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. An assault is about to take place and the assailant is none other than the multi talented Frank Felix. In the company of his FU Express he is all set to challenge the supremacy enjoyed by Down To The Bone as the leading UK exponent of good old fashioned of ‘in your face’ funk. It’s a brand of music that came out of the acid jazz movement which was prevalent in the UK during the early 90’s and, if this debut album from Felix, Tales From The Funky Underground is meant as a tilt at Down To The Bone’s crown, then it promises to be very much a bloodless coup. In fact DTTB keyboard player Neil Cowley plays a significant part throughout and in doing so is joined by a stellar gathering of guest musicians including the UK’s pre-emanate contemporary jazz saxophonist Snake Davis.
Many will know Felix as the long-time bass player with Acoustic Alchemy. He left the band early in 2007 and now, with his own ‘FU Express’, which includes a full and feisty horn section, he has produced an album that is all about the groove. Its mood is perfectly exemplified by the storming ‘FU Express’ for which the FU horns are massive and where ex Acoustic Alchemy band-mate Miles Gilderdale drops in to play guitar. In fact Gilderdale returns often and really rocks on the raucous ‘Mr D’ where Davis on sax also blows up a storm. ‘Move Witcha’ is another high octane funkathon while the hugely intense ‘Los Galacticos Hustle’ is what might be termed ‘mardi gras ready’. Here Snake Davis again looms large with his instantly recognizable sax and when, for ‘Work It’, he returns in the company of Gilderdale and Cowley, they together produce a rhythm drenched steamer.
The raw power of Tales From The Funky Underground is such that when, in relative terms, Felix chooses to turn it down the effect is instantly pleasing. The smooth vibe engendered by ‘A Cosmic Love Song’ is a delight. Blessed by a fine guitar solo from Miles Gilderdale it is an extremely edgy a slice of contemporary jazz while ‘Crazy’ owes its melodic groove to wonderful contributions on guitar, organ, electric piano and clavinet from Jes Platt.
Still, after all that, Tales From The Funky Underground, and Frank Felix, is all about the funk. The tracks ‘Sugarfoot’ and ‘Fatback Avenue’ merge with others such as ‘Waditz’ and ‘’Club 44’ to maintain the intensity at ‘funk factor 6’. With top notch performances from Billy Mclean on trombone, Farris Holder on trumpet and old Acoustic Alchemy pals Eddie M on alto sax, Jeff Kashiwa on tenor sax and Fred White on trumpet, the combination makes Tales From The Funky Underground an album with which to party.
For more on Frank Felix go to www.frank-felix.com
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Denny Jiosa, Dreams Like This (Sonic Canvas): The veteran guitarist returns, finally, with an exceptional work featuring a new version of the classic "Sunny" with original vocalist Bobby Hebb scatting along.
Tony Guerrero, Apasionado (Native Language): The trumpeter's love for Latin music is realized with assists from Eric Marienthal, Brian Bromberg, Jeff Kashiwa, Grant Geissman and others. Highly recommended.
The Terry Disley Experience, London Underground (Disleyworld): The former Acoustic Alchemy keyboardist is a favorite in the San Francisco contemporary jazz scene. This album explains why. Listen to "Miramar" and get swept away.
David Benoit, Heroes (Peak): This is the way you do cover albums: in your own style, with lots of flair. Benoit covers an ecletic mix of artists in a jazzy and acoustic setting.
Sergio Mendes, Encanto (Concord/Starbucks): "The Look of Love," "Funky Bahia," "Waters of March," "Morning in Rio," "Agua de Beber." Fergie, Ledisi, Juanes, Natalie Cole. Delightful Brazilian music from a master, with some dazzling updates.
P E T E R * B O E H I
Tom Scott - Cannon Re-Loaded (2008)
This is saxophonist Tom Scott's tribute the the great Cannonball Adderley revisiting many of his classic compositions, delivered with style and class employing an all-star cast. Delicious!
Yosuke Onuma - Beautiful Day (2008)
Japanese guitarist Yosuke Onuma plays more in the fusion idiom, but his playing is cool and groovy, I really like his music. Check it out!
