April 30, 2006

What We're Listening To - April

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

jovinosn.jpgJovino Santos Neto, Roda Carioca (Adventure Music): Edgy Brazilian guitar rhythms from the Pacific Northwest pianist who traveled to his hometown of Rio de Janiero for this swinging project.

Ultrablue, Ultrablue (215): Smooth East Coast jazz from John Smatla and friends Nestor Torres, Pete Belasco, Gabriela Anders and Randy Brecker.

Matt Marshak, Groovosphere (Nuance): A must-have for fans of instrumental guitar music.

Brian Bromberg, Wood II (Artistry): The bassist extraordinaire has fun in an acoustic setting.

David Boswell, Bridge of Art (My Quiet Moon): Sublime guitar work from an underrated new artist.

P E T E R * B O E H I

cassandre3.jpgCassandre McKinley - Baring The Soul: The Music Of Marvin Gaye (2004)
The music of Marvin Gaye in an acoustic jazz setting delivered with soul and passion by this great singer. The music is often relaxed and laid-back providing us with some completely new interpretations of these classic songs.

Gene Cannon - Soul Dances (2006)
Great polished smooth jazz by sax player Gene Cannon supported by keyboard player Allon Sams. Gene recorded already with Allon Sams, Les Sabler and Paul Brown so you know that he is out of the top-drawer. Very recommended!

Dave Camp - Nightfall (1997)
Former sideman of Al Stewart and Peter White comes up with a beautiful smooth jazz album which is accessible, playful and heartfelt featuring the flute and sax playing of the leader. Love it!

Matt Marshak - Groovosphere (2005)
Guitar player Matt Marshak releases a brand new album full of groovy songs with memorable melodies, great hooks and cool guitar playing. I always enjoyed his music and think that Matt belongs to the genre's top players. Not to be missed!

Randy Jacobs - From Me To You (2005)
Guitar player Randy Jacobs has been playing and touring with many big name stars in pop and rock over the years. In the past few years he was mainly active in the smooth jazz scene which shows in his first album with features guests like Rick Braun, Mindy Abair, Euge Groove, Wayman Tisdale and more - I guess you know what to expect. Good work Randy!

D E N I S * P O O L E

'When I Saw You' by Nelson Rangell from his latest CD Soul To Soul. This is a wonderful track from a wonderful release by this often under rated artist.

'And The Beat Goes On' by Gerald Albright from the album New Beginnings. Gerald is on a roll with everything he currently does and he does it here to with a welcome reprise of the The Whispers classic.

'So Lovely' by Konstantin Klashtorni from the CD Led By You that will be released on May 22. This one could be one of the sensations of 2006

'Secret Soul' by Eric Darius from his latest release Just Getting Started. Darius collaborates with Brian Culbertson to stunning effect.

'Rainy Night In Georgia' by Nick Colionne from the Keepin It Cool CD. Great to see Nick getting the recognition that he has long deserved.

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

Steve Oliver, Radiant (Koch)

Eric Darius, Just Getting Started (Narada)

Rendezvous Lounge 2 (Rendezvous Music)

Randy Jacobs, From Me To You (Bad Monkey)

Marion Meadows, Dressed to Chill (Heads Up)

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

Jason Miles, What’s Goin’ On, 2006 (Narada) What a great way to go back and enjoy the music of Marvin Gaye. Essentially, this CD is the show I saw at the Berks Jazz Fest -- awesome in person and also on the CD. Talented musicians and vocalists throughout. Congratulations to Jason Miles for a great tribute.

Eric Darius, Just Getting Started, 2006 ( Narada) Also having had the opportunity to witness this power house of a player during the Berks Jazz Fest 2006, you won't want to miss this CD of indisputable evidence of his talent.

Nelson Rangell, Soul to Soul, (Koch) As time goes by, I come to appreciate Nelson's talent more and more. Whether it's saxophone, flute, piccolo or his own whistling, he is truly one of the most gifted musicians out there today. He is the king of staccato, and it's great fun to watch him play, he always seems to thoroughly enjoy himself.

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 3:54 AM

April 26, 2006

A Night With Chieli Minucci and Special EFX:

An Interview With Chieli Minucci About His New DVD.

ChieliDVDCover.jpgThe first ever DVD of Chieli Minucci live with Special EFX is scheduled for release May 2nd, 2006. Filmed at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto, Canada, Shanachie record company refers to it as ‘a tour-de-force live performance from contemporary jazz guitarist-extraordinaire and Special EFX founder Chieli Minucci.' The DVD features Chieli Minucci and the full Special EFX band, with Chieli on electric and acoustic guitars; Jerry Brooks on bass, Lionel Cordew on drums, Jay Rowe on keyboards, Philip Hamilton on vocals and percussion, and David Mann on saxophones and flute.

I caught up with Chieli as he was laying down three guitar tracks for Roger Smith, recording artist, songwriter, producer and keyboard player for Tower of Power, an exciting project! We soon settled into the interview, focusing on the rewards of having at last recorded a live performance, start to finish, of the full Special EFX band.

Chieli talked about what motivated him to do this DVD. “We’ve been trying to do this for 22 years! Back then, when we almost had a chance at recording a live performance, the record company actually backed down at the last minute, because they felt the music wouldn’t be consistent with what people wanted to hear on radio.”

“ I wanted to do the DVD for the fans, of course, and also for promotional reasons. Right now we’re trying to get group work in Europe, where they’re more inclined to book you if your music is more straight ahead or jazz fusion; they’re not inclined toward ‘smooth jazz.’ Having the DVD is a way to show them what a band like Special EFX is all about, that we’re contemporary instrumental music and we can deliver what they’re looking for.”

Chieli and Special EFX, along with Pamela Williams and Kim Waters, were given an opportunity by Black Entertainment Television to record in this studio, located on Toronto Inner Harbor on Lake Ontario. The Harbourfront Centre Theatre has as its vision ‘a vibrant home for the culture of our time, inspiring people through the magic of the creative spirit.’ Its mission is ‘to nurture the growth of new cultural expressions, stimulate Canadian and international interchange and provide a dynamic, accessible environment for the public to experience the marvels of the creative imagination.'

Chieli said, “Basically, it’s a ‘no frills’ performance in that it doesn’t include things like interviews, but it’s nicely done, and beautifully filmed. It’s a basic performance and a good way to show what Special EFX is about.” Indeed, the studio has a striking ambiance; the lighting and camera work enhance the show immensely. The superimposed images and the effective movement between the players demonstrates the work of seasoned professionals.

Chieli explained how doing a DVD is different and more challenging than doing a CD. “It’s totally different, in that, on the DVD, it’s simply us performing live. You get something reflecting your performance that day. In CD production, you have more control, in that you can change and tweak things.”

I wondered how each song was played, whether it was all in the order shown on the DVD, and whether or not there was an audience. Chieli explained, “Well, there were about six people in the audience -- just the tech crew! We were followed by Pamela Williams, and we got a late start because our equipment wasn’t quite ready and so we played straight through, from ‘Courageous Cats’ to the last one, ‘Cruise Control.’ We’d play two songs and then take about a fifteen minute break, and then continue with two more songs. We intended to include ‘Kickin’ It Hard’ at the end, but simply ran out of time.”

EFXband.jpgChieli started off with exquisite lead-in solo guitar work on both 'Courageous Cats' and then on 'Speak to Me,' each eventually finding its way to the familiar sounds of these two favorites of Special EFX fans. They continued with 'Daybreak,' a breathtaking song from earlier days of Special EFX which features Philip Hamilton’s awesome vocals and percussion, which began in dim light, then gradually brightened, for an engaging effect.

