -- Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 2 p.m., $38
Saturday, March 18 -- The Inn of Blues: Marcia Ball plus Clarence Spady and Deb Callahan Band, Inn at Reading Ballroom, 7 p.m., $35
Saturday, March 18 -- Michael Manring, Tracy Silverman and David Cullen, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, 7 p.m., $12
Saturday, March 18 -- Ramsey Lewis & David Benoit with the Reading Pops Orchestra, Sovereign Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m., $45 and $38
Saturday, March 18 -- Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 10:30 p.m., $38
Sunday, March 19 -- Jazz Goes to Church featuring Cyrus Chestnut, Kevin Mahogany and Kendrick Oliver & The New Life Jazz Orchestra, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 2 p.m., $35
Sunday, March 19 -- Robbi K & Friends, PAL Center for the Arts, 6 p.m., free community concert.
Sunday, March 19 -- 16th Anniversary Concert: The Music of Marvin Gaye & Motown featuring Jason Miles, Bobby Caldwell, Peter White, Kevin Mahogany, Guida DePalma, Mike Mattison, Nick Colionne, Jay Beckenstein, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Bashiri Johnson, Gene Lake, Sherrod Barnes, Jonathan Maron, Dominick Farinacci, DJ Logic and more, 7 p.m., $45 and $38
Monday, March 20 -- U.S. Air Force Rhythm In Blues Jazz Ensemble with special guest Tom Coster plus Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band, Scottish Rite Cathedral, 7 p.m., free community concert
Monday, March 20 -- The Young Faces of Jazz: Taylor Eigsti and Julian Lage plus Liz Longley, Albright College Wachovia Theatre, 7:30 p.m., $15
Tuesday, March 21 -- U.S. Air Force Rhythm In Blues Jazz Ensemble with special guest Tom Coster plus Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band, Boyertown Senior High School, 7 p.m., free community concert
Tuesday, March 21 -- The Music of Sinatra & Friends: City Rhythm Orchestra, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 7:30 p.m., $15
Tuesday, March 21 -- Mulgrew Miller Trio, Albright College Wachovia Theatre, 7:30 p.m., $20
Wednesday, March 22 -- Berks Jazz Fest Fantasy Camp Faculty Concert: Mulgrew Miller, Kurt Elling, Christian McBride, Jimmy Bruno, Bob Mintzer, John Swana and Steve Smith, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom 7:30 p.m., $25
Wednesday, March 22 -- Joe McBride & The Texas Rhythm Club, Peanut Bar Restaurant, 9 p.m.
Thursday, March 23 -- Joe McBride, Wyndham Reading Hotel, 5 p.m.
Thursday, March 23 -- Gene Ludwig Trio featuring Dave Stryker and Vince Ector, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, 7 p.m., $10
Thursday, March 23 -- Chieli Minucci & Special EFX featuring Ken Navarro and the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 7:30 p.m., $30
Thursday, March 23 -- Berks All-Star Jazz Jam featuring Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Veasley, Chieli Minucci, Ken Navarro, Joe McBride, Kenny Blake, Steve Smith, Tom Coster, Eric Darius and more, Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom, 10 p.m., $30
Friday, March 24 -- Joe McBride and Kenny Blake, Wyndham Reading Hotel, 5 p.m.
Friday, March 24 -- Gerald Veasley with special guest Kurt Elling, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., $35
Friday, March 24 -- An Evening With Rick Braun & Richard Elliot, Sovereign Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m., $45 and $38
Friday, March 24 -- River City Brass Band, Scottish Rite Cathedral, 7:30 p.m., $25 and $20
Friday, March 24 -- Jimi Hendrix Tribute: The Carl Filipiak Group, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 9 p.m., $15
Friday, March 24 -- Najee, Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom, 10:30 p.m., $30
Saturday, March 25 -- Larry Carlton & The Blue Sapphire Band plus Richard Smith & Freddie Ravel Power Quartet featuring special guest Kim Waters, Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom, 1 p.m., $35
Saturday, March 25 -- Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Wyndham Reading Hotel Ballroom, 2 p.m., $25
Saturday, March 25 -- Joe McBride and Kenny Blake, Wyndham Reading Hotel, 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 25 -- Triad featuring Steve Oliver, Michael Paulo and Gerald Veasley, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., $35
Saturday, March 25 -- Ivan Lins & Friends featuring Ivan Lins, Jason Miles, Jane Monheit, Brenda Russell, Eliane Elias, Nelson Rangell, Romero Lubambo, Leonardo Amuedo, Cafe, Vinny Colaiuta, Will Lee, Tom Harrell, Chuck Loeb and more, Sovereign Performing Arts Center, 7 p.m., $45 and $38
Saturday, March 25 -- The Robert Cray Band, Scottish Rite Cathedral, 7:30 p.m., $40 and $35
Saturday, March 25 -- Brian Culbertson with special guest Eric Darius, Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom, 10:30 p.m., $35
Sunday, March 26 -- WJJZ Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch: Paul Jackson Jr., Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., $35
Sunday, March 26 -- Bona Fide featuring Slim Man, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Sheraton Reading Hotel, 3 p.m., $20
Sunday, March 26 -- Be Still My Soul: Michelle and Brian Culbertson, Atonement Lutheran Church, Wyomissing, 4 p.m. free will offering
Sunday, March 26 -- Tribute to Wes Montgomery: Chuck Loeb, Pat Martino, Paul Jackson Jr., Larry Carlton, Russell Malone, Earl Klugh and Jimmy Bruno plus a rhythm section of keyboardist Larry Goldings, drummer Vinny Colaiuta and bassist Will Lee, Scottish Rite Cathedral, 7 p.m., $40 and $35
Look for a CD in 2006 from two of smooth jazz's biggest stars.
Trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Richard Elliot are now in the planning stages of what could be one of the biggest smooth jazz projects in years: a new duets album. Braun says that the CD, which could be released by the fall of 2006, will draw on the duo's history with the brass-heavy bands War and Tower of Power.
It was back in 2000 that Braun offered a CD with saxophonist Boney James called Shake It Up that was released by Warner Bros. The upcoming duets CD will of course be released by ARTizen Music Group, the new smooth jazz record label Braun and Elliot founded.
Braun's new album called Yours Truly features the single called 'Shining Star.' Elliot's current single, 'Mystique,' is the second from his ARTizen debut called Metro Blue. The first single, 'People Make the World Go Round,' was No. 1 for 11 weeks.
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 might have slipped in almost unnoticed and unmentioned but It's All Good, the debut CD on Rendezvous from keyboard player Brian Simpson, is one of the best of 2005. With the title track on the top thirty chart of most played on smooth jazz radio people are beginning to ask who Brian Simpson really is yet this longtime studio musician, who until recently did not even have his own website, is no stranger to those who follow live smooth jazz. For the past 8 years Brian has been the musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, arranging and playing keys on Dave's year-round domestic and international tours. Fact is, if you listen to contemporary jazz, chances are, you've heard Brian Simpson.
A jazzman from an early age, Simpson grew up in Gurnee, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago and was playing the piano at the age of 10. Brian went on to study at Northern Illinois University where he majored in piano and starred in the school's big band, an ensemble that won numerous awards and allowed him the chance to perform all over the world.
In 1985 he moved to Los Angeles and, immersing himself in the local jazz scene, soon found himself jamming in the after-hours with the likes of future stars Everette Harp, Boney James, and Norman Brown. He quickly forged a reputation as a touring keyboardist and again got to travel the world, this time with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton, and Janet Jackson. In January 1991 he co-wrote the #1 Pop hit 'The First Time' by Surface that figured on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.
Aside from this pop success Brian Simpson has always been a working jazz musician. As well as his work with Dave Koz he has toured with some of the best including George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, and Gerald Albright. Koz has been a major influence to Simpson both on and off the stage so its not surprising that the opening tune on the album, the title cut and the one selected for radio play features Dave Koz on sax. It's a mid tempo number that has the ubiquitous Tony Maiden on guitar and, overall, a deliciously retro feel.
In fact, top-notch collaborations abound right through the album. The romantic 'Waiting' is given a Latin flavor by the guitar of Marc Antoine yet here, as elsewhere, it's the stellar playing of Simpson that lives in the memory. The full sax sound of Everette Harp permeates 'I Remember When' and combines with a hallmark melody from Simpson to produce a simply delightful smooth jazz experience.
Brian Simpson has produced, arranged and recorded It's All Good and in addition has written or co-written nine of the ten tracks. He teams up with Koz's touring bass player Andre Berry for the composition 'It Could Happen' that also features Berry's regular sidekick Randy Jacobs on guitar. It's a piece of heavyweight commercial smooth jazz that must surly be lined up as the next cut for radio play.
With It's All Good Simpson brings to the listening public a jazz album in every sense of the term. On 'Blues For Scott' he compiles the classic jazz ensemble, a trio of piano, drums and acoustic bass, for a straight ahead (ish) jazz number that will please purists and others alike. The trio becomes a quartet by the addition of guitarist Perry Hughes on 'Au Contraire', an extremely boppy piece of timeless jazz.
Simpson's arrangement and production makes good use of Ron King's subtle flugel horn on 'Here With You', a tune that drips will late night smooth jazz atmosphere and King is also in evidence, this time on trumpet, with 'Twighlight' where Simpson takes a simple melody and proceeds to weave a sensuous vibe around it. The track is further enhanced by understated but killer guitar from Allen Hinds.
'Saturday Cool' is smooth jazz piano of the highest order with standout playing from Simpson and a hook that you will not be able to forget. Best track on the album is arguably 'And So The Story Goes'. A combination of a perky beat, nice sax from Michael Lington and Simpson's melodic piano with a funky edge makes this one really special.