Neil Larsen - Orbit (2007)
Keyboardist Neil Larsen is back, supported by guitarist Robben Ford and an all-star band, on this great new live album where he covers several of his old classics. Not to be missed!
Bradley Leighton - Soul Collective (2008)
Flautist Bradley Leighton teams up with some of the best players and comes up with a top-notch and groovy smooth jazz album. Two thumbs up!
Jeff Lorber Fusion - Soft Space (1978)
Classic early Jeff Lorber music with Joe Farrell and Chick Corea guesting, for the first time released on CD, along with his debut album just called "Jeff Lorber Fusion". Cool to see them eventually out on CD!
J E F F * D A N I E L S
Neil Larsen, Orbit (Straight Ahead Records) (2007)
Bradley Leighton, Soul Collective (Pacific Coast Jazz) (2008)
D E N I S * P O O L E
"She’s All That" by Bob Baldwin from the CD New Urban Jazz. With Marion Meadows immense on sax, Ragan Whiteside adding her usual spine tingling flute and Baldwin’s keys always smooth yet often edgy, this is as good an example of ¡in the pocket¢ contemporary jazz as will be found anywhere.
"When It Rains" by Darryl Williams from the album That Was Then. Reggie Smith features on sax and this foot tapping delight is certain to make it onto my 'best list' of 2008.
"Pacific Breeze" by Gail Jhonson from her latest CD Pearls. Here this underrated keyboard player has come up with an absolute gem.
"Bring It On" by Michael Manson from his album Up Front. This feisty and uplifting chunk of smooth jazz is enhanced even further by the contribution of Paul Jackson Jr on guitar and a stunning piano solo from the legendary George Duke. Darren Rahn produces, plays sax and is joined by his brother Jason on trumpet.
"A Cosmic Love Song" by Frank Felix And The FU Express from his debut album Tales From The Funky Underground. Blessed by a fine guitar solo from Miles Gilderdale this is an extremely edgy a slice of contemporary jazz.
J O N A T H A N * W I D R A N
Chris Bennett, Girl Talk (Chris Bennett Music)
Al Green, Lay It Down (Blue Note)
Brian Culbertson, Bringing Back The Funk (GRP)
Nick Colionne, No Limits (Koch)
B E V E R L Y * P A C K A R D
Warren Hill, La Dolce Vita, (Koch Records, to be released June 24th, 2008) Warren’s first studio album since 2005’s PopJazz. This CD has an awesome list of co-stars, including Nathan East, Paul Jackson, Jr., guitarist Dean Parks and drummer Ricky Lawson (both of whom played with Steely Dan), keyboardist Greg Phillingaines (Michael Jackson, Toto, Quincy Jones) and Koch recording artists Jeff Golub and Philippe Saisse. Warren couldn’t go wrong with this line-up. The opening track will perk you up with its great rhythm and the second will keep you there with its soulful sound, and so it goes, you won’t be taking this one out of your player any time soon. A masterpiece.
Nick Colionne, No Limits, (Koch Records, to be released July 8th, 2008) Nick gave us a taste at the Berks Jazz Festival in March of some of the tunes on here. There are many tunes which could again propel him to the top of the charts, as did his ‘Always Thinking of You,’ from his last album, Keepin’ It Cool, which stayed on the R & R charts for 45 weeks! I can attest to the fact that you will melt when you hear him sing ‘Melting Into You.’ Nick’s a great vocalist in addition to that awesome playing, not to mention his continuing hold on being the most debonair dresser.
Gil Parris and Friends in Concert, DVD, Gil and his friends delivered on this DVD, taken in NYC at the Irvington Town Hall Theatre. Paul Schaeffer of the David Letterman show, David Mann, producer of Gil’s latest CD Strength, Randy Brecker, Grammy nominated trumpet player, and vocalists Vanesse Williams and Tommy “Pipes” McDonnell all contribute to an awesome show. Interestingly, Gil is introduced by Carolyn Kepcher, of The Apprentice show with Donald Trump – as she explains, she first heard Gil play at a club where she was a waitress. How far they have both come!
