December 31, 2006

What We're Listening To * December

D E N I S * P O O L E

'This Christmas' by Brian Culbertson from his brand new CD A Soulful Christmas - this hip take on Donny Hathaway's 1971 composition is Christmas music like it was always meant to be.

'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' by Kenny G from his Miracles - The Holiday Album. Kenny doing what he does best.

'Baby Its Cold Outside' by James Taylor and Natalie Cole from Taylor's CD for Hallmark A Christmas Album. Its great when December comes around and its OK to play this one again!!

'Bring A Torch To Jeanette Isabella' by Brian Lubeck from the Christmas compilation We Three Strings. This much underrated smooth jazz guitarist comes up trumps on this one.

'All Through The Christmas Night' by Brian Culbertson. Also from his A Soulful Christmas CD, this original composition with awesome vocals from Michael McDonald is a classic in the making.

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

Hugh Peanuts Whalum (Rendezvous)

Lino, Miami Jam (Lino Alessio Publishing)

Walter Beasley, Live! (Shanachie)

Lara & Reyes (Fusion Acustica)

Ray Parker, Jr., I’m Free (Raydio Music Corp.)


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

Brian Culbertson, A Soulful Christmas, 2006

Dave Koz, A Smooth Jazz Christmas

Gil Parris, Strength, 2006

T-Square with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Basia, The Sweetest Illusion


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

Richy Kicklighter, Unknown (Midnight Pass Music): More tempting guitar work from the Florida resident. His eighth CD is available at richykicklighter.com.

Incognito, Bees + Things + Flowers (Narada): The veteran British funk band switches gears with an acoustic affair of new, classic and cover songs.

Slim Man, Solstice (Oui Oui): The bassist and leader of Bona Fide steps out on another solo project with a big assist from guitarist Marc Antoine.

The Terry Disley Project, Across the Pond (Disleyworld): The former Acoustic Alchemy pianist, who still joins the group of many of its trio outings, returns with a smooth jazz CD that is the next best thing to an AA project.

Ken Navarro, The Meeting Place (Positive Music): The guitarist with the sweet touch on the nylon strings has created 10 new songs and a cover of Pat Metheny’s “Lakes.”


P E T E R * B O E H I

Nate White - So Beautiful (2006)
This bassist delivers a really beautiful album featuring the fretless bass of the leader in a cool grooving smooth jazz setting. Very recommended!

Steve Cole - True (2006)
This is one of my favorite sax players who puts all of his heart into his music and this warm, groovy and really unadulterated album paying reference to his musical heroes is no exception. Outstanding!

Tribaljazz - Tribaljazz (2006)
This is an interesting album featuring flute and african grooves covering styles from funk to latin to jazz which is a breath of fresh air. Not to be overlooked!

Soul Jazz Express - Soul Jazz Express (2006)
This band smokes! Fat hammond organ, great guitar and sax and a captivating live feeling are the hallmarks of this album of driving, groovy jazz tunes. This how good jazz sounds to me!

[re:jazz] - Expansion (2006)
This band delivers club tunes in an acoustic jazz setting and succeeds triumphantly. Especially outstanding is Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" in a slowed down acoustic version which will put a smile on your face.


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

Brian Culbertson, Soulful Christmas (GRP)

Bob James & Earl Klugh, One on One (Koch Records)

Chick Corea, Secret Agent (Universal)

Ronnie Laws, Every Generation (Blue Note Records)

A Lounge Supreme, Vol. 4 (Soulstar)


DOREEN * HAYWOOD

Forever, For Always, For Luther, Vol. II, Various Artists

First Christmas, by Andre Delano

Seasons of Life, by Janita

Cool to the Touch, Greg Adams

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 12:00 PM

December 24, 2006

Ken Navarro - Christmas Cheer

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. Writing this on an English Christmas Eve makes it worth reflecting on how seasonal songs are such a huge part of the holiday experience. Whether it be pop and folk, rock and country or soul and funk there is a Christmas tune to whet every musical appetite. But sometimes, when the partying is over, when the embers of the fire are burning low in the grate and that last glass of Christmas cheer has engendered warm feelings of friends, family and celebrations gone by, something special is called for. In this context there can be none better than Ken Navarro’s 1996 album Christmas Cheer. It’s an exquisite collection of Christmas music played with a contemporary jazz twist that nevertheless remains grounded in the magic of this special season. Released immediately before his seminal CD Smooth Sensation, Navarro demonstrates huge focus and respect for his subject by simply yet stunning use of acoustic guitar supported only but significantly by consistently excellent acoustic piano from regular contributor Jay Rowe.

There is something deliciously comforting about the sparklingly traditional way in which Navarro delivers timeless classics such as ‘Silent Night’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, ‘We Three Kings’ and ‘Hark The Herald Angels’. Each, in its own way, evokes images of flickering fireside flames and crisp white snow while more contemporary but equally delightful is ‘Skating On Central Park’. Originally from John Lewis’s score of the hard hitting 1959 ‘film noir’, Odds Against Tomorrow, it quite simply has Christmas dripping from every note. Navarro’s stellar version of the Mel Torme modern day classic ‘The Christmas Song’ provides a master class in how less can undoubtedly be more and also memorable is the reflective, mellow way in which he approaches the David Sanborn track ‘Rain On Christmas’.