'Body Beat' contained simply amazing solos on the part of each player. It was captivating the way the band punctuated Lionel Cordew’s drum solo, which was impressive. Chieli says it was “decided on the spot that these solos would be done, just improvisation from one musician to the other.” Besides this highlight of the performance, Chieli’s work with Philip Hamilton on ‘Speak to Me,’ where Chieli’s guitar and Philips vocals speak back and forth was so enjoyable and entertaining to watch.

'Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,' by now a Chieli signature song (composed by Stevie Wonder), was, as always, hauntingly beautiful, especially with the way Chieli can make the guitar cry. 'Still Waiting' showcased the raw musicianship of each performer with its complexity. The popular radio hit 'Cruise Control,' which by now has evolved into an extremely high energy number, was a terrific ending to the entire performance.

David Mann and Jay Rowe each added so much to the performance with exhiliarating solos, and the rest of the band, as usual, came through with steady and solid playing throughout the performance. Each song had an outstanding ending. Watching the way images of each player were superimposed on each other made each song so fascinating. One of my favorite shots was of Chieli's guitar playing superimposed on a shot of Jerry Brooks' talented bass-playing -- that was a stunning section of the DVD.

Watching Chieli’s face was, in itself, a highlight of the show. He communicates that intense effort, the sheer concentration, the feeling of confidence/triumph when he knows he’s playing just the way he wants to play. I wondered if it feels like a lot of pressure or is it just plain fun? “It’s what I do, it’s what we do as musicians. We’re just out there playing the songs, letting them take us where they take us. We have cues to each other that aren’t obvious to most people who would be in the audience, so we know where we’re at.”

I wondered how Chieli felt after the performance, and whether he realized the band had delivered a truly superb performance on everyone’s part? “I felt comfortable that we performed well,” he commented. Chieli didn’t see the show right away, having to be whisked off to another performance. “Later, I went through it with a fine-toothed comb to be sure it was ready for release, and although there were a few things to fix (i.e. an electronic noise that came from ‘somewhere,’ which had to be replaced with a more fitting instrumental sound), basically the DVD is intact as it was recorded.”

Chieli is pleased with the DVD and sees this live performance recording as be a steppingstone to a follow up Chieli Minucci with Special EFX CD which promises to feature the same level of improvisational style that’s on the recording. A goal of Chieli’s is to have the record company be able to focus on Chieli’s name in the context of the Special EFX name. This is a change from the time Special EFX was associated with George Jinda, percussionist extraordinaire and former partner in Special EFX, who passed away in 2002.

One of the most interesting things I learned about Chieli during our interview is that, contrary to what I thought, he does not have that ‘perfect plan’ for each song driving the performance, being so careful and making sure everything is ‘just right.’ Instead, he’s happy to have the initial plan and then go with that and see where it takes him and the members of the band, being admittedly vulnerable while reaching to the limits of their capabilities. “Some songs are played as they’re written,” he said, “but then there are embellishments that are added, and as they’re played, we keep making changes as we go along.” That leaves me with only one conclusion as to how a performance such as this can appear so perfectly orchestrated: Chieli and Special EFX are simply that good at what they do.

Projects that are coming up for Chieli include participating in fellow Special EFX band member Jay Rowe’s ‘Smooth Jazz for Scholars,’ to be held on April 29th in Milford, Connecticut. “It’s been a successful fundraiser and a lot of fun, and many other artists are also participating: Marion Meadows, Jeff Kashiwa, Nelson Rangell, Rohn Lawrence and others.”

chielicruise.jpgChieli will also have the pleasure of having his son Gianluca join him in playing bass on a number with the band on May 5th at the Intermedia Arts Center in Huntington, New York. In addition to other shows that are scheduled (please visit www.chielimusic.com to check them out!), the most exciting thing coming up is the ‘Chieli Minucci and Musicians for a Cause' November cruise, sailing out of Miami, to benefit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The cruise, hosted by Chieli himself, will feature artists Jay Beckenstein (leader of Spyro Gyra), Kim Waters, Gerald Veasley, Phil Perry, and Slow Train Soul.

And as if he’s not busy enough, fans can begin to anticipate that, as Chieli says, “during the summer, I’ll be writing and recording my next CD, Chieli Minucci with Special EFX." Doesn’t that sound like the Chieli we all know?

To learn more about Chieli Minucci and Special EFX, and to order the DVD for yourself, go to www.chielimusic.com.

To visit the location of the DVD recording studio, go to www.HarbourfrontCentre.com

Happy Jazzin'

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

Photos Compliments of Chieli Minucci

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 10:17 PM

Chris Botti Recording Duet For Dean Martin CD

The trumpeter will featured on a CD that pairs instrumentalists and vocalists with the late Rat Pack icon.

Trumpeter Chris Botti’s latest duet will be with the legendary Dean Martin, one of the famous group of singers known collectively as the Rat Pack. Yes, Martin died more than 10 years ago. But like Kenny G and Natalie Cole before him, Botti will be performing his instrument on the Lerner/Loewe standard called "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," which will then be edited into Martin’s vocals of the song, which he first recorded in 1957.

Botti just finished recording his part of the song at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. The CD, which is being engineered by Grammy Award-winner Al Schmitt and is expected to be released later this year, is taking original recordings of Martin’s vocals, deleting the instrumentation and putting different backing and soloists with them.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:55 PM

Sexy Saxman Marion Meadows Gets Dressed To Chill On Latest Release

New Album Set For International Release May 23, 2006

Since his earliest recordings in the 1990s, saxophonist Marion Meadows has epitomized cool in the contemporary jazz scene. From the sound to the style to the image, every aspect of Meadows' persona suggests a level of smooth sophistication that's unmatched in his class. In keeping with that tradition, Meadows' new CD, Dressed To Chill, is scheduled for worldwide release on Heads Up International on May 23, 2006.

Like Players Club, Meadows' previous release on Heads Up which rode the Billboard and R&R Contemporary Jazz Charts for months, Dressed To Chill continues to showcase the joint songcraft of Meadows and keyboardist/producer Michael Broening. The collaborative team of Meadows and Broening has been making compelling, soul-driven contemporary jazz since Meadows' In Deep in 2002.

"The more music Michael and I write together, the more we realize that we're evolving into a great creative team," says Meadows. "It's one of those things you kind of know right away when you're collaborating with someone. We had a lot of songs that we had written for Players Club that we had planned to put on this new record. But at the last minute, we rewrote most of that material. It was very labor-intensive, but in a good way. We had already raised the bar with the last record, and now it was time to raise it again and take the music to a new level."

The album opens with the steady groove of the title track, which Meadows considers one of his favorites among the dozen tracks on the album. "It turned out to be a little more uptempo than what I'm used to," he says, "but I got pretty excited about it when we were laying it down in the studio, and some of that energy just made its way onto the track."

"Remember Me," the followup track, is a bit more understated, with Meadows establishing a solid melody line on soprano and tenor sax that's deftly augmented by guest guitarist Chuck Loeb.

"Miss Know It All" is a slow and slinky affair that pays tribute to a lady of unmatched sophistication. Vocalist Will Brock, who co-wrote the track with Broening, tells the tale with a smoldering delivery that merges the best elements of soul and R&B.

