November 30, 2008

What We're Listening To ** November

R O N A L D * J A C K S O N

Brian Culbertson, Bringing Back the Funk (GRP/Verve): Heavy synths, thick and bottomless bass lines, demanding drum thrusts, slicing and harmonically perfect horn arrangements, and personality all mark this “down & dirty,” collaborative mega-funk tribute by this master keyboardist.

Douye, Journey (Independent release): Newcomer Douye’s debut album comes loaded with splendid melodies and rhythms, colored perfectly with her oh-so-fine vocals. Such a combination is usually a success, and Douye is here to add an exclamation point to that assertion.

Jeff Foxx, Jeff Foxx (Jeff Foxx/Nerraj Records): New York radio DJ and bassist Jeff Foxx launches his self-titled debut album, bringing with it fiery funk, smooth soul caresses and the general sense that this artist/radio personality thoroughly enjoys what he's doing

Jonathan Butler, Live in South Africa (Rendezvous Records): A homecoming of monumental proportions, this album does serious justice to the man, his music, his story, and his life as one of the most buoyant and talented artists around.

Steffen Kuehn, Trumpop (Stefrecords): Trumpeter Steffen Kuehn unleashes sheer silkiness on pillow-soft, serene, yet head-bopping and moving jazz melodies.


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

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, Act Your Age (Immegent): A tasty wall of sound produced by Lee Ritenour.

Jonathan Fritzen, Love Birds (Nordic Nights): Mellow pop-piano sounds a la Brian Culbertson.

David Benoit, Jazz For Peanuts: A Retrospective of the Charlie Brown Television Themes (Peak): Good ol' David Benoit has done it again with six new tracks, three composed by Benoit and three by Vince Guaraldi and performed by Benoit. Other goodies abound.

Walter Beasley, Free Your Mind (Heads Up): Smooth jazz from the Berklee College of Music professor and saxophonist.

Jamhunters, Music Speaks Louder Than Words (Gateway): "The Pier" is one of the top songs of year. The Denmark duo throw in plenty of playfulness - including vocal hooklines and speaking parts - to spice up the groove. Great music.


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

Steve Oliver, One Night Live [LIVE] (Nu Groove Records) (2008)

Nick Colionne, No Limits (Koch Records) (2008)

Pat Metheny, Tokyo Day Trip - Live EP [EP] [LIVE] (Nonesuch) (2008)

Eric Darius, Goin' All Out (Blue Note Records) (2008)

Chick Corea, The Elektric Band (Grp Records) (1990)


D E N I S * P O O L E

‘You Got Something’ by Jeff Lorber from his current CD Heard That. With a lavish veneer of horns from Gary Meek and Ron King, a mid tempo vibe to die for plus the subtlest of vocals from Phillip ‘Taj’ Jackson, this could well be the hottest urban jazz cut of the year so far.

‘Lets Figure It Out’ by the wonderful Maysa from her latest album Metamorphosis. Nick Colionne leads off what proves to be a staggering three minute ten second guitar introduction and with production in the expert hands of Chris Davis this superb slice of chill out music evolves into a feisty dance floor filler.

The sensational ‘Soft And Warm’ by Marcus Johnson from his FLO (for The Love Of Romance) collection. The sumptuous vibe and exquisite vocal interpretation by Alyson Williams of this song that first featured on her own 2004 Three Keys recording ‘Its About Time’ is everything and more that great urban jazz should be.

‘Missin’ You’ by DeNate from the album Reminsce. This incredibly turned down gem by duo Deborah Conners and Nate Harasim finds Connors in typically sultry mode on vocals while Harasim is picture perfect on keys. Michael Powell makes an understated, yet colossal, contribution on guitar and already this is certain to be one of my top tracks of 2008.

‘How Could You Break My Heart’ by Bobby Womack from the brand new compilation by Jazz FM The Sound Of Jazz FM 2008. A major feature of previous incarnations this revered radio station was its legendary compilations of smooth jazz and soul CD’s. Now back and transmitting on digital and online it has lost little time in resurrecting these excellent samplers. In fact all thirty tracks are wonderful representations of the evolution of soul tinged contemporary jazz over the last twenty something years.