Despite Navarro’s lovely interpretations of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ and his subtly jazzy ‘O Christmas Tree’ the best track on the album is ‘Skating On The C & O Canal’, (Chesapeake and Ohio). The tune is wonderful not only for the fact that it is a Navarro original but also because it is an outstanding example of contemporary jazz for anytime of the year.

If you are tired of the frenzy that Christmas has come to represent then why not take some time out to chill to Christmas Cheer by Ken Navarro. If this year it’s too late to do so, go to www.kennavarro.com for more information on how to purchase the CD ready for Christmas 2007!

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:49 PM

December 21, 2006

Rick Braun Offers Free Christmas Song Download

Merry Christmas from Rick Braun. The trumpeter and co-owner of the ARTizen Music record label has recorded a new version of a Christmas favorite, "O Tannenbaum,” which can be downloaded for free at www.artizenmusic.com. Braun says he’s offering the song to all the fans who have contributed to the success of the smooth jazz label, which was co-founded by saxophonist Richard Elliot.

Braun has plenty to be cheerful about. He's now spreading holiday cheer on the road, performing once again in the annual A Peter White Christmas tour with guitarist Peter White and saxophonist Mindi Abair.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:53 AM

December 16, 2006

Walter Beasley Is Ready For Love On New Heads Up Recording

WalterBeasley_RFL_1.jpgSaxophonist/vocalist Walter Beasley understands what it means to be prepared. A prolific recording artist and a compelling performer for more than two decades, he has proven his success as an instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, producer and educator - a range of talents that has made him one of the highest selling and most accomplished African-American saxophonists of the last ten years. Ready For Love, his new Heads Up CD scheduled for worldwide release on January 24, 2007, is the culmination of two decades of pushing his own creative envelope and the boundaries of contemporary jazz in general.

But while the title is clearly a reference to the universality of romantic love, the record is fueled just as much by other passions that Beasley considers equally important. "This record is an indication of what hard work, dedication, talent and effort will accomplish, and it's a gesture of love and appreciation for the people who have supported me along the way," he says. "To actually take the time to dedicate yourself to music, dedicate yourself to a strong work ethic, dedicate yourself to being better, means you love what you do."

Ranging from the playful to the introspective, from the old school to the edgy, Ready For Love is filled with a variety of soulful grooves and infectious melodies that showcase the countless satisfying shades of Beasley's rich musical tapestry. Along with Beasley's own production on five of the eleven tracks, the album also includes a number of noteworthy guest producers, including Phil Davis and Lil' John Roberts, both of whom have produced and/or played with Janet Jackson, George Duke, Alex Bugnon, Rachelle Ferrell. Also guest producing on two tracks is James Lloyd, co-founder and keyboardist for Pieces of a Dream.

WalterBeasley_ReadyForLove.jpgThe set opens with "Free," a stirring piece originally penned by Deniece Williams and features the vocal accents of Tiffany Davis. "It was just a blast to be able to record a song by someone who I had my first crush on when I was 12 years old, and then put my own spin on it. I just think that song - especially the saxophone work during the outro - sets the tone for the whole album."

Beasley brings not only his horn but his rich vocals to the smoky backbeat groove of "Be Thankful," the classic William DeVaughan piece that looks beyond material trappings and instead acknowledges some of life's most simple and profound blessings. "I have two female African-American friends who recently told me that they were very frustrated by the feeling that the world no longer valued their worth," says Beasley. "That song just hit me. I saw it as a way for me and others to step back and reassess who we are to ourselves and what we represent to other people. It serves as a reminder that all of us - regardless of race, economics, or whatever - should be thankful for what we do have and what we're able to bring to the table."

Keyboardist James Lloyd lends a hand on a couple tracks. The title track - along with the punchy "Why Not You," toward the end of the set - both feature Lloyd as writer, producer and guest keyboardist. "James is very clear about what he hears in a song and what he sees as the end result," says Beasley, who previously enlisted Lloyd for a track on For Her ("Coolness," which shot to number 5 on the smooth jazz charts). "You just have to trust that the end result is going to be good, because with James, it always is. Sometimes you get too close to a project and you have to step back, and for those two tracks I just stepped back, because I knew they were in good hands."

WalterBeasley_RFL_3.jpgThe island groove of "She Moves Me" takes Beasley into territory that he hadn't explored in previous projects, with highly favorable results. "Hands down, that's my favorite song on the album," he says with no hesitation. "That was the first time I ever wrote anything in a reggae style. It's a beautiful song that goes through various time changes. It just grooves. It moved me when I was recording it, and it still moves me whenever I hear it."

"Sugar Puddin'" is a sensual track wherein Beasley's alto sax work atop the churning backbeat creates the perfect union of the sweet with the spicy - a fitting combination, given the origins of the title. "Sugar Puddin' is actually a slang term that we used in the South, where I spent my summers with my grandparents," says Beasley. "It could be a reference to a little girl, or a girlfriend, or any girl who moves your heart in some way. Now, as I got older, I started to understand the more spicy definition of the term." He pauses to elaborate, then thinks better of it. "I'll just leave the rest to the imagination."

