April 30, 2008

What We're Listening To * April

P E T E R * B O E H I

Derwin Daniels - Journey (2007)
Saxophone player Derwin Daniels delivers a really smooth instrumental album full of catchy melodies and contemporary grooves, well produced and well played, definitely worthy of your time. Check it out!

Bohm Witman Project - My Funny Valentine (2008)
Trumpeter Jim Bohm and saxophonist Ken Witman present their debut CD, a groove-oriented acoustic jazz recording with spirited soloing and a good selection of material, they even tackle "Funkin' For Jamaica". Very recommended!

Dirk K - Dirk K Plays Jobim (2008)
Guitar player Dirk K dishes up some mighty fine acoustic guitar playing interpreting the music of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, the gentle bossa tunes in a contemporary jazz setting are a breath of fresh air.

Jamhunters - Music Speaks Louder Than Words (2008)
This great band hails from Copenhagen and comes up with a polished, groovy and ultra-cool contemporary jazz album with lots of chill/lounge elements, the band is fronted by Peter Michael on keys and Lars Fabiansen on guitar who deliver some outstanding solos. Thumbs up!

Rodney Franklin - You'll Never Know (1980)
Going down memory lane I would like to point out this beautiful album by keyboard player Rodney Franklin that has become a true classic, the track "The Groove" is one of my all-time favorites, it has been released on CD (along with "In The Center") so get it and be delighted again!

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

Tom Scott, Cannon Re-Loaded (Concord Records) (2008)

Jessy J, Tequila Moon (Peak Records) (2008)

Dee Brown, No Time to Waste (Nu Groove Records) (2007)

Afro Elements, It Remains to Be Seen (Freestyle) (2008)

Bob Baldwin, NewUrbanJazz.com (Nu Groove Records) (2008)

D E N I S * P O O L E

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

Chris Standring, Love and Paragraphs

Brian Culbertson, Bringing Back The Funk

Mindi Abair, Stars

Jessy J, Tequila Moon

Michael McDonald, Soul Speak.

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

Gerald Veasley, Your Move, 2008

Rippingtons, The Best of the Rippingtons, 1995

Chieli Minucci, Slice of Life

Gil Parris, Strength

Wayman Tisdale, Way Up

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

Brian Culbertson, Bringing Back the Funk (Verve)

Chris Standring, Love & Paragraphs (Ultimate Vibes)

Sam Barsh, I Forgot What You Taught Me (RazDaz)

Gerald Veasley, Your Move (Heads Up)

Lawson Rollins, Infinita (Infinita)

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 12:30 PM

April 29, 2008

Ken Navarro Offers Free Stream Of New CD

Navarro2006.jpgGuitarist Ken Navarro, in a first for a smooth jazz artist and in an attempt to get his music heard by as many people as possible, is making his upcoming CD The Grace of Summer Light available for streaming more than a month before its official release. Navarro says that the best way for his fans to understand what he’s accomplished with his new music, and to follow the story he’s telling with these compositions, is to hear the CD in its entirety. Of course, he’s also hoping that those who hear it will then want to purchase it.

You can listen to the entire 10-song CD in high-quality audio by going to kennavarro.com. The official release date for The Grace of Summer Light is June 17. That will be proceeded, however, by the exclusive download release beginning May 5 on kennavarro.com.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 7:40 PM

April 27, 2008

Jason Miles & DJ Logic Join Forces to Obliterate Borders on New Shanachie CD Global Noize

All-Star CD Serves Up An Intoxicating Brew of Jazz, Electronica Funk and World Music Featuring Some of Music's Most Creative Players:  Meshell Ndegeocello, Billy Martin (Medeski, Marin & Wood) , Vernon Reid (Living Colour), John Popper (Blues Traveler) Cyro Baptista (Herbie Hancock), Bernie Worrell (Talking Heads, Parliament Funk), Karl Denson (Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Lenny Kravtiz), Christian Scott & Others

The signs are everywhere: MTV launches a channel on the Arabian Television Network. African hip-hop groups mix the postures and style of American rappers with homegrown lyrical messages and M.I.A., a Sri Lankan refugee now living in Brooklyn, scores one of the year's most critically acclaimed albums - sound bites recorded around the world mixed in an electronica blender with hip hop beats. Multi-tasking cell phones, cheap lap tops, Kindle Ebooks, YouTube, internet radio, and of course the multifaceted internet itself, have engendered a cultural interchange of unprecedented scope and speed. Music, which resonates across every cultural barrier, leads the charge. The result is a grand "global noise," a spectacular sea of interchanging and mutating beats, sounds and melodies from all directions. It is precisely that reality that Jason Miles and DJ Logic set out to capture with their collaboration Global Noize. Keyboard extraordinaire Jason Miles, who has worked with everyone from Miles Davis and Luther Vandross to Ivan Lins, and Turntable guru DJ Logic, who has collaborated with diverse artists like Phish, Vernon Reid, ?uestlove and Don Byron, join forces on Global Noize to create a thrilling mix of free-wheeling tracks that take listeners on a wide-ranging journey through the minds of some of creative music's most innovative musicians such as Meshell Ndegeocello, Billy Martin (Medeski, Marin & Wood) , Vernon Reid (Living Color), John Popper (Blues Traveler), Cyro Baptista (Herbie Hancock), Bernie Worrell (Talking Heads, Parliament Funk), Karl Densen (Tiny Universe, Lenny Kravtiz).