Midway through the set is a finely crafted cover of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." Produced by keyboardist/programmer Chris "Big Dog" Davis, it marks another of Meadows' favorite moments on the album. "It's a beautiful track," he says. "Chris did a great job all the way around. It has a kind of gospel background to it that just sounds fantastic."

Further in, "Scent of a Woman" is an especially sultry track built on a laid back but persistent groove and augmented by a subtle yet unmistakably Spanish flavor provided by acoustic guitarist Thano Sanhas. The closer, "To Love Her," follows a similar groove by juxtaposing Meadows soprano sax and bass clarinet against the atmospheric electric guitar work of Freddie Fox.

"I think when you hear all the tracks as a whole, the title of the album makes perfect sense," says Meadows. "We're taking a very relaxed, very cool approach to the music. We're doing a lot, but in a style that's very subtle and understated."

With the warm days and hot nights not far off, it may be time to put on something cool. Marion Meadows has the perfect ensemble. Get Dressed To Chill.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:54 PM

April 25, 2006

Tony Levin Interview

Interview done by Paul Adams*

TonyLevin.jpgTony Levin. To most musicians, enough said. The guy's been everywhere and played with everybody who has made a dent in the world of music for the last thirty years. Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, King Crimson, Herbie Mann etc. etc. A musician's musician. The man loves to gig, and he's constantly on the road. But, the last few years he's started doing his own music, and Resonator is the current release on Narada Records. He also releases solo work on his Papabear Records label (Through his his web site only).

Tony is known for being solid and adventurous, and he doesn't disappoint. On Resonator, he opens up the door of his heart all the way, with an emphasis on lyric tunes. And the guy has hit the ball out of the park. The overall content of these songs are emotionally touching, with a dash of humor, irony, and mysticism. "Utopia" has a beautiful epic feel that just melts me. "Beyond My Reach" finds its genesis within the universal theme of grief, and the beauty of letting go of that that never stands still - life. The tune "Fragile As A Song" speaks of an encounter with a wonderful ape named Panbanesha, with Peter Gabriel. Throughout, there's a poignant ballad like approach to his recent decision to "open up" his lyric soul to the world. However, ballads aren't the only thing new and interesting. There are some wild rides here with instrumentals that shake the floor. "What Would Jimi Do" gives a rockin nod to Hendrix inspired music. The premise is interesting. If alive today, how would he Hendrix respond to the state of current music? On "Throw The God A Bone", even his dog Lilly takes part. A humorous movin' and groovin' celebration of our furry friends hold on simplicity and beauty. They have a lot to teach us. Woof!

In my discussion with him, he expressed concern that the lyric in these songs work well. There was also concern about the use of his voice. He wanted the music to stand - to be valid within itself, and not enslaved to a point in time that may not be as appropriate for an audience ten or twenty years from now (Tony expressed this same concern with some of the album covers for King Crimson). The themes are universal. Life, loss, existence, humor, and the sometimes precarious dance between science and the spiritual. These former themes expose Tony as a bit of a mystic, the later, allow him a bit of objectivity. He can acknowledge the sometimes overwhelming impact of these themes, yet balance the heavy, with the "Zen like" willingness to take the impact, dust himself off, get back on his feet, and re-join the dance for all it's beauty.

For the most part, the music industry has lost site of art. It offers us sameness with an ironic emphasis of trying to make itself look groundbreaking. Being an individual - making an artistic statement - is accomplished by sounding like everyone else. Tony and his wonderful band of Gypsy's ("The man" Adrian Belew on guitar, Jesse Gress on guitar, Tony's brother Pete Levin on organ, Jerry Marotta on drums, and Larry Fast on keyboards.) has offered us art. He's met the challenge of pushing the envelope, and taking a risk by heading into new territory. Exposing one self to these elements is being dynamic, involved, and alive. Tony Levin and the boys are alive! Resonator is alive!


Q This album showcases vocals in a prominent way. As someone known as a musician's musician, and one of the "go to" guys for instrumental excursions with many people, do you think you took more chance or risk? Was it frightening?

A Not quite "frightening" but a big leap for me. Like many musicians, I like challenges, and even with my comfortable territory (Bass, Stick, and instrumental music) I'm usually pushing myself to move off the old ways of doing things, learn new techniques, make some up... stuff like that. Maybe it's from being in King Crimson for so long, a band where challenging ourselves individually and as a band is standard practice. So, for years I've had a lot of material brewing - things I wanted to communicate that I couldn't get across with my instrumental writing. And finally it seemed time to take a deep breath, write the material the way I felt it suited me best, and do lead vocals on it. I'd sung backgrounds a lot (with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson and some others) so I was familiar with my voice (it's qualities and lack of qualities...) The recording process took me much longer than usual this time, but in the end I'm happy it did so that I had time to adjust the compositions the way they needed.

Q There's a bit of the mystics imagination with this outing. One song example might be "Throw That Dog A Bone". Dogs have the simple mind thing down don't they? So much to teach us! Care to comment? By the way Lilly has great timing.

A "Throw The God A Bone" is somewhat characteristic of this new music - it's humor kind of masks a somewhat deep theme. Dogs look up to us, kind of like we're gods to them when you think about it. And the song is a processing of that fact midst our natural tendency to look up above us, and try to obey the edicts of our God or gods. It's amusing when our dogs, wanting so much to please us, break the rules sometimes, and feel so bad afterward - are we that different about our commandments? And then, science almost always being a component of these songs, what is going to happen when we create some new life (not so far in the future) and need to program it to obey 'commandments' of behavior from us? All interesting fodder for music, I think. Meanwhile, there's Lilly, my dog, happy to perform some barking for the song. I have to admit she did not bark on cue - but getting her barks on tape was as easy as... well, as getting a dog to bark!

Q I think when someone hears Resonator they are gonna get the Tony Levin approach. Music that seeks to use imagination a bit over formula. Can you elaborate about some of the tools and tricks you used to accomplish this.

A I certainly didn't want to sing about "love ya baby..." Maybe it's because I came from the progressive rock tradition, where music at least tried to be intelligent and challenging. And, for me, the themes were already there percolating in my mind before I set about writing the songs. It wasn't a case of thinking what a certain song would be about. I have lots of journals and poems about the things on my mind, often the collisions between where science and technology is taking us in this century, and the structures and traditions of religion. (My bedside reading is a very odd combination of science mags and the Bible.) When I have a theme, and perhaps a poem or a few pages of journal writings and drawings about it, it's kind of fun to form that into a song. The hard part for me comes when I have to shorten it (usually far too many ideas and verses to fit into reasonable length song) and when I need to fashion it into music that's my own style. (Some of the songs I rejected for the album were good musically but didn't suit the rock playing I wanted to do, or suit my voice, which is fairly limited.) (Incidentally, I ended up feeling that my voice limitations were a good thing for the material. There are ways a good singer can 'carry' some weaker parts of the song - maybe some lyrics that aren't up to the rest, but the singer can throw more emotion into those words and give them some resonance that way. Or, even weak melody lines can be made musical by the voice weaving around, adding filigree. Fine and dandy, but I can't do any of that, and so I had to keep plugging away at the music itself, knowing all I can do vocally is present the material. Ended up being better for the music, I think.)

Q I'm betting that approaching music in a non formulaic way may be very natural for you. I believe we are living in a time when formula music has never been stronger and more encouraged. I don't see people looking at music on it's own merits, but rather as a commodity and product to be compared. Consumers ask is that as good as this? Or is this one as good as the previous one - rather than looking at one particular piece on it's own merits?