Paul Jackson, Jr., Never Alone - Duets, (Blue Note, 1996) A classic CD of our American Idol guitarist, featuring artists Earl Kugh, Gerald Albright, Najee, Tom Scott, Joe Sample, George Duke, Jeff Lorber, and many others. Paul has a couple of great songs on here that he composed, along with covers People Get Ready, Soulful Strut, Where is the Love, Let’s Start Again, a nice compilation and arrangement of these familiar tunes.
Photos and Text by Ricky Richardson
Believe it or not summer will be upon us soon. The season kicks into full swing each year with the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival during Memorial Day Weekend, Sunday, May 25th and Monday, May 26th. One couldn’t tell that summer was fast approaching as evidence by the May Gray weather that we experienced lately. Nevertheless, over 30,000 people from all over California and beyond made their way to Westwood for the Jazz Reggae Festival. The UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission promised and delivered a weekend of Peace, Love and World Class Music.
Last year, I applauded the festival organizers for adding more jazz to the line-up since they introduced JAM Day on Sunday, which was previously called Jazz Day. Their gamble paid off handsomely once again with a line-up of jazz featuring Dr. Lonnie Smith, John Densmore and Tribal Jazz, Elliott Deutsch Big Band and The Brent Canter Trio. The Elliott Deutsch Big Band kicked off the festival with a swinging extravaganza of straight ahead jazz with his big band. Elliott Deutsch is a gifted trumpeter/arranger. Their set consisted of “Yeah, We Are Sleeping Together” based on the tune “Just Friends” (pun intended), “There Will Never Be Another Chet Baker” based on “There Will Never Be Another You” which featured Elliott Deutsch hitting some high notes on the trumpet that would make Jon Faddis beam with delight. The group concluded their all too brief set with “Cheek to Cheek” arranged by the leader of the group.
Legendary musician Dr. Lonnie Smith was the other jazz band on the bill. The group consisted of Dr. Lonnie Smith on the Hammond B3 organ, Frank Potenza on guitar and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. Dr. Lonnie Smith thrilled the audience with his version of “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and “Misty.” He scatted and grooved on “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Baby, You Look Good To Me to the delight of the audience.
Another legend graced the festival with his presence. John Densmore, drummer for The Doors brought a stellar group of international musicians together to form Tribal Jazz co-founded with saxophonist Art Ellis. The band featured two percussionists from Senegal, a bass player from Puerto Rico and another percussionist from Brazil. They performed a crowd pleasing set of original tunes that allowed the band members an extended solo. They closed out their set with “Riders On The Storm” spiced up with some hot Latin Rhythms.
The Brent Canter Trio is an upcoming jazz trio featuring Brent Canter on guitar, Eli Sanderson on Hammond B3 organ and Mark Banner on drums. They played material from their debut CD Soundscape with the following tunes “Sketches,” “It Is Written,” “Like A Star,” “While You Were Sleeping.” I look forward to hearing and seeing more from the Brent Canter Trio as well as the Elliott Deutsch Big Band in the near future. The members of these band graduated or will graduate from the world renowned Department of Ethnomusicology, Jazz Studies Division at UCLA. Sunday, Jam Day also showcased the sounds of Blue Lady, JP And the Ambassadors, Amos Lee, Elevaters with special guest Medusa, Immortal Technique, Goapele and The Roots.
The final day of the festival dished out an eclectic mix of world music with a strong emphasis on Reggae. The Pangea Collective with special guest bassist Baba Ken Okulolo (with King Sunny Ade’s band), guitarist Soji Odukogbe (Fela Kuti’s Band) and a colorful trio of dancers. The band paid homage to legends of Afro Beat movement made popular by Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. They superbly captured the energy and enthusiasm exhibited of the Afro Beat music of South Africa. The audience was enthralled with the infectious African rhythms as well as with the exciting dancers. Other highlights from Reggae Day were Arepa, Rebelution, Jah Mikey General, Umo Verde, Alaine, Mr. Vegas, Selena Serrano with DJ Papa Keith, Stephen Marley with Capleton closing out the festival.