"This is a special project as the world is a Global Noize and we need to come together in difficult times and great music has the power to do this," states Grammy Award-winning and Emmy nominated keyboardist, producer and composer Jason Miles. "The artists and musicians on the project represent a great diversity and this is what the world is really about. The beauty in this diversity is something that we all need to appreciate."
Global Noize is a project that has long been brewing in Jason Miles' mind but the idea was solidified when he got a call from friend his DJ Logic last year to join him for a performance at the Blue Note in NY. "On that day I had a horrible root canal and was mourning the loss of a close relative. I thought that this could be just the tonic I needed to pick myself up," recalls Miles. The night was exactly what Miles had hoped and from this experience he knew that he and Logic had a special connection.  The duo later worked together in Morocco at The Casablanca Jazz Festival and had the opportunity to venture off to Marrakech. Miles shares, "We went through life-altering experiences. It was so new to us - mysterious, crazy and another view of the world. We both knew we had to make this project happen. The picture on the CD cover of the both of us with the camel in the desert says it all!"
Global Noize is an organic, free-spirited sonic brew of some of the best elements of jazz, funk, electronica and world fusion – it is music without borders.
Miles says, "We started with Cyro Baptista and Billy Martin jamming in the studio and built up the tracks from there. Logic and I pooled our musical resources and had some of the best cutting-edge artists play on the record."  From the album's opening track, "A Jam 4 Joe" (dedicated to the late piano/keyboard wizard Joe Zawinul) to its concluding statements on "What I know," Global Noize takes listeners on a mind-bending, global adventure featuring all original compositions.
"A Jam 4 Joe" features Logic and Miles along with guitar wizard and founding member of Living Colour, guitarist Vernon Reid, musical chamelon and bass player Meshell Ndegeocello, percussion maestro Cyro Baptista and the stunning Indian vocal diva Falu.  The groove is relentless and is supercharged with magnetic energy. Bernie Worrell joins the mix on "Spice Island' playing the clavinet and organ. Worrell, who is best known for his contributions to George Clinton's Parliament Funk and The Talking Heads, lays down a serious funk heavy groove that reverberates throughout the track.  The slow-burning "The Souk" highlights Falu and Blues Traveler's John Popper on the Harmonica in a seductive dance with one another, along with percussionist Braheim. "We were lucky to get John Popper on a  day off in NYC," adds Miles. "He just kills on the ‘Souk!'" "Quera Dancar/I Wanna Dance With You" is a cool breezy Bossa Nova that beckons you to move your hips and dance to the music's delight along with Brazilian bombshell and chanteause Vanessa Fallabella, celebrated Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo and season jazz bassists James Genus.
Global Noize, which DJ Logic describes as "a hip and eclectic musical journey crossing all boundaries," further delights with such tracks as "Dar'abesque" (named after the villa Miles and Logic inhabited in Marrakech) featuring trumpet icon Herb Albert. "When I got the track back from Herb Alpert," confides Jason Miles, "I knew that any musician who had imagination and a great musical voice would love to be a part of this. Herb just really brought the track to life. "Bollyhood" is an ear catching trip-hoppy track showcasing the haunting vocals of Falu and "Planetery Beat" joins multi-instrumentalist Karl Denson and guitarist Dean Brown together for a soul jazz romp with killer break-beats and groovin' horn riffs. "Having Karl Denson involved with this album made us happy because we knew there would be great playing, brilliant horn arrangements as well as fantastic compositions all at the same time."  Christian Scott is showcased on "Exotic Thoughts," an ethereal meandering piece featuring the young hot trumpeter along with guitarist Carl Burnett and Tabla player Suphala while "Pool of Honey" is as sweet as its title with its uptempo swinging melody and feel good vibe featuring Burnett and Suphala once again along with Karl Denson on flute. "Christian Scott is one of the most exciting young artists on the scene," states Miles. "He really stepped up and showed  what a young cat at the beginning of his career has got going on."  "Spin Cycle," brings back a 70s funk flavor with its insatiable drum licks from Gene Lake and  "What I Know" features spoken word artists Aline Racine.
Jason Miles concludes "When I hear music I love I want to be involved with it. It would be boring for me to stay in one place musically so I love to explore different music. I know Miles Davis felt that way and I'm just trying to  keep the grooves hot, the melodies great and collaborate with the best  artists I know. Hopefully Logic and I will be bringing Global Noize to the world and show people our musical vision."
Global Noize will make its live debut this Spring. Don't miss the opportunity to catch this unique experience in a City near you!
Street Date: April 29, 2008

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:12 PM

April 23, 2008

Dave Koz Wants Your 3 Favorite Songs

kozblowing_1.jpgWhat’s your favorite smooth jazz songs by Dave Koz? The saxophonist is looking for your opinion as he is asking fans to vote for their three all-time favorite Koz songs as he plans to release his first-ever greatest hits CD in September. Koz makes the request on a humorous three-minute video that you can view at brickmanmedia.com/koz. During the video, Koz discloses several tongue-in-cheek secrets to making a hit single, including wearing a robe, eating a cantaloupe and warming up his fingers with a video game.