A It's an interesting time for music, partly because music is somewhat a way of communicating, and it's a wild time for opening up new ways of communicating. I travel a great deal, and am always aware how much music is out there - it seems like almost everyone is making a CD. Listening just to the radio, you could get the sense that there is less unusual stuff being done, but I think it's quite different than that. Of course, the associated difficulty these days is getting your music heard, for the same reason - there is so much out there and so little of it gets media attention.

Q Do you think this new delivery system of selling digital downloads of songs - with the ability to bypass many middle men - is going to be a lasting vehicle for purchasing music?

A I've got no insight into the digital download world - seems to me that things are changing fast, and we don't know how music is going to be shared, and maybe paid for five years from now. It's certainly made things interesting! And maybe there's a lesson there for coming challenges in other areas - I think the rate of change with this new technology is increasing, and we'll have to get better at adapting, if we don't want to get stuck in the feeling of being left behind. It's complex now, in the field of music and music sales, but I think it may get like that with all media, and with information itself.

Q Back to the human and animal kingdom, and lessons learned from our planetary brethren. Peter Gabriel asked to you help him with a project in Atlanta. This lead to "Fragile As A Song". Can you give your fans your impression of what went down, and what this meant to you. What did it teach you?

A The story is in short that Peter called me from Atlanta where he was spending a few days playing music with apes! I joined him for a day, with Panbanesha (a bonobo ape) playing a bit of piano, while Peter and I jammed along. Her piano playing wasn't great, (though not bad for a beginner!) but her language ability amazed me. Later, in trying to "process" what had happened that day, I did what we musicians are lucky to be able to do, that is to process. I wrote a song about it, not explaining the event, but... filtering it through my musicality. So the resulting song ("Fragile As A Song") doesn't seem to be about apes, but covers the emotion and the wonder that I took from the event. It's hard to say what I "learned"' from it, but maybe it opened up my eyes to yet more permutations of what "communication" can be.

Q Tony, there is a bit of humor on this CD. AND, of coarse, the mystics perspective of science as on "Break It Down". You sang of the obsession of over analyzing and breaking things down. Of trying to make the abstract more definable. Even in the music business we have this need to break down the song and compartmentalize it so we can control the product, and assure good sales demographics. Any comments?

TonyLevin3.jpgA Hah... you've got a good sense of the music business for sure. For me, though I sail into and around the music business. I remain somewhat on an island of just making music. We somewhat ignore the business end of things (until we need to address it, and that's often too late to be effective.) But it's a blessing, to be immersed in writing and recording music, and better still, being out on the road playing your music for the people who appreciate it. All musicians avoid compartmentalizing music, to be sure - we strive while making it, to make it our own and therefore, hopefully, different from the rest. Alas, it isn't ever completely different. To describe it in words, it is necessary to compare it to other music, hence to put it in a genre. We know that. But how nice that it's the job of others to do that - and we can happily sail along feeling our own music is unique!

Q Well it seems I'm going to drift back to the area of metaphysics and the song "Utopia". It offers us a choice of tools. It paints a picture of the many beautiful ways we have of seeing Utopia right before us - if we would just allow ourselves to see.

A Exactly. And in it is some reference to my having lost my father in the year I was writing - the writing I did about the painful side of loss, those poems and songs won't come out - more meaningful to me is the ever-present element in loss, of treasured connection. That's there, a bit, in "Utopia" and in "Beyond My Reach". And connection itself, between us fragile cousins in this human tribe, that's what I sing about, and that may be the function of music itself.

Q Concerning you not wanting to utilize the Music Industry formula approach, you said you certainly didn't want to sing about "love ya baby..." because you came from the progressive rock tradition, where music at least tried to be intelligent and challenging". My friend Gary Green played in a Prog group called Gentle Giant. They worked quite hard with little financial gain. In 1980, all "arty Rock", or "Progressive Rock" was buried in the closet. It's detractors called it pretentious and full of itself. Do you have any feelings about this?

A Well, in fact I don't like pretentious lyrics myself. In my opinion lyrics can be thought provoking and... well, resonant, without hammering you over the head that 'this is art. That naturalness, in writing, isn't easy to come by, and I struggled to try to achieve it - whether I succeeded or not, is for others to judge.

Q I see a strange irony happening in the business today. To be popular, your music has to be unique. One must be an individual. At the Grammys a few years ago Snoop Dog said something like, "we don't influence people, we just make music about what we see. People think for themselves". I'm not sure I agree with this. I hear a "sameness". From the phrasing, to the lyric, rhythm, and even the press photo pose. Irony. In order to be unique, I must be like everyone else. Care to respond?

A In a sense almost all of us who are trying to be unique are settled inside a musical genre with a lot of loose rules of form harmony and content. What we really are doing is bending some of those rules, maybe just combining elements that aren't often used together. It's a very rare musician who is writing outside the harmonic structure of hundreds of years ago. I listen sometimes to Schoenberg, to remind myself of the music (almost a century old now) that really did bust out of those rules - but my ear's not advanced enough to even get it, let alone write that way. Yet it's a good reminder to me - if I'm telling myself I want to be radical with my music, it's best I face the reality of just how radical I'm willing to get. (Add to that that if one is far from the norm harmonically, it'll distract from the other elements, like lyrics, that you might want the focus to be on.)

Q Every tune on the album is valid for me because I trust you. And I trust you because I feel that being dishonest and uninteresting would be a waste of your time. Even if you drive to a place that doesn't quite "tickle" my musical trigger, I'm going to say to myself. "Hmmm. I'm gonna put this away till tomorrow and have another listen. The guys a good driver." I find that it is this "trust" that is missing between the record buying public and the artists. Any comments?

TonyLevin2.jpgA Well, first of all, thanks very much. Now, for 'trust,' interestingly I find myself grateful to be on a record label that has some musical faith in me. I've handed them albums before which didn't fit the kind of music they put out, yet they stick with me, not imposing anything on my music. And this time I've gone even further off their norm, with rock vocals, and some of them about religion - possibly a red flag to some companies.

As to the fans of my music, I do feel lucky to have a small following of listeners who don't expect to hear the same thing every outing. It's also a result of being in King Crimson, where the band always put its fans through a difficult conundrum - you liked the Discipline album of the early 80's... good, because Robert Fripp had us stop playing most of the earlier music in the live shows. But, next album - you'd like more of the same? too bad, we're looking for something new. Okay, maybe we don't succeed in finding that really new direction each time (definitely don't, in fact) but one thing's for sure - it demands a special kind of audience to stick with a band that keeps trying to forge new directions like that. So in a way the band got the audience it deserved - very astute, ready for the new, and... often frustrated that some of it's favorite music got dropped in the process.

Me, I'm not King Crimson, but I've been influenced by that experience. With my solo albums and tours, I'm just making the music I need to make. There was one album (Waters of Eden) which I wrote after a couple of years of back to back heavy prog bands. The collaborations (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, Bozzio Levin Stevens, Liquid Tension Experiment) they were great, but I was craving some gentler, more Gabriel World Music like music. So that's the kind of music I wrote, though I knew the fans of what I'd been playing for the last years would find it too.. nice. Now, 'nice' is gone, I've got things to say, about science, religion, progress, connections among people... and the rock context fits it best.

Q Resonator is a very poetic album. There's humor, as well as keen observation and a desire to touch. You coordinated this with the eclectic risk taking you are known for. Do you have any advise for those who want to create art honestly, yet, find it difficult to find a "place" to gig - or reach an audience?

