June 30, 2006

A Month Of Jazz Fireworks In Vegas!

Boy Katindig, solo artist and keyboardist for Paul Taylor, lights up the month with his own agenda. You can hear Boy at the Christopher Cross Post Concert Party at the Ritz Carlton on Saturday, July 3rd. Then July 15 he will be performing at The District at Green Valley Resort as part of the continuing summer concert series. Next, it's Boy, soul food, and fried catfish at the Soul 2 Soul Bistro on July 20th. Then look for him at Club Tequila, inside the Fiesta Rancho Hotel on July 29th.

The legendary keyboardist Ronnie Foster adds Friday to his nightly jazz agenda at Capo's Restaurant, starting at 10pm. Ronnie already has Thursday and Saturday covered at the Artisan Hotel, also starting at 10pm both nights.

Steven Lee, featuring the muscular sax of Rocco Barbato, now holds down the Monday Night Jazz spot at Red Rock Station. Their last release, From The Ground Up, is still available on Jay Graydon's label, Sonic Thrust.

Chuck Mangione, the "Feels So Good" trumpet legend, brings his signature sound to the Suncoast Hotel from June 30th to July 2nd.

Smooth Jazz 105.7's Fourth Of July Celebration at Anthem Hills Park will feature saxman David Van Such, who opens for national recording artist, keyboardist Greg Karukas.

Guitarist/composer/recording artist, Will Sumner, will be performing at Lake Las Vegas on Friday, July 7th.

Rocky Gordon brings his unique sax sound along with his new and revised band, KGB, to the Arts District for the City Of Las Vegas First Friday event on July 7th. He also will be a part of the KSNE Sunny 106.5 "Winedown Wednesday" series at the Rampart Hotel on July 12th and 19th. In between, the band will return to Gordon Biersch on Sunday, July 16th, for the original jazz Sunday Brunch that Rocky started in Las Vegas over four years ago.

Don't miss the fireworks, hosted by Smooth Jazz 105.7's Fourth Of July Celebration at Anthem Hills Park, featuring saxman David Van Such and his group, opening for national recording artist, keyboardist Greg Karukas. Fireworks to follow at 9pm.

It's Jazz Under The Stars #1 for 2006 at Spring Mountain State Park, featuring the Sax Pack, Kim Waters, Steve Cole, and Jeff Kashiwa. In addition, popular smooth jazz keyboardist Brian Simpson brings it on, with the sexy guitar sounds of Joyce Cooling as well.

Up and coming jazz artists, 3rd Force, will be performing in the Railhead Showroom at the Boulder Station Hotel, Friday, July 21st.

See the first lady of the saxophone, Candy Dulfer, in the Chrome Showroom at the Santa Fe Station Hotel on Friday, July 28th, followed by the Gipsy Kings, who appear at the Palms Hotel the following night on July 29th.

For a city that is notorius for 110 degree plus weather during July, there's a lot going on when the sun descends into the west. Check it out, until next time. . . . .

Posted by Danny Desart at 4:02 PM

Yule Like This: A Cool Jazz Christmas Tour

The latest smooth jazz holiday tour features David Benoit, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Butler and vocalist Michael Franks. Some dates have already been confirmed.

Smooth jazz fans now have another option in the increasingly crowded field of Smooth Jazz holiday tours. Just announced is a new tour called Cool Jazz Christmas, which will features pianist David Benoit, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Butler and vocalist Michael Franks.

Franks, who in 2004 offered a holiday CD called Watching the Snow, had a few shows to promote the CD back then. But he says was excited to be able to play those songs again when offered a role with the tour. "I had thought that wouldn’t it be great to do something like guest with some group and do three or four of the tunes from this record. You know, I’ve recorded actually with Kirk a little bit and I've met Jonathan. I also recorded the song 'Christmas Time Is Here' on one of David Benoit’s Christmas albums, which is one of my favorite Christmas tunes. So it seemed like this tour had a great combination of artists."

At this point the tour will visit eight cities in North America beginning Dec. 1 in Houston and concluding with two show in Cerritos, Calif. The new holiday tour joins two tour that have already proven to be successful – Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas and A Peter White Christmas. Although Dave Koz’s annual tour will be taking a break this year, Peter White’s annual show with trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Mindi Abair is confirmed and begins Nov. 24.

Whalum and Butler are currently performing as part of the Rendezvous All Stars tour. Benoit just released a new CD called Full Circle while Franks' latest is Rendezvous in Rio.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:46 AM

June 28, 2006

What We're Listening To * June

D E N I S * P O O L E

'Get Down On It' by Wayman Tisdale from the CD Way Up that will be released on June 27

'Judge So And So' by Rod Kelley from his solo CD Music Man. Kelley is quite a talent so watch out for him!!

'Smooth' from the CD Miles Ahead by the Italian based smooth jazz duo Westbound. One of my favorites of the entire month.

'No One' by Wilton Felder from his gorgeous come back album Lets Spend Some Time.

'Going All The Way' from Nelson Rangell's 1994 release Destiny. Gems like this that are buried in the mists of time really do deserve to be aired from time to time.

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)

Shilts, HeadBoppin' (ARTizen)

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

Donald Fagen, Morph the Cat, 2006

Janita, Seasons of Life, 2006

Brian Tarquin, High Life

Chieli Minucci, Jewels

Harry Hmura, Face to the Sun, 2006

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

Westbound, Miles Away (Westbound): Westbound, an Italian smooth jazz group with Cristian Rocco on guitar and Enrico Catena on percussion, proves that great instrumental music can come from any corner of the globe. Very smooth, with the only harsh edge coming on the rock-guitar lead of the title track. Available at www.westbound.it. Highly recommended.

Horace Alexander Young, Acoustic Contemporary Jazz (Design): You’ve got to hand it to Horace Alexander Young, a saxophonist and flutist who believes in truth in advertising. It’s also smooth, urban jazz with a hint of gospel and a compelling version of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.”

Main Gazane, Hip Space (Apria): Mark Minchello and Bob Magnuson get it right in their fusing of hip and funky contemporary jazz with a little chill on the side. Upbeat and influenced by jazz-fusion from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Konstantin Klashtorni, Led By You (KVK): Another example of the worldwide reach of smooth jazz. Klashtorni, born in the Ukraine with a master’s in music from the Rotterdam Royal Conservatory in Holland, this saxophonist offers easy-listening sax music in the vein of Jeff Kashiwa and Eric Marienthal. Especially uplifting is the tune “On the Way.”

Ray Parker Jr., I’m Free (Raydio Music): The veteran vocalist returns with an 11-song CD that features three stunning instrumentals – the smooth jazz hit “Mismaloya Beach” (the best smooth single of the year), “Sunset Ray” and “Gibson’s Theme.” But just as compelling are Parker’s vocal tunes that speak of finding his way and offer unabashed glimpses into the joys of middle age

P E T E R * B O E H I

Evan Garr - The Chill Out Album (2005)
Violinist from Detroit comes up with a very decent, well produced and played smooth jazz and r&b album featuring great songs and top-notch playing.

