Kirk Whalum has engaged in a happy artistic schizophrenia since For You, his first recording exclusively featuring colorful interpretations of contemporary pop and soul tunes — that’s a nice way to say “cover songs” - became the best selling release of his career in 1998. Since then, while also pursuing a successful career in jazz gospel, he has followed highly personal statements like Unconditional and Into My Soul with The Babyface Songbook, covering well-known chart toppers from the prolific R&B/pop composer.
Roundtrip, the saxophonist’s latest disc on Rendezvous Music, is his most joyously scattered date yet, mixing songs we know well, old tunes we’ve never heard but should have and cool new tracks featuring Whalum family members, fellow contemporary jazz icons Jeff Golub, Gerald Albright and Earl Klugh, R&B singer Shanice and fluidly cool spoken word poetry by “Tootie” from “The Facts Of Life” (a now grown up Kim Fields).
This is crazy all over the map fun, for sure, but for those willing to take the passionate and funky journey, there’s a method to his madness as he celebrates 22 years since his debut album Floppy Disk — and 23 since Bob James introduced Whalum to the world on his last Columbia disc, titled 12.
Though the saxman says the idea of covering himself started as something of a half-joke, he quickly realized that refashioning some of his old songs would lay a nice foundation for a project that’s both retrospective and forward thinking. He pays homage to influential icons like Grover Washington, Jr. (this time on the bouncy old school grooving “Big Ol’ Shoes,” written with producer Rex Rideout) while also acknowledging the modern influence of rap on R&B music (with the help of his nephew “Caleb The Bridge” on “Back In The Day”).
The title Round Trip is also a reference to the frequent flyer miles Whalum racked up doing sessions for the album with top genre producers Rex Rideout and Philippe Saisse, in addition to James McMillan, who has helmed projects for various American Idols and recorded the Prague Symphony Orchestra (in the Czech Republic!) to heighten the drama on a newfangled, heavy bottomed take on Whalum’s early radio hit “Desperately.” Tracking was done everywhere from Whalum’s current home base and original hometown of Memphis to East Sussex, U.K., Atlanta, New York, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
“As hectic as all this studio hopping was, it’s the perfect reflection of all the moves I’ve made with my family over the years,” says Whalum. “We started in Memphis, went to Houston, then Pasadena, Paris and Nashville before making the real round trip back home. I’m grateful to be around and still making music. Nothing’s guaranteed in this business and I’m always looking for new ways to stay relevant to what’s going on. The smooth jazz format has stagnated to some degree now, and the last thing I want to do is make a typical album whose only goal is being ‘radio friendly.’ I want to evolve and reflect something of substance. I had to ask myself, what’s more important, a #1 smooth jazz hit or a record that means something to me. The answer is obvious.”
Two standout tracks capture the heart and soul of what Whalum was aiming for on Roundtrip. The first is his crisp and balmy cover of “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby,” a song he wrote and originally played on the James album whose inspiration then and now is his wife of 27 years. Then there’s the Whalum family jam happening on the high spirited title track, which finds Kirk tradin’ fours with his 23 year old sax playing nephew Kenneth and his bassist son Kyle (also 23) as his Uncle “Peanuts” and brother Kevin contribute Al Jarreau-like wordless vocals.
“Concerning ‘Ruby, I remember writing that song in our little apartment on a Wurlitzer piano when we were both still in college,” Whalum says. “We have an empty nest now, but after all these years, it's nice to think I wrote this song for my girlfriend, who is now my wife and the mother of my children. I start the album even further back, with a song I never recorded that I wrote for my daughter ‘Courtney,’ who was a baby then but is now 29! It was fun finding fresh vibes for ‘Glow’ and ‘The Wave’ with Philippe and ‘Afterthought’ with Rex as well. But the real joy of this project hands down was working with the whole family. For me, this brings the trip home both literally and spiritually.
“When I hear my nephew Kenneth play and watch him soak in everything and memorize old Coltrane solos,” he adds, “I realize he’s starting on the journey I’ve been on for 36 years now. When I was his age, I was hanging out in Nice, France in James Moody’s hotel room, asking the master to show me how it’s done. If we ever get to the point where jazz is just a product to be sold, this cross-generational magic will be lost. I’m here to make sure it survives.”