Last year the Jazz Reggae Festival took the steps in the direction of becoming a no-waste, sustainable festival with eco-limos to transport the artist, tree give aways with sustainable resource area to educate festival goers on things that they can do to help save the environment. New for 2008 were one main stage and a second smaller stage powered by bio diesel and solar, electric and/or bio diesel vehicles, clearly marked recycled bins and several new educational environmental booths and a Led screen.
The 22nd Annual Jazz Reggae Festival at UCLA is the largest festival organized and run professionally by students. These courteous and professional students and delivered a quality weekend of Peace, Love and World Class Music, making this one of the most highly anticipate festivals on the West Coast.
Heroes Features The Music Of Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Elton John And More
On May 27, Peak Records will release Heroes, the latest album from five-time Grammy nominated pianist/composer arranger and producer David Benoit. Celebrating 30-plus years as a recording artist, Benoit puts fresh, exuberant spins on classic songs by legendary pop, rock and jazz artists whose brilliance inspired his own.
While paying homage to Jazz piano icons Dave Grusin, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck, on Heroes he also lets fans in on an exciting little secret; he's an unabashed lover of pop and rock music who was equally influenced by the likes of The Beatles, Elton John, Michael Jackson & The Doors.
Benoit rediscovers his roots with a self-produced, 11-track collection that features his Steinway piano surrounded by the engaging ensemble work of his regular touring band: acoustic & electric bassist David Hughes, drummer Jamey Tate, percussionist Brad Dutz and special guest saxophonist Andy Suzuki.
“These songs are really a part of me and such a joy to play.” – David Benoit
Last year, guitarist Chieli Minucci offered a new CD of never-released material Travels as a digital download only on his website. This year his fans are in for a real treat as he has now released four new full CDs as digital downloads. The music is all new or never released, and he co-wrote, produced, and played instruments on all the compositions.
Solos, Duos & Trios has intimate compositions featuring the work of Minucci, percussionist George Jinda, and others. Raspberry n’ Cream features blues-based vocal pieces co-written and performed by Minucci with Philip Hamilton, Will Brock, Armsted Christian and others. Pop Today, meanwhile, has pop and rock songs with Minucci, Johnny Kemp, Vic Starsky and Noel Cruz. Finally, Drippings consists of soundtrack-style, ambient music in multiple styles.
All the music is ongoing from the last few years, and you sample or purchase any combination of songs at chielimusic.com. All songs are in mp3 format and are $1 each, except for Drippings, which is $10 for the full project.
Smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James and current American Idol Top 3 finalist Syesha Mercado have joined forces to release a new version of “Gonna Get It” exclusively on iTunes. The song, written by Boney and Rahsaan Patterson, originally appeared on James' current CD Shine and was sung by Faith Evans.
The new version of “Gonna Get It” – which you also hear at Boney’s MySpace page – pairs him with the last woman standing on American Idol. James, whose current smooth jazz single is the former No. 1 hit “Let It Go,” says that the first time he saw the 21-year-old Mercado perform, he was incredibly impressed. He added that “Gonna Get It” seemed like a perfect fit for her, and he’s really proud of how well she’s doing on American Idol.
Mercado, David Cook and David Archuleta will perform on the FOX reality series on May 13, and one will be voted off on May 14.
Mention the name Dave Samuels to any contemporary jazz aficionado and his legendary association with genre superheroes Spyro Gyra is the first thing that’s bound to come up. While the vibes/marimba great started jamming with the Buffalo based group in 1979, his official membership ran from 1982-97.
In the midst of those glory years, he launched a little side ensemble, the Caribbean Jazz Project, playing a one off Central Park gig in 1993 with Andy Narell and Paquito D’Rivera which led, with an evolving cast of band mates, to a Grammy winning recording and touring stretch that’s now lasted exactly as long as his time with Spyro Gyra. The original philosophy was to explore and test, via boundary-busting compositions and arrangements, the so-called limits of Latin jazz. “We’re always bringing new music and influences to the fold and expanding our scope all the time,” he says. “The music is always shifting. I like to say it this way: Are we Latin Jazz or Jazz Latin?”