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

Brian Simpson, Above the Clouds

Harry Hmura, Passion

Rippingtons, Best of

Acoustic Alchemy, Radio Contact

Gerald Veasley, At the Jazz Base

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:45 PM

November 29, 2008

Althea Rene -- No Restrictions

Althea Rene instantly became one of my favorite artists when I first heard her In the Moment album, a rich, happy, rhythmic, and sexy offering a couple of years ago. I had the great pleasure of reviewing that one. Since that first listen, I have witnessed her rise on the smooth jazz scene to become one of the clear frontrunners with style and class that demand to be witnessed.

This latest project, No Restrictions, is again loaded with all sorts of aural goodies that consists of crafty hooks, sexiness, soulfulness, funk, exoticism, and more. Accompanied here on this collection of originals and covers by such notables as saxophonist extraordinaire Candy Dulfer, keyboardist/producer/vocalist Kendall Duffie (of Kloud 9), guitarist Freddie Fox and the prolific producer Rex Rideout, this flutist who acknowledges Donald Byrd and Ian Anderson as being among those who influenced her the most, dives into equal amounts of flair and grit with an abundance of confidence. Her handling of the Gershwin classic, “Summertime,” is uniquely soulful, jazzy, rhythmic, and romantic.

Working backward from that finale, examples of her fine touch are displayed on the saucy and tender “Island Breeze,” the catchy and melodic “Never Givin’ Up,” which just sways with each note and practically hypnotizes with its character. The key change just propels it into another realm of taste and technique. Very well done, to say the least. Did I mention that it’s one of my favs? I guess it’s obvious. Another favorite, “Do You Like Dat?,” is a funky, sexy-hot teaser, complete with her sexy murmurings (e.g., “Let me blow this in your ear”) and an exoticism that smacks of some Egyptian undertones. Interesting and undeniably attractive mix. Then there’s Tamara Jones’s tight vocal offering on the nice-paced “Come My Way.” Did I forget to mention the very original rendition of the cover of “Wishing On A Star?”

All in all, Althea Rene’s emergence onto the smooth jazz circuit is certainly a pleasant and welcome one. This latest album is further evidence that she is a bona fide playmaker in this arena, and I, for one, certainly hope she’s around for a very long time.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 1:23 AM

Kloud 9 -- Enjoy the Ride

I’m now totally convinced that the incredibly talented Duffie twins, Kelvis & Kendall (aka Kloud 9) are just blessed with the ability to crank out quality production after quality production. I’ve heard each of their projects, and the professionalism, the style, the charisma, the utter smoothness just keeps coming at a relentless pace. This latest offering, Enjoy the Ride, is no exception, by any means.

I have always been in awe of the phrasing similarities between these very adept musicians and, say, Ronald Isley, yet there are distinct differences that give Kloud 9 the identity they so enjoy with ease.

Kloud 9 has a real handle on smooth. Their hooks are contagious, the lead vocals are, as usual, rich and crisp, and the backing vocals are super-tight with strong harmonies. The mellow, effortlessly flowing vocals so complement the melodic compositions that they pen. Listening to velvety cuts like “Never Give It Up” and “I’m Calling You” contrast nicely with tunes like “All That Matters,” a lively up-tempo piece that features some really cool and expressive sax work by Donald Hayes and the punchy, funky “Grateful,” which features Kendall Duffie’s own hot synth work. There are also hook-rich cuts like “Can’t Hold This Love” featuring the satiny vocals of Tamara Jones.

In listening to the Duffies, you find it as no surprise that the duo has worked with Kirk Whalum and has close ties to the legendary Maysa Leak. Such company can only lead to the highest of precise productions, even if only via inspiration.

This album simply bolsters Kloud 9’s bragging rights as one of the purest up-and-coming talents around. Those who hear this work will agree that this duo is more than deserving of the mainstream limelight. I feel that I can almost guarantee that they will capture the ears and hearts of all who experience them. Go ahead. If this will be your first time listening, do yourself that favor.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 1:18 AM

Maysa -- Metamorphosis

There are voices in jazz that are so distinctively seductive and powerful that “incomparable” does no real service in describing these gems. The ever-popular and magnetic Maysa fits into that category like a glove. In fact, I’m inclined to say that she practically owns it. Opera-trained and as fluid as smooth wine, this magnificent, sexy songstress never disappoints, as is evident in her latest, Metamorphosis.

From the opening track, “Simpatico,” a melodic mover that features her on lead and backing vocals (as is the case with most of the tracks here) to the sultry “Destiny” featuring saxman/flutist Najee on through the scat-happy “A Conversation With the Universe,” Maysa just keeps pulling at your soul strings with the confidence only found in one so gifted.