The heartfelt closer, "Willa Mae's Place," is a tribute to Willa Mae Brothers, a lady who gave Beasley some much needed direction many years ago when he was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. "When my parents were very far away, and I was dealing with different issues and challenges in my life - musically, personally, economically - she was there to really make sure that I considered all my options and made the right decisions," Beasley explains. "She was a foundation for me. She's gone now, but she made a big impact on my life."

WalterBeasley_RFL_2.jpgFrom nostalgic tales of bygone role models to island interludes to spicy and passionate vignettes, Walter Beasley is musician of many stories - and is possessed of the various talents necessary to tell them well. Every one of these stories is a reflection of a unique musical vision that pays its respects to what has come before and makes ready for what's yet to come.

"For me, every song on here has a special meaning, and every song touches me in some kind of way," he says. "I listened to this record three times as much as any other record I've ever made, and I'm still listening to it. And I think people will get the same feeling when they listen to it, because I don't go too far from what moves me. I'm just taking it to that place where music moves you just because it's good."

Worldwide release set for January 24, 2007

Posted by Peter Böhi at 1:23 PM

December 13, 2006

2nd Annual Tribute to Luther Vandross: A Parade of Smooth Jazz Stars

Text by The Jazz Gypsy
Pictures by Ambrose

PrescottKoz_Ambrose.jpgLA’s smooth jazz radio station, KTWV’s, 94.7 the Wave’s morning hosts, Dave Koz and Pat Prescott, hosted the second annual tribute to the late R&B vocalist Luther Vandross at the Vault 350 in Long Beach, CA. The Tribute brought out an all-star roster of smooth jazz musicians who performed and shared personal stories about their relationship to Vandross, who died on July 1, 2005, from complications from a diabetes-induced stroke. Vandross was preceded in death by his father, maternal grandmother, brother, sister and nephew who also died from complications of this disease.

RayFuller_Ambrose.jpg CookieBrown_Ambrose.jpg JeffLorber_Ambrose.jpg
Ray Fuller Cookie Brown Jeff Lorber

The standing room only crowd was treated to a two-set show with the following outstanding performances, primarily featuring Luther Vandross hit songs: Ray Fuller, “Never Too Much”; Michael Lington, “Give Me the Reason”; Jeff Lorber, “For You To Love”; Everette Harp and Ray Fuller, “Till My Baby Comes Home”; Patti Austin, “So Amazing”; Wayman Tisdale, “The Glow of Love”; Everette Harp, “If This World Were Mine”, and “Where Were You When I Needed You”; Brian Simpson (with Dave Koz), “It’s All Good” and “If Only For One Night”; Ronnie Laws, “Dream Maker” and “Always There”; and vocalist Cookie Brown, “Superstar”. Guitarist Robert Wilson from the Gap Band was in the crowd and joined Wayman Tisdale on stage and they brought the crowd to their feet in a rousing medley of “old school” hits from the 80’s. Tisdale and Wilson closed the show on a high note, leaving the crowd feeling elevated.

RonnieLaws_Ambrose.jpg PattiAustin_Ambrose.jpg MichaelLington_Ambrose.jpg
Ronnie Laws Patti Austin Michael Lington

Although all the performances were superb, vocalist and Wave employee Cookie Brown, and veteran performer Ronnie Laws received rousing standing ovations. The Tribute was a fundraiser and a silent auction of an original oil portrait of Vandross was held. Between sets and after the live performances, the crowd danced to music provided by DJ Jonathan Phillips.

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Dave Koz & Brian Simpson Wayman Tisdale

The November 30th Tribute also coincided with the release of the second volume of the 2005 Grammy-nominated Luther Vandross tribute Forever, For Always, For Luther produced, once again, by Rex Rideout (who played keyboards at the event) and Bud Harner on Rendezvous Records. It was announced that Rendezvous is partnering with the American Stroke Association's Power To End Stroke to educate the public about the disease that disproportionably affects African Americans. A short four minute video that talks about ways to prevent stroke and early warning signs, featuring Dave Koz, Patti Austin and Kirk Whalum, can be found on Rendezvous’ website.

According to information posted on the American Diabetes Associations’ website, an all-star Forever, For Always, For Luther tour is tentatively being scheduled for Spring 2007 and in February 2007 a major concert and fundraising telethon is tentatively planned in Washington, D.C., to raise funds for the American Stroke Association’s Power To End Stroke campaign as well as the Luther Vandross Foundation. The site also mentions that Patti Austin, who often recorded with Luther, will be one of the project’s spokespersons.