A I'm not such an expert or icon that I can give advice about how to create art honestly - still doing my best to learn that for myself. But 'places to gig' are certainly becoming scarcer. I'd say my only tip is about the music itself - to try to stick with the music that you love and are happy making. There are often pressures (market pressures, genres that radio or labels like) that push you toward making music that seems to fit a market. I know some artists who have been lucky with this. But I know many more who have abandoned the unique slant they started with to try to please market needs, and eventually found themselves without either sales success or a body of distinctive work to continue to build off of. They can deny you places to play, make it tough to sell your music, but they cannot take the music away from you - that's something only you yourself can do

Q How about a small description of how you felt playing with the guys on the album. They are all so great. I was especially keen about the guitar work by Jesse on "What Would Jimi Do"?

TonyLevin4.jpgA That song, "What Would Jimi Do" was an obvious vehicle for guitar solo from a Hendrix fan - I know many guitarists who love playing in that vein, and I was a bit torn about who to have on it. Ended up feeling that Jesse would be ideal - and indeed, he went right into 'Jimi mode" and played exactly the part I needed. All the band (Jerry Marotta, Jesse, Larry Fast, and Pete Levin) are excellent musicians whom I trust in their musicality - so having them join in on songs was the fun part of the project for me. ( I usually had done some kind of demo of each part on the song, with me playing, and gradually the real track would reveal itself as player after player replaced my demo parts with the real thing.)

Q You mentioned that you had great album support and that they gave you freedom. You did have your Papabear label. Was trying to be a label and an artist a huge chunk of work?

A Not a lot of work, but that's simply because I neglected the biz part of the work. I've always been better at the artistic side, and with Papabear I would just release good music albums, and let the sales be whatever they are, on web only. (Far too time consuming to send to distribution or record stores - so it kept small and manageable, by just website sales.) When Narada was interested in having me do records for them, I was intrigued by the possibility of actually getting my releases into stores. The collaboration has been a good one, I think - they leave me to do what I need to artistically, even if it's very different from their other artists. And on my side, I tour a lot to support the store sales of my CDs, and have a bit of a following among Crimson and Gabriel fans.

Q Ok. How about short answers when I mention a few of the folks you have played with? It can be what you learned from them, or just your impression of their place in your heart.

Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew
These guys are an inspiration to me - a lot of what I've learned about truly being progressive, about breaking out of the mold, has been from playing alongside them, live, in studio and just inhaling their musical intuition.

Steps Ahead
I was only in the band a short time - but their musical ability was inspiring. Mike Mainieri (the band's founder and leader) was a band mate of mine from the first projects I did in New York, back when I moved there ("White Elephant" was the band) and Mike is one of those awesome players, who is also a fantastic band leader. The only reason I didn't do more with Steps Ahead was, alas, big commitments in the same years, to touring with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson. It's a shame, but you can't do it all.

Peter Gabriel
Probably the luckiest single thing in a career of lucky breaks is that I got to play with Peter. His sense of music is unique, his openness to unusual ideas (only Peter embraced my Stick playing from the beginning) is extraordinary, he's a great guy, and to boot, his tours are the most fun of all tours, because Peter's open to trying different things each day, whether it's camping in the wild, or motorcycling to the Grand Canyon on a day off.

John Lennon
Again, a lucky break for me, and an honor, that I was asked to play on John's album.

Herbie Mann
Back in my jazz days, Herbie was the force to bring together players of different styles - he threw me in with Potato's Bata Cubana, with Steve Gadd on drums... we started the Disco era (God forgive us) and Herbie was ever looking for new styles to explore.

Bill Bruford
My Crimson rhythm buddy - Bill's creativity is legendary (the man who never plays the same thing once!) When I joined Crimson I tried to hold things down, in a typical American rhythm section way - soon Bill opened my eyes to a new way to look at rhythm playing, innovative to the max, not concerned with tradition but blazing new paths. I sometimes still try to do it, but never forget who was my teacher in that aspect of musicality - Bill.

Buddy Rich
The stories are rife - always amusing tales about Buddy and his famous temper. But behind that, an amazing drive and unique ability to power a big band through it's paces. It's precious to me, to have spent a week playing with this master. (Yes, he did fire the whole band mid-session, but hired us back the next day - what else is new!)


*Paul Adams composes Music, writes Poetry and Stories, and Builds Instruments. He has a sideline band exploring world fusion and groove called THE NEURONS

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:34 PM

April 24, 2006

Lori Perry

LoriPerry.jpgFans of Jazz music will know Lori Perry best for her days in the quartet Perri with her three sisters Carol, Darlene and Sharon. Perri had a stellar run in the eighties, touring with artists such as Roberta Flack, George Benson, Anita Baker and Seal. Perry has recorded with Brian Culbertson, George Michael, Elton John, George Duke and Cher. As she spoke to me from her home in Studio City in the USA Perry talked about her solo career, reminisced about the days with Perri and spoke enthusiastically about her new CD I Found It In You.

I Found It In You serves as an appendix to the 2004 release Wrote This Song. I Found It In You has enhanced grooves and a couple of more songs than the earlier album. She says of the songs on the album, "The music represents (the songs) that I have been holding in my heart for sometime and that I have wanted to put out. The CD is my baby."

When you listen to Perry's passionate vocals on songs such as "Nine Eleven", "On My Mind" and "Wrote This Song" you may think her music sounds other worldly. It is, sort of. While some of us are content to talk in our sleep Perry has raised the bar and sings in her sleep. "It's funny how I get melodies in my head while I am sleeping so I keep a little digital recorder at my bedside. When I do hear these melodies I just put them on tape. (The next morning) I will listen to what I have recorded in the middle of the night," she says explaining her sometimes unconventional method for writing songs.

In creating the album she called upon an old friend George Duke. "I have worked with George for about eight years. I have learned so much from that man. He is a brilliant wonderful producer, father and husband. I have nothing but respect for him. He has a lot of knowledge about music. He will sit and tell me stories and I tell him, 'You need to write your memoirs.' It is always a pleasure to work with him because he allows me to be who I am. He always gives me a place to stand out front. I love artists who are not intimidated by the talents of others. He enhanced what I have to offer. When I asked George to be a part of the CD yes couldn't come out (of his mouth) fast enough. He gave us the studio free of charge. It was just him letting me know that he appreciates me."

Perry was very involved in the production of I Found It In You. "I am hands on because nobody knows better than you what you hear inside of your head. I don't want to hold all the reins. I am not greedy in the sense that, "It's my thing and I am going to do it my way," she says mimicking a bratty tone with her voice. She adds, "I welcome any idea that (others contribute).

Perry also collaborated with Jazz icon Brian Culbertson to write "Going To Miss You" and "Getting Over You". "I had met Brian through a former manager of mine who died of leukemia. His name was Howard Lowell. Nobody knew he was sick. He was just this loving guy who would try to hook you up with anyone that he thought you should collaborate with. In his dying days he (Lowell) kept calling Brian and I and saying, 'You have to meet.' After we (Culbertson and her) met (Lowell) went into the hospital and died. I went over to Brian's house and we were both so saddened by Lowell's death that we wrote "Going to Miss You". We toured together and I am looking forward to (the opportunity) to work with Brian again in the coming years."