Going from the sultry to the powerfully driving, the tunes all tease, inspire, push, and pull. An example of this drive would be “Let’s Figure It Out,” the piece written for Bluey Maunick, the masterful founder of Incognito, featuring the energetic guitar of Nick Colionne, who is also featured here on “Higher Love.” In a word, the album will affect you.

Whether this phenom is joining Bluey and Incognito or treating us to a solo project, the same unmistakable quality shines through almost effortlessly. The title of this project suggests that, as she states, “I am changing, rearranging my mind, my body, my soul, growing better, feeling stronger…slowly, but surely, my metamorphosis has begun.” I would say that, whatever metamorphosis she has set out to effect can only be a huge success, but, in my opinion, that which has always defined and identified her as one of the premier voices in the business remains very much intact. Her perceived need to change only reveals her desire to perfect the perfect. How commendable and remarkable! That just means her music will always strive to please, motivate, and excite—with each album seeking to outdo the last. How’s that for commitment??

As if her music and extraordinary vocals weren’t enough, this exciting sweetheart of smooth jazz has a way with the spoken word, as she addresses issues that others would rather avoid for fear of offending, like admitting that she needs a man, as track 5 conveys, despite her numerous individual and personal accomplishments—acknowledging that we all need each other and that the once-traditional and acceptable desire to have someone special with whom to share life is not something that shows weakness or dependence but rather perhaps the way things were intended to be...shared.

This is just the latest of greatness displayed by this vocal virtuoso with the enviable range. An album of change but of more of the same, as well. Witness it.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 1:12 AM

S.M.V. - THUNDER

It just doesn’t get any better than this. It just doesn’t. No meteorologist could have predicted this phenomenon. There has been “rainmaker” folklore, and whether you believe in that sort of thing or not, no amount of exotic fiction can even come close to the reality of serious thunder-makers. Enter the architects of the most robust, earth-shattering man-made thunder, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten, aka S.M.V., with the release of -- what else?--Thunder. Hold on to your hats and seats, but release your inhibitions and let your spirit just soar wildly with this one. You’ll surely feel it down to the core of your spine!

The energy and fat, funky bottom here are no strangers to any of these three virtuosos. After all, we all should know that Stanley Clarke is truly nothing less than legendary. His handling of the low frequency has been compared to the mastery of Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong on their respective instruments. Jamming and being a mainstay in such giant collaborations as Return to Forever and the Clarke/Duke Project, among zillions of other ventures while coming up with his own line of basses, are just beyond words. His assertion that the bass is a permanent, internal part of him is spot on and totally undeniable. Watching this master in action is almost a religious experience.

Marcus Miller, a kingpin who, besides being at the top of the Who’s Who list in jazz bassists, has collaborations, compositions and productions that cause all up-and-coming bassists, as well as established bassists, to gape in awe. Once dubbed the “Thumbslinger” by his peers, this giant among giants has produced, played with or laid down monster tracks for such greats as Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, our late and beloved Luther Vandross, Wayne Shorter, Roberta Flack, the late great Grover Washington Jr. and on and on and on…not to mention his legendary 6-album stint with the great Miles Davis, producing three of them, including the renowned Tutu. The definition of funk and power bass was revamped with the emergence of this master of the bottom.

The third sensation of this trio is Flecktones master bassist, Victor Wooten. Though skilled in a variety of instruments, Wooten has managed to remain a formidable force to be reckoned with in the land of low frequencies. Another one to have an extensive list of greats with whom he’s jammed and recorded, his 6-album success has clearly demonstrated that this “low-end” genius is quite capable of reaching your “center.” In addition to superb playing, Wooten also extends his expertise to giving music and life lessons through his popular Bass Nature Camps in his native Tennessee. Being one of his students has to be a true honor.