Whalum purists who would rather hear his classic hits as they were done back in the day will enjoy Ultimate Kirk Whalum, a newly released Mosaic Contemporary collection of 12 gems from his career that includes the still vivacious original versions of “Desperately” and “The Wave.” The disc was compiled and produced by Matt Pierson, former VP of Jazz at Warner Bros. who guided Whalum to his greatest creative and commercial heights on that label in the late 90s.
Always willing to help out a brilliantly talented labelmate, Whalum brings his rich, urgent tenor color to the bluesy, Ramsey Lewis-styled “Juicy,” one of the best tracks on Above The Clouds, pianist and keyboardist Brian Simpson’s exuberant second release on Rendezvous. A familiar presence to genre fans for years as music director for Dave Koz and the ringleader on many of the recent popular smooth jazz cruises, Simpson broke out as a solo artist in 2005 with It’s All Good. The disc’s title track hit #1 on the Radio & Records Airplay chart and remained in the Top 5 for four months; his follow-up single “Saturday Cool” went Top 15. The first single from Above The Clouds is the similarly happy “What Cha Gonna Do?” but Simpson has a lot of more significant, deeper expressions to offer, including the title track (essentially a duet with George Duke’s vibes and mini-Moog), the haunting meditation “Memories Of You” and the soulful acoustic quartet closer “That’s Right,” featuring some parting tenor genius from the late, great Michael Brecker.
1) Lalo Schifrin & Friends (Aleph Records) – The legendary pianist and film composer — who just scored Rush Hour 3! - gets back to his traditional jazz roots with this thoughtful and vibrant, highly improvisational jam session of classics and originals with a spirited all-star ensemble of Brian Bromberg, Alex Acuna, Dennis Budumir, James Morrison and the great James Moody.
2) Suzy Bogguss, Sweet Danger (LDR Records)
3) Les Sabler, Sweet Drive (The Music Force Media Group)
4) Jim Brickman, Homecoming (SLG Music)
5) Peabo Bryson, Missing You (Peak Records)
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In the liner notes for his new CD Chasing The Sun sax-man Mark Hollingsworth offers the view that in recent years a lot of music, including certain kinds of jazz, has become pretty rigid and very predictable. He compares this to the days of his youth when, growing up listening to radio in Chicago, he was able to access a wide variety of styles and genres. Now, as the culmination of a lifetime search to embrace the richness of good music that is unfettered by boundaries or limitations, he has written and produced fourteen of the most diverse tracks found on any single CD this year. In so doing Hollingsworth has delivered a contemporary jazz album that possesses a level of intelligence way above the norm.
The collection opens with ‘Spirit Of Adventure’ which, from its complex intro, smoothes into a passionate slice of ‘on the money’ contemporary jazz. The tune is further enhanced by a terrific organ solo from Curtis Brengle while for ‘Open Throttle’ Hollingsworth allows his full rich sound to take centre stage. Jazzy in an accessible kind of a way it’s a cut that establishes a theme for much of the album and which next emerges with ‘Spice Of Life’. Bill Armstrong on trumpet and Nick Lane on trombone provide the funky backing and in fact Hollingsworth cleverly takes the groove on which the track is built to create ‘Crawfish Pie’ that, unsurprisingly, is replete with influences right out of New Orleans. Later he also harvests the groove from the moody and exotic ‘Darwin’s Voyage’ for the equally atmospheric ‘Stowaway’ which, given adequate imagination, could well evoke reflections of square riggers on warm Pacific waters.
