What's In Your Library?

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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!

Cynthia Layne � Beautiful Soul

Cynthia Layne�no newcomer to music, with 15 years of performing under her belt-- is an attractive, very polished, sexy-smooth vocalist whose style on her 2008 release, Beautiful Soul, is often described as neo-soul, or some blend of R&B and soul (often, these terms are interchanged and don�t really speak to any significant distinctions). Personally, I find that this talented young lady displays a feel for great jazz vocals and smart lyrics, in addition to the obvious R&B overtones, and there are characteristics that feature atypical (for R&B) phrasings and chords. No, there�s so much more than R&B or neo-soul to this nightingale. There are some real intangibles that I feel define her as much as anything else.

This is a marvelous collection of well-conceived and produced diverse pieces that are truly tailor-made for the vocal stylings of Layne. It�s soulful, it�s jazzy, and it�s all smooth and palatable. A lot of it is definitely the stuff from which romantic evenings are painted and inhaled. It�s not at all difficult to feel this refreshing vocalist, to