Now, about Thunder. Well, suffice it to say, be prepared to sit and just groove and marvel for a bit, as this set, which includes such biting funk as the title cut (naturally), “Hillbillies On a Quiet Afternoon,” “Lopsy-Lu Silly Putty,” Marcus’ immortal “Tutu” and the riveting finale “Grits” is simply more than a set of compositions. It’s a testimony, an unabashed shout, to greatness. It’s material that obviously bore bold witness to itself from concept to its very birth…via Thunder.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 12:21 AM

November 27, 2008

17th Annual Las Vegas City Of Lights Jazz Festival

17th Annual Las Vegas City Of Lights Jazz Festival
Saturday, April 25th 2009
The Bigest Names In Smooth Jazz

Michael Schivo Presents, celebrating 45 years as Nevada's premier Pop, Rock and Jazz concert promoter, has again teamed up with Las Vegas Events (LVE) the Las Vegas mega producers of the city's largest tourists events, and 105.7 SMOOTH JAZZ, and KJLH RADIO FREE and KTWV THE WAVE IN LOS ANGELES to co-sponsor the 17th Annual Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz & R&B Festival. By popular demand the Festival now has a new location at Government Amphitheater. Government Amphitheater according to producer Michael Schivo “has superior sightlines and the sound system will be in surround sound giving the jazz attendee a great experience they deserve. Also parking is improved and is easy and very accessible to the venue” Government Amphitheater is located very close to Downtown Las Vegas and closer to the Las Vegas Strip than past festivals for convenience when staying in a hotel.

The new Festival sight has a much more of a professional feeling and intimate synergy revered by the jazz patrons. The site also has many shade trees and a Pavilion also offering shade.

The Jazz Festival is Saturday April 25th from 1.00 pm to 10:00 pm.

As usual, the Jazz Festival has been booked with handpicked musicians to entertain throughout the day and night. Jazz artists performing on Saturday April 25th will include the hottest sax and R & B sounds of the day of Boney James, the ever crowd pleasing bass guitar of Wayman Tisdale, the jazzy guitar and rocking blues of Nick Colionne, the smooth, sexy and sophisticated sax of Marion Meadows and the sultry sax of Jessy J.

Quote Schivo: "Last year's Festival was an extreme party filled with the groove that it takes to be crowned "The biggest and liveliest Jazz party in the west" Last years Festival sold out in advance and so we strongly urge patrons to buy either show well in advance as tickets will be in high demand once again Schivo adds "The Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz Festival continues to spiral itself into a very special light, and as our Festival continues to gain momentum, it will rank with the likes of all first-rate European and big-city-USA spring and summer Music Festivals, perhaps more so because Las Vegas is truly a one-of-a-kind city."

Past Jazz stalwarts that have graced the festival include: The legendary Jazz Crusaders, Norman Brown, Lee Ritenour, Hiroshima, Jonathan Butler, Nick Colionne, Richard Elliot, Peter White, Rick Braun, Brian Culbertson, Joe Sample, Boney James, Gerald Albright, Fattburger, Larry Carlton, Poncho Sanchez, Flora Purim and Airto, Ronnie Laws, The Yellowjackets, Hugh Masakela, Chuck Mangione, George Duke, Down to the Bone, Ronnie Jordan, Paul Jackson Jr., Paul Taylor, Mike Phillips, Barkays, Dazz Band, Cameo, Ohio Players, Morris Day and the Time and many more. The Jazz Festival, established in 1994, has hosted capacity crowds in years past as people from all around the Country attended. Last year 38 states were represented at the Festival.

Tickets go on sale in Las Vegas and throughout the United States on Saturday December 5th, 2009 throughout Las Vegas exclusively at the following Las Vegas Ticket Outlets: All three Mr. Bill's Pipe and Tobacco Stores, and UNLV Performing Arts Center. Tickets will also be sold through the Jazz Festival 800 telephone number, which is 1-800 –969-VEGAS. Additional tickets sold in the Los Angeles area at Inglewood Tickets, 310-671-6400.

Patrons of the Festival are permitted to bring into the park picnic baskets filled with their favorite food and beverages, (No glass containers are allowed) as well, there will be various concessions and crafts at the festival located in the Jazz Village.

No High Back Chairs Allowed Into The Festival

Ticketing Information: This year's Jazz Festival will again offer free admission to each event for children 12 years of age and under, and a reduced ticket price to each event for children 13-18 years of age for $20, which will be available at the on-site festival box office on the day of the event only. The Jazz Festival VIP/ Early Bird tickets receive 1st entry from 10am to 12noon for center of the venue seating with its own cash bar and upgraded executive restroom facilities. Tickets are $110 in advance plus any taxes and ticket outlet service charges and fees. General Admission adult tickets in advance are $60 plus any taxes and ticket outlet service charges and fees.