It's All Good has enough in it to delight jazz lovers of all persuasions yet it achieves something else besides. With his consummate all round skills Simpson has been able to create, from a standing start, what will certainly mature to become his own unique sound. The lush velvety quality of every track, the subtle yet significant use of both trumpet and flugel horn and what is quite simply awesome production deserves to set Brian Simpson apart from the rest and elevate him to true smooth jazz superstardom.
For more on Brian Simpson check out his brand new website at www.bsimpsonmusic.com
by Beverly J. Packard
August, 2005, brought Nick Colionne and a memorable concert experience to Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base in Reading. I wish I could provide a video clip right here so that you could be properly introduced, or re-introduced, to this most debonair of artists. He's got to be on the list of the Best Dressed artists of the year, and by the looks of his website and CD covers, he's taken his place on this list for a number of years.
Lest I seem to make his appearance more important than it should be in the overall scheme of things, let me quickly add that it only enhances the substance that is found in his playing. If I could characterize him with one phrase, I'd say his playing comes from deep within him -- his music is etched with lines of life, experience, raw feeling and soul almost beyond belief.
The first two songs were from Colionne's first CD, It's My Turn. The soul showed up right away in 'Soulful Strut,' and by the time the band finished 'Back Down Evergreen,' I had only one word in mind: unbelievable. The pace slowed with 'A Rainy Night in Georgia,' a truly beautiful rendition with Nick as vocalist, a very capable master of musical phrasing. The set also included 'It's Been Too Long' from his current CD.
Nick's band included Brian Danzy and John Blasucci on keyboards; Dave Hiltebrand on bass, and Chris Miskel on drums. 'Drumbalaya,' written by keyboard player Brian Danzy, began with the drums and moved into a Latin jazz sound. Miskel is a very crisp, precise player.
There is so much to say about Nick Colionne. He's distinctive in his playing, his style, his smile and the twinkle in his eye. And he has not only a very distinctive guitar voice, but also a distinctive human voice, along with a ready sense of humor. His CD commercials, personally directed to the ladies in the audience, brought some good laughs and no doubt some extra CD sales. With his white hat and stylish clothes, he's the epitome of smooth, for sure.
In addition to everything else that makes up Nick Colionne, intensity is another facet. As he closes the distance between himself and others in the band, his intense eye contact brings out the best in both himself and the selected player. It's as if they stare into each other's souls until they're on the same plane ' the same wavelength. What a sight to see.
Nick is a master of timing. He does the unexpected and it fits perfectly. My favorite song of the evening was the poignant 'Everything Must Change.' The band did a superb job, and although he mentioned this song was for a particular person in the audience ' 'she knows who she is,' he undoubtedly knew that many of us could personally relate to the words of that song, which are like an oasis in the uncertain desert of change.
The tribute to George Benson's 'On Broadway' was a great opportunity for Colionne to show his love of the guitar playing and inspiration of Benson. I believe Nick went to the same place Gerald Veasley goes when he plays; there must be some kind of jazz base up there in the clouds. During this number, when I was certain keyboardist Danzy went about as far as a keyboard player could go, he went even farther. I don't think any of us could believe what we saw and heard! This song really showed how fluid these players are.
The show ended with 'Just Come On In' from the new CD of the same title. Again, a great demonstration of all the talent in this band, with even more evidence of the nimble fingers of the keyboard player.
For those who've seen Colionne often, count yourself blessed. As for me, I was awestruck and am eager to be in the audience again when he's on stage.
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo Credits: Michael C. Packard (seen here with Nick Colionne)
A smooth jazz DJ offers recipes and music from smooth jazz artists.
Some of today's top contemporary jazz performers show off their culinary chops in Smooth Cooking, part of a series of four collectible recipe-card packages called Music Cooks that features various themes. The recipes are selected by Mark De Anda, who is the programmer director at the smooth jazz radio station KMGQ in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The collection of personal recipes from smooth jazz artists includes the Mambo Martini by guitarist Brian Hughes; Tom Scott's Easy Chopped Salad; Vegetarin Fajitas by Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons; Prawns with Green Curry from Greg Carmichael of Acoustic Alchemy; Chicken With Lemon and Green Olives by guitarist Craig Chaquico; and Smooth Jazz Burgers by pianist Bob James. There are 16 recipes in all.
The recipe package includes a smooth jazz compilation CD featuring 11 smooth jazz classics from artists such as George Benson, Grover Washington Jr. and Rick Braun.
Smooth Cooking is the the brainchild of Sharon O'Connor, a musician and author of 19 cookbooks. It's available at www.menusandmusic.com. A portion of the proceeds of Smooth Cooking will be donated to Santa Barbara-based The Dream Foudation, a non-profit company.
Several CDs stand out from among the many released in 2005.
1. Brian Culbertson, It's On Tonight (GRP): Culbertson sticks to his slow and sexy theme with amazing results. His best ever.
2. Jonathan Butler, Jonathan (Rendezvous): A return to mostly instrumentals was a good career move for the veteran guitarist.