While Perry has always been highly regarded by those in the music industry, fans, radio stations and critics have often overlooked, not panned her work. "Sometimes I can get mad because I am not up there receiving a Grammy but I am happy for those that do. I know that my turn is coming if I don't faint. I cannot give up no matter how long it takes. I believe my turn is coming. I need to work at my craft and sooner or later somebody will say, 'Hey this girl is good.' I see the changes (in the industry) and I try to adjust. I am trying to reinvent what I do and not be left behind in an eighties world." I Found It In You should go a long way towards a new generation of music listeners recognizing Perry as possessing one of the most gifted voices in Jazz music.

Perry recalled two career highlights for me. One stems from her song "No Place To Go" recorded on a Perri album. The inspiration for the song came from her conversation with a homeless person on the streets of Los Angeles on the American west coast. The song was a big hit in another US city Detroit Michigan and the mayor of the city presented the Perry sisters with the key to the metropolis. The gesture was acknowledgement that they had elevated awareness to the plight of the homeless.

She continues, "I think that (whole experience) has been the most rewarding for me as well as singing with Donald Fagan (Steely Dan). I just love him as a writer, singer and producer. We did "The Caves of Altrima" on one of the Perri albums and at that time he wasn't letting anyone use his publishing rights. He (allowed) us to do "The Caves of Altrima" and it turned out great. She received an invitation to perform with Fagan in Los Angeles. It was in part orchestrated by her friend Ricky Lawson who was the drummer for Fagan. I couldn't sit quietly (during rehearsal) listen to all that great Steely Dan music and not sing a word. He was like, 'Wow you know all of my stuff!' I told Donald, 'I will just sing the background (vocals) for you (during the concert). That was probably one of my great highlights as well."

All Rights Reserved-Copyright
By Joe Montague

Posted by Joe Montague at 2:42 PM

April 23, 2006

Gerald Albright - New Beginnings

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It’s fitting that Gerald Albright's new CD is titled New Beginnings because a fresh start is what Albright is currently all about. Not only is he breathing the creative fresh air that stems from his relocation to Castle Rock Colorado he is also basking in the freedom afforded to him by his new label Peak Records. This liberation has allowed him to write and produce music that he describes as ‘genuine Gerald’ and, for this latest project, to gather together an awesome array of smooth jazz and R & B greats. In addition, his decision to make this recording the first to feature his regular touring band of bassist Melvin Davis, drummer Tony Moore and the bands newest member, keyboardist (and Musical Director) Tracy Carter, has given him the luxury of working with artists who instinctively know what he wants. In fact long term collaborations are very much a feature of New Beginnings. Albright first worked with Jeff Lorber in the early eighties when as a young sax man he replaced the soon to be famous Kenny G in The Jeff Lorber Fusion Band. Lorber plays a part on four of the tracks and Patrice Rushen, for whom Albright played the now signature tenor solo on the smash hit ‘Forget Me Nots’, is there too. Truth to tell the entire collection is brim full of wonderful surprises.

The opening track, ‘We Got The Groove’, is boppy and highly energetic with an infectious hook. Featuring Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar it is produced by Jeff Lorber, who also co-writes (with Albright) and plays keyboards. Selected as the first single to be released to radio, it is currently tearing up the chart of the thirty most played. This same Lorber Albright combination is in evidence with ‘Take Your Time’. This is an edgy slice of smooth jazz that starts out in laid back mode with snippets of flute from Albright rippling through the tune like sunshine splashing on water. However, with Albright’s playing on sax getting bigger and bolder by the second it soon evolves into something altogether funkier. Albright and Lorber also combine on the aptly named ‘Deep Into My Soul’ where Gerald turns it down a little for a genuinely soulful vibe that just flows.

‘Georgia On My Mind’ has been a staple of Albright’s live shows since the early nineties and here, with plaintiff sax that is complemented by subtle backing, he plays it straight to evoke thoughts of smoky jazz clubs in the late night hours. When he reprises the tune as the final track of the album he adds a swing and big band feel that puts a delicious spin on the original. The title track is a lovely piece of smooth jazz with the emphasis decidedly on the jazz. The sultry introduction paves the way for Albright’s funky yet romantic sax and a jazz infused solo on acoustic piano by the wonderful Patrice Rushen.

The Jeff Lorber produced ‘Big Shoes’ features a trumpet solo from the ubiquitous Chris Botti. Sure to please the purists, it is jazzy in a straight ahead sort of a way yet funky in a way that is pure Gerald Albright. Positioned more toward the smooth jazz end of the rainbow is the luscious rhythmic funk of ‘Last But Not Least’. One of several tracks on the CD with the potential to go to radio it epitomises the attitude that Albright routinely imparts into his music. This quality again brims over with ‘I Want Somebody’. The first of two Chuckii Booker Gerald Albright collaborations it is a song that builds through the intro before transitioning it into a wonderful foot tapping groove. Booker, long time Musical Director for Lionel Richie, produces, co-writes (with Albright) and plays keyboards. On the second track that he performs with Albright, ‘I Need You’, he goes one better by adding his own backing vocals. Consequently, what is essentially a slice of mid tempo smooth R & B is made to feel very special by the delicious interplay between these Bookers vocals and Albright’s soulful sax.

Another stellar example of romantic and smooth R & B is ‘You Are My Love’. Produced by Luther Hanes, who also helps out with keyboards and vocals, it has a genuinely haunting chorus and is yet another standout track on an album that is stacked with them. Albright’s version of the 1980 hit by The Whispers ‘And The Beat Goes On’ is, for several reasons, an absolute triumph. Firstly Albright remains faithful to the original by the inspirational use on background vocals of Whispers founder members Walter and Wallace Scott. Just as important he uses the production genius of Rex Rideout and his own exceptionally funky playing to keep it sounding very fresh indeed. This may be one the CD’s only two covers but its one that really shines.

With New Beginnings Albright takes the very best of the creativity and associations to have impacted his career to date and channels them into what is quite simply the best new smooth jazz release of 2006 thus far.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:13 AM

April 21, 2006

Peter White Releases Details Of New Cover-Song CD

Guitarist Peter White will cover the Isley Brothers, Grover Washington Jr., Van Morrison, Burt Bacharach and many more on his new CD. Along for the ride are the biggest names in smooth jazz.

PeterWhite.jpgSmooth jazz guitarist Peter White has just finished his 10th CD, tentatively titled Deja Vu and a sequel of sorts to a full CD of cover songs he first explored in 1994 with Reflections. The album is once again produced by Paul Brown, who helmed Reflections and also co-produced White’s most recent album, 2004’s Confidential.

White's upcoming project has an all-star cast of guest musicians, including trumpeter Rick Braun, guitarist Jonathan Butler, saxophonists Richard Elliot and Boney James, pianist Bob James and vocalists Jeffrey Osborne and Kiki Ebsen. Butler sings lead vocals on “Lovely Day,” while Osborne does the same on “You Are Everything.”

The upcoming CD has 11 songs, including “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” “The Look of Love,” “Mister Magic"and “One on One.”

Look for the CD, to be released by Columbia Records, to be available this summer.