Making a cameo in the video is Koz’s niece Holly, who plays a kazoo while Koz plays a portion of his smash hit “You Make Me Smile.” That song is just one of Koz’s greatest hits, joining such classics as “Together Again,” “Let It Free,” “Honey-Dipped, “All I See Is You,” “The Bright Side” and “Can’t Let You Go,” among many others.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 10:49 PM

April 17, 2008

Mindi Abair's Live, Interactive Online Concert

Abair_Stars_XX.jpgSaxophonist and vocalist Mindi Abair will soon be having a worldwide CD release party unlike any you’ve heard of before. On May 1, Abair will be streaming a live, interactive show while previewing songs from her upcoming CD Stars thanks to deeprockdrive.com, which bills itself as the world’s first live interactive entertainment service.

Abair will be performing for a crowd of 5,000 people at Deep Rock Drive’s soundstage in Las Vegas. The concert is fully interactive and will allow those who stream it to vote for the songs they want to hear. Fans can also choose and adjust camera angles and even chat with everyone else attending as well as with Abair during the show. To take part in the experience, go to deeprockdrive.com and sign up. The show begins at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

"We’ve never done anything like this," says Abair. "And I have to say when it presented itself, I just sat there kind of wide-eyed. And I said, that is the coolest idea I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean, it’s so interactive it’s just ridiculous. And you’re there right in the room, via the Internet, with us."

Abair's new CD, Stars, will be released on May 6.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 10:36 PM

April 16, 2008

Dave Koz Honors Mother With Cookies For A Koz

Saxophonist Dave Koz and his sister Roberta have created a brand-new company in honor of their late mother they’re calling Cookies For a Koz. Koz says that his mother Audrey Koz, who died in 2005, spent her adult life spreading happiness, love and smiles through the proliferation of her chocolate chip cookies.

Cookies For A Koz is Koz's way of ensuring that the special magic and love she put into every batch lives on. As the name implies, this company is also committed to raising money for an important cause: the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation, which helps seriously ill children and their families cope with their pain, fear and isolation through entertainment and education. This was Audrey’s favorite charity, and Koz has long been global ambassador. Ten percent of the purchase price of these cookies goes directly to Starlight.

Cookies available are original chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, white chocolate chip, and snickerdoodle. For more information, go to cookiesforakoz.com.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 10:07 PM

April 14, 2008

Fattburger's Carl Evans Jr. Dies

Carl Evans Jr., a founding member of the veteran San Diego-based smooth jazz group Fattburger, passed away on April 10 at age 53 due to complications from diabetes. In December, Evans underwent surgery to remove his left leg below the knee. Several benefits were held in San Diego to help pay for Evans’ medical costs, including one featuring friend and bassist Nathan East of Fourplay.

Fattburger – which features guitarist Evan Marks, bassist Mark Hunter, drummer Kevin Koch and percussionist Tommy Aros – also played a benefit show. It was in September 2006 that Fattburger saxophonist Hollis Gentry died two years after being involved in a serious automobile accident.

Public viewing will be held April 18 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Anderson-Ragsdale Mortuary in San Diego. A service will held April 19 at 10 a.m. at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in San Diego.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 3:57 PM

April 12, 2008

Contempo April 2008

For a guy who says he never consciously tries to compose a radio hit, Chris Standring has an awfully impressive track record on the airwaves. The popular guitarist, who’s always textured elements of retro soul, acid jazz and chill with his trademark archtop Benedetto axe, scored one of 2000’s most spun songs with the title track from Hip Sway and more recently hit in 2006 with the Paul Brown-produced “I Can’t Help Myself.” As co-writer of the Rick Braun/Richard Elliot hit “RnR,” Standring also scored one of the biggest genre songs of 2007; the track stayed at #1 on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz chart for 12 weeks.

Despite this success, Standring says he’s bothered sometimes by the way many of today’s genre recordings are so sonically cluttered, and makes it his primary objective when helming a project — as he does with his latest recording Love & Paragraphs — to simply let the music breathe. When seeking inspiration for his compositions, his major reference points are everything but the typical smooth jazz bells and whistles that would guarantee airplay. “I grew up in the 70s, so I’m always hearing old, organic sounding instruments instead of bright fake synth sounds to create a vibe that’s warm and sexy,” he says. “If I want a Fender Rhodes sound, I’ll use a real Fender Rhodes. If the song needs a Hammond B-3, the organ I use better be pretty close to it. And I love to use those old Fender four string basses.”

Standring, who studied classical guitar while growing up on a farm in Aylesbury, Buckingshire, also creates his fascinating hybrid of retro and contemporary soul by keeping his ears peeled for hip sounds coming from the DJs on his home continent. “I love listening to progressive club music from Europe,” he adds, “because these guys have a complete license to experiment and go crazy with fresh new ideas. Sometimes, I’ll hear a track I like and think, ‘wow, what can I do personally with that?’”

Case in point: the horn enhanced, mid tempo retro blues-funk song that became the eventual title track on Love & Paragraphs began as a piece for a Portis Head-styled chill/alternative trip hop project Standring is working on with singer Mary Cassidy. He came up with a basic track layered with guitars and beats that he originally wanted to put vocals on, but loved the result so much he wrote a guitar melody over it and kept it for himself; the completed song features Cassidy’s dreamy wordless vocals blending with a rising horn section on the chorus.