3. Matt Bianco featuring Basia, Matt's Mood (Decca/Universal): The intoxicating mix of Brazilian and cool jazz is a winner. Every song is a treat.
4. Paul Hardcastle, Hardcastle 4 (Trippin 'n' Rhythm): Hardcastle's best yet, and the vocal tunes featuring daughter Maxine are cool and sexy.
5. Marc Antoine, Modern Times (Rendezvous): Unlike anything he's done before, but it's Antoine all the way.
6. Jeff Lorber, Flipside (Narada Jazz): Another steady CD by the veteran pianist. Nominated for a Grammy.
7. Praful, Pyramid In Your Backyard (Rendezvous): A bold step in a new direction from his debut CD.
8. Bona Fide, Soul Lounge (Heads Up): Vibes galore.
9. Steve Cole, Spin (Narada Jazz): The Chicago saxophonist creates some of the best hooks on the planet.
10. Brian Simpson, It's All Good (Rendezvous): Simply great music from Dave Koz's musical director.
by Beverly J. Packard
Now that winter is fast approaching and thoughts are turning to the upcoming Berks Jazz Fest, I don't want to let this time go by without paying tribute to more of the great shows that occurred this past summer during the Berks Summer Jazz Series.
On July 28th, just when we thought the heat of summer was too much to bear, Reading was blessed with cooler weather. Along with cooler breezes, JAARED arrived at the Gerald Veasley Jazz Base. With his great blend of songs, he and his very tight band made a lasting impression.
Jaared is a high energy performer and each of his songs is marked with a very captivating beat. The length of time he can hold a note is surpassed only by the long route he can take to the end of a song. In fact, Jaared travels a longer route to the last note of a song than any artist I know, but what an interesting journey it is.
Songs included 'Happy Times,' an upbeat tune heavily influenced by David Sanborn, with great guitar and vocals. There was a stunning rendition of 'Maputo,' a song from Sanborn's Double Vision album with Bob James; this included quite a performance by Eli Staples, keyboard player who played with Ashanti and who is now Jaared's #1 choice for this instrument.
After a few songs, Jaared told us he was loving it so far at the Jazz Base and thanked us for indulging the band, who he said "has few guidelines or chords written down, so that we never know what we're going to do." The crowd didn't mind that at all and gladly followed wherever the band's improvisational style carried them. Jaared was so appreciative of Reading's efforts to help him put on a successful concert that he also took a moment to present flowers to one of the Stage Right crew members who's been especially helpful.
'Ibiza' was a wonderful song with awesome solos, and during a portion of it, Jaared was down on his knees, Richard Elliot style. From there he played a song from his new CD, entitled 'Love Taken Over,' and then launched into all-time Hall and Oates' favorite 'Sarah Smile.' To my surprise, he sang this one, and I was impressed with his talent as a vocalist.
The second set included 'Search Light,' featuring a great drum solo by Raice McLeod, who is from New Zealand and has played with Olivia Newton John, followed by 'Moonbeams.' Bass guitarist Doc Samba led the band into 'Chicken' and a great time of jamming. Stan Cooper, sought-after guitarist who has played with everyone you can think of, demonstrated his tremendous talent. The rendition of 'Superstar,' a personal favorite of mine, was mesmerizing, and a great lead-in to 'I'll Be There,' which Jaared turned into a lullaby while traveling to all corners of the club. What a crowd pleaser he is.
The band ended the night with a heart-warming rendition of the Star Spangled Banner followed by 'Hang Time' from Jaared's latest CD of the same title. It was an energetic ending to an energizing night.
I thought he put together an excellent blend of songs for the show. Not only the combination of uptempo and reflective, but the blend of original and cover tunes was very satisfying. I love to hear artists play their own compositions and I also enjoy hearing what they do with familiar favorites of mine. Contemporary nostalgia at its best!
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo Credits: Michael C. Packard
Debuts with May 2006 Release
Heads Up International, one of the world’s premier crossover jazz labels, today announced the signing of an exclusive deal with pianist Bobby Lyle, whose debut recording will be released on May 23, 2006. Throughout his three decade career, this gifted songwriter/producer/ arranger has developed an international reputation not only for his dazzling piano technique, but also for his versatility and ability to constantly reinvent himself.
“We’re very pleased to start a relationship with Bobby,” says Dave Love, President of Heads Up International. “Bobby is such an incredible pianist, and he plays with ease across a wide range of jazz. He’s also a great composer and arranger who has much to offer.”
“I’m very happy to be on a label that has such a diversity of styles throughout its roster,” Lyle says. “Also, Heads Up has a president who’s accessible and interactive with the artists. Dave Love has a really progressive vision of how this music should be marketed.”
Bobby Lyle was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and started studying piano at age six when his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. After moving to Los Angeles in 1974, he began a nine-month tour with Sly and the Family Stone, and later a stint with the Ronnie Laws Band. This led to a meeting with Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders who took him to Capitol Records for his first solo recording deal in 1977. After three albums, Lyle returned to the touring circuit, hitting the road in 1981 with George Benson. He followed this with extensive tours with Bette Midler, Al Jarreau and Anita Baker (all as musical director). A recording deal with Atlantic Records in 1988 spawned six albums in nine years, including The Journey, which became a #1 jazz album in 1990.