Sean Turner - Begin Again (2006)
Very nice, polished and styleful smooth jazz keyboard album boasting memorable melodies and great playing by all involved. Very recommended.

Paul Richardson - What I Do (2006)
Despite being self-taught Paul Richardson comes up with an excellent piano album full of catchy songs, cool grooves and nice melodies. Not to be overlooked!

Westbound - Miles Away (2006)
Located in Italy this band hits the nail on its head with some relaxed smooth jazz songs, beautiful playing and memorable compositions. Thumbs up!

Al McKay Allstars - Live In Europe: The Earth, Wind & Fire Experience (2005)
Available as CD and DVD this great concert captures founding EWF member Al McKay with his tight band covering many of EWF's greatest songs recapturing the spririt of this band during their peak in the 70ies. Truly great stuff!

J E F F * D A N I E L S

Eric Darius, Just Getting Started (Narada)

Joe Sample, Rainbow Seeker (MCA/GRP)

Kenny Wright, Herbie, Miles and Me... (Knee-Deep Records)

Deodato, Knights Of Fantasy/Night Cruiser (Wounded Bird Records)

Brecker Brothers, Return Of The Brecker Brothers (GRP)

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 3:33 AM

June 27, 2006

The JDCD expands to 3 hours July 3rd

JDCD_Logo.jpgThe weekly radio show by Jeffrey Daniels called The JDCD which is devoted to contemporary jazz and funk fusion will be expanding to three hours starting July 3, 2006. The new schedule will be as follows:

Monday @ 9pm - 12am CET (3pm - 6pm EDT)
Thursday @ 4pm - 7pm CET (10am - 1pm EDT)
Saturday @ 8pm - 11pm CET (2pm - 5pm EDT)

The JDCD offers unique mixes and the periodic "Focus on... (selected artist)" series. Listening to the JDCD will underscore your activities and enhance your life's experiences. Perhaps, the JDCD will offer a relaxing respite. Whatever your mood, the JDCD will provide the perfect complement.

Tune in here at SmoothVibes Radio Channel.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 9:37 PM

June 26, 2006

Westbound - Miles Away

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. Christian Rocco and Enrico Catena are the smooth jazz duo Westbound. Being based in Italy they are a considerable distance from their natural market of the west coast of the USA, in fact they are ‘miles away’ from it. Yet despite this they have come up with a wonderful collection of contemporary jazz all bundled together into the appropriately titled CD Miles Away. Nine of the ten tracks have been written and produced by them and with the picture perfect blend of Catena’s drums and percussion fused with Rocco’s mix of guitars and keyboards they can take considerable credit for an album that oozes melodic and gentle sophistication. The scene is set early with the track ‘Smooth’. The title says everything about this tune that has a delightful guitar melody running right through it and, when it is reprised later, the ‘radio edit’ sounds just as good.

westboundmusic.jpgOther tracks such as ‘Spring Break’, with its complex arrangements, and ‘St Peters Farm’ that allows itself to get nice and jazzy also burst with the same gentle melody but when the guys turn tight and funky for ‘From NY To LA’ they still retain the same luscious yet minimalist Westbound sound. From the catchily Latin ‘Corona Del Mar’ to the Acoustic Alchemy overtones of ‘The Wrong Place’ the band keep coming up with lovely surprises and there is none more so than ‘Back Bay’. Here, with a quicker tempo and an altogether bigger beat, they almost engender a rock vibe but are right back on message with ‘Ivan’, a really wonderful song that lifts the spirits. The one track not written by Rocco is ‘Estate’. This Martino – Brighetti composition has a moody intro and a compelling bass line. It drips with the melody that is a hallmark of the entire collection.

Miles Away deserves to make a real impact but unless the CD gets the radio exposure that it richly deserves then it is unlikely to do so.

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 12:36 AM

June 23, 2006

Boney James Has Five Vocalists On New CD

Boney James' CD Shine will be released on Sept. 26.

BoneyJames_live.jpgSaxophonist Boney James calls Shine, his 10th CD and first for Concord Music Group, an upbeat and positive work that features many of his musical influences. The 12-song CD – with nine originals and three covers – has a guest performance by guitarist George Benson on the song “Hypnotic,” marking the first time the two smooth jazz powerhouses have collaborated together. Benson is also recording an album for Concord, a duets project with Al Jarreau.

Also guesting on Shine are pianist George Duke and five singers: R&B vocalists Dwele on a cover of the Dramatics’ “In the Rain”; Faith Evans; Phillip Bailey; gospel vocalist Ann Nesby, who sings on a cover of a song Chuck Mangione recorded in 1975 called “Soft”; and chill-influenced vocalist Esthero. James also adds an instrumental cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa-nova classic “Aguas de Marco.”

Shine willl be released Sept. 26.

1. Shine (Boney James/Lily Mariye/Laren Evans) (With Esthero)
2. The Total Experience (Boney James/Johnny Britt) (With George Duke)
3. Aguas de Marco (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
4. Let It Go (Boney James/Rex Rideout)
5. In The Rain (The Dramatics) (With Dwele)
6. Gonna Get It (Boney James/Rahsaan Patterson) (With Faith Evans)
7. Breathe (Boney James/Phil Davis)
8. Love Song (Boney James/Eric Daniels/Johnny Britt) (With Phillip Bailey)
9. Hypnotic (Boney James) (With George Benson)
10. The Way She Walks (Boney James/Leon Bisquera)
11. Dedication (Boney James/Joe Wolfe/Gerald McCauley)
12. Soft (Chuck Mangione) (With Ann Nesby)

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:48 PM

June 20, 2006

Don't Miss This Jazz Personality on America's Got Talent!

Music Journalist Jonathan Widran to be featured on the show airing Wednesday, June 21st at 9 PM!

AmericaGotTalent_Logo.jpgAlthough our Jazz Personality column typically covers artists in the world of contemporary jazz music, this time we get an inside look at a music journalist and what he's up to besides writing! Jonathan Widran, prolific writer of well known magazines Smooth Jazz News and Jazziz, spends at least some of his time singing. Friends and family have known this for a long time, but it might be news to the rest of the music world. Most of this happens in the karaoke circuit in the LA area where he lives; most of it happens with a good friend of his named Fred; and most of it happens with songs that are affectionately known as 'one hit wonders.'

So when the America's Got Talent search was on (from the producers of American Idol), The Freds, as Jonathan and Fred are known, couldn't resist the opportunity to see if they have the right stuff to strut in front of a panel of jugdes -- a trio, nonetheless, typical of American Idol, complete with the American Idol band and a big stage on which to make their best impression. How did this happen and what was it like? Jonathan tells all in this interview with www.smoothvibes.com writer Beverly Packard.