Beyond drawing from the classic soul-jazz tradition (on tracks like “Qwertyuiop” and the pure pop delight “CS In The Sunshine”) and the realm of moody chill ambience (the intro to “As Luck Would Have It” and the trip-chill blues jazz jam “Ooh Bop”), Standring finds another way to stir things up sonically. He puts aside his trusty longtime jazz axe, the archtop Benedetto, and digs into more earthy blues-rock territory on five tracks with two Fender Strats; he played the Strat back in the 80s until switching to the other guitar to better tackle the acid jazz grooves which caught his ear in the early 90s. “Playing a jazz guitar and then switching to a Strat is a little like playing a violin and then picking up a cello,” he says, “so I had to figure out a new approach so there wouldn’t be quite so much of a head trip. I played the Strat for years but have never recorded with it as a lead instrument. The key was to find a tone on the Strat that is reminiscent of the Benedetto so while the guitar is a little bluesier and I can dig in a little more, it still comes across with my trademark sound.”

With the release of Love & Paragraphs, Standring is also taking the initiative of launching his own indie label, Ultimate Vibe; he believes more genre artists will follow in his footsteps now that so many major labels, responding to slower CD sales in the digital age, have dumped their jazz divisions and other small companies have closed shop. He is releasing the disc via a pass through deal with Braun and Elliot’s label ARTizen and their distribution company Ryko. Thinking ahead, he is ultimately hoping to develop Ultimate Vibe into a label for niche compilations in the chill lounge arena. First up is the Cassidy recording, which Standring calls a “KCRW project” as a reference to the progressive music played on the Santa Monica, California based public radio station. He joined with ARTizen on Love & Paragraphs to increase his viability with Ryko, but isn’t yet sure what label he will partner with for the second project; he may even distribute it himself.

“Smooth jazz artists are being forced to start our own labels because lack of sales is causing conventional companies to drop like flies,” Standring says. “If we want to stay alive and viable, we have to get our left brain and right brain thing going at the same time, or at least partner up with someone who has a strong business acumen to help us. The days when artists could finish recording a project and think our work is done are over, and I believe what I and Ray Parker, Jr. are doing is the wave of the future.

“All artists who have tied to a label,” he adds, “eventually realize they can make more money if they launch their own label that’s set up just like those bigger labels are set up. Being signed to four different companies over the years, I learned how they do things, from hiring outside publicists and radio promoters to securing strong national distribution. Doing this, we can sell as many albums as before but make a larger amount of money. The record business may be in a big transitional period right now, but there have never been better opportunities for those who are willing to take the chance.”

Chris Botti is one of the few contemporary jazz artists whose home web page (www.chrisbotti.com) lists his tour schedule immediately. The mega-popular trumpeter’s latest album, Italia, was an immediate hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart and scoring the hit radio single “Venice,” which hit the Top Ten on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz chart. A few months after its September 2007 release, the collection scored a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album. But none of that jumps out at the fan browsing the site because Botti is, in every sense of the word, a musical citizen of the world, spending most of his life on the road here and abroad. His early 2008 schedule found him on some extended stays on the West Coast (Yoshi’s in San Francisco and Oakland, Blues Alley in Seattle) but also included dates throughout Canada and, in March, Poland, the U.K. (Ronnie Scott’s in London) and Mexico City. If you can’t catch him this year, there’s always 2009; he’s already booked for May at Symphony Hall in Atlanta! His musical stop in Italy is a lush and inspired one, transferring the simple and effective swirl of dreamy trumpet pieces and sweeping vocals from Botti’s previous albums When I Fall In Love and To Love Again to a balmier locale that’s even more ripe for romance. Rather than draw from The Great American Songbook, the trumpeter and his producer Bobby Colomby create magic with the music of film composer Ennio Morricone, opera classics like “Caruso” and “Nessun Dorma” and “Ave Maria.” Botti co-wrote the Andrea Bocelli-sung title track with famed pop composer/producer David Foster, but the most remarkable vocal on Italia is “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” rendered here as a Nat King/Natalie Cole style duet between Botti and the original 1957 recording by Dean Martin.

Personal Taste

1) Brian Hughes, Live (Radio Canada) – A slew of high profile side gigs (including touring the world with Loreena McKennitt) has kept this Wes Montgomery influenced Canadian guitarist from making the same kind impact in this decade as he did as a solo artist in the 90s, but this truly riveting concert in Montreal reminds fans of his heyday while inspiring an overwhelming hunger for more.
2) Phillip Martin, Pride & Joy (Three Keys Music)
3) Chris Geith, Timeless World (Nuance Music Group)
4) Alicia Keys, As I Am (J Records)
5) Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (Island Records)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 8:26 PM