Also present at the Tribute from the Wave were Dan Weiner, VP and General Manager; Jamie Kanai, Director of Marketing and Promotions; and on-air personality, Talaya Trigueros. Other guests included Max Szadek, who worked as Vandross’ personal assistant for fourteen years and now heads of the Divabetic organization, representatives from the American Diabetics Association and The Power To End Stroke and Southern California BB Jazz promoters, Corky and Betty Benish. The event was sponsored by Good Neighbor Pharmacy.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 2:35 PM

December 11, 2006

Ken Navarro - The Meeting Place

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. The Meeting Place is guitarist and composer Ken Navarro's brand new CD and his seventeenth in a solo career that dates back to 1990. His discography is generously scattered with gems of contemporary jazz and there is none more so in this respect than his 1997 release Smooth Sensation. More recently Love Coloured Soul, the 2005 CD that included his stunning take on the Laura Nyro classic ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’, climbed to #6 on the national charts. Now based in Baltimore Ken began his recording career in Los Angeles as a premier session guitarist, performer and composer. After performing and recording with artists as diverse as Doc Severinsen and Dave Koz he established his own musical identity with the formation of Positive Music Records and the release of his debut album, The River Flows. Through the label, Ken has been responsible for launching the recording careers of saxophonist Brandon Fields, guitarist Grant Geissman and keyboardists Gregg Karukas and Marcus Johnson. In 2002 he briefly switched to Shanachie where he released Slow Dance and stayed on through 2003 for the follow up, All The Way. In 2004 he picked up the production reins for youthful sax sensation Eric Darius and his highly acclaimed Narada debut, Night On The Town. Now back in his own Positive Music stable, and at the very top of his game, he brings us The Meeting Place, a tight, accessible 11 song collection that includes 10 of his own new compositions plus a superb version of the Pat Metheny classic ‘Lakes’.

KenNavarro_TheMeetingPlace.jpgThe Meeting Place is replete with the melody and rhythm that helps define what contemporary jazz should be. The cool sax that Rob Holmes provides throughout is kept in scale by Navarro’s silky production and this is perfectly exemplified by the mid tempo and pleasing ‘Lucky’. Equally melodic and in a every respect a piece of smooth jazz that hits the spot is ‘Just Like That’ while even better is ‘Did Your Hear That?’ With a melody out of this world and Navarro’s usual tight groove this is sunshine filled jazz and then some. The ‘Language Of Peace’ has a Caribbean thing going on and is totally evocative of the milky white beaches and mountainous green vistas that are at the heart of those wonderful islands. Conjuring up different emotions is ‘I Wish I Knew’. A little more reflect and a lot more Latin, this really is top notch smooth jazz.

The sophisticated and groovy way in which Ken carries off his version of the Pat Metheny tune ‘Lakes’ is indicative of why he considers Metheny to be one of his major influences. Here the generous contribution of Jay Rowe on piano adds value and he is also right in the pocket on ‘No Other Way’ where a moody and soulful intro paves the way to an earthy smoker. Navarro shows just how eclectic contemporary jazz can be by using the title track to flirt sensationally with something akin to 80’s jazz fusion and then by taking a big and expansive route to the complex yet melodic ‘The Challenge’. Staying tightly in the groove for over six minutes of high octane playing Ken tops it off with a guitar solo where he really cuts loose. The title track is also strident and funky. It’s a mid tempo foot tapper that checks all the right boxes and also funky but always controlled is ‘That Time Of Evening’. A contender for best track on the album it has more excellent sax from Rob Holmes and a great vibe that reaches back to the days when contemporary jazz was always played with an edge.

However, just shading it as Secret Garden killer cut is ‘My Beautiful Girls’. Kicked off by a tight and uplifting intro, it morphs into the delicious melody that is the hallmark of Navarro’s playing.

The Meeting Place is an intoxicating collection that is way above the average. Ahead of its national retail release date of January 23, 2007 it is currently and exclusively available at www.kennavarro.com. Check it out if you can and also read Ken’s blog that can be found there. It is one of the most entertaining, interesting and insightful journals on the web.

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 5:47 PM

December 10, 2006

Long Beach: The New Garden of Eden?

Text by The Jazz Gypsy

Los Angeles’ very popular local smooth jazz radio station, 94.7 the Wave, has moved their weekly Wednesday night jazz series previously held at the Garden of Eden in Hollywood to Thursday nights at the Vault 350 in Long Beach, CA. The three level venue is their temporary home until renovations are complete on their new location, the Backstage Jazz and Blues Supper Club, next door at 330 Pine.

The Vault 350 and the Backstage Jazz and Blues Supper Club are located in the popular, and bustling downtown Pine Street district, filled with quaint shops, side walk cafes and businesses. It is conveniently located a few miles from the 710 Long Beach freeway and is just a short distance from the Long Beach Pier and restaurant row on Shoreline Drive. The open floor plan on the first floor allows for a variety of seating and dance floor configurations. The large, elevated stage provides perfect viewing from any seat on the main floor or mezzanine.

The lineup of artists and schedule has included Michael Lington, Stanley Jordan, A Tribute to Luther Vandross, and Earl Klugh. Upcoming scheduled performers include George Duke, 12/14; The Yellowjackets, 1/1/07; Jeffrey Osborne, 1/13; Gerald Albright, 1/18; Stanley Clarke, 2/8; Ramsey Lewis, 3/8; Chick Corea and Gary Burton, 3/22; Jeff Lorber, 4/9; and Keiko Matsui, 4/26. The Thursday night jazz series’ shows typically begin at 8:00 p.m. and have one show and two sets, with the doors opening at 6:00 p.m.