For additional information please see our website located at www.yourjazz.com. For recorded Jazz Festival information or messages please call our Jazz & R&B Festival Hotline at 702-228-3780.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 12:19 PM

November 25, 2008

Contempo November 2008

On the 2005 inaugural Dave Koz and Friends At Sea Cruise, George Duke rose from his piano and keyboard rack after playing his long-loved pop ballad “Sweet Baby” and declared, revival style, just before embarking on some serious grooving: “I wanna tell y’all…God made me funky, so if you got a problem with that, take it up with Him!” Longtime Dukeys who had been following the legendary performer’s dual career as a jazz fusion pioneer and slick R&B/pop producer were no doubt disappointed when he released the generally low key piano trio project In A Mellow Tone on his own label, BPM Records. If the Creator made him a funkster, the thought steam followed, why weren’t his studio projects this decade reflecting this vibe?

If those were repertoire expanding tricks, Duke is more than compensating for the departures with Dukey Treats, his decidedly old school and ultra-funkified debut on Heads Up Records. He’d been listening to his fans all along, especially those that would come up to him after his shows—which always end with nods to Sly Stone, James Brown and a big dance party—and ask when he’d be translating that feel goodness to the studio. Duke came of age in the 60s and started recording in the 70s when funk music was a powerful force not just in pop culture but in social discourse. Artists could rouse the crowd to its feet while addressing hardcore political and social issues like the battle of the sexes, poverty and racial discord.

Duke brings us back to that long celebrated R&B mindset with a mix of bouncing, horn blasting intensity (as on “Everyday Hero,” a playful ode to the unrecognized champions in our society—doctors, teachers, firefighters), spaced out humor (“A Fonk Tail”) and socially relevant commentary (“Sudan,” which features impassioned guest vocals by Teena Marie and Jonathan Butler). He also has his rhythm sections recording live like they did regularly back in the day. Yet Duke insists his aim was not really a tribute to old school, but a bridge between past and present.

One of the unique ways he accomplishes this is by working with a unique combination of band mates from 30 years ago and today. Ndugu Chancler, Byron Miller and Sheila E. (then Escovedo) were all part of his famed “Dukey Stick” band that recorded Don’t Let Go in 1978 and toured with him. Also present in the mix are his new cats, Michael Manson (bass), Jef Lee Johnson (guitar) and Ron Bruner, Jr. on drums. Rather than keep these reps of the different decades separate, the keyboardist generally makes Dukey Treats a party, with Johnson jamming alongside Sheila and Chancler on the slow burning singalong title track and the bluesy, brassy “Mercy” (featuring lead vocals and raps by Josie James, Lynn Davis and Napoleon Murphy Brock). Miller and Chancler multi-task as vocalist/rappers on the goofy and fun, George Clintonesque “Creepin’ (another track with Johnson). Duke exclusively showcases his current guys as the foundation behind “Sudan” and the spicy, highly syncopated seven and a half minute jam “Images Of Us” that closes the set. Another highlight is the vibrant “Are You Ready?” which sounds like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” gone sideways.

“It finally dawned on me that it was time to do a funk-oriented project,” he says, “but the key was to create it as seen through my vision as an artist and musician today. I could have gone straight pop, but I laid everything on a bed of jazz improvisation. To me, the most prominent element of the classic vibe is the balance of social commentary and humorous stuff. There’s just not a lot of funny music being played in R&B today…everything’s so heavy, and I wanted the kind of light spontaneity so everyone involved, from the veterans to the new kids, could have a blast. Because I’m at the point in my career where I don’t have to create tracks just for airplay, my most important criterion was having a series of songs they could play well and that everyone could dig. The reason I called it Dukey Treats was because, like in my live shows, I want musical experience to be like Forrest Gump—a box of chocolates, never knowing what you’re gonna get. The music on an album shouldn’t have to all taste the same. Jazz does not have to be homogenized to be successful.”

Duke has been giving back in the educational arena for many years now, acting as an artist in residence at Berklee and mentoring with such organizations as the Louis Armstrong Camp and the Next Generation Festival in Monterey. Though he’s not always happy with the tendency for young musicians to create with machines rather than mastering their instruments—especially among African Americans-- he’s been encouraged by the great up and comers he’s encountered in places like New Orleans. His goal is not only to help them learn the basics about making viable and meaningful music, but also helping shape their sensibilities about it. He admits it was easier back in the 70’s for upstarts, who could score record deals that allowed them to make any kind of album they wanted without worrying about marketing till later.

