Contempo August 2008

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SteveTyrell.jpgSteve Tyrell has spent the better part of the last ten years spreading the gospel of The Great American Songbook, wowing thousands of fans across the country with his gravelly voiced magic and scoring Top 5 hits on the Billboard Traditional Jazz chart with his collections A New Standard, Standard Time, This Time Of Year and This Guy�s In Love. He also added a touch of class to his multi-decade pop producing resume with a Grammy win for Rod Stewart�s Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Volume III, which hit #1 on the Billboard 200; the Tyrell produced follow-up Thanks For The Memory, reached #2. This quite unexpected whirlwind phase of his career happened by request after Tyrell sang the closing credit numbers on the soundtracks he produced for the hit Steve Martin comedies Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride 2.

Fans of Tyrell the vocal interpreter are always amazed when the Texas native reaches back nearly 40 years for some precious pop anecdotes from his early days in New York when he was in charge of A&R and promotion for Scepter Records. Working side by side with the legendary songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, he not only placed their songs in the movies that made them famous but also brought his pal B.J. Thomas to pop culture consciousness via �Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,� which Tyrell produced. Tyrell also enjoys telling a story about Dionne Warwick, who changed �Message to Martha� to the much more recognizable, female point of view hit it became, �Message to Michael.�

While Tyrell brought tons of charm, heart and soul to his previous two bestsellers Songs of Sinatra and Disney Standards, this colorful foundational history gives Back To Bacharach, his debut on his own New Design Records (distributed by Koch), a more personal touch that brings his multi-faceted career full circle. The lushly arranged fourteen track recording, a dreamy trip back to a golden era in pop music and a compendium of the songwriting duo�s legendary hits, features Bacharach himself on the sensually melancholy �I Just Don�t Know What To Do With Myself� and co-producing a fresh twist on �This Guy�s In Love,� which has the original artist, Herb Alpert, chiming in with his unmistakable trumpet. Bacharach also appears on the all-star collective �What The World Needs Now� with a cast of stars including Rod Stewart, Dionne Warwick, James Taylor and Martina McBride. Picking up Warwick�s mantle elsewhere is the graceful power of Patti Austin, who duets beautifully with Tyrell on �I Say A Little Prayer� (which earned Tyrell his first gold record, done coolly this time from the guy�s POV) and a gently soulful take on �Don�t Make Me Over.�

While the songs on Back To Bacharach remind Tyrell of a joyful time in his life when he was a kid making pop history at the start of his career, the inherent sadness in some of them cuts deeper than it did back then due to the death of Stephanie, Tyrell�s wife and frequent songwriting/producing partner of 25 years, in 2003. The previous year, Tyrell was all set to do his big Bacharach-David tribute and called Bacharach in to work on several tracks. When Stephanie was diagnosed with cancer, the singer put everything on hold, completed This Guy�s In Love with other standards he�d already recorded and spent the last 18 months of his wife�s life by her side. Stephanie Tyrell died the day before This Guy�s In Love was released; Burt Bacharach and James Ingram performed �A House Is Not A Home� at her memorial service. The proceeds of the new version of �What The World Needs Now� will go to the National Colorectal Research Alliance (NCCRA) in remembrance of Stephanie and Jay Monahan, the late husband of TV journalist Katie Couric who died of the same disease.

�When I made my first few albums,� the singer says, �I was always happy, living the good life and celebrating this amazing marriage and musical partnership. I certainly didn�t know the pain I know now and all these great songs that Burt and Hal wrote resonate with me in a way they couldn�t have at any other time � particularly �I Just Don�t Know What To Do With Myself� and �A House Is Not A Home.� They�re just such heartbreaking songs and I could feel them differently because my world was now open to brokenheartedness. Even over four years later, they�re still painful for me to perform sometimes, yet in a good way, they�re also so cathartic. People hear me sing them and the ones who have �been there� know just what I�m trying to convey and what Burt and Hal meant forty years ago when they wrote them. �

Having finally gotten Back To Bacharach out of his emotional system, Tyrell finds himself at a unique crossroads. He can always return to the Songbook, but his Texas roots may come out next in a country-themed record. He also worked a lot early on in his career with Allen Toussaint and Dr. John and may head thematically to New Orleans. No matter the direction of future recordings, however, Tyrell will always be in the business of making old songs everybody loves sound as cool as the first time we heard them. �I consider the Bacharach-David songs the next generation of the Great American Songbook, rooted in the timeless influence of Gershwin,� he says. �These tunes and the songs I�ve done on my earlier albums have a certain elegance and romanticism to them that most of today�s music doesn�t have. The writers who composed them were wearing suits and sportcoats to the session, not jogging clothes. I have to confess that before I recorded those tracks for Father of the Bride, I was a rock and roll kid at heart and didn�t know a lot of the treasures of the Songbook. But I quickly fell in love with the songs and they fell in love with me. We rock kids thought we were so cool growing up in the 60s, but these artists that came before that, Billie, Duke and Louis Armstrong, they�re the ones that invented cool.�

With the release of Tales From The Beach, Incognito�s debut on Heads Up Records, the hard grooving, ever-evolving U.K. based collective closes in on three decades of fusing American R&B, the coolest aspects of the famed acid jazz movement and the exotic influences of musicians from around the globe. The ensemble�s supremely funky, old school vibe was perfectly captured by the title of their 2004 Narada jazz disc Adventures In Black Sunshine, which makes the summery title of their latest jam all the more curious � till we discover that group founder and sonic mastermind, guitarist Jean-Paul �Bluey� Maunick, is talking about the shores of his native island Mauritius (off the coast of Madagascar). �When I was a kid,� he says, �my first taste of music came from those beaches. I spent a lot of time listening to the hotel bands or the bands playing around the bonfires and cookouts. There were beaches everywhere and I was always watching live musicians play. So for inspiration for this album, I went back to various beaches around the world� in Italy, Indonesia and elsewhere � and just let the music flow.� Maunick�s colorful, bouncy guitar, Francis Hylton�s jumping basslines, cool 70s soul atmospheres and sizzling horn accents are the foundation for stories sung by a batch of sensual soul singers: Maysa (a longtime part of the Incognito experience and popular solo artist who leads on four tracks), Joy Rose, Tony Momrelle and Imaani. While most of their tracks feature solo performances, the four of them team up for the high spirited anthem �Feel The Pressure� that sums up the happy ensemble action Incognito is legendary for.

Personal Taste
1) Sekou Bunch, The Next Level (Trippin N Rhythm) � The famed session bassist and recent Survivor contestant makes an explosive, edgy and funky bid for Wayman Tisdale-styled smooth jazz stardom with this fun-filled debut featuring Boney James, George Duke, Everette Harp and Sheila E.
2) Don Immel, Long Way Home (Elemental Music)
3) Ludovico Einaudi, Divenire (Ponderosa Music & Art)
4) Gail Jhonson, Pearls (NuGroove Music)
5) Thom Rotella 4-tet, Out of the Blues (Thom Rotella Music)