Lyle continued to tour with his own bands as well as with Midler. He received an Emmy nomination for his musical direction on her HBO Special, “Diva Las Vegas,” in 1997. Lyle’s 2002 album, Joyful, peaked at #8 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart and his 2004 release, Straight and Smooth, became the first album in history to appear on Billboard’s contemporary jazz and traditional jazz charts simultaneously.
Guitarist Steve Oliver offering free download of "Imagine" in honor of John Lennon.
Dec. 8 is the anniversary of a somber milestone. It was 25 years ago that John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman outside the Dakota apartment building in New York as he returned home from a recording session. Thousands of fans worldwide will pause to reflect on Lennon’s life and career and thousand will gather in New York’s Strawberry Fields, located inside Central Park, to remember the former Beatle. Many will gather around a mosaic that reads simply, “Imagine.” It is, of course, in honor of Lennon’s iconic solo song of the same name.
To honor Lennon in his own way, smooth jazz guitarist Steve Oliver is making available his recording of his version of “Imagine” as a free digital download. The song – taken from Steve’s album called 3D – will only be available for free on Dec. 8.
Oliver says that he grew up listening to the Beatles, and John Lennon's message of hope and peace continues to weave its way into his own compositions.
To get your copy of "Imagine," go to www.steveolivermusic.com.
Something for the People, the debut album from Steve Butler featuring Ron Haynes, is a funky, smooth and soulful/jazz tribute to the craftsmanship of classic R&B music. Influenced by artists such as Miles Davis, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and Earth, Wind and Fire, the duo wanted to produce an album that reached back to the roots of R&B and recalled a time when creating great music meant getting musicians together and capturing the magic that arises from the fusion of the individual expression and flavor of each artist.
“Ron would go into the booth and tell the engineer to record not really knowing what was going to come out of his horn, and we just captured some stuff,” Butler recalls of recording sessions in the studio.
Carefully constructed using a live horn section led by Haynes’ trumpet and the rhythms of Butler’s guitar, the mainly instrumental album is, like its creators, at once a study in contrasts, and a melding of classic and contemporary. Butler is a guitarist and producer from Chicago’s South Side whose credits include hip-hop production and performances for Grammy-nominated artist Skee-lo, Twista, Do or Die, major movie soundtracks, and scores of radio and television commercials. Haynes, a Grammy-nominated trumpeter from Chicago’s West Side, has a history that includes writing and backing artist such as George Duke, The Ohio Players, Ramsey Lewis, Lenny Kravitz and Liquid Soul.
With more than twenty years of age between them and careers that seem to flow in different directions, the unlikely duo of Butler and Haynes appear to have little in common. However, a closer look reveals that they share a passion for great music that has allowed them to not only draw on their differences creatively but also seek out new experiences. This willingness to experiment is the driving force behind Something for the People and has proven to be the magic behind the their successful 2004 collaboration “P-1 Groove,” an urban radio hit that blended hip-hop, soul and funk.
“I pushed him into some different directions that he had never been pushed in, and he in turn pushed me in some different directions too, as a player, and I think it’s been a learning process for the both of us,” recalls Butler.
The ten-track album, written, produced and arranged by the Chicago natives, has a nostalgic feel of ’70s R&B, including the syncopated rhythms from that era recognized as the hallmark of Chicago’s great Stepping culture.
I have wanted to comment for some time about the growing pasterization of the smooth jazz format. Now after many consultants and radio programmers have found a way to sterilize the format to a pop instrumental catagory, it has finally aroused my need to spew a few observations on the state of affairs today.
Many years ago, during the height of the Grover / Sanborn eras of the '70s and '80s, listeners were afforded at least a limited opportunity to hear the solo talents of the above two mentioned, along with other notable contemporary jazz artists like Spryo Gyra, Jeff Lorber, and George Howard, to name a few. These days, with the exception of the solos of George Benson clones, saxophonists really have been relegated to being melody players of the smooth jazz format.
Even Getz,Cannonball, and Paul Desmond would roll over in their graves knowing that Girl From Ipanema, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,and Take Five, having introduced the world to improvisation in jazz with a nice melody, was a thing of the past for today's artists.
Where are the solos? Where are the innovators of their instruments? Now everyone is either a Sanborn, Koz, or Grover clone on saxophone, only without the solo efforts. It's either that, or we hear multi-tracked sax sections, with three choruses of melody, all in a four-minute pop instrumental package served up to the listener as a form of.......jazz?
It's no wonder I hear that people are heading over to Sirius and XM from FM. It's the only place to hear Kenny Garrett play contemporary jazz, which is only pop instrumental, but with....yes...improvisation.
Folks, jazz is...and bless me Louis Armstrong for saying this....improvised music.