“Musicians these days feel they need to have that big radio hit to be viable,” he says, “and it takes chutzpah to buck that system, but it’s not just dreaming to say there are future artists out there who will approach record making from this more independent mindset. Can you imagine someone telling Miles Davis what to do, or radio dictating that he couldn’t do this or that? The first thing people notice with Dukey Treats is the variety, but I’ve always had the freedom to be diverse. That spirit came from working with legends who saw no boundaries…Miles, Cannonball Adderley and Frank Zappa. They were all very inclusive stylistically, always trying to push things to another level.

“Following their example,” he adds, “I never got trapped as just a jazz or R&B artist. To me, as long as it’s honestly presented, it’s a valid means of expression. I don’t make music to please everyone, I do it first because I love it. That’s the bottom line. Music is as important to society and people as their refrigerator. Its aural nutrients do for the soul what the stuff in the fridge does for the stomach.”


While the majority of smooth fans on the festival and cruise circuits can be seen at these events sipping from a glass of wine, Shilts is the one artist they can count on to take a swig of beer between songs onstage. Well known to genre audiences for his decade plus tenure in U.K. jazz groove sensations Down To The Bone, the popular saxman can blame his lust for pints on his British roots even though he now lives in the suburbia of Palmdale, California. NuGroove, which has released his perfectly in the pocket, instantly amiable and danceable Jigsaw Life, is his third label for as many albums—a definite sign of economic instability in the genre. But there’s an upside to the story. NuGroove was actually the first label DTTB signed with in the mid-90s and the one which released their 1997 debut From Manhattan to Staten. Like his previous disc HeadBoppin’, Jigsaw Life forges a path away from the wild dance party jam band vibe of his regular ensemble and focuses on groove, style and strong pop melodies. George Duke would be proud of the major blasts of funk energy on tracks like “Back On The Hudson” and the old school soul vibe of “Too Close For The Edge,” not to mention the rousing, clubby “Time Gentlemen Please.” Shilts didn’t live it the first time but he seems eager to bring us back there—to draw from the album’s cool title concept—“Piece by Piece,” a cut he originally wrote for Rick Braun and Richard Elliot, and beat by beat.


Personal Taste

1) Linda Eder, The Other Side Of Me (Verve) – True to its title, the renowned Great White Way and pop standards powerhouse returns to the pop/country roots many of her fans may not be aware of on this spectacularly organic, harmonically colorful collection that’s every bit as compelling as her work in the genre on which she’s based her nearly two decade career.
2) Michael Lington, Heat (NuGroove)
3) Dave Koz, Greatest Hits (Capitol)
4) Althea Rene, No Restrictions (Red Cat Music Group)
5) Gregorian, Masters of Chant (Curb Records)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 8:35 AM

November 23, 2008

Jason Miles - 2 Grover With Love

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 Jason Miles tribute to Grover Washington Jr, To Grover With Love, I referred to it as a piece of music that needed to be taken seriously and not confused with what at first glance might be passed off as a collection of covers. The production skills of Miles, both in the selection of tracks and the choice of musicians, succeeded in re-imagining familiar songs into something new and fresh while retaining the incredible feeling and passion that Washington Jr. routinely possessed. It was never Miles intention to produce a follow up but after he had again listened to Come Morning (Washington’s follow up to Winelight) and then Strawberry Moon he realized that indeed there was another Grover project waiting to be done. The result, 2 Grover With Love, is an understated masterpiece that in terms of quality and sophistication is ‘miles ahead’ of anything else produced in the contemporary jazz genre this year.

Miles turns to Come Morning for the sumptuous ‘Making Love To You’ where Najee is exceptional on sax and stays there for ‘Reaching Out’. Andy Snitzer on soprano sax handles its hypnotic vibe with aplomb and does much the same for the Marcus Miller composition ‘Summer Nights’. Originally from Washington’s excellent 1987 offering Strawberry Moon it is as smooth as smooth can be yet even better is the title cut from that same album which here results in a virtuoso performance from Miles.