BJP: Before you tell us about your audtition for America's Got Talent, let's back up and talk about how long you've been a music journalist, what genres you write about and where your work appears?

JW: To make things easier I tell people I have been a music journalist for 15 years, but actually my first articles were in a small free paper called The LA Jazz Scene in early 1989, so I’ve actually been doing it for 17! For that publication, which is well known in the local jazz community of Los Angeles, I wrote a lot of features, reviews and also a column called "Night Rhythms", which covered record releases, concerts, club shows of all the local jazz talent (mostly smooth jazz guys on their way up like Richard Elliot, Boney James, etc). I started writing for the national jazz publication Jazziz in 1990 and have been doing the "Contempo" column, covering mostly smooth jazz (with touches of other genres like world music, a la Willie & Lobo) thrown in since 1991. So that’s 15 years! I’ve written hundreds of reviews and done many interviews for that column, and it’s been one of my great calling cards since the magazine is so well respected in the jazz world.

JonathanWidran_PR.jpgI’ve also written for the same amount of time, covering other genres as well, for Music Connection, a West Coast based industry magazine that has given me high visibility among the movers and shakers of the recording industry. I used to write a column in there called "Producer Crosstalk", and got to interview big pop, R&B, and even country producers, plus smooth jazz producers like Paul Brown and Jeff Lorber! And also many famous film composers. Currently, for MC, I write a less interesting column called “Close Up,” which profiles one of the magazine’s advertisers in each issue. So I talk to a lot of studio owners and people who run mastering facilities…and get to learn about some of the nuts and bolts about making music. So even if it’s not as exciting as talking to the artists, its’ educational! And over the past two years, I wrote cover stories on Mindi Abair and Brian Culbertson, bringing them to an audience that had probably not heard of them before!

I have regularly appeared on this online site, Peter Boehi’s SmoothVibes.com, since 1997, and so that’s a great place to find old columns for reference purposes. Peter, jazz aficionado from Switzerland, allows me to post as written with no pre-editing. These days I don’t contribute original information here, but my Jazziz 'Contempo' column is featured in its original form every month. Plus, SmoothVibes is in search engines all over the world, which means people can read my work that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Many people in the smooth jazz community know me from my extensive writings in the nationally distributed magazine Smooth Jazz News, which launched in December 1999 and is very popular among the true fans of the genre. In the summer, the publisher, Melanie Maxwell, travels to every major smooth jazz oriented festival so SJN has high visibility in that community. I like writing for this publication because the articles touch on the personal lives of the artists beyond just their latest gigs and recordings…and it’s always interesting to know about their families and hobbies. Online, I also write for the popular website All Music Guide, and my reviews there are syndicated to hundreds of websites worldwide, so my name is definitely out there. I started out for them just doing smooth jazz reviews (since before me, they only had straight ahead jazz critics reviewing smooth jazz, which they didn’t like much), but now have covered everything from rock to R&B to country, gospel and world music. There have been other publications and websites over the years, including Amazon.com, but these are the major ones I write for now.

In addition to the journalism, I also for years have done a lot of PR writing, which means bios and press releases for many different record companies and public relations firms. I have written bios on most of the major smooth jazz artists, but companies have hired me to write bios in many different genres beyond smooth jazz, and that’s always expanding. I may not like all the music these artists make, but they all have great stories to tell and it’s fun to help artists just starting out their careers.

PR writing also pays a lot better than the journalism and reviewing! But the journalism is what got my name out there in the first place. For one L.A. based company I work for regularly, I have written about rock, folk, jazz, gospel, country and even hardcore alternative rock. Plus I’ve written press releases for clients I grew up listening to like Air Supply, Tommy Tutone and The Knack!

BJP: What are the most satisfying aspects of your work in music journalism?

JW: I think the most satisfying thing is being able to have built what is essentially my own freelance business, setting my own hours and beating the system by working entirely at home! When you live in L.A., where people drive long distances on the clogged freeways and spend their lives in traffic, this is a real blessing. I’ve created an interesting niche for myself. Unlike many freelancers, I rarely have to pitch ideas to anyone. I’ve built the PR business by word of mouth so people call me all the time for new projects. And I write regularly for the same publications and am comfortable doing that! When I’m caught up on my work I can go to the beach or the movies, or just take a walk. On the professional side, I really enjoy talking to the artists and finding out what makes them tick creatively. I like the fact that musicians, whether unknown, well known or legendary, talk to me with respect and most of the time treat me very kindly. It’s fun listening to people’s stories and figuring out clever ways to convey them to either other journalists (when I do PR) or people reading the articles. I also love getting so many free CDs and getting to see so many great shows and concerts over the years, all for free. It’s kind of a dream job for a music lover. The couple of jazz cruises I have been on were the best things…what could be better than enjoying a week at sea and in beautiful ports and listening to great concerts every night. Fans pay a lot of hard earned money to do what I get to do for free…but then again, I provide something for the artists that helps their career. I still feel like a kid getting away with something, but I know I contribute as well.

BJP: Before developing your music journalism career, you also wrote a book about your journey into trying to make it big in Hollywood called Hooray for Hollywhat? Can you tell us about what you were trying to do in Hollywood and basically how it turned out?

JW: I was always good at writing but I think it’s usually not practical to dream of making any sort of living doing it. Like being a musician, even if you’re talented, it’s hardly a safe career path like being a doctor, lawyer or teacher is. I hadn’t really thought about being a scriptwriter but while I was in my second year of UCLA, I was a big fan of the TV show Family Ties…and one day I woke up with a vision of Alex Keaton, the Michael J. Fox character, writing a term paper. I had just gotten a low grade on an English paper and needed to vent my frustration. I wrote a “spec” script (meaning on speculation, as a sample) for the show and was able to submit it to the producers of the show with just a release form. They liked it but said they already were working on a similar idea about Alex getting his first low grade in college. Anyway I got to go to tapings and meet the producers, and so for the next six years or so (including several after graduating) I wrote a lot of sitcom spec scripts and a few screenplays. I had an agent and began working with a partner, and had a lot of close calls in terms of selling stories and one of the screenplays, but it got very frustrating having so many close calls. Like a lot of people who are encouraged, I went through a lot of interesting experiences (chronicled humorously in the book) but ultimately focused on the music writing, where I was getting more respect and more money than I was ever able to make in Hollywood!

BJP: So when the America's Got Talent show was conceived by the makers of American Idol, you couldn't resist calling upon some of the talent that you have to see if you could possibly make your way back into 'show biz,' is that it?