April 7, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Brian Culbertson

Berks08_Culbertson.jpgKeyboardist Brian Culbertson had an all-new band and a complete new show promoting his current CD Bringing Back The Funk, which was produced by former EWF front man Maurice White and features many funk legends like Larry Dunn, Larry Graham and more. Brian always had a love for old-school funk and now dedicates a whole album to it. He appeared at the Scottish Rite Cathedral and I guess that this was one of their very first shows, Brian has assembled a veritable funk machine, the stage was crowded by a four-piece horn section, drums, bass, an extra keyboardist with a hammond B3, two guitar players (one of them being Sheldon Reynolds who played with EWF for 15 years), plus a saxophone player who took care of all the solos. They were delivering some hammering funk which at times was almost a little overwhelming, they were rushing through funk history with nods to Kool & the Gang, some P-Funk, Parliament/Funkadelic etc., especially nice was their rendition of Donny Hathaway's "Everything Is Everything" (showing that Brian knows his stuff). Those who love the back catalog of this artist got their share too, he played some beautiful slower tracks showing his considerable skills on the piano, additionally he played the trombone (funking up things) and the bass, where he was slapping along. At the end we got the expected funk finale which blew the audience virtually away. This wrapped up this year's Berks Jazz Festival up nicely, having me say to myself: I will be back next year!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:00 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Chuck Loeb & Friends

Berks08_Loeb.jpgSunday afternoon there was another special concert, tagged as WJJZ Smooth Jazz 97.5 Appreciation Concert featuring Chuck Loeb with special guests, we got Eric Marienthal and Tom Scott on saxes, Will Lee on bass, Carmen Cuesta on vocals, Matt King on keyboards, Cafe on percussion and Cliff Almond on drums. The show was centered around a laid-back brazil vibe and started out with a few gentle bossa nova tracks with Chuck Loeb playing beautifully on acoustic guitar and his wife Carmen Cuesta on vocals, the gave us their renditions of classics like "Manha De Carnaval", "How Insensitive" and more from composers like Tom Jobin, Luiz Bonfa and others. Additionally they played some of Carmen Cuesta own material, before she left the stage to make room for some groovier playing.

Berks08_Scott.jpgEric Marienthal was playing sax and flute during the first part of the show before he had to leave (he was also scheduled this afternoon to appear with the Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band), so his part was taken over by the legendary Tom Scott who joined the stage to give a nice sax battle with Eric before he went off. Tom Scott played a self-composed, yet unrecorded tribute song to Grover and then "Jive Samba", a track from his current CD Cannon Re-Loaded, a tribute album to his hero Cannonball Adderley. His warm sound and flawless, soulful playing was just great, his music is like an old friend to me that has accompanied me through my life.

Berks08_Cuesta.jpgAnother nice song was Chuck Loeb's "The Music Inside", one of my all-time favorites from Chuck's vast catalog of music. The guitarist was in a good mood and delivered some great solos. The band was top-notch, especially pianist Matt King delivered some beautiful solos, while Will Lee on bass and Cliff Almond on drums laid the solid foundation. This was an excellent concert, I really liked the gentle bossa tunes, they provided a nice change of pace and highlighted another field of music worth listening to, also kudos to Carmen Cuesta who was a special addition to the show.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:46 PM

April 6, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Late Night Jam Session

Berks08_Jam.jpg As an added goodie we got an unofficial - but extremely well attended - late night jam session which started at midnight at the Jazz Base, it featured Philippe Saisse on piano, Eric Valentine on drums, Gerald Veasley on bass, plus Jeff Golub on guitar, Rick Braun on trumpet, Jessy J and Tom Scott on saxes. Unfortunately I just caught the last song they played, it was "Pick Up The Pieces" giving each one in the band some solo space. That's what jazz is all about, getting together and jamming just for fun!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:19 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Global Noize

Berks08_GlobalNoize.jpgAt 10:30pm a new, very interesting project named Global Noize by keyboardist Jason Miles and DJ Logic was scheduled at the Sheraton. Not only the music, but also the lineup showed a lot of diversity. Next to the two leaders who were at each end in front of the stage, they had soloists Christian Scott on trumpet, Jeff Cofin on saxophone and flute, Tom Scott on saxophone, Brian Dunne on drums, Jerry Brooks and special guest Me'Shell Ndegeocello on basses, Cafe on percussion and funk master Bernie Worrell on organ. Additionally they had World Fusion Dancers Azhia and Dellaneira dancing in the middle of the stage plus Indian singer Falu bringing a great world element to the table. I was pleasantly surprised by this show, the grooves were cool and provided a suitable backdrop for these great players to show their chops, especially Jeff Cofin and Christian Scott delivered several great solos. I was a bit afraid that the world element would dominate, but in the end it was jazz with a world flavor that did not distract, instead complemented the whole thing nicely. I thoroughly enjoyed this concert and considered this project to be another winner from Jason Miles, the Global Noize CD should be in stores soon.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:41 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Guitars & Saxes

Berks08_GuitarsSaxes.jpgIn the evening "Guitars & Saxes" were due at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. This year, they appeared with a new lineup and new program. Main players were Peter White on acoustic guitar, Jeff Golub on guitar, Gerald Albright on saxophone and Jeff Lorber on keyboards. They had newcomer Jessy J in a supporting role on sax, flute, keyboards and percussion, additionally she provided some welcome eye-candy. On drums was Eric Valentine and on bass Smitty Smith, laying the solid foundation for the artists out front. All artists were drawing material from their vast catalogs, it was very interesting to see that they tried to break free from their smooth jazz routine incorporating new things, most notably were the two tracks from Jeff Lorber, one hard-hitting fusion track from his period as the Jeff Lorber Fusion and a straight-ahead track from his last CD He Had A Had. Great also was Jeff Golub's "Naked City", where he pulled all the stops creating a great live-feeling. Peter White still is the darling of the crowd, his "Bueno Funk" always brings the house down, and his rendition of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" shows where he is coming from. Gerald Albright displayed his clean and slick playing with songs like "My, My, My" and "Georgia On My Mind", always being a favorite of the show. The lovely Jessy J, who just released her debut CD Tequila Moon, played a few sax parts, but never really was featured, but nevertheless proved to be a nice addition to the show. They played almost for two and half hours, ending with the AWB classic "Cut The Cake" - yes, they still can cut it!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:37 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Alex Bugnon