The bluesy introduction to ‘A Higher Plane’ paves the way for a stomping upbeat roller coaster ride while ‘Undercurrents’ is structured around a complex labyrinth of rhythms that at times are soothing and at others invigorating. ‘Doing My Own Thing’ finds Hollingsworth doing just that. In a virtuoso performance he slips effortlessly between tenor, alto and baritone sax and when he switches to flute for ‘Sambarosa’ he weaves a delicious Latin spell that is a joy to behold. The title of ‘Tropic Breeze’ says it all as Hollingsworth’s charming playing suggests the swaying of palm trees and the rushing of surf. It is one of the album’s standouts and another comes with the title track. Latin spiced, and with an intro that would not be out of place on the soundtrack to a ‘Bond’ movie, it evolves into a shimmering melodic delight that is sure to find favour amongst radio audiences. That said the first cut under consideration for airplay is ‘High Velocity’. With Armstrong and Lane again providing a big and brassy foundation the energy is always high and tempered only by Hollingsworth whose tone, on occasions, takes on an intoxicatingly soulful vibe.
Chasing The Sun sets Mark Hollingsworth apart as someone who is daring to be different. Consequently it’s refreshing that the album is catching the attention of traditional jazz stations as well as those of contemporary and smooth jazz persuasion. Given that several have already added three or more tracks to their play-lists, the chances are Hollingsworth is set for quite a 2008. For more go to www.markhollingsworth.com
Kenny G is joining Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell as the latest artist to have their music for sale at Starbucks. Kenny’s Rhythm & Romance will be offered at Starbucks stores and traditional outlets as part of the fruitful partnership between Starbucks Entertainment and Concord Records.
In November, Kenny and his longtime record label Arista parted ways after the saxophonist’s I’m in the Mood for Love … The Most Romantic Ballads of All Time. The saxophonist's association with Starbucks makes sense. Kenny is a Seattle native who was one of the original investors in the Seattle-based company and is actually a co-owner. A few years ago, Starbucks sponsored Kenny’s tour in the Far East, where the saxophonist helped promote coffee sales.
Kenny says he invested in Starbucks when it just a small company in Seattle, largely due to the charm of then-CEO Howard Schultz. "When it was a privately owned in Seattle, it was owned by just a handful of people that knew about Starbucks," Kenny says. "Everybody knew that Starbucks had really great coffee, and the CEO at that time, he’s such a charismatic guy and so passionate. That's why I invested in the company. I felt that he had a great product. This was a guy that I felt was a winner."
On Rhythm & Romance, Kenny is backed by his longtime pianist Walter Afanasieff, who also produced the CD, as well as Alex Acuña on drums, Ramon Stagnaro on guitar, Enrique Martinez on accordion, John Pena and Nathan East of Fourplay on bass, and Michito Sanchez and Paulino Da Costa on percussion. Chile's Barbara Munoz and Camila supply guest vocals. Songs includes classic selections such as “Besame Mucho” and “Sabor a Mi,” as well as “Brasilia,” “Peruvian Nights,” “Fiesta Loca” and "Salsa Kenny.”
Rhythm and Romance will be available at Starbucks and at retail stores and online on Feb. 5.
Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Over the last twenty years the compelling hooks and immodestly rich tones of sax-man Eric Marienthal have ensured his music has remained on the cutting edge of the very best in smooth jazz. Now, with his new CD Just Around The Corner, which hit record stores across the USA on October 16, he is back and better than ever with ten original tunes plus wonderful collaborations in the company of some of the best writers, producers and performers that the genre has to offer.
In fact the scene is set from the very first cut as Marienthal combines with Brian Culbertson for the lusciously mid temp ‘Blue Water’. Co-written and produced by Culbertson, the tune glistens with injections of his distinctive keys and it’s another Marienthal – Culbertson number, the tranquil ‘Lost Without You’, which closes out this excellent album. Sandwiched between is a riotous collection of ‘full on’ smooth jazz that befits the credentials Marienthal earned while with The Rippingtons and ensures that both the title song and the uplifting ‘Times Square’ pass by in an energetic haze. Each of these Stephen Lu produced tracks feature the excellent Michael O’Neill on guitar and the threesome is back, first for the mid tempo ‘Ocean Front’ and again with ‘I Believe In You’ where Marienthal’s playing takes a more tender yet none less attractive path.