TheFreds1.jpgJW: Kind of, but it’s doing a whole other thing. My original goals were to be a writer producer for television, not sing on TV, which is what my friend Fred and I (collectively known as The Freds) did on the first show of America’s Got Talent. Over the years, purely for fun, I did karaoke in various settings, and when I met Fred, we shared a mutual love for the one hit wonders of the 70s and 80s we grew up with…and karaoke was a fun and inexpensive way to hang out on the weekends. We didn’t have any specific act in mind, we just enjoyed singing together and we became real crowdpleasers on the karaoke circuit in the Burbank area. So when we heard about auditions for the show, we thought it would be fun to try out with all the strange folks who were bound to show up…we can carry a tune and we are definitely entertaining, but it shocked us when the evaluators liked what we did…and even more stunned when they called and said they wanted us to audition again on the main show stage at Paramount for the producers…suddenly we were onstage talking to Regis Philbin (the host), singing and entertaining the audience and having David Hasselhoff (one of the judges) tell us “You guys would be perfect to sing at a beach barbecue but not on this show!” So he got it that we were just having fun and hardly expected to win a million dollars. But the audience really liked us, and it was cool because we are not professionals so there was no pressure to get into the main competition. We also got to meet Simon Cowell, the show’s executive producer, who was very nice and told us, “You guys are good for the competition.” It was fun to go back to Paramount, home of Family Ties in the 80s, and do this instead of worrying about selling a script! Plus we got to meet all the other contestants on the show, many of whom were very talented and many of whom were weird, and the production team (many from American Idol) was really nice.

BJP: Tell us more about the talent that you and your friend have and how you share this talent every week around the LA area karaoke circuit.

JW: We were regulars at least twice a week at the Burbank Holiday Inn but have done it at different places (less regularly) since that venue closed a year ago. We have a repertoire of about 30 songs, all hits from the 70s and 80s that everyone who grew up then heard on Top 40 Radio. My friend Fred does comedy improvisation at Second City, and is an aspiring actor. I just do it for fun but maybe The Freds will have a career out of this. If William Hung could be famous, why not us? Reality TV gives people like us a chance to get our five minutes of fame! I really just enjoy making people laugh and smile, and not take life so seriously. I think there are karaoke singers all around America who like to have their moment in the spotlight. The one we got is just bigger. Obviously, the producers thought we were entertaining, and that’s all we really aspire to be considering our vocal limitations.

BJP: I've seen you perform live in a karaoke setting and I'd call it a quite 'commanding' performance -- total energy and dedication, you sing on key, you are simply 'on fire' about these favorite songs of yours. And a LOT of fun to watch. What was the reaction of people like the judges and others on the scene -- Regis Philbin and David Hasselhoff, to mention a few?

TheFreds2.jpgJW: Regis is just the host and I didn’t see how he reacted, but this is the breakdown on the show’s official judges. The British guy who is the Simon of the show, Piers Morgan (who was a big newspaper editor in England) didn’t get it at all but did say he thought we were fun. Brandy was born in 1979 and I’m sure never heard “Don’t Pull Your Love” so it didn’t connect with her…but she did like our Old Navy matching print shirts! Hasselhoff, who once recorded the other hit by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds himself, totally got what we were aiming for, with his beach barbecue remark. He acted like he thought we were fun but not right for a million dollar competition…which we already knew. Twice the next day, he said, Hey, how are the Freds doing? Once outside on the lot, the other when looking down from the judges table into the audience during a break. One of the producers of the show (and remember, this is the same group that does “Idol”) thinks we’d be great for corporate gigs. Another said of all the acts who didn’t “make it,” they were sorriest about us because everyone really liked us. Many of the other contestants came up and told us they enjoyed our performance as well. We’re sort of the crowd pleasers in between the great talent and the total Gong Show acts.

BJP: What is your personal reaction to being a part of this experience?

JW: It was really a fun experience, kind of surreal, and we got to meet a lot of interesting, strange and talented people…and sing on the biggest stage we were ever on. Plus it’s funny to think that the almighty Simon was watching us backstage, so he devoted five minutes of his life to “The Freds”! Also everyone on the show was very kind and attentive. It’s a great crew. Maybe if we can get enough people to write to NBC, they’ll have us back on the show like they do sometimes on the finale of Idol…Simon actually said, “people may like you and may want you back!” It was a great life experience, and one I’m sure thousands of karaoke singers across America would love to have!

BJP: Do you have a 'gut feeling' as to where this could lead you and Fred??

TheFreds4.jpgJW: Fred’s always fantasized about The Freds going on tour a la The Blues Brothers (another musical comedy act whose antics outshone their actual vocals), and TV is a powerful medium so who knows. Plus with internet marketing opportunities, you never know. Or it could just be a neat five minute thing and that’s the end of it. Either way, I know we’ll keep entertaining people. Whether we get paid for it, that’s the question. I’m enjoying the journey, wherever it leads. And it’s fun telling some of the musicians I know about it…so they can see me in a whole other way!

BJP: What's your advice for those who want to 'make it big' in the music/entertainment industry?

JW: That’s a question usually asked of people who have made it big. Have I made it big? Well, I make a living doing something I love, and am a Grammy voting member of the Recording Academy, so in a small way, yes, I suppose I have. Basically, I would say it’s about having the passion to do it…and showing up and not being afraid of rejection. As successful as I might appear as a writer to many, I can’t count the intense rejections I have received on my scripts and book projects. The journalism wasn’t really my first choice but when I started getting respect, I knew I was on to something. Follow your dream as far as it can go, but have the grace to adjust when you get to crucial crossroads, and there’s no shame in shifting gears. I love the stories artists tell me about the balance they have to strike between being commercial and being who they are. Usually success is a matter of both. Talent should be a given.

BJP: (tongue in cheek) Do you plan to give up music journalism and market yourself as an entertainer, if for nothing more than the parties of those celebrities who may have fallen in love with your style, or even better, if you triumph with the likes of anyone from Taylor Hicks to William Hung??

JW: I’m sure I’ll always be writing in some way, and I really enjoy what I do so I cant imagine abandoning it no matter what opportunities came my way. I’m sure if anything works out on the entertaining side, I would find a way to play a behind the scenes writing/scripting role. I will say however, that the idea of entertaining hundreds or thousands of people is probably more gratifying than seeing my name in print. I’ve been doing the writing so long, it’s not that big a deal anymore…but when I think of all the people who would love to be making a living doing something they enjoy, I am very grateful that I took the hard road and stayed on this path. As for Taylor, I think the fact that a guy who is more of a great and fun entertainer than a truly brilliant vocalist won Idol shows that America likes to be entertained and is ready for talent that isn’t in the typical cookie cutter mode. Enter the Freds! But seriously, I hope he can inspire a lot of people who work as hard as he did to “make it” for ten years to keep doing what they do best, and not give up.