The Vault 350 also hosts live music (hip hop, R&B, rock, etc.) on other nights and some artists appearing in the Waves’ Thursday night jazz series are booked for multiple dates besides Thursday night. Admission fees, cocktails, drinks and menu items are moderately priced and tickets can be purchased in advance on the Wave’s (www.947wave) or the Vault’s (www.vault350.com) websites. Some shows offer general admission, dinner and VIP table seating in the mezzanine and the VIP lounge. DJ Jonathan Phillips is also on hand every Thursday night, spinning the best in smooth jazz, R&B, and oldies between and after the last set. Valet parking is available as well as ample garage parking next door.

The Backstage Jazz and Blues Supper Club is being designed as an upscale venue for those with discriminating taste. Combine that with the impressive line-up of artists and Long Beach may very well become the new Garden of Eden.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 1:17 PM

December 9, 2006

Contempo December 2006

Ripps_live_CapitalJazzFest.jpgBack in 1994, as Jazziz celebrated its 10th anniversary, this column was asked to make subjective choices as to the most significant recording in the growing smooth jazz genre up till that time. No other option came close to Moonlighting, the 1986 debut recording by Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons, which, in addition to its still-appealing melodies and easy rhythmic energies, featured numerous performers who would go on to become staples in the genre well into the new millennium — Kenny G, Gregg Karukas, David Benoit and Dave Koz (credited then as David Koz, and playing EWI!).

True to Freeman’s initial vision of creating a group that would grow and thrive with an ever-revolving personnel, The Ripps — driven by Freeman’s powerful electric and classical guitar playing and sonically eclectic production expertise - over the past two decades have brought in numerous genre superstars (in addition to creating some, like longtime saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa) to keep things hopping.

The sessions for The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary, a part retro, part forward thinking CD/DVD package dedicated to the band’s intensely loyal fans (which have kept them on the road nearly every summer since the late 80s), ran like an all-star class reunion of sorts. Rather than take the easy way out and repackage a bunch of greatest hits, Freeman gathered all Rippingtons recording and touring members past and present to alternate on performances on ten brand new compositions and “A 20th Anniversary Bonus,” a retrospective medley featuring newly recorded snippets of nine classic Ripps cuts.

Complementing Jeff Kashiwa, original percussionist Steve Reid (both of whom rejoined the band on tour this year), longtime guest saxman Eric Marienthal and current touring members Kim Stone, Bill Heller and Dave Karasony are Paul Taylor, Kirk Whalum, Patti Austin, Jeffrey Osborne and special guest Brian McKnight, who wrote, produced and sings lead on the gentle new song “Anything.” The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary also reunites most of the lineup of L.A. musicians who performed on Moonlighting. Kenny G opted out, but Gregg Karukas, David Benoit, Dave Koz, saxophonist Brandon Fields, bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Tony Morales — who quit playing music some years ago to go into website design — are there.

The whole thing could have worked just as a great publicity stunt, but Freeman chose vibrancy rather than a trip down memory lane, intensity over familiarity. The relaxed but focused sessions included a few spontaneous changes from the original script, most notably the switch on the upbeat, brassy “Celebrate” from an intended Koz lead to a fanciful, soprano-tenor duet by Taylor and Whalum. Freeman wrote the song for Koz, but the saxman told him that his compadres wanted to do a duet, and thought that would be the perfect choice. Koz’s soprano works its magic instead on the romantic “A Kiss Under The Moonlight,” which features Freeman’s lyrical acoustic guitar and Karukas’ elegant piano harmonies.

“The sessions were a breeze, and I was thrilled to see that the rapport I’ve always had with these guys was still there,” he says. “But even beyond that, I saw this as an incredible opportunity as a songwriter writing parts for players I know are great but who I haven’t been challenged by in a long time. The experience was a lot like when new players joined the touring band and I was forced to take new and exciting creative paths to work with the new blood. From the start, they reminded me of why I wanted to work with them in the first place.”

With the prospect of their two-decade anniversary coming up, Freeman’s greatest challenge was trying to figure out what, if any, old material should be reworked as a reminder of the band’s contribution to the genre. “I thought the best of both worlds would be to bring back performers from across the years to play all new material. That way, we’re not dwelling on nostalgia and we’re showing that The Ripps is still a vibrant and creative group. I had a great time putting together the medley, which I thought would be the perfect way, in six minutes, to pay homage to what we had accomplished in the past.

“Each of these musicians contributed something unique to the overall sound of what the Rippingtons became, and brought their own unique perspective to the music,” Freeman adds “I wanted to get back to that embryonic stage, the enigmatic energy we had way back when. The most important thing I realized was how much more experience I have now in dealing with musicians and bringing out strong performances.

“Over the years, as my interests have expanded to include more exotic elements like flamenco guitar and salsa, I also have developed a more diverse palette of musical colors. This happened naturally, but it’s completely confirmed what my heart was telling me after we did Moonlighting, when I had the choice to continue as a band or develop a solo career. I knew a band would give me an opportunity to explore so many more facets of music, and every album has been full of exciting surprises.”