Marienthal first worked with Jeff Lorber in 1991 on the Oasis CD and here his contribution on ‘Flower Child’ ensures a smooth masterpiece that is both sultry and catchy. When Lorber returns for ‘Your Move’ his presence on keys is huge and, with Paul Brown featuring on acoustic guitar, the songs understatedly jazzy opening gives no hint of the heights to which Marienthal’s urgent delivery ultimately drives it. ‘Open Road’ is yet another supercharged tour de force that finds Marienthal at his immaculate best. Michael Stever plays trumpet, the inimitable Ray Parker Jr. is on guitar and with Brian Culbertson multi tasking between trombone and keyboards they together blow up quite a storm.
Perhaps the tune that best defines Just Around The Corner, and indeed Marienthal’s own special style, is the edgy ‘Dance With Me’. Co-written by Lu, Culbertson and Marienthal it fizzes with vitality throughout and is right up there with the best tracks of the year. Replete with smooth jazz of the highest order and without a cover in sight Just Around The Corner is well worth trying. For more go to www.ericmarienthal.com.
Here are one person's picks for Top 10 smooth jazz CDs of the year. Some are more jazz than smooth jazz, such as Jeff Lorber's He Had a Hat and Marcos Ariel's 4 Friends. Some are classic smooth jazz, such as R&R by newcomer Marcus H. Mitchell. Others simply defy categorization, such as Four80East's En Route, which stood head and shoulders above the rest. Whatever they share or don't share, they all have one thing in common: They are damn fine CDs.
1. Four80East, En Route (Native Language)
2. U-Nam, Back From The 80's (Trippin N Rhythm)
3. Euge Groove, Born 2 Groove (Narada)
4. Jeff Golub, Grand Central (Narada)
5. Keiko Matsui, Moyo (Shout Factory)
6. Brian Simpson, Above the Clouds (Rendezvous)
7. Brian Bromberg, Downright Upright (Artistry)
8. Marcos Ariel, 4 Friends (Tenure)
9. Jeff Lorber, He Had a Hat (Narada)
10. Marcus H. Mitchell, R&R (24th)
Brian Culbertson brings his Soulful Christmas review to the Boulder Station Hotel, Friday, December 14th. The show features an all-star cast consisting of saxman Gerald Albright, vocalist Howard Hewett, guitarist Nick Colionne, and introducing vocalist Victoria White.
Audiences are guaranteed to be in the holiday spirit after experiencing BRIAN CULBERTSON’S A SOULFUL CHRISTMAS! In typical Brian Culbertson fashion, the show features uplifting and soulful performances of holiday favorites and tunes from Brian’s holiday album, A SOULFUL CHRISTMAS (in stores now)! In addition, Brian and his guests will play hits from their respective catalogues.
“I am thrilled to be taking A SOULFUL CHRISTMAS on the road for the second year in a row,” said Culbertson. “I can’t wait to share the stage with this talented group of musicians to celebrate the Holiday season!”
Smooth jazz guitarist Nils hopes to brighten your holidays by offering a brand-new rendition of “Jingle Bells.” There’s only one place you can get it, however, and that’s at his MySpace page at myspace.com/nilsguitar. Nils is offering the seasonal song as a 99-cent download. Nils’ current Smooth Jazz single is titled “Catnap.” It’s from his latest CD, Ready to Play. The guitarist is now firming up dates for 2008 and already has shows planned in Las Vegas; San Diego; Dayton, Ohio; and San Juan Capistrano, California.
The top notch horn section of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns has been recruited by Bette Midler, and will be part of her orchestra when the legendary performer makes her debut at Caesar's Palace in 2008, replacing Celine Deon. The horn section is already in New York for rehearsals, but fear not for vacancy in the Santa Fe funk band. The second line of horns are just as fabulous and talented, and have kept the stature of the band in the "A" level of musicianship.
The Squirral Nut Zippers, one of the few kickin' high profile swing bands still on tour, perform two big nights at the Red Rock Station Hotel on December 14th and 15th. The band came to notoriety around the same time as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, both bands also still performing several dates a year.
The memorial for jazz saxophonist / arranger Irv Gordon will be held at the E-String Grill in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon, December 8th. Several notable musicians, friends, and family will be in attendance to honor this great jazz musician with popular stories and an ongoing jam session throughout the day.