Jonathan_Beverly.jpgBJP: Thanks, Jonathan, for spending some time with me so that musicians and others who keep up with your writing will know this other side of you that is quite fascinating!

JW: Thank you, too, and don’t forget to tune in Wednesday night!

BJP: No way would I miss this! That’s The Freds this Wednesday evening, June 21st, on America’s Got Talent, airing at 9 PM.

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 3:28 AM

June 18, 2006

Wilton Felder - Let's Spend Some Time

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. When I heard that Wilton Felder was back on the scene with his new release Let's Spend Some Time I just had to go to the archives and remind myself of the great music he has been producing since as far back as the early sixties. As well as checking out and loving his stellar sax playing with the Crusaders I was also captivated second time around by his wonderful 1985 long player Secrets that featured Bobby Womack. That said, listening to Let's Spend Some Time, it becomes immediately obvious that the years have done nothing to diminish his immense talent and his ability to play jazz saxophone with an edge. In fact the new CD is an impressive collaboration between Felder and trumpeter / flugelhorn player George Shaw who co-produces with Felder and co-writes eleven of the thirteen tracks.

Wilton Felder, Joe Sample and Stix Hooper met in Houston while still at high school. They moved to Los Angeles in the late fifties and there became the nucleus of The Jazz Crusaders, the band who pioneered jazz fusion for an entire listening generation. In a golden age that spanned 1971 through to 1990 they recorded, both as a group and as individuals, more than seventy five top selling albums and will perhaps be best remembered for the classic ‘Street Life’ that featured Randy Crawford. Throughout this time Felder continued to work as a sideman, most notably as a member of the Love Unlimited Orchestra and he also played with Steely Dan, Michael Franks, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell. In addition he enjoyed considerable solo success. His 1980 album Inherit The Wind went to #4 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and the aforementioned Secrets peaked at #8. He continued to make his presence felt through the nineties with the Nocturnal Moods and Forever Always albums. Now, with Let's Spend Some Time, it’s just like he has never been gone.

The CD opens in impressive style with the mid tempo and funky ‘Smoke House’. Felder instantly finds an urban groove and George Shaw chips in nicely on flugelhorn for what is an essential slice of jazz funk. Talking of jazz funk there is no better example on the album than ‘Ooh Whop Doo Whop’. Deconstructed and funky this foot tapper is a real winner. The title track is urban jazz with a distinctly moody feel and when Felder and Shaw switch to mellow smooth R & B for the haunting ‘As Long As I’m With You’ they weave in nice vocals from the excellent AJ Luke. When, later in the album, the tune is reprised in instrumental form, Felder’s sax takes on the texture of velvet to create yet another of the CD’s many magic moments. Felder keeps it mellow with ‘The Love I Need’ but surpasses even what has gone before with ‘No One’. Laid back yet funky, romantic yet edgy, the vocals of AJ Luke blend perfectly with Felder’s picture perfect sax for a track that is sure to be a Secret Garden notable of 2006.

‘Information’ is big funky and urgent with a rap running through it while the very catchy ‘High Water’ stays tight and builds throughout. In fact tunes like these show off the ultra funky side of Felder’s nature but, in part, his real skill is to balance this with his more romantic but still soulful tendencies. Full of this latter quality comes ‘In The Moment’. With a romantic duet from Felder and Shaw as its centre piece, and underpinned by a rhythm that is reminiscent of Dave Grusin's best work, this is a song that never for one second becomes bland. ‘Where Love Comes From’ provides a suitably gentle end to the collection and ‘I Remember Chet Baker’ is ultra smoky and laid back. It starts out moody and atmospheric and stays right there. Probably the best track on the album is ‘Cruzin’. Like its title, this warm and mellow tune is brim full of feel good sunshine.

Let's Spend Some Time is a wonderful album and one of the contemporary jazz surprises of the year. If tracks like ‘No One’ can find a niche on smooth jazz radio then Wilton Felder could well be in for a major resurgence.

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 3:45 PM

June 17, 2006

Helen Rogers Returns On New Jazzmasters CD

Paul Hardcastle's new Jazzmasters CD will be released on July 25.

Jazzmasters-5-cover.jpgPaul Hardcastle is returning to the familiar for his next CD but at the same time trying something new. He's once again reunited with vocalist Helen Rogers for Jazzmasters V, which he recently completed. Rogers has always been part of the Jazzmasters CDs, which alternate with the Hardcastle ones.

But on the new CD, Rogers only sings on three songs, “Children of the Ghetto,” “Garden of Eden” and “Live for the Dream,” after appearing on six of the 13 songs on Jazzmasters 4. That obviously means the new CD is more of an instrumental project than previous Jazzmasters efforts.

The 11-song CD features titles such as the first single "Free As the Wind,” “Never Far Away” and “The Sun Says Goodbye.” Jazzmasters 5 will be available July 25 on Trippin 'N Rhythm.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 10:03 PM

June 16, 2006

Peter White - Playin' Favorites

PeterWhite3.jpgPeter White Brings His Acoustic Guitar Sounds To Some Retro Pop Classics With The New CD “Playin’ Favorites” For Columbia/Legacy - In Stores June 27, 2006

Over the past 16 years, as Peter White has kept thousands of smooth jazz fans worldwide enthralled by his spirited melodies, soulful grooves and inviting, instantly recognizable acoustic guitar tone, he’s always had a blast finding unique ways to bring his modern sensibilities to cherished pop classics. Thanks to the smooth jazz format’s affinity these days for instrumental cover songs, two of White’s incredible 13 #1 Radio & Records airplay hits have become enduring staples of the format. White recently sparked a rekindling of the retro flame that inspired him to once again start Playin’ Favorites on his latest disc for Columbia/Legacy, in stores on June 27, 2006.

In the spirit of his passion for retro tunes, White mines the deeper romantic and soulful vibes of songs from the past 40 years that millions know from the playing of their first notes. These include hits composed or popularized by Burt Bachrach (“The Look of Love”), Dionne Warwick (“Déjà vu), Van Morrison (“Crazy Love”), Bill Withers (“Lovely Day”), Bobby Hebb (“Sunny”), The Isley Brothers (“For The Love Of You”), Ray Charles (a finger snapping version of “Hit The Road Jack”), The Stylistics (“You Are Everything”) and Hall & Oates (“One On One”). Playin’ Favorites also includes performances from fellow smooth jazz greats Boney James (“Déjà vu”), White’s recent “Jazz Attack” tour-mates Richard Elliot, Rick Braun and Jonathan Butler, and R&B legend Jeffrey Osborne (“You Are Everything”).