Aside from being one of Boney James’ most soulful, dynamic and consistently satisfying disc in years, the saxman’s latest project Shine — which continues his recent tradition of one word says it all titles like Ride and Pure — is a significant reminder of where the best smooth jazz is coming from these days: well-funded indie labels. His signing with Concord Records typifies the modern genre economy, where artists who once had the security and promotional machinery of major labels are now finding smaller but more dedicated organizations to keep their careers going. James, one of the few genre artists who can boast four gold records, two Grammy nominations and five Billboard #1s, stayed on at Warner Bros. even after the label dropped its jazz division, but he was generally unhappy with the commercial results of Pure, his last collection for the label (and first self-produced disc after years of hitmaking with genre superproducer Paul Brown.)

The cool news for listeners enamored of James’ spirit of collaboration and using special guest artists is that Shine boasts unique jaunts with two labelmates — the also recently signed to Concord George Benson on the bouncy sizzler “Hypnotic” and Christian Scott, a hot young straight ahead trumpeter on the label’s roster (on the brisk and breezy “The Way She Walks,” which may remind some listeners of James’ brilliant duets with Rick Braun).

While everyone else is catering to the cover happy radio format by picking very obvious, largely overplayed songs, James makes some inspired choices — going gently Rio on Jobim’s “Aquas De Marco (Waters of March),” mining the moody soul 70s with The Dramatics’ “In The Rain” (sung by newcomer Dwele) and closing the disc with an lush reading of an obscure Chuck Mangione song, “Soft,” with dreamy vocals by Sounds of Blackness singer Ann Nesby. Also appearing is contemporary R&B star Faith Evans on the rock-edged “Gonna Get It.”

“What’s interesting about my creative process,” James says, “is that I never come in the studio with the whole record in my head. Everything starts with one idea here, another there, and as I get father into it, it builds steam. Then the dust settles, the record is done, and I can reflect back on what it is. On Shine, the title says it all. There’s energy, there’s emotion in each track, each song tells an individual story reflecting different moods. When it was finished, this struck me as a very positive, upbeat album.”


Personal Tastes

1) Peter Frampton, Fingerprints (A&M/New Door) – He may have a lot less hair than in his heyday, but the pop legend still comes alive where it counts as an incredibly diverse guitarist on his first ever-instrumental album. Exploring the many musical loves of his life — American soul, rock, Latin and roots music — Frampton works with a host of all-star guests from a variety of eras, from members of The Rolling Stones to Pearl Jam
2) Five For Fighting, Two Lights (Aware/Columbia)
3) Sarah Kelly, Where The Past Meets Today (Gotee Records)
4) Cherish, Unappreciated (Capitol)
5) Jake Shimabukuro, Gently Weeps (Hitchhike Records)


New and Noteworthy

1) Hugh Peanuts Whalum (Rendezvous)
2) Lino, Miami Jam (Lino Alessio Publishing)
3) Walter Beasley, Live! (Shanachie)
4) Lara & Reyes (Fusion Acustica)
5) Ray Parker, Jr., I’m Free (Raydio Music Corp.)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 12:44 PM

December 8, 2006

Brian Culbertson - A Soulful Christmas

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Smooth jazz fans are well blessed with Christmas albums that stay on the right side of cool and this year have another seasonal gem to add to their festive collection. A Soulful Christmas is Brian Culbertson’s first ‘holiday’ project and although, overall, it is his ninth release the concept is one he has carried with him since day one. Maybe that is why once the project was given the green light the arrangements and music came both quickly and spontaneously. From April 2006 the CD was completed in a very intensive three months period. In this respect the process benefited from the fact that much of the work was done in Culbertson’s state of the art home studio, BCM Studios, and as collaborations with good friends. The result is an album that is brim full of Culbertson’s special musical magic.

Brian Culbertson is an artist and producer always in search of the ‘wow factor’ and he immediately finds it with the multi layered ‘Joy To The World’. The thirty second intro played by a brass quintet of trumpet, piccolo trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba has that delicious feeling of Christmas’s gone by and gives no hint of the soulful take on the song that is to follow. Complete with a gospel choir, great use of horns and BC’s tight piano its Christmas music at its uplifting best. Keeping the tempo high is the mega funky version of ‘Jingle Bells’. A Christmas favorite like you have never heard it before it finds Culbertson veering between swing and funk and underpinning it all with a full blown big band vibe that he engineers from only his own trombone, the sax of Eric Marienthal and the trumpet of Wayne Bergeron. ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’ also has that same big sound but, courtesy of Jorge Evans on guitar, a trombone solo from BC and Jeff Lorber’s Wurlitzer electric piano, is raucous as well while in complete contrast is ‘The First Noel’. Poignant and orchestrally charged it finds Culbertson’s versatility and production genius both in over drive.