A couple of years ago, somewhere between the releases of the Grammy nominated Here and Now – Live in Concert (2004) and Mosaic (2006), Samuels and CJP did some gigs in the Washington, D.C. area (including The Kennedy Center and Smithsonian) with the Annapolis Navy Band, which included three members of the Afro Bop Alliance, an Annapolis-based Latin jazz septet. Like CJP, the Alliance, which has a substantial fan base in the Mid-Atlantic region, was created from the desire to dig into and transcend just what Latin Jazz is.
Sensing a match made in Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Caribbean, salsa and samba heaven, Samuels immediately saw the possibilities in taking his own project to the next creative and rhythmic level. He enlisted the group’s trombonist Dan Drew to re-orchestrate some of CJP’s “greatest hits” — including a batch of Samuels originals (“Rendezvous,” “Five For Elvin” and others penned by Coltrane (“Naima”), Dizzy (“Soul Sauce”) and Monk (“Bemsha Swing”) — that were originally composed for a small group setting. Beyond the core group, Samuels was thinking even bigger and more vibrant, ultimately jamming with a total of 18 musicians, including 13 horns on the dually self-titled album Caribbean Jazz Project: Afro Bop Alliance featuring Dave Samuels.
“Dan very cleverly and artfully took these songs and orchestrated them for a big band,” Samuels says. “It seemed like a natural progression to try and record them and see what would happen. So the idea evolved from the music outward as opposed to the usual notion of the massive concept coming before the music. For me, it’s been a whole new sonic world. The kinds of interactions you can do when a band goes from six or seven pieces to nearly twenty are endless, yet the setting also requires more set parameters. It’s a much more elastic environment, and there’s an incredible energy and power there. I can start soloing and then cue in the background, but the solo doesn’t have to have any specific length or shape.
“Repackaging something that had been played in a more limited setting was a way to experience it in a whole new light, and of course people will react differently to it both on disc and in the live setting,” he adds. “I can take more liberties, but the new vibe still captures my core mentality of trying to capture not just specific notes but the deep, emotional feelings behind the notes. It would be easy to get all technical about how CJP with Afrobop’s help became a much more intricate, complex entity, but in the end all that really matters is, ‘what does it sound like?’ and ‘how does it affect you as a listener?’”
For Samuels, his desire to inspire an emotional response rather than simply impress with perfectly micromanaged musical details — and his lifelong philosophy that 90 percent of life consists of one long solo - extends to his incredible, quarter century dual career in the field of musical education. A Yamaha clinician for 23 years, he has been teaching at Berklee School of Music for 14 years, dividing his time between the ensemble department, small groups and private percussion, vibes and marimba lessons. He was elected to the board of directors for the Percussive Arts Society three times, a stint that runs through 2009, and he has also taught at William Paterson College, the Manhattan School of Music and NYU.
On the product front, he has published two vibraphone method books with accompanying videos and seven percussion ensemble arrangements of original tunes. Working with legendary music educator Jamey Aebersold, whose 120-plus play-a-long instructional books and CD collections are an internationally renowned resource for jazz education, Samuels created Latin Quarter: The Music of Caribbean Jazz Project. Samuels is excited that Alfred Music is putting out a play-a-long CD of Afro Bop Alliance, complete with full band tracks and others without the lead instruments. He says there are very few big band-oriented play-a-longs, and he’s excited to give budding percussionists a crack at being as feisty and creative as he was when he launched the new project.
“The truth is, even though vibes and marimba are part of the curriculum of every conservatory on the planet, not many people who play them learn to improvise properly,” he says. “A lot of students learn how to read notes but never learn how to write them or improvise their own. It’s always been a goal of mine to get them to open their eyes and ears to the fact that improvisation and composition are pretty much the same thing. Improvising should not be limited by genre, and it’s definitely not limited to traditional jazz. It’s the player who determines his or her potential to do it right. Going to music school to learn dots on the page is like attending college for four years to learn to speak a foreign language phonetically. You need to learn the vocabulary and the feeling behind the sounds, speaking through improvising. If they learn to interpret and create like it’s a language, it will help them fulfill their dreams of communicating through music.”