Berks08_Bugnon.jpgSaturday afternoon the double bill of keyboardist Alex Bugnon, followed by sax player Euge Groove, was scheduled at the Sheraton. I was glad to see Alex Bugnon getting the opportunity for a full length show and the artist really seemed to appreciate this, as did his fans in the crowd. Alex hails from the French speaking part of Switzerland and moved to the US to follow his music career which yielded many successful albums over the years. His band consisted of Victor Bailey on bass, Vincent Henry on reeds and guitar plus a drummer. He played a wide selection of songs ranging from "This Time Around" to his hit, the cover of Brenda Russel's "Piano In The Dark" to "107° In The Shade", the Ohio Players' "Sweet Sticky Thing" and others. His band was top-notch, especially Victor Bailey - who was a member of Weather Report - stood out and Vincent Henry with his sax and flute playing, he blew me especially away with his harmonica playing, an unusual element that worked very well. Alex played his keys in his own soulful style, often breaking it down to build it up again. The only thing that prevented me from enjoying this concert fully was the distorted sound of his keyboards, causing them to drown in the mix, I considered this to be very unprofessional and distracting. Anyway, the crowd did seem to like the performance of Alex Bugnon nevertheless.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:34 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Euge Groove

Berks08_Groove.jpgAfter a short intermission saxophonist Euge Groove was on, he was backed by a super tight band of younger players that grooved like hell, as did the leader on his instrument. He soon had the crowd grooving along, additionally cheering them up with his shouts and antics on stage. He played several tracks from his latest CD Born To Groove. To keep things going he gave a away a free t-shirt to the sexiest dancer and had a crowd of women dancing in front of the stage, later he did a stroll through the audience raising the heat. He also slowed it down nicely with a couple of romantic instrumentals, showing his chops on the sax. I really enjoyed this professional show full of great tracks, and especially the band that played on the highest level, most notably the drummer who just was a monster player. Yeah, we all could feel the funk!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:31 PM

April 5, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Rick Braun & Richard Elliot

Berks08_BraunElliot.jpgFriday night trumpet player Rick Braun and saxophonist Richard Elliot appeared at the Scottish Rite Cathedral delivering their tried and tested formula of groovy smooth jazz, they have honed an excellent show over the years and those two veteran artists play together like a well-oiled machine. They were promoting their latest album RnR and were backed by the same band they had on the record, they were Ricky Lawson on drums, Nate Phillips on bass, Ron Reinhardt on keyboards and Dwight Sills on guitar. Rick Braun and Richard Elliot delivered their unique brand of music feeding off of each other creating quite some heat, both are tremendous players and seemed to have a lot of fun. Among the material played was Luther's "Your Secret Love", the Stylistics' "People Make The World Go Round" and "Gazing In The Grass", plus a batch of their own compositions like "Notorious" and tracks from RnR. Both Rick Braun and Richard Elliot did their strolls into the audience to the delight of the capacity crowd. They left the audience in a happy party mood and witnessing these guys play is always very entertaining.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:30 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Candy Dulfer

Berks08_Dulfer.jpgAt the Sheraton hotel Candy Dulfer was scheduled for a late night show. She looked georgeous in her mini skirt and long blond hair, and boy, that lady can blow! She started her show slowly with some heartfelt smooth jazz playing, among the songs was "Everytime", one of my favorite tracks off her current Candy Store CD, which she brought to a great climax. Most notably was an extended guitar solo by her guitar player and musical partner Ulco Bed that built and built and didn't let go putting me into a state of bliss. Her band was super tight, another notable player was keyboardist and singer Chance Howard, who was a great part of the proceedings on stage, his playing and singing complemented the saxophone of Candy very well, escpecially cool was their rendition of D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar". The pace of the show picked up continuously and soon we were in a party mood with tracks like the Prince penned "Life Of The Party" and others that had a decidedly club feel. Over parts of the show, the band was really jamming with extended solos, bringing back elements that often were lacking in other shows. At the end of the show the crowd was on its feet to funky tracks like "Pick Up The Pieces" and others. I was deeply impressed by this very entertaining, very professional show and the level of musicianship by all involved. This one was definitely one of the very best shows of the whole festival.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 3:33 PM

April 4, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Brian Simpson

Berks08_Simpson.jpgThursday evening we were in for another treat by the double bill of keyboardist Brian Simpson and guitarist extraordinaire Nick Colionne at the ballroom of the Abraham Lincoln hotel. The show was opened by Brian Simpson who had his portable keyboards strung around his neck and moved into the audience more than once during his performance. He was supported by Dwight Sills on guitar plus the bassist and drummer from Nick Colionne's band. During his 30 minutes warming-up set he performed several of his signature tunes, among them his biggest hit "It's All Good" that went down very well with the crowd, proving his superior artistry. Too bad he had to leave so early, but this was the contract as he said, people certainly would have enjoyed to hear him playing longer.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:43 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Nick Colionne