The deliciously sultry ‘Reed Seed’ features a mellow Jay Beckenstein on sax. It’s the title track from Washington’s 1977 Motown album and another tune that originated on that label is ‘Bright Moments’ from the 1979 Skylarkin. Chuck Loeb on guitar makes the invitingly tranquil groove his own and when ‘Mister Magic’ makes a welcome return from Miles original Grover recording it is given a sensational makeover courtesy of Maysa’s superbly atmospheric vocal.

‘The Saddest Thing’ is actually from the 1974 release Power of Soul by drummer Idris Muhammad. As well as featuring Washington’s unmistakable playing it also included arrangements and keyboards by Bob James, Randy Brecker on trumpet and the legendary percussion of Ralph MacDonald. Here, with the sax of Kim Waters sending shivers down the spine and segueing delightfully with trumpet from Dominick Farinacci the tune has never been in better hands. Without doubt it is one of the albums standout tracks yet right up there with it is the delectable ‘Moonstream’. From Washington’s 1975 Bob James arranged Feels So Good, and with the trumpet of Farinacci center stage, it rises from turned down beginnings to an urgent end and has all the attributes of timeless contemporary jazz.

A brand new Jason Miles interpretation of ‘Stolen Moments’ from the 1988 project Then and Now is helped in no small part by Snitzer on sax, the guitar of Loeb, some terrific trumpet by Farinacci and Miles own retro tinged keyboards. Evocative of a smoky jazz club from times long gone it checks all the right boxes as does the CD’s one original number, the Jason Miles composition ‘To Grover With Love’. With a luscious chill out groove it’s the perfect antidote to this crazy credit crunched world.

Out on the Koch label, 2 Grover With Love is the perfect device with which to scrape away the bland veneer that overlays much of today’s smooth jazz. It comes hugely recommended. For more information go to www.jasonmilesmusic.com

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:49 PM

November 19, 2008

Superstar Project: Paul Brown, Marc Antoine CD Of Duets

A superstar smooth jazz pair of guitarists, Paul Brown and Marc Antoine, are now working on a duets album titled Foreign Exchange. The album gets its name from the fact that Brown is a lifelong resident of Southern California and Antoine is a native of France who now lives in Spain. The idea for the CD was hatched after some successful shows Brown began last year called Paul Brown’s Guitar Night, which featured Antoine as one of the revolving musicians.

Brown – who plays mostly the electric guitar – is an in-demand producer who has also released three solo CDs, including his latest, White Sand. Antoine – who plays mostly classical guitar – has released eight albums and his latest is Hi-Lo Split.

Foreign Exchange will be released in April by Peak Records. Brown and Antoine will tour together to support the CD.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:52 PM

November 18, 2008

Joyce Cooling Offering Christmas Song

Smooth jazz guitarist Joyce Cooling has recorded her first holiday song and wants to share it with her fans. Cooling sings on the original “It’s Feeling Like Christmas,” which she is offering as a free download on her website. You also have the option of simply streaming the song or watching a video of it, which is also posted on YouTube.

Cooling will have a whole CD of new songs in April when she releases Global Cooling.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 6:51 PM

November 15, 2008

Gino Vannelli Is Still Powerful

Singer, composer, all around musician Gino Vannelli packed the house at the Las Vegas Hilton on November 9th. He is still as physically fit as he was twenty-five years ago, and sound just as great as ever. His new albym, Canto, is an exploration into contemporary classical music as only Vannelli can interpret, having trained vocally under private instruction over the last few years in preparation for the project.

Saxophonist Euge Groove will return to Vegas at Boulder Station on November 22nd.

Trumpet masterChris Botti performs double duty at the end of this month for two Station Casinos properties.
The first performance is on November 28th at the Green Valley Ranch Resort, followed by a stint on the opposite end of town the following night on the 29th at the brand new Aliante Station Resort.

Mainstay performances continue with Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns every Monday night at the Palms Casino.

Posted by Danny Desart at 6:33 PM

November 11, 2008

Michael Lington - Heat

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. Saxophonist Michael Lington has been a force in contemporary jazz since the 1997 release of his eponymous debut on NuGroove Records. Since then his stature has continued to rise, first with the 2002 project (and his only recording on Marcus Johnson’s Three Keys label) Everything Must Change and again during his tenure at Rendezvous with Stay With Me and A Song For You in 2004 and 2006 respectively. Along the way the debut album has been re-released twice, in 2001 on Samson and then again in 2003 on the Copenhagen label. Now Lington has come full circle by reconnecting with David Chackler and the resurgent nuGroove Records for his brand new CD Heat.