Deja Vu track listing

1. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) (Bristol/Bullock)
2. The Look Of Love (Bacharach/David)
3. Deja Vu (Anderson/Hayes)
4. Mister Magic (McDonald/Salter)
5. Lovely Day (Scarborough)
6. Crazy Love (Morrison)
7. Sunny (Hebb)
8. For The Love Of You (Isley/Isley/Isley/Isley/Jasper)
9. Hit The Road Jack (Mayfield)
10. You Are Everything (Bell/Epstein)
11. One On One (Hall)

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:35 AM

April 15, 2006

Legends Of Jazz

LegendsOfJazz.jpgLegends of Jazz, the first weekly network jazz series in 40 years begins airing on local PBS stations the week of April 3, 2006. The 13-week season coincides with National Jazz Appreciation Month and will be featuring intimate conversations and original performances by some of the world’s leading musicians. To celebrate the show, Legends of Jazz will be releasing a CD and DVD on April 25, 2006 with highlights from the series. For more information please visit www.legendsofjazz.net.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 3:03 PM

April 14, 2006

Dave Koz Cancels Summer Show, Delays New CD

The ever-busy saxophonist will be focusing on his record label, his new CD and the Rendezvous All Stars tour.

Dave_Koz2.jpgSaxophonist Dave Koz, who every year has been a familiar face on smooth jazz stages, has announced that he will be taking some time off from touring but will return in 2007 with a full schedule of shows. His last show was earlier this month when he performed in Japan for the first time.

Koz’s hiatus means there will be no Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Summer Night tour this year, which has been held four years in a row, and it is uncertain if the Dave Koz & Friends holiday show will return for the 10th straight year. At this point, Koz is scheduled to make his return to the stage in November during the second annual Dave Koz & Friends at Sea cruise.

For much of 2006 Koz will be focusing more on Rendezvous Entertainment, the record label he founded and now serves as its Senior VP of Development. He’ll also be more involved in producing projects for the label, which includes smooth jazz artists such as Marc Antoine, Wayman Tisdale, Michael Lington, Kirk Whalum, Brian Simpson and Jonathan Butler. In addtion, Koz is behind the scenes creatively with the brand-new Rendezvous All Stars tour, which will be traveling the country with Tisdale, Whalum, Butler and Simpson.

Koz will continue to produce his weekday radio show on KTWV in Los Angeles and his popular weekly syndicated program, The Dave Koz Radio Show. He'll also remain focuses on his next album with producer Phil Ramone, which features movie theme songs.

The follow-up to Koz’s Saxophonic CD from 2003 was originally to be released this year but has been pushed back to 2007.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 5:43 PM

April 8, 2006

Contempo April 2006

JasonMiles2.jpgAnyone who’s ever wondered what the distinction is between a “tribute” and an “homage” need only ask Jason Miles, Grammy nominated keyboardist and producer who has become somewhat of an expert in the field over the past decade with his vibrant all-star refashionings of the music of Weather Report, Ivan Lins and Grover Washington, Jr. On last year’s Narada Jazz debut Miles To Miles, Miles applied a unique twist to the concept, creating new songs created in the image of his idol Miles Davis - whom he worked with as an up and coming keyboardist in the 80s — and based on their creative relationship.

“The more I hear typical tribute projects, the more I realize that most don’t do anything new to the music, they just do it straightforward and unimaginatively,” he says. “To me, an homage is what I’m trying to do, showing the exciting possibilities of the music. It’s about taking the familiar and turning them up a notch and doing the unexpected. It takes a lot of thought and experimentation, picking a set list and playing the tunes over and over till I find the right rhythm structure and vibe. I get so inside the music that literally every note the artist every played fills the house. I live and breathe them to the point of emotional exhaustion. On the Miles project, I went to many different places in my mind, light, dark, under and above ground. These artists lived their music, and to do them justice, I have to relive it as deeply as I can.”

Miles and Miles connected on another interesting level the last project neglected to hint at, but which Jason Miles fully explores on his beautifully rendered latest opus What’s Going On?: a deep love for the spirit and musical legacy of Marvin Gaye. The producer and keyboardist draws from a typically broad stylistic palette to bring out the deep emotion, joy and pain, romance and social consciousness of the brilliant yet tragic icon.

On the lesser-known “I Want You,” he taps into the Lins vibe with an electronica meets slow, sexy bossa caress around the soothing vocals of Chiara Civello. “Sexual Healing” is Gaye’s parting hit from 1982, but Dean Brown’s crackling, cool guitars — which sail over a trippy atmosphere which includes Moog Bass - give it a retro feel that goes back a decade further. Though the packaging will no doubt include the typically brilliant all-star names Miles projects are famous for — including Herb Alpert (who carries the lead melody on “Let’s Get It On”), Marcus Miller (whose feisty basslines take “Heavy Love Affair” to a deeper level beyond the hypnotic, oft-repeated chorus), Spyro Gyra’s Jay Beckenstein and Scott Ambush, and Bobby Caldwell — it’s the producer’s work with his lesser known charges which really stands out.

Chief among these is vocalist Mike Mattison; smooth jazz fans have long enjoyed the anthemic title song as the encore of guitarist Peter White’s shows, but Miles’ soothing atmospheres and Mattison’s gritty vocals add a crisp urgency.

Which seems to be the point — Miles isn’t simply revisiting a beloved icon, he’s using the project as a vehicle to advocate all the ideals Gaye stood for in his time. “There’s an incredible endurance to his music because of what his life was, the emotion he had in reflecting the world around him,” he says. “It’s incredible to watch his spiritual growth from these ultra-romantic songs like ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You’ to ‘What’s Going On?’ An artist has to live through things to evolve like this. So here was this guy from the Motown camp singing sweet love songs, and then emerging as a voice of social consciousness.

“Look at where we are thirtysome years later,” Miles adds. “He sang about the ecology then, and now we have the spectre of global warming. He sang about Vietnam, and now we have Iraq. The government’s response to Hurricane Katrina revealed the same sort of social inequities we had then… the parallels go on and on. But even deeper than all that is the fact that people are still out there, looking for love but not finding it. Even though it’s embedded in a generally upbeat love song, ‘Heavy Love Affair,’ I really connected with the power of this one line: ‘Lots of ladies love me, but it’s still a lonely town.’ That just blows me away. Even when he was being light, he was going deep. That’s a trait I try to emulate, not just scratching the surface of the music, but getting intimate and uncovering the underlying emotion.”

Miles spent the last year dividing his time between the Gaye collection (a logistical challenge, like all other all-star affairs) and helming an upcoming project by Suzy Boguss, which he calls a “mix of an NY groove and Nashville vibe.” The ever-spinning, high concept wheels in his mind are also quickly developing ways to explore a new concept he came up with while mining Marvin: Mo’chill, which will bring the much needed melodic Motown touch to today’s burgeoning chill movement.

“I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working with some of the greatest musicians, artists and producers of all time, from Tommy LiPuma and Luther Vandross, to Michael Brecker, Herbie Mann and Gato Barbieri,” Miles says. “I got to see these masters working their craft and bringing their art to the next level. The smart guy in my position pays attention to all that, and absorbs every moment. From these masters, I learned not only how to produce records, but to make great albums which will stand the test of time.”

Miles is one of a growing roster of smooth jazz artists at Milwaukee-based Narada Jazz, an increasingly exciting slate that includes veterans Jeff Golub, Euge Groove, Urban Knights (and its founder Ramsey Lewis), Alex Bugnon, Down To The Bone, Joyce Cooling, Steve Cole, Warren Hill, Bob Baldwin, Incognito and Jeff Lorber. The label, which began life in the 80s as a new age powerhouse, is to smooth jazz in the current decade what GRP was in the early 90s and Windham Hill Jazz was a few years later — a one stop shop for the hippest sounds in the genre.