Written by The Jazz Gypsy
Saturday December 8, 2007, One show only - 8pm
1665 Mc Cadden Place
3:00 pm – Drum Clinic with Abe Laboriel Jr.
4:30 pm – Final Competition, Carlos Vega Memorial Drum Scholarship
8:00 pm – Concert – One show only!
Every year, some of the greatest singers and musicians on the West Coast come together to pay musical tribute to their long lost friend and drummer extraordinaire, Carlos Vega. People come from all over the world and usually some of Carlos's family and friends attend as well.
The 2007 line-up of artists include Jim Keltner, Abe Laboriel Jr., Tom Brechtlein, & Forrest Robinson (drums); Demy Dias, Lee Ritenour, James Harrah (Guitar); John Pena , Carlitos Del Puerto (Bass); Lenny Castro, Richie Garcia, Mayuto Correa, Chris Trujilo (Percussion); Alex Ligterwood, Leslie Smith, James Felix, Moon Calhoun, Rosemary Butler (vocals); Larry Klimas, Bill Bergman (sax); Harry Kim, Walt Fowler (trumpet); Dori Cayimi, Adrian Tapia, Jimmy Earl, Amanda Maiden and “Government Cheese,” featuring Lexi Vega. And like each previous Tribute, even more surprise guest will be in attendance.
Last year was the first time I attended “The Tribute”. Initially, I was going because one of my favorite musicians, trumpeter Greg Adams, was performing. Adams was just one of over 25 artists on the line-up and he was the only musician I was familiar with. So the day before the concert, I decided to “Google” the other artists on the line-up. To my surprise and delight, my “Google” search revealed that everyone in the line-up had a very long and stellar musical lineage. Who knew? I didn’t. So now, I was stoked about not just seeing Greg Adams but the other artists as well. Thank you Google!
Last years’ Tribute was awesome. The ample-size stage was so crowded that the musicians had to play in shifts. And, best of all, the whole concert was an out-and-out jam session, with David Garfield at the helm both performing and orchestrating. I don’t know about you but sometimes I tire of seeing the well-scripted and rehearsed performances that are the mainstay of the smooth jazz circuit. Just because I like smooth jazz it doesn’t mean that I have divorced myself from the roots in which it sprang. Those roots include spontaneity, stretching out beyond the planned routine and delivering something fresh and in the moment. That’s what happens at the Carlos Vega Memorial Concert and why I say the event is a rare treat for anyone that loves good music.
VIP seating is available online at Ticket Web or visit creatchy.com to pre-purchase the best seats which are being held on a first come, first serve basis. Tickets will be available at the door the night of the show, subject to availability. All VIP (prepaid) ticket holders can attend the drum clinic and competition for free.
There will be many equipment giveaways, raffle items and a silent auction going on all day. Auction items include drums, cymbals and a DW drum set.
About Carlos Vega
Carlos Vega, (December 7, 1956 – April 7, 1998), was born in Cuba and brought to the U.S. at an early age. He grew up in L.A. with many major session musicians and went to high school with Mike Landau, Jeff Porcaro, and Steve Lukather. In 1975 he co-formed a band called Karizma with his close friend David Garfield. Vega, a Los Angeles-based session drummer, was best known for his studio recordings and tours with James Taylor.
Jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour was among the first to recognize Vega's talent and hire the young drummer to record and perform professionally. Ritenour also recommended Vega to Taylor when the latter needed a new drummer in the mid-'80s.
Sources report that besides his work with Taylor -- which included the studio releases "Never Die Young," "New Moon Shine," and "Hourglass," plus Taylor's "(Live)" album -- Vega had recorded and/or performed with Freddy Hubbard, Boz Scaggs, Lee Ritenour, Vince Gill, Reba McIntire, Olivia Newton-John (including the "Grease" soundtrack), Larry Carlton, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, and Randy Newman. To read more about Vega: http://www.james-taylor.com/sbj/issue3/carlos.shtml
All proceeds from The Tribute will go to The Carlos Vega Memorial Drum Scholarship.
The Jazz Gypsy Tip: Tired of the monotonous performances on the smooth jazz circuit? The Carlos Vega Annual Memorial Birthday Tribute is the antidote!