There's more jazz going on in heavy metal bands than on smooth jazz radio. At least the guitar player gets to scream out a solo, even if it's at a decibal, ear-splitting, ring. But there's improvisation going on there.
Herbie Hancock keeps the flame going. He's right on track. His latest album offers exactly what the title of the album represents...possibilities. We hear jazz improvisation going on mixed with pop. Pop music, and pop artists are great to improvise with, as Herbie does throughout the whole album.
Thank God for keyboard players in general. They seem to have the most flexibility to improvise on their albums in smooth jazz right now. Some, however, need to learn how to use both hands. It is a two-handed instrument, isn't it?
A lot of standards in the Great American Song Book were once pop tunes of their era. Jazz musicians expanded on those tunes. Surrey With A Fringe On Top, Days Of Wine And Roses, Alfie, Someday My Prince Will Come, a lot of the Bacharach tunes, etc. So why not take what's happening today and put jazz into it? Isn't that what's happening with the Santana, Earth Wind & Fire, Motown remakes? No! They are being re-made, without solos. Well, some have at least two to four bars of solos, if we are privilaged enough to enjoy a creative moment from the artist on record.
We all know that industry record sales are down, especially in smooth jazz. So maybe cloning and pasterization does get old. It has always been the way of the labels to find one sound. and re-issue it several times to the public until they are sick of it; and make sure it fits that sterile four minute form. That may work in pop with fifteen-year-old listeners, but smooth jazz radio consultants better get a clue fast before the smooth jazz market, comprised of adults targeting ages 25-54, dries up and goes back to pop or adult contemporary radio with solid vocals as their choice for listening. If you're only going to hear the melody, you might as well hear the words.
Marvin Gaye's most memorable music will soon be heard in a brand-new way.
On his last album, producer and keyboardist Jason Miles – who has collaborated with many of the top names in smooth jazz – invoked the sprit of the late jazz trumpeter Miles Davis with a work called Miles to Miles.
Now Miles has his sights on the songs of Marvin Gaye for a CD he’s just finished recording called What’s Goin’ On: The Music of Marvin Gaye. Miles rearranged many of Marvin’s greatest hits and enlisted several top-notch musicians to help him, including vocalist Bobby Caldwell on “Distant Lover,” guitarist Nick Colionne on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Spyro Gyra saxophonist Jay Beckenstein on “Too Busy Thinkin’ Bout My Baby” and trumpeter Herb Alpert on “Let’s Get It On.” As always, Miles assembled a killer rhythm section with bassists Marcus Miller, Scott Ambush and James Genus, drummer Gene Lake and percussionist Cyro Baptista on board here.
Among the CD’s other songs are such Marvin Gaye nuggets as “What’s Goin’ On,” “Sexual Healing,” “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing.” There's a good mixture of instrumental and vocal tunes, with some inspired singing by Mike Mattison, Chiara Civello, James "D Train" Williams and Guida DePalma.
Miles says the idea for the CD came on an October evening at a restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard that was playing Marvin Gaye songs. Miles is no stranger to compilations. He has produced several other concept albums, including To Grover, With Love, Celebrating the Music of Weather Report and A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins.
What’s Goin’ On: The Music of Marvin Gaye will be available Feb. 7 on the Narada label.
After listening to an advance copy of this CD, I feel condident in saying it's one of the best tribute projects to come down the road in a long time. Miles takes Marvin's music in a new direction, and it's exhilarating.
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. Smooth Night is the new CD from saxophonist Marcin Nowakowski and is notable for the way in which it combines the ‘light’ of commercially attractive mellow smooth jazz with the ‘shade’ of up tempo funk. It is a collection of twelve high quality tunes that blends original compositions with two quality covers and is enhanced throughout by the contribution of outstanding supporting musicians, a line up that includes the guest appearance of Paul Jackson Jr.
Nowakowski is a well known performer in his native Poland. He studied music at F. Chopin’s Jazz Music Academy and it was there that he got the chance to work with and be influenced by Eric Marienthal. His first big breaks came in 1996 when Polish bass player Wojtek Pilichowski asked him to join his band for an appearance at Yamaha Days Festivas and then, a year later, when he was noticed by leading producer Wojtek Olszak who offered him a place in the band Woobie Doobie. Since that time, as well as cultivating his ongoing relationship with Woobie Doobie, he has become one of Poland’s most sought after sidemen. In 2002 he performed with Jose Carreras playing Cole Porter’s jazz standard ‘Night and Day’ but now, with the release of Smooth Night, he is staking a claim to be considered as a serious solo artist.
Smooth Night opens with the Marcin Nowakowski composition ‘You Are The Sun’, a picture perfect piece of mellow smooth jazz with attractive backing vocals and a guitar solo from Jackson Jr. In addition the track features Nowakowski’s long time mentor Wojtek Olszak on keyboards who also produced the album and writes or co-writes seven of the tracks. The commercially funky ‘1981’, co-written by Nowakowski and Olszak, has ‘radio ready’ written all over it and is a number that really skips along. Another big and funky tune is ‘Road No.1’ with more great keyboards from Olszak and an exceptional bass solo from Wojtek Pilichowski.
