Welcome to Smoothvibes� latest feature, What�s In Your Library?, where we will periodically select certain gems from our own respective libraries�albums or CDs that could be a few to several years old but that, in our opinion, should be in all smooth jazzers� libraries. We hope that the column will direct some well-deserved light on a few artists and/or albums that may have flown under one�s radar screen. Enjoy!
Nightbyrd � Moonlight Serenade (Dreamwhisper Music)
�Who is Nightbyrd?� some may ask. Allow me to help with that. Nightbyrd is a musical project created, arranged, and recorded by Ben Rutstein (acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboards) and Doug Marcum (acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, keys). The duo focuses quite effectively on smooth Latin jazz that possesses some of the sweetest and most exotic melodies I�ve heard in quite a long while. The Moonlight Serenade CD, released in 2004, is so loaded with mesmerizing melodies that it conjures up in my mind images of all the Latin parties I attended earlier in my life, with all the ambience, color, and feeling of goodwill that went into those gatherings. The call of the majestic trumpet by Bill Armstrong on track two�s� �It Happens Every Time� is so moving and exact that you can�t help feeling that you�re in some Spanish village during a full-blown fiesta. Truly, I have not heard this quality of Latin jazz placed in such a fine, textured context as is demonstrated here. It�s an addictive album, forcing one to play it over and over again just to be caressed by the melodies as they sweep over you in waves of blissful passages and depth. I have zillions of songs and albums on my person Ipod, yet I keep returning to this album religiously!
Cool and as exotically thick-tongued and romantic as the Latin culture itself (which I absolutely adore, by the way---or can�t you tell??), this album speaks volumes in any language. If you love Latin jazz, you just might spring hearts in your eyes over this one. Available via CDbaby and Amazon. On a scale of 1-10, this is a clear 20! Ronald Jackson
The Rippingtons � Life In The Tropics (Peak Records)
While we�re on the topic of Latin jazz, Russ Freeman and Co. released a hottie in 2000 called Life in the Tropics. Now, we all know by now that Freeman, being the consummate guitarist/producer/composer, can transition easily from the contemporary jazz of his early Rippington days to the now familiar Santana-like or Hendrix-like compositions and riffs that have dominated quite a few of his later projects. Life in the Tropics is as good an example of the blazing adeptness and acuity of this renowned artist�s skills as any. With a boldness and swagger that challenges the best of Latin guitarists, Freeman and Company charge onto the Latin scene with a blistering nod to the illustrious Latin culture with tracks like �The Rhythm of Your Life� (the call to the party of parties) with hot Latina vocals by �Daisy� Lourdes Villa who also co-wrote this firestarter. There�s the appearance of another luminary, Peter White, on the marvelously penned �Caribbean Breeze.� Talk about dance music! This adds a whole new meaning to the term. Then, there�s the Santana-like �South Beach Mambo� and, for a nice twist, the reggae-heavy closing track, �Island Aphrodisiac.� Wow! is all that comes to mind.
Throughout this amazing production, you are treated to splendid contributions by the likes of Paul Taylor, Howard Hewitt, Dave Koz, and Eric Marienthal, just to name a handful. Truly one treasure to have in your library. One of Freeman�s best, in my opinion. Ronald Jackson
The Roberts Bros., Sugar & Spice, (BDM Records)
Here�s a duo worth tracking down if you like your jazz packed with punch, thickness, funk, soul, and rhythm. Even though this album, released in 2000, received extensive airplay on many smooth jazz radio stations across the country and in Canada, and they received a nomination for the Prism Award for the �Best New Up and Coming Artist� by the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards in 2001, I�ve encountered many who are still unfamiliar with the work of this impressive duo.
Each member has been quite busy with several individual projects in the business and, as a result, is quite possibly better known individually than as a duo. For example, Jimmy Roberts is a veteran saxophonist who, in the �80s, 90s, and early 2000, was an integral part of the Rod Stewart story. He�s shared the stage with such luminaries as the legendary Etta James, The Eurhythmics, Gregg Karukas, and David Benoit. In 2006, he released a solo album entitled �For We Are Never Alone,� a quality production heavy in both the contemporary jazz and spiritual realms. Peter Roberts has produced and written songs for artists including George Benson, La Toya Jackson, Daechelle, The Beu Sisters, Irene Cara, Survivor, Lisa Frazier, and Under Suspicion, just to name a few.
Combining their talents was a brainstorm that could reap benefits for ages to come, Sugar & Spice is proof positive of that. If you haven�t already done so, make space for this one in your library. There is also a hot follow-up called �Twins,� released in 2008, that I�ve yet to review. Stay tuned! Ronald Jackson