Berks08_Colionne.jpgAfter a short intermission it was Nick Colionne's turn who wore a light grey suit with hat, looking as gorgeous as usual, backed by two keyboards, drums and bass (Dave Hilterbrand), displaying his tremendous skills on guitar. He is such a powerful performer and had the crowd soon in the palm of his hand. With a new CD entitled No Limits on Koch Records soon coming up, he delivered a few songs from this album, most notably the song "Melting Into You" that simply was mesmerizing and surely is destined to become a hit, the song evoked some strong and enthusiastic responses from the audience. Additionally he sang "Rainy Night In Georgia", a song that fits perfectly to his deep voice and gave me goose-bumps. His guitar playing was great and I am impressed each time I hear him by his level of artistry, Nick really is a bad dude! His joking remarks in between songs created quite a few laughs in the audience and he didn't mind to directly react to comments from the audience, Nick is just the consummate entertainer. He too did a lengthy stroll in the audience to the delight of his many fans, bringing his trademark guitar playing right to them. This was another outstanding performance by Nick, his concerts are always a memorable experience.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:46 PM

April 3, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Bill Evans' Soulgrass

Berks08_Soulgrass.jpgWednesday evening the pace of the festival started to pick up again with the performance of saxophone great Bill Evans and his Soulgrass project trying to fuse jazz and bluegrass. The concert was held at the ballroom of the Abraham Lincoln hotel. His band consisted of Joel Rosenblatt on drums, Christian Howes on violin, Sam Bush on mandolin, Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo and a bass player whose name I didn't catch. Bill Evans seems to have a lot of fun with this music which leaned heavily on the bluegrass side, the jazz elements were just scattered across the music but unfortunately were not too prevalent. For the most part, I felt like being at a country & western concert, desperately seeking the jazz element. At least we got a few nice solos by all involved and the level of artistry nevertheless had to be recognized, I enjoyed in particular Sam Bush's distorted solos on the electric mandolin and Christian Howes plucking his amplified electric violin like a rock guitar. But the artist I came to see in the first place, Bill Evans, was just in a happy hillbilly mood which couldn't quench my thirst for jazz.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 3:15 PM

April 2, 2008

Michael Manson - Up Front

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. When, in 2006, I reviewed Just Feeling It by bass player Michael Manson I described his influence and reputation within the contemporary jazz genre as extending far beyond his home city of Chicago. On the album this was exemplified by the who’s who of smooth jazz superstardom that he enticed to collaborate with him and now, just under two years later, he is back with more of the wonderful same. Of course these are troubled times for smooth jazz and 215 Records, the label with which he recorded Just Feeling It is now defunct. Its demise led to a chronic underexposure of what was a really outstanding CD so it is totally appropriate that the new release, Up Front, provides a welcome opportunity to revisit four of the tracks originally found on this earlier effort. Not only that, Manson reaches all the way back to 2002 and his debut The Bottom Line project for the hit of the time ‘Outer Drive’. In doing so he creates a hybrid collection that is part ‘best of’, part brand new music but all superb contemporary jazz.

Amongst the reprises of what went before, the understated foot-tapping ‘Coming Right at Ya’ serves to create the Manson mood. It affords a stylish platform for his tight playing, a sensational horn section and guest spots from Paul Jackson Jr. and Kirk Whalum. With Jeff Lorber and fellow Chicago native Mike Logan both chipping in on piano, contemporary jazz doesn’t get any better than this. That said, the gentle ‘It’s the Way She Moves’ with Michael Ripoll on guitar, excellent sax from Tom Braxton and more of Mike Logan’s groovy piano also captures the very best of smooth jazz production techniques. Lorber returns for ‘Way Back When’ where he produces, plays both piano and keyboards and generates that trademark jazzy Jeff Lorber sound that here is helped in no small part by top notch trumpet from Rick Braun. Manson ripples nicely through the delightful melody of Bill Withers 1977 hit ‘Lovely Day’ and the track also includes the brother of Kirk Whalum, the under-rated Kevin Whalum. His voice fits the familiar vocal to perfection and the fact that he manages to engender something of a steppin’ beat provides just another reason for liking it.

The laid back and smoky intro of ‘Still Thinking About You’ unfolds into a terrific melody. Here, nice work from Manson is complemented by a guest appearance on guitar by Norman Brown and distinctive piano from Mike Logan. The cut, in common with much of Manson’s music, is built atop a luscious horn driven foundation and another great example of this brass construction comes courtesy of ‘Steppin Out’. With Najee playing flute and rising star Darren Rahn on sax this expansive, jazzy yet ‘in the pocket’ number is a joy while just as good is the equally horn fuelled title track. It allows Manson to turn funky in a controlled kind of a way before becoming remarkably melodic for the smooth jazz gem ‘She’s Always There’. Written for his wife Lana it features Tom Braxton on sax and when Manson needs a sax man for his sensitive rendition of the ‘Babyface’ Edmonds tune ‘End Of The Road’ he turns to none other than fellow Chicago cat Steve Cole. It’s a song where Manson proves he can play mellow bass with the best of them and, when the full sounding vocals of the soulful chorus kick ignite, it is obvious that this may well be one of the year’s best examples of smooth R & B.