Two newly inked artists with fresh discs just released represent the vibrant and energetic future of the genre. 23-year-old saxman Eric Darius has been such an explosive presence on radio and at festivals over the past two years, that it’s easy to forget, as the title of his Narada Jazz debut reminds us, he’s Just Getting Started. Nothing on disc could quite compare to the heart-pounding, racing around the room joyful madness of his live shows, but sizzling funk tracks like “Steppin’ Up” and “Groove On” try pretty hard. Darius chills a bit on seductive “Secret Soul,” which features the lush keyboards of project producer Brian Culbertson.

Chicago based guitarist Nick Colionne’s label debut Keepin’ It Cool is not an ode to his guitarist labelmate Cooling, but keeps his crisp and melodic, Wes Montgomery based R&B meets the blues style flowing. In addition to 11 catchy originals (he co-wrote the up-groover “If You Asked Me” with Steve Cole and Peter White), the disc features a heartfelt vocal cover of “Rainy Night In Georgia” and “High Flyin’,” his biggest radio hit to date, which stormed up the smooth jazz charts in 2004.


1) Randy Singer, Harmonica Dreams (Randy Singer Entertainment) - In listening to the veteran harmonica player's stylistically eclectic, dreamy, and high spirited debut — billed on the packaging as "the world's first smooth jazz harmonica CD" — a quote from Clifford Brown about the legendary Toots Thielemans comes to mind: "The way you play the harmonica, they should not call it a miscellaneous instrument!"
2) Native Vibe, Luna de Nosara (Third Beat Records)
3) Neil Diamond, 12 Songs (Columbia)
4) Sam Arlen, Arlen Plays Arlen (JoSam Records)
5) Madonna, Confessions On A Dance Floor (Warner Bros.)


1) Brokeback Mountain, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Verve Forecast)
2) Grant Geissman, Say That! (Futurism Records)
3) Bob James, Urban Flamingo (Koch Records)
4) Incognito, Eleven (Narada Jazz)
5) Jaco Pastorius Big Band, The Word Is Out! (Heads Up)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 10:32 AM

April 7, 2006

Anita Baker Planning Some Summer Shows

Veteran vocalist will make some rare appearances.

AnitaBaker.jpgWhere’s Anita Baker?

Since ending her musical hiatus in September of 2004 with a new CD called My Everything, her first in 10 years, 48-year-old singer has remained mostly out of the spotlight and her official website was only briefly functional before being taken offline more than a year ago.

It turns out that Anita is planning a few shows this summer, but there probably won't be too many. They'll be the first since just a handful of shows last summer, some of which featured Babyface as the opening act. In addition, a spokeswoman for Baker’s record label, Blue Note, says that an announcement is expected soon on more touring dates and possibly a new CD.

Baker's My Everything has been certified Gold, with more than 500,000 copies sold, but that’s far less than her previous album, 1994’s Rhythm of Love, which sold more than 2 million copies. Baker's best-selling album to date is her classic Rapture with more than 5 million sold.

In addition to declining sales, another reason for the inactivity is that music just isn't the overiding force in Baker's life that it was in the past. She is a wife and mother to two young boys, Walter Jr. and Eddie Bridgforth, both of whom are attending exclusive Grosse Pointe Academy in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where Anita and husband Walter Bridgforth live.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 2:46 AM

April 6, 2006

City Of Lights Jazz Rhythm & Blues Festival

The 14th Annual City Of Lights Jazz, Rhythm & Blues Festival will take place in Las Vegas, Friday and Saturday, April 21st and 22nd, at the Hills Park At Summerlin. This annual event was created and produced by veteran promoter Michael Schivo, and will feature top name acts like Cameo, The Ohio Players, and Mint Condition for Friday's performance line up. Saturday will also bring on a top roster featuring Boney James, Phil Perry, Mindi Abair, Mike Phillips and an all star band, plus Joe McBride and Paul Brown.

The legendary bassist, Stanley Clarke, returns to Las Vegas at the Boulder Station Hotel for one night only, Friday, April 7th.

Grammy award winning singer and composer, Michael Franks ,will be at the Suncoast Hotel and Casino for the entire weekend of April 7th-9th.

Posted by Danny Desart at 6:28 PM

April 4, 2006

Berks Jazz Fest 2006: All Star Jam

Berks2006_AllStarJam.jpgThe First Energy Berks Jazz Fest All Star Jazz Jam lived up to its reputation once again this year. Arranger and producer of the event is the multi-talented guitarist Chuck Loeb, a regular at Berks who can be counted on to take the all star jam to the limit of every jazz fan's wildest imaginations. This year he had nothing less than the most outstanding musicians on stage. And as usual, the blending of the musicianship and personality of each player translated into total captivation for fans. The way the songs flowed seamlessly one into the other was quite impressive. It seemed this group of players have been playing together every week, but the ability to come together for a short period of time and put on such a great performance as this one is simply a testimony to the talent of each player invited to join the All Star Jam.

Berks2006_AllStarJam2.jpgMany of the performers are seen each year at this show along with Chuck Loeb -- people like keyboardist Joe McBride, saxophonist Kenny Blake, bassist Gerald Veasley, trumper player Rick Braun. The rest of the players are drawn from others who are in town for their own shows, and this year we were fortunate to have well known talent Richard Elliot and rising star Eric Darius on saxophone, the very talented Nelson Rangell on flute (absolutely awesome on piccolo) as well as saxophone, favorites Chieli Minucci and Ken Navarro on guitar, keyboard great Tom Koster along with Vital Information-mate Steve Smith, widely acclaimed as one of the top drummers in the world. Talented Special EFX keyboard player Jay Rowe also sat in for part of the evening. Singer Kurt Elling joined the group for a great rendition of Bye Bye Blackbird. Of course, Joe McBride always sings at least one song, and this time it was My Funny Valentine.

Berks2006_AllStarJam3.jpgThere were so many highlights the show. Artists were paired together out front, soon joined by others, for familiar songs and always there were those opportunities to get everyone involved in improvisational playing which took the songs over the top. It's truly amazing to watch what each artist is going to do when it is his turn to solo. There were no disappointments!

There were great renditions of Tequila, which was a lot of fun with the audience participating by shouting out 'Tequila' at the appropriate times. Other favorites played were Sugar, Chameleon, Grover Washington, Jr.'s beloved Mr. Magic, Sonny, ending with Now's The Time.

What a great night of music and how thrilling to see the favorites of so many of us all on stage together. It's a memory that will linger for a long time to come, no doubt until the next Berks All Star Jazz Jam 2007 memory takes its place.

If you've never been to the All Star Jam, don't miss it next year. It's always on Thursday evening of the Berks Jazz Fest, and you can get a combined ticket to cover the Jam, a Meet the Artists event, as well the earlier show of the evening which always features great headliners, such as this year's show with Chieli Minucci and Special EFX, featuring Ken Navarro and Nelson Rangell.

The latest CDs of all the artists are:

Chuck Loeb, When I'm With You

Kenny Blake, Tom's Diner
Rick Braun, Yours Truly
Eric Darius, Just Getting Started
Richard Elliot, Metro Blue
Kurt Elling, Live in Chicago Out Takes
Tom Koster, Vital Information
Joe McBride, Texas Hold 'Em
Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin' On
Ken Navarro, Love Colored Soul
Nelson Rangell, Soul to Souls (not yet released)
Jay Rowe, Red Hot & Smooth
Steve Smith, Vital Information
Gerald Veasley, At the Jazz Base

Happy Jazzin'

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

Photo Credits: Michael Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 7:42 PM