A native of Denmark, Michael Lington is the grandson of well-known Danish band leader Otto Lington who was an early proponent of jazz in Scandinavia. Michael began his performing career as a member of the world-renowned Tivoli Boys Guard and, after completing a degree in music, managed his own recording studio. After touring regularly throughout Europe he relocated to Los Angeles in 1990 and with the assistance of producer Mark Schulman quickly became part of the then emerging smooth jazz scene. Lington is and always has been a tremendous live player. Early opportunities in this respect came when he joined Bobby Caldwell’s renowned touring band and most recently he has performed as part of the sold out, coast to coast Barry Manilow tour. As Manilow himself puts it "Michael Lington is one hell of a sax player. He absolutely brought down the house every night on my arena tour."

Heat is right up there with Lington’s best work and totally in sync with the high quality music that nuGroove routinely delivers. It kicks off with the powerful and uplifting ‘You And I’ that is currently making its mark on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio across the USA but quickly relaxes into the melodic ‘Chuva’. In fact the contrast between these two tracks is a metaphor for the entire collection. Up tempo grooves such as the thumping ‘Memphis’ blend delightfully with more turned down numbers of which ‘Ladyland’ is a great example. ‘Ocean Drive’ is another knockout illustration of Lington’s strident playing while ‘Angelina’, with a stunningly beautiful piano intro from Greg Phillinganes, quickly morphs into more of Lington’s compelling virtuosity. His faithful rendition of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ finds American Idol’s Ace Young delivering a more than credible vocal while it’s the unmistakable voice of Aaron Neville that lights up the emotionally charged ‘That’s When You Save Me’.

The expansive ‘Nostalgia’ provides a fittingly grandiose end to a remarkable body of work but a Secret Garden favorite remains ‘Shout About Ya’ that, complete with a pop tinged vocal from Keely Hawkes, is so infectious it hurts.

For more visit Michael’s website at www.michaellington.com

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:48 PM

November 10, 2008

South African Singing Legend Miriam Makeba Dies

Legendary South African musical treasure and Grammy Award winner Miriam Makeba has died. One of Africa’s best known voices and a champion of the fight against apartheid, Makeba died of a heart attack after a performance in Italy. She was 76.

Makeba fell ill after a concert in the southern Italian town of Baia Verde late on Sunday, November 9. She died after being rushed to a clinic in the town of Castel Volturno.

Known as “Mama Africa” and the “Empress of African Song,” Makeba was the first black South African musician to gain international fame, winning renown in the United States in the 1950s with her sweeping vocals.

Born in 1932 in Johannesburg, Miriam Makeba first came to the public’s attention as a featured vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers. She soon left to record with her all-woman group the Skylarks while touring Southern Africa with Alf Herberts’ African Jazz and Variety. In 1963, after testifying about apartheid before the United Nations, the South African government revoked her citizenship. She remained in the U.S. and married Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, but they eventually fled to Guinea on the West African Coast. Makeba returned to world prominence in 1987 when she performed with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour. In 1990, she finally returned to her homeland as a free South African.

Makeba’s final U.S. studio recording was Reflections. Released on Heads Up International in June 2004, this brilliant retrospective album featured new arrangements that captured the singer’s remarkable vocal power and artistry. Reflections is part of the Heads Up Africa series – a critically acclaimed collection that spotlights some of Southern Africa’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists.

“Mama Africa’s artistry has played such an important role in promoting the arts and culture of South Africa,” say Dave Love. President of Heads Up International. “My times with her I will cherish forever. She will be missed dearly.”

Posted by Peter Böhi at 9:14 PM

November 8, 2008

Boney James' New CD Of Love Songs: 9 Instrumentals, 6 Covers

Smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James has completed his 11th solo CD and second for the Concord Music Group. Scheduled to be released the week before Valentine’s Day, Send One Your Love is a CD of love songs with a mixture of six cover songs and four new tunes Boney wrote – “Wanna Show U Sumthin’,” “Hold On,” “Butter” and “City of Light.” The CD gets it title from the Stevie Wonder song.

In addition, Boney covers John Klemmer’s “Touch,” Barry White’s “I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby,” The Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good to You” and The Stylistics’ “Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart.” The only vocal track, James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” marks the debut of R&B vocalist Quinn.

Send One Your Love will be available Feb. 3.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 1:43 AM