White will tour the U.S. this summer with the “Guitars & Saxes” all-star shows where his fans will enjoy a medley of Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Mister Magic” and Playin’ Favorites’ first single, a brassy, sensual lite-funk twist on Jr. Walker’s “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love).” On the recording, White plays the song’s familiar melody on his acoustic guitar in a call and response style with saxman Sam Riney (who last played with White on Reflections). Veteran producer (and longtime White collaborator) Paul Brown’s arrangement of “Mister Magic” includes a crunchy, modern hip-hop groove, sizzling horns, the flute of Dave Camp (an old cohort of White’s from the Al Stewart band) and a special, retro-cool performance by legendary keyboardist Bob James on Fender Rhodes.

PeterWhite_PlayinFavorites.jpgWhite says, “I had the idea to do another collection of these kinds of songs after going through some old tapes and finding these demos along with a dozen or so songs that never made it to that CD. I had honestly forgotten that there were any outtakes from those days. ‘For The Love Of You’ was one of those unused songs that sounded good to me, so I wondered if just maybe there was a whole other album waiting to be made, that could be a follow up to Reflections. Now just as then, the hard part is to keep the flavor of the original songs while fitting it into my style and making it mine. I want my versions to be able to stand on their own.”

“Once I sit down at the keyboard to work on this,” he adds, “coming up with the arrangement is a very natural, instinctive process . On ‘For The Love Of You’, for instance, I wanted to funk up the beat, make the ballad very danceable. Funny thing is, I did the opposite on my version of ‘Who’s That Lady?’, substituting their frantic all-out rock and roll blitzkrieg for a much gentler approach. This idea—to take a well known song and do it in a different way—permeates the music on Playin’ Favorites.”

Just as White started putting together tracks based on the old arrangements on tape, it was time to hit the road for one of Summer 2005’s biggest smooth jazz tours, “Jazz Attack,” with old friends Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler and Richard Elliot. Not missing a beat, the guitarist packed his laptop and a mic and continued working on tracks in his spare time. He quickly took advantage of this great opportunity to include his tourmates on his latest work in progress. “I ambushed Richard backstage at the Carefree Theatre in West Palm Beach, Florida and had him play a verse of ‘You Are Everything’ on my improvised laptop studio,” White says. “He had never played the song before and I tried to reassure him by saying that it was just an experiment, to see what the sax would sound like on this song. I loved his tender, introspective approach. I kept his second run through for the final mix.”

Backstage at the North fork Theatre in Westbury, Long Island, he caught Braun with a flugelhorn in his hand and invited his horn playing friend into his makeshift dressing room studio to play on ‘One on One.’ White was so moved by Braun’s impromptu performance that he kept it for the second verse of the song; they finished the rest of the solo a few days later in Milwaukee. Butler later got in on the act, adding his inimitable vocal excitement to the chorus section of “Lovely Day.”

“After the tour ended, I called Paul Brown to help me finish the album,” White says, “and he came forward with a lot of great suggestions for other songs. He also took some of my rough arrangements and made them sparkle with new beats, cool sounds and musical guests I was very excited to have on board. I love the freshness he brought to Playin’ Favorites, which echoes the wonderful work he did on Reflections twelve years ago.” For more information visit PeterWhite.com.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 10:02 PM

June 15, 2006

Ken Navarro Podcast

Smooth Jazz artist Ken Navarro has a new Podcast Series available as a free subscription at iTunes. The first in the series is a "behind the scenes" discussion where Ken talks about the creation and recording of his latest hit CD Love Coloured Soul. As each of the 10 songs from "Love Coloured Soul" plays, Ken and columnist Janet Gilbert discuss how each song was composed and recorded and much more. Future podcasts in the series will include in depth coverage of the making of Ken's upcoming new CD, scheduled for release in January 2007.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:25 PM

June 14, 2006

Mike Stern Makes His Heads Up Debut With The August 15 Release Of Who Let The Cats Out?

MikeStern.jpgPremier jazz guitarist joins forces with a string of stellar musicians

Mike Stern, one of the most recognized and celebrated guitarists of his generation, releases his Heads Up International worldwide debut album, Who Let the Cats Out? (HUCD 3115), on August 15, 2006. On Stern's thirteenth release as a leader, the award winning three-time GRAMMY nominee continues to blur the boundaries between jazz, funk, blues and rock with eleven unique originals.

"This record is a return to more instrumental playing, more blowing," says Stern. "In some ways it's straight ahead, but filtered through my rock and blues influences. I'm still interested in incorporating vocals, so I wanted Richard Bona to sing on my record. I composed the tunes thinking about which musicians would work best for each track. It seemed organic, and I think worked out well."

Who Let the Cats Out? was recorded in January 2006 and features a stunning lineup including bassists Richard Bona (who handles vocals on two tracks), Anthony Jackson, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chris Minh Doky and Victor Wooten, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonists Bob Franceschini and Bob Malach, drummers Dave Weckl and Kim Thompson, harmonica player Gregoire Maret, and keyboardist/producer Jim Beard.

"I've always wanted to work with Meshell Ndegeocello and Kim Thompson," Stern says. "Meshell is a very special musician and Kim is really a phenomenon. They're both so musical. Of course, playing with great musicians like Roy Hargrove, Jim Beard, Dave Weckl, Gregoire Maret and all the rest of these guys is always amazing."

The album title is a double entendre, according to Stern. "Leni, my wife, loves cats," he explains. "We've got four cats, and you know how cats can get. They're always running around and checking stuff out - they're always playing. The title fits the music, too. When we made this album there was a really playful vibe. I love when musicians have fun with the music, when they play from the heart and when they get room to do what they do best."

MikeStern_Cats.jpgIt isn't surprising that Stern spent time playing with Miles Davis. Like the legendary trumpeter's best work, one never knows what to expect from a new Stern release. Who Let the Cats Out? offers a range of memorable melodies with plenty of dynamic playing by the guitar hero and crew. The album ranges from bluesy, powerful funk ("Tumble Home," "Roll with It") and lots of dynamic interplay ("KT," "Texas") to tightly-packed new jazz ("Good Question," "Leni Goes Shopping") and gentle, heartfelt ballads ("We're with You," "All You Need").

Songs like "Language" are long enough to allow the music to develop, with each musician taking a turn in the conversation, while it's nearly impossible to resist tapping your feet to the beat of the title track. All the while, Stern weaves in and out of the group's sound with ample confidence, always playing within the music and maintaining his instantly recognizable voice on his instrument. The album closes with the gradually rising fury of "Blue Runway."

Born on January 10, 1953, in Boston, MA, Stern got his start as a guitar player with Blood, Sweat & Tears at the age of 22. He then toured with Billy Cobham for a year, and it was at one of the legendary drummer's gigs in New York City that Miles Davis first heard Stern. After moving to New York City, he was recruited by Davis to play a key role in his celebrated comeback band of 1981. From 1983 to 1984, he toured with Jaco Pastorius' Word of Mouth band and in 1985 returned to Davis' lineup for a second tour of duty that lasted close to a year. In the summer of 1986, Stern went out on the road with David Sanborn and later joined an electrified edition of Steps Ahead. Stern made his debut on Atlantic Records in 1986 with Upside Downside. From 1986 through 1988, he was a member of Michael Brecker's quintet and later joined a reunited Brecker Brothers Band, appearing on 1992's Return of the Brecker Brothers.