Amongst the funk Nowakowski finds time to turn it down with tunes such as ‘Body Talk’, ‘First Time’ on which Paul Jackson Jr. again guests and ‘With You Again’ that is pleasingly infused with strings and acoustic guitar. Of the covers, an ultra laid back version of Madonna’s ‘Live To Tell’ is flavored with backing vocals and lifted by Nowakowski’s assured playing while the Paula Abdul hit ‘Opposites Attract’ is big and groovy. The vocals are powerful and the beat drives on to the very end.
The Wojtek Olszak composition ‘Please Stay’ has a nice vibe going on and more quality vocals. What makes it a little different is the jazzy backing that gives the number a real edge. The title track is an up tempo uplifting number. It feels good and sounds good with Wojtek Olszak again in evidence with a high class electric piano solo. ‘Evening Sky’ is a mid-tempo tune with the lightest of touches from Nowakowski and is, for all the world, the theme music to a television show just waiting to happen. The best track on the CD is the hugely catchy ‘Morning Dance’. It has a shuffling up tempo beat and an absolutely classic smooth jazz feel.
With the release of Smooth Night Marcin Nowakowski is proving the point that top notch smooth jazz can come from Eastern Europe. Indeed Smooth Night is an album that is great to listen to and a worthy addition to this year’s crop of quality new releases.
165 years after Belgian musician-inventor Adolphe Sax first presented his brass-woodwind hybrid instrument to the world, and 18 years since the birth of the format which would become smooth jazz, the saxophone reigns as the most iconic, identifiable and popular sound in both the traditional and contemporary realms. Four of the genre’s top sax-playing veterans think they know why — and all come up with the same essential answer.
“I heard a gentleman say once that it is the instrument closest to the human voice, and there’s definitely something to that,” says Najee. “There’s a flexibility in its sound that allows it to adapt to the personality of the player. We all go through our time of imitation, and I could play some of the things that David Sanborn did on alto, Grover Washington, Jr. played on soprano and Michael Brecker hit on tenor, but at the end of the day, I still play like Najee.”
In the late 80s, building upon the groundwork laid by Washington and Sanborn, Najee was one of the first players to hit paydirt by floating sweet soprano melodies over funky R&B rhythms. His Grammy nominated 1986 debut Najee’s Theme and Day By Day both sold platinum; while his star has dimmed slightly since then, he sees his diverse Heads Up debut My Point of View as a way to reconnect with old fans and perhaps gain a few new ones as well.
“The sax creates a distinctive mood in many different genres of music besides jazz, including Latin, pop, rock and R&B,” he adds. “These days, with radio programming so formulaic, when people have heard it all, the only way to stand out is having a personality tied to the instrument. There’s a reason people run out and buy the latest Sanborn CD after he’s been away for a few years. Whatever the trappings, they know his voice.”
Euge Groove, a road warrior with pop icons like Tina Turner and Joe Cocker who launched his solo career in 2000, agrees that the notes he plays on sax have a similar vibration to that of the vocal cords. “I think what excites me as a musician and fans of the sax in general is the wide palette the horn offers. The soprano has a light and feminine sound, and the alto and tenor are more husky and aggressive. I enjoy the different degrees of tension release and the opportunity to express myself. Looking back through the traditions of jazz, I think the sax was big because of its sheer volume in the days before we had P.A.s for amplification. It was the loudest instrument in the room!”
Groove’s latest Narada Jazz offering Just Feels Right offers a playful sense of history that fans who grew up when he did in the 70s will appreciate. Tired of the endless series of “programmed tracks, programmed shakers and high hats and those other artificially bright sounds in smooth jazz,” he invoked the “Spirit of ’76” and created an organic recording using only real instruments and vintage recording gear from the era before our Bicentennial. Catching his reference to “Afternoon Delight” in the liner notes will bring as big a smile to the listener’s face as the Rhodes and Wurlitzer harmonies he plays behind his feisty tenor on “Get ‘Em Goin’.”
“I wanted to get back to the human side of making records,” Groove says. “I figured out why I liked those sax records I was listening to 20 and 30 years ago. Pulling out Sanborn’s Taking Off, Grover’s Mister Magic and Stanley Turrentine’s Mr. T, I was struck by the emotion they put into those. They weren’t slick and they didn’t take out every flaw. The vibe was good, and they weren’t afraid of radio programmers telling them to keep the songs short. Plus the human interaction of musicians jamming together in the studio was awesome. Sonically speaking, they weren’t as bright but you could hear every instrument.”
Eric Marienthal is one of contemporary jazz’s most adaptable sax voices, best known for his associations with Lee Ritenour, Chick Corea, David Benoit and The Rippingtons; he released his first solo album in 1988. “The sax has an emotional connection to people that runs deeper than piano and guitar ever could,” he says. “I can pick up the same horn and same reed one day and it’ll sound one way based on how I feel. If I’m in a different mood the next day, it’ll sound totally different.”