Saxophonist Jessy J has been winning over smooth jazz audiences since she began playing in producer/guitarist Paul Brown’s band on Valentine’s Day 2006 — a period that’s most recently included an unprecedented three weekends at 2007’s Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival and being a featured performer on The Smooth Jazz Cruise 2008. Her mix of coolly exotic Latin balm and silky tenor on “Tequila Moon,” the debut single from her Brown-produced Peak Records debut, has been getting loads of love at first listen from smooth jazz radio, quickly reaching the Top 20 on Radio & Records’ airplay chart and consistently being among the most added and most played tracks during its first month out. Aside from the cool beats, likeable melodies and swirl of Latin and samba sounds, Tequila Moon also establishes the 26-year-old as a strong vocal interpreter of classics like “Mas Que Nada” and “Besame Mucho.” Her sultry look and soulful composing and playing style will take her far, but fans will also be impressed with her sidewoman resume. After graduating from USC with a degree in jazz studies — she was named “Most Outstanding Student” in her class — she did recording sessions with artists like Michael Buble and toured with The Temptations, Jessica Simpson and currently, Michael Bolton; she’s also got ongoing gigs with two of Mexico’s most popular artists Gloria Trevi (aka “The Madonna of Mexico”) and Armando Manzanero (whom Jessy calls “the Mancini of Mexico”). Even more impressive, she’s played Carnegie Hall as part of the Latin Jazz Project put together by one of her heroes, Paquito D’Rivera. Consider that show a significant passing of the Latin jazz sax torch.
1) Kenny G, Rhythm & Romance (Concord/Starbucks Entertainment) – The biggest selling instrumentalist of all time (global sales of 75 million albums) launches a new deal with Concord Records and Starbucks Entertainment with a spirited twist of romantic and rhythmically jumpin’ salsa on a batch of originals he composed with longtime producer Walter Afanasieff as well as lively covers of “Sabor A Mi” and “Besame Mucho.”
2) Jaared, Addiction (Trippin N Rhythm)
3) Paul Hardcastle, Hardcastle 5 (Trippin N Rhythm)
4) Idina Menzel, I Stand (Warner Bros.)
5) Fiona Joy Hawkins, Ice: Piano Slightly Chilled (Little Hartley Music)
Keyboard legend Ronnie Foster kicked off the month poolside at the Orleans Hotel on Friday, May 2nd at 6pm. Foster's band is featured as a happy hour series weekly event.
Saturday, May 3rd, Boney James played to a packed house in the Railhead Showroom at the Boulder Station Hotel.
Jimmy Sommers, smooth sax sensation, will host the first after work get together outdoors at the Green Valley Ranch Resort, Wednesday, May 7th.
The Caylix Jazz Supper Club will launch it's grand opening on Friday, May 9th, with the talents of local performers Tony Terry and Cheryl Pepsi Riley.
Tower Of Power returns to the Suncoast Hotel showroom for three big nights, May 9-11.
Keith Martin will present his tribute to Luther Vandross on May 19th at the Texas Station Hotel for one night only.
Rocky Gordon and his group, The Killer Groove Band, will kick off the Sixth Annual North Las Vegas Tastes 'N Tunes Festival, Friday, May 16th. The band appears later in the month at Lake Las Vegas Resort on Sunday, May 25th, as a part of the summer concert series.
Guitars & Saxes, featuring sax great Gerald Albright, with special guests Jeff Golub, Jeff Lorber, and Peter White, perform one night only in the Chrome Showroom at the Santa Fe Station on Friday, May 16th.
Special Note: Thanks to all my friends who sent their support last month while I was under the weather with pneumonia. Last month was the first month I missed posting an article on Smooth Vibes in over four years.