Stern's acclaimed 1993 release, Standards (And Other Songs), led to him being named Best Jazz Guitarist of the Year by the readers and critics of Guitar Player magazine. He followed that up with 1994's Is What It Is and 1996's Between The Lines, both of which received GRAMMY nominations. In 1997, Stern recorded Give And Take, and won the Orville W. Gibson Award for Best Jazz Guitarist that year. Stern's next release was a six-string summit meeting with colleagues Bill Frisell and John Scofield that was appropriately titled Play. Voices (2001), his first foray into vocal music, earned Stern his third GRAMMY nomination. He released These Times for the ESC label in 2003.

"I've been very fortunate to have played with lots of great musicians like Joe Henderson, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Mike Brecker and Dave Sanborn, just to name a few," says Stern. "It seems to me what they all have in common is that they're wide open to so many different kinds of music, and no matter what they play they put their heart and soul in it."

Regardless of Who Let the Cats Out?, Stern's Heads Up debut is another outstanding album from this innovative, highly accomplished and incredibly versatile guitarist. He is, indeed, as one writer put it, "one of the true guitar greats of his generation."

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:41 PM

June 13, 2006

Educational Jazz - 20th Annual UCLA Jazz/Reggae Festival

Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson

KennyBurrell.jpgThe annual UCLA JazzReggae Festival has become synonymous with the coming summer. This festival is a great outlet to witness the ethnically diverse population of Los Angeles enjoying a marvelous event. The festival is presented by the UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission.

The title of my article is Educational Jazz. I chose this title due to the various artists on the line-up who are professors in the Jazz Studies Department at UCLA.

The festival got under way with the talented UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble directed by trumpeter Bobby Rodriquez. The group played a fiery hot, high energy set of Latin Jazz on the following tunes “Josefina”, “Descarga de East L.A.”, and concluded their brief set with “Tin Tin Deo”.

Next to perform was legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell. Mr. Burrell is the Founder and Director of the Jazz Studies Program at UCLA, where he is also a professor of music and ethnomusicology. The quintet featured some of L.A.’s best jazz musicians: Tom Rainer-piano, Roberto Miranda-bass, Clayton Cameron-drums and Herman Riley on saxophone. The crowd was thoroughly entertained thru their set of straight-ahead jazz and blues. The quintet performed “Three Fourths of the House” (Blues/Waltz), “Mark One”, “the popular, playful jazz version of “Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street” and finished their set on a spiritual note on “Come Sunday” and “David Danced” two compositions by Duke Ellington.

Donnie - a socially conscious singer immediately established repoir with the audience. He addressed many issues throughout his pleasant set. “You Will Be Singing The Blues, When You Hear The Daily News”, “People Person” - addressed the need for people to respect each other. “Man vs. Machine” about our reliance of technology. “China Doll” -song about child molestation. “I Can’t Be Sweating You”. “You Better Love Yourself”, and closed out his set with “Our New National Anthem”.

DianneReeves2.jpgDianne Reeves is perhaps the pre-eminent jazz vocalist in the world today. Check out her performance in the movie Good Night & Good Luck with George Clooney. The stage was set up to resemble a small intimate jazz club. Ms Reeves performed another crowd pleasing, captivating set. She held the crowds undivided attention by demonstrating her magnificent vocal range and scatting abilities. The highlight of her set consisted of the following songs: “Sadness To Live In Solitude”, “Social Call”, “One For My Baby; One For the Road”, “I’ll Be There When Morning Comes, “I Just Want To Testify”, and finished with “Better Days”. Ms. Reeves received a well deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of her set.

Trio Beyond - John Scofield-guitar, Larry Goldings-organ, keyboards, and Jack De Johnette-drums dazzled the crowd playing a set of original tunes from an upcoming CD.

Composer, arranger, band leader and UCLA professor Gerald Wilson and his Big Band Orchestra exploded unto the scene with “You Better Believe”, “Milestone”, and “Theme for Monterey”. The orchestra consisted of some of the top name jazz musicians in Los Angeles gathered to play a rousing set of straight-ahead jazz. Mr. Wilson was presented with the 2nd Annual UCLA JazzReggae “For The Love of Music” Award on Saturday, May 27th at a private reception.

Nu-Soul, Neo-Soul duo Floetry performed a splendid, superb set of original material from their latest three CD’s - Flo’Ology, Floetic, & Floacism to the extreme delight of 7,000 people in the audience.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:35 PM

June 9, 2006

Ronnie Foster Heats Up Vegas

The legendary keyboardist Ronnie Foster, who's list of credits ranks among a "who's who and beyond", and who relocated to Las Vegas a few years ago, has been a member of the Clint Holmes band at Harrah's for awhile. But Ronnie's jazz chops are still in fine form, and can be heard two nights a week with his quartet at the Artisan Hotel, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10pm to 1am. Noted guests dropping by have been the likes of David Sanborn, Paul Taylor, George Duke, and Stanley Clarke, to name a few.

Posted by Danny Desart at 3:40 PM

June 6, 2006

Boulder Station In Las Vegas Dominates Jazz In June

The Railhead Showroom at the Boulder Station Hotel dominates jazz this month in June with an impressive lineup of great artists.

R & B, smooth jazz crossover vocalist Jeffrey Osborne sings his hits the night of June 9th, followed by guitar great Ottmar Liebert on Saturday, June 10th.

The Karl Denson Jazz Trio, with their straightahead approach, brings their unique sound the following Saturday, June 17th.

Keiko Matsui, still touring with her great, smooth keyboard style, will make her Boulder Station appearance on Friday, June 23rd.

The District At Green Valley Ranch, a unique upscale shopping plaza with it's nostalgic design of "downtown" building structures, is hosting jazz at least once a month between two of its outdoor venues, The Orchard and The Greens. Rocky Gordon performed on June 2nd at The Greens to a very accommodating crowd, introducing the newest version of his band, KGB.

Posted by Danny Desart at 7:13 PM

June 4, 2006

Contempo June 2006

Picture098.jpgOver the past year, a handful of veteran smooth jazz stars turned the concept of old school and contemporary soul cover songs into a small but hard to miss cottage industry. Leading the pack were Richard Elliot and Rick Braun, who launched their own ARTizen Music label with the monster radio hits “People Make The World Go Round” (Elliot) and “Shining Star” (Braun). Kirk Whalum paid homage to a more recent soul legend on his Rendezvous Music debut, Performs The Babyface Songbook, while Kim Waters (on All For Love) took a dreamy, ambient approach to Aretha Franklin’s “Daydreaming” with a great assist from the rich and smoky vocals of Maysa.