Funny he should mention “mood,” as his softly candlelit take on “Moody’s Mood For Love” (based on James Moody’s famed 1949 improvisation of “I’m In The Mood For Love”) is the most personal statement of many on the saxman’s third Peak Records release, Got You Covered! While the album title may invoke responses of “no more covers, please!”, Marienthal will quickly win skeptics over with a brilliant, stylistically challenging sweep through music history — tackling everyone from Bach and Sinatra to Gipsy Kings, The Beatles and Billy Joel (“New York State of Mind”). Refreshingly, his approach is even more organic than Groove’s, a mostly one and two take live in the studio date with Russell Ferrante, Dave Carpenter, Peter Erskine, Luis Conte and some of album producer Russ Freeman’s most dazzling and intimate guitar work ever.
Before Kirk Whalum — celebrating two decades since his Bob James-produced debut Floppy Disk — delves into the issue of his own incredible success doing cover songs admidst a catalog of very personal original recordings, he chimes in on the technical side of the sax/human voice issue. “The sax’s dynamics and flexibility match the inflections of the voice, the way you can attack and release, and bend notes,” he says. “You play a single note with a more personal stamp than you can on piano or guitar. This is my issue with the homogenization of smooth jazz now, finding players who create a distinguishable voice. In the eras gone by, how many notes did it take you to figure out that it was Lester Young, Dexter Gordon… let’s go back to Sidney Bechet. When I hear my peers and fans say they can recognize my sound, I know that just like my speaking voice, it’s my own unique gift from God.”
In 1998, Whalum at first resisted then Warner Bros. executive Matt Pierson’s overture to balance the release of his first gospel album with For You, an album of all classic R&B covers; the album’s monstrous commercial and artistic success made Whalum’s current project, Kirk Whalum Performs The Babyface Songbook (his debut for the Dave Koz co-owned label Rendezvous Entertainment) a playful and engaging no brainer, with Pierson behind the boards.
“Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds’ songs have defined the cooler side of R&B music for more than a decade, and I really enjoy balancing my more innovative and spiritual projects with being an interpreter celebrating great songwriting in ways people haven’t heard before,” he says. “I take both very seriously, as did my musical idols like Miles and Coltrane. If smooth jazz artists only do covers, then we’re taking a serious step backward, but if we do them on occasion in such a way that celebrates the composer, then we’re carrying on a classic jazz tradition.”
1) Jimmy Sommers, A Holiday Wish (Gemini Records) – Like Rod Stewart tackling the Great American Songbook, the saxman best known for his crackling urban grooves takes a gloriously romantic chill pill on this crisply arranged, lushly produced Christmas date, recorded live in the studio with some of L.A.’s top jazz musicians. The best holiday sax this year.
2) Alex Wurman, March Of The Penguins Score (Milan)
3) Wicked Original Broadway Cast Recording (Decca)
4) Carole King, The Living Room Tour (Rockingale/Concord/Hear)
5) Maceo Parker, School’s In (BHM Productions)
New And Noteworthy
1) Marc Antoine, Modern Times (Rendezvous Music)
2) David Benoit, Orchestral Stories (Peak Records)
3) Warren Hill, Pop Jazz (Native Language)
4) Gregg Karukas, Looking Up (Trippin’ N Rhythm)
5) Kyle Eastwood, Paris Blue (Rendezvous)
The smooth jazz trumpeter is recording with a smooth vocalist.
Chris Botti will perform on the upcoming album called Amore by international superstar Andrea Bocelli, who has sold more than 50 million albums. Bocelli, a blind classical and operatic tenor from Tuscany, Italy, will be recording romantic standards with the help of producer David Foster.
In addition to Botti, Bocelli also called on several musicians with smooth jazz ties: Fourplay bassist Nathan East, guitarist Dean Parks, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and percussionist Paulinho da Costa.
Amore will be released by the Sugar/Phillips recording label on Jan. 31.
Smooth jazz saxophonist Paul Taylor, a Las Vegas resident who almost never appears in his own town, brings his signature sound to the Santa Fe Station, Saturday, December 10th, 7pm.
Tim Pohlman, the former general manager of KTWV, The Wave in L.A.for seven years, has formed his own company, Riviera Broadcasting. Tim and partners recently purchased the smooth jazz radio station in Las Vegas, KOAS 105.7. KOAS, which for the past four years of its existence has been one of the lowest rated smooth jazz radio stations in the U.S., according to all Arbitron surveys, was previously owned by Desert Sky Media.
Upcoming jazz artists for 2006 who will bring their talents to the desert are Brian Culbertson, Kenny Rankin, Maynard Ferguson, Stanley Clarke, and Strunz & Farah.
In the meantime, have a great holiday season. Stay tuned for updates. And Happy New Year!