Manson’s 2002 hit ‘Outer Drive’ has Logan on keys and a guitar solo from Nick Colionne. It is one of the albums standout tracks and, in every respect, is a slice of pure Chicago smooth jazz yet just as good is the Darren Rahn produced ‘Bring It On’. Rahn also plays sax and is joined by his brother Jason on trumpet for what is a feisty and uplifting chunk of smooth jazz enhanced even further by the contribution of Paul Jackson Jr on guitar and a stunning piano solo from the legendary George Duke.

For a funky bass player Michael Manson sure can ‘do smooth’ and now, under the nurturing wing of NuGroove Records, is set to deliver what, as a solo artist, he has promised for so long.

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 6:46 PM

April 1, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: To Grover With Love

Berks08_GroverTribute.jpgSunday evening we were in for a treat - the hard working Jason Miles brought one of his star-studded projects to us, it was the Celebrating the Music & Life of Grover Washington Jr.: "To Grover With Love" event which was held at the sold-out Sovereign Performing Arts Centre. The band consisted of players who were part of Grover's career, most notably Buddy Williams on drums, Ralph MacDonald on percussion (who wrote and produced many classic Grover tracks), Will Lee on bass, Chuck Loeb on guitar plus leader Jason Miles on keyboards. They started the show with "East River Drive" featuring Chuck Loeb on guitar, soon it was time for the first guest, saxophonist Walter Beasley, followed by Kim Waters and Everette Harp on saxophones, among the songs played was "Let It Flow" and Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" (which was a straight jazz track that Grover covered as well at one point in his career).

Berks08_LylePerry.jpgThen Bobby Lyle joined the band on grand piano, delivering one of the highlights of the show together with singer Phil Perry who sang a truly heartfelt version of "Love Me Still" in his inimitable style. World-class artistry in the true sense of the word. But the bar was raised one notch when living legend Patti LaBelle came to the stage, looking stunningly great for a woman in her 60ies. She shared some of her memories about Grover before delivering "The Best Is Yet To Come" and "You Are My Prayer", supported by her musical director John Stanley on piano. Despite some slight vocal problems (unfortunatley she caught a cold that day), she gave her all and touched the hearts of the audience, kicking off her shoes and falling on her knees at the end of her performance, proving to be a consummate artist delivering under any circumstances. Singer Maysa is another Berks favorite - she was part of the Soul Summit event last year - delivering a beautiful rendition of "The Look Of Love" culminating in some heavy scat improvising at the end, supported by Chuck Loeb's guitar plus a mellow vocal version of "Mr. Magic". Another highlight for me was Everette Harp's rendition of "Black Frost", a track from Grover's CTI days. Present in the audience was Grover's family giving this whole event a personal Philly touch.

I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the work of Jason Miles making these events possible, not only by bringing together this incredible bunch of artists, but also to recognize the legacy of an artist like Grover Washington Jr, who is one of the artists having ignited my life-long love for jazz.

PS: Good news - this summer Vol. 2 of "To Grover With Love" will be released.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:18 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Eric Darius

Berks08_Darius.jpgSunday afternoon the Smooth Jazz 92.7 Fan Appreciation Concert was due. The first 90 minutes belonged to saxophonist Eric Darius who started the concert with a bang, accompanied by a young band of players, he appeared playing from the audience, looking super cool with his sunglasses and hip outfit, emanating energy and fun. He belongs to the new generation of smooth jazz instrumentalists and delivered a high-engergy set full of great sax playing and cool grooves. Songs played were mostly from his last CD Just Getting Started from 2006, among them was his radio hit "Steppin' Up", plus covers like "Love TKO" and "Let's Stay Together". He also broke it down nicely with some heartfelt slow songs showing his considerable skills on his instrument. He and his band gave their all leaving us in a blissful state.

PS: A new Eric Darius CD is scheduled for release in June 2008.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:03 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: Kenny Rankin, Paul Brown & Marc Antoine

Berks08_BrownAntoine.jpgAfter an intermission the groove and mood changed completely, the next concert centered around the three guitar players Kenny Rankin, Paul Brown and Marc Antoine, they were supported by a stellar band consisting of Philippe Saisse on keyboards, Ricky Lawson on drums and Roberto Valli on bass. The concert was very laid-back and easy on the ear, like a breath of fresh air, and definitely one of the positive surprises of the festival. They started with "Mas Que Nada", then Kenny Rankin - who is mainly a singer/songwriter - did one of his songs, then it was back to Paul Brown and Marc Antoine for some great guitar playing, among the songs played was "Spooky", a favorite of mine, and Grover's "Winelight", which funked things up. Paul Brown sang "The City" (a classic by Mark Almond) and "Listen To The Music" (another great one from the Doobie Brothers), some intelligent cover choices that complemented the style of these artists very well. Kenny Ranking sang "Blackbird" and evoked some Brazilian vibes with "Berimbau". This concert was an unexpected highlight and a joy from beginning to end.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 3:29 PM