Inspired by this session, Maysa — a self-described “Underground Diva” best known to genre audiences for her decade of contributions to British neo soul/acid jazz ensemble Incognito - asked herself why these sensuous dips into retro-romance were always done by the boys. Given the green light by Waters’ label Shanachie to offer the feminine perspective, she began plowing through hundreds of songs that inspired her growing up. Her all-time fantasy top ten list translates effortlessly to her label debut, the mostly easy grooving, but sometimes surprisingly swinging and jazzy, Sweet Classic Soul.

Maysa’s mix of very familiar and obscure songs were popularized by artists who need only one name to inspire warm flashbacks — Stevie, Chaka, Teddy (“Come Go With Me”) and Barry (“Playing Your Game, Baby”), in addition to tracks originated by The Stylistics (“Betcha By Golly Wow,” “Love Comes Easy”), Major Harris (“Love Won’t Let Me Wait”) and Rose Royce (whose “Wishing On A Star” Maysa chooses to launch the listener friendly set). But the singer didn’t set out to just do a nice mix of favorite tunes. Feminists, listen up. Underneath that cool vibe, Maysa — whose four previous solo albums have all touched on issues of raising self-esteem — had a role-reversing agenda.

“I wanted this to be a lady’s mackin’ record, pure and simple,” she says unabashedly. “It’s time we stopped waiting around for the guys to ask us out and took the romantic initiative, which includes setting the mood with our favorite R&B songs. I want women everywhere to be inspired here, but I also admit I did it for myself because I’m out there looking for a husband, too. What’s wrong with girls seducing guys? The fun part was, even though I close the set with songs by Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack, two of the greatest female singers ever, overall I wanted to do men’s songs that nobody would expect a woman to even try.”

Khan and Rufus’ “Any Love” and Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” are by design buried beneath the boy-oriented stuff, but it’s telling that they are Maysa’s greatest artistic triumphs here. Growing up in Baltimore, she learned how to scat not from Ella Fitzgerald (the standard female response) but by listening to and analyzing instrumental solos by John Coltrane and Miles Davis. After wailing powerfully through the discofied thump of “Any Love” for a few minutes, Maysa engages in an inventive scat improvisation — a moment unlike any other on the disc that simply doesn’t last long enough.

She pays haunting homage to Flack on a version that begins with simple piano harmonies and orchestral flavoring. Boding well for Maysa’s potential to do more serious straight ahead jazz projects, the track evolves into a tender trio arrangement, with all instruments performed by project producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis. It’s no surprise that this is Maysa’s self-admitted favorite track on the album; she’s long credited Flack for helping her develop her own sense of phrasing and tone. She also has a personal connection to Stevie Wonder that inspired the funky justice she does to his rollicking “All I Do.” Maysa met him when she was a senior at Morgan State University; upon graduating, she moved out to Los Angeles to be part of the legendary artist’s background vocal group Wonderlove throughout 1991 and 1992.

“I really wanted ‘All I Do’ to mean something, but also to get people on the dance floor,” she says. “He was so strong politically, and his lyrics had the power to induce change. Even though I don’t have the professional connection to the other artists, there are stories behind the reasons I chose them. I first heard The Isley Brothers (“Don’t Say Goodnight”) when I was teaching myself to sing, and they inspired me to want to sound sexy. I’m just trying to be honest here, paying full respect to the artists and writers by doing their songs in my own unique way, but without writing my own stuff on top of it or going on tangents just to be clever.”

Although Maysa has been touring extensively this year with Incognito, there’s no doubt that Sweet Classic Soul goes a long way to helping her further establish an identity apart from the vision of Incognito frontman Bluey Maunick. She’s also currently seeking grants for a proposed educational concert tour she calls “Revenge Of The Underground Divas,” which is designed to teach young singers about the realities of the music business; already signed up are Lalah Hathaway, Ledesi, Caron Wheeler and N’Dea Davenport.

“I think if singers like us had started our careers in the 70s, we’d be on a whole other level, because what we do now was the Top 40 music of the time,” Maysa says. “I just want to remind people of how they felt when they first heard these great songs. In those days, the vibe was, the more musicians in the band, the better. Musicians were allowed to create with each other in the days before everything became so producer driven. It was a time when souls were communicating through music, and it’s nice to revisit that place while giving a glimpse of this deeply personal side of myself.”

Veteran saxman Gerald Albright has himself been going retro these past few years as a member of the ongoing "Groovin’ For Grover" touring phenomenon. On his Peak Records debut New Beginnings, he extends his passion for old school to the disco era with “And The Beat Goes On,” a lively and danceable reworking of The Whispers’ hit featuring original group members Walter and Scotty Scott. While that track and his first studio recording of his longtime, blistering live show trademark “Georgia On My Mind” take us back, Albright’s mostly celebrating the present and future on a collection that’s one of the genre’s best so far of 2006.

The fresh energy he brings to the bold, pop-blues meets gospel collection speaks of the optimism of his new relationship with Peak (after many years on Atlantic and a few on GRP) and a new development deal with Cannonball Musical Instruments, for whom he’s developed a popular alto and tenor sax line. Albright, whose longtime association with Phil Collins took him last year to exotic locales in Europe and the Middle East, is also boasting a whole new outlook on life driven by his family’s move early last year from chaotic Los Angeles to the more peaceful environs of Castle Rock, Colorado. Despite the changes, he’s at his best when finding fresh musical paths while working with familiar faces like Jeff Lorber (his Grover touring mate, who helped him score three previous #1 radio singles), longtime Atlantic labelmate Chuckii Booker and R&B/smooth jazz megaproducer Rex Rideout.

Personal Tastes

1) Steve Tyrell, The Disney Standards (Walt Disney Records) – The veteran pop producer and warm, gravel voiced standards singer tackles the (mostly) instantly familiar Happiest Songs on Earth with engaging, jazzy and gently swinging arrangements of Disney film classics past and present. Included on this joyful E-Ticket is a duet with Dr. John and appearances by Chris Botti and Dave Koz.
2) Sergio Mendes, Timeless (HearMusic/Concord)
3) The Veronicas, The Secret Life Of The Veronicas (Sire)
4) The East Village Opera Company (Decca)
5) Andrea Bocelli, Amore (Decca)

New And Noteworthy

1. Steve Oliver, Radiant (Koch)
2. Eric Darius, Just Getting Started (Narada)
3. Rendezvous Lounge 2 (Rendezvous Music)
4. Randy Jacobs, From Me To You (Bad Monkey)
5. Larkin McLean, X-Rated Musical (Best Day Ever Records)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 6:35 PM