‘Deck The Halls’ was arranged by Culbertson with Dave Koz and is played on the album as a vintage piano and sax duet with Warren Hill. It retains the beauty of the original melody but has a subtle contemporary twist. Equally faithful is ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. With all the magic of the traditional tune it features sensational interplay between Culbertson and Peter White whose guitar sounds as unmistakable as ever. Two memorable Culbertson moments are delivered back to back. Although Brian’s wife Michelle has previously appeared on his CD’s as a backing singer she takes the lead for ‘Some Children See Him’. Her classically trained soprano tones are made in heaven for this haunting tune and equally stunning is Culbertson’s simple yet evocative interpretation of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ that features significant percussion from Brian Bromberg, Lennie Castro and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Contender for Secret Garden killer cut is ‘This Christmas’ where BC uses wonderful horns and his own distinctive keys for a hip take on Donny Hathaway’s composition from 1971. However, just shading it is the albums one original composition ‘All Through The Christmas Night’. Oozing with Culbertson’s unique vibe and with a wonderful vocal track from the legendary Michael McDonald this is a modern day Christmas classic in the making.

What is sure to evolve into one of the stand out Christmas albums of all time comes to a fitting and spine tingling conclusion with ‘Silent Night’. The delicate vocals of regular Culbertson contributor Marc Nelson plus the multi tracking sophistication of BC’s production makes this very special indeed. Culbertson sums up ‘A Soulful Christmas’ by reflecting that that the songs included “are about the music that got you excited when you were a kid with your family. Everything you hear on this CD I either played a lot or heard a lot when I was growing up. It’s all things Christmas...wrapped up in one album.”

Now, more than just an album, Brian Culbertson is taking his A Soulful Christmas on the road for a December concert tour. Featuring special guests Bobby Caldwell, Ray Parker Jr. Warren Hill and Eric Darius it will be mixture of Christmas music, some of the artist’s greatest hits and much jamming in the Christmas spirit. For more on the schedule go to www.brianculbertson.com

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 6:55 PM

December 7, 2006

George Benson And Al Jarreau Get 3 Grammy Nominations

Gerald Albright, Chris Botti, Anita Baker, Larry Carlton, Fourplay, Enya, Diana Krall and others also recognized. The 49th annual Grammy Awards will be held Feb. 11 in Los Angeles.

The superstar duo of George Benson and Al Jarreau will have a chance to add some Grammys to their collections as three songs from their CD Givin’ It Up were selected during announcements for the 49th annual Grammy Awards. “Mornin’,” currently the No. 1 smooth jazz song in the country, was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Performance; “Breezin’” for Best R&B Performance By a Duo Or Group With Vocals; and “God Bless the Child,” which features vocalist Jill Scott, for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

"We figured this way of intermingling current-day, contemporary Al and George into these classic pieces of Al Jarreau and George Benson's that people just recognize in a different form," says Jarreau. "But still there we are, and the arrangements are fresh. I dare you to not like it!"

Saxophonist Gerald Albright is nominated for his album New Beginnings in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category. He had more than 20 e-mails of congratulations when he logged onto his laptop after the Grammys were announced. "We went with a lot of the mainstays that I normally use on my previous projects," Albright says. "Like with Paul Jackson on guitar, Patrice Rushen, Jeff Lorber, Teddy Campbell on drums, Tony Moore on drums. We have Melvin Davis on bass and I play bass on a lot of the tracks as well. I have the ‘A’ team on this project. They really put their heart and soul into every note that was played and executed."

Also nominated in that category is Spryo Gyra for Wrapped in a Dream; Larry Carlton for Fire Wire; and Fourplay for Fourplay X.

Carlton knows why the new Fourplay CD is strong. "We think we delivered wonderful product in the past and it all came together," he said, "but we had some discussions months before going in the studio and we all came to the agreement that maybe this time we’ll all be more diligent about having our songs prepared and fairly well arranged. So we don’t spend too much time in the studio just kind of looking for the arrangement. And it made the process obviously go much quicker and much easier."

Vocalist Enya earned Best New Age Album and Best Pop Instrumental Performance nominations for her album Amarantine,” while Diana Krall was recognized for Best Jazz Vocal Album for From This Moment On. “Good Morning Heartache,” a song from Chris Botti’s To Love Again CD featuring vocals by Jill Scott, picked up a Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist nomination for Gil Goldstein and Greg Phillinganes.

Brenda Russell, who co-composed the music to the Broadway musical The Color Purple, was nominated for Best Musical Show Album. Two veteran artists were nominated for songs that are currently on the smooth jazz charts; Natalie Cole as a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Lionel Richie for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “I Call It Love.” Richie will be up against the late Luther Vandross, nominated for the song Got You Home, a new song from this year’s The Ultimate Luther Vandross.

British singer Corrine Bailey Rae, who this had a smooth jazz hit with “Put Your Records On,” saw that song nominated in two categories: Record of the Year and Song of the Year.   She also picked up a nomination for Best New Artist.

Finally, Anita Baker will be competing against Benson and Jarreau in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category for her song “Christmas Time Is Here” from her holiday CD Christmas Fantasy.

The 49th annual Grammy Awards will be held Feb. 11 in Los Angeles.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:59 AM

December 6, 2006

Can't Beat This: Shilts Offers Free Download

Saxophonist Shilts recently called on smooth jazz superstar producer Paul Brown to remix his hit single titled “Look What’s Happened.” Now, for a limited time, Shilts is making the remix available as a free download.

This is a good deal, since the song is easily one of the best of the year.

Shilts, who is also a member of the British group Down to the Bone, earlier this year released his second CD, HeadBoppin, his first for the ARTizen Music Group, the record label co-created by trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Richard Elliot.

Shilts actually wrote the song shortly after his first CD was released five years ago. "It’s gone through many different kinds of arrangements over the years and I kept going back to it," he says. "It’s something I really wanted to go on the album and was really pleased when it was one that Rick and the guys chose."

To get the free download, go to shiltsmusic.com.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:27 AM

December 2, 2006

Earl Klugh At Suncoast

December 1st through 3rd the Suncoast Hotel showroom will host a great weekend special with jazz acoustic guitar great Earl Klugh.

The complete lineup for the Fifteenth Annual City Of Lights Jazz Festival 2007 is as follows:

Friday, April 20th
Stone Soul Picnic
George Duke
Dazz Band
Barkays

Saturday April 21st
Richard Elliot
Peter White
Rick Braun
Jonathon Butler
Hiroshima
Nick Colione
Urban Jazz Coalition
Philippe Saisse

Tickets go on sale nationwide, Saturday, January 27th. Call 1-800-969-VEGAS

*****

On a personal statement I just want to say that although Tower Records is closing down nationwide, the opportunity has never been greater for many indie jazz musicians to step up their online fanbase and make it a an even playing field against corporate programming consultants who have taken every format, and especially smooth jazz, and sterilized them to the point that everything either sounds alike, and very repetitive, and over produced. Long live XM and Sirius.

And forget getting a label deal. An artist really doesn't need one today as much as he did five years ago, or even two years ago.

I would like to be able to identify the individuals today who are playing the instruments in jazz as opposed to just the song. Jazz, not so much traditional or progressive, but smooth, sounds so mass produced to the point that it's becoming a "one-record-fits-all".

Of course it has been the tradition for commercial jazz since the days of Grover Washington Jr. and Winelight that the solos were limiting and the "vibe" was the sale. Well the vibe is still the sale, but at what cost?

And by the way, what happened to Spyro Gyra getting their fair share of airplay? They sound as great as ever. Fourplay? Some airplay gets through. And why does smooth jazz radio have sooooo many Adult Contemporary vocals mixed in that I might as well turn to the local AC station to hear an equal amount of "jazz".

Everette Harp said in an interview some earlier this year that his last producer kept him in line so he would not become so "self-indulgent". Everette, if I were your producer I would encourage you to become more self-indulgent once in awhile. You have the passion and the soul. And that's why I have every CD. But recently I felt you held back from what I am used to from previous recordings. My perception. 'Nuff said for now.

In the meantime have a happy and healthy holiday season. Seeya next year!!!!!

Posted by Danny Desart at 10:35 PM

December 1, 2006

Smooth Jazz Network Poised For Action

The Smooth Jazz Network will have a 24/7 presence in many major radio markets in the U.S. DJs include Ramsey Lewis, Dave Koz, Kenny G, Norman Brown and Paul Hardcastle.

The consulting company Broadcast Architecture, which for years has conducted audience research that suggest what music its partner smooth jazz radio stations play, will in January unveil its own programming: Smooth Jazz Networks. The network is now in pre-launch mode, with full-time talent on the air beginning Dec. 4 in 10 markets across the U.S. Weekend shows begin in January, when the full launch is scheduled.

SJN, which has selected Renee DePuy as program director, will have some of smooth jazz’s top artists as radio hosts, including Ramsey Lewis, Dave Koz, Kenny G, Norman Brown and Paul Hardcastle.

The pre-launch of the network is already underway with Ramsey Lewis' morning show on the air at WNUA Chicago, WLVE Miami, WDSJ Dayton, KIJZ Portland, KMYT Temecula and KABQ in Albuquerque. Smooth Jazz format veteran, evening host Annie Ashe, is also on the air at WNUA Chicago, WZJZ Ft. Myers, WDSJ Dayton, KMYT Temecula, KIJZ Portland and KABQ in Albuquerque.

Clear Channel’s Broadcast Architecture is led by company president Allen Kepler, who Billboard once described as an “evangelist” for the smooth jazz format.

Kenny G, for one, is pumped. “I am really excited to be a part of this new network,” he says. “I think it is a great way for me to personally be in touch with the people around the country that have supported my music for many years. Allen Kepler’s enthusiasm is addictive and I look forward to working with him to create something new and exciting on a national level. This is going to be a wonderful collaboration, but the most important thing is that we are all going to be sharing a lot of good music with the entire country.”

Here’s the lineup for the Smooth Jazz Network:

Monday through Friday
6 a.m.-10 a.m. Ramsey Lewis
10 a.m.-3 p.m. Miranda Wilson
3 p.m.-7 p.m. Dave Koz
7 p.m.-midnight. Annie Ashe
Midnight-6 a.m. Billy Raven

Weekends
6 a.m.-10 a.m. Brian Culbertson
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Kenny G
2 p.m.-7p.m. Norman Brown
7 p.m.-midnight. Paul Hardcastle
Midnight-6 a.m. Billy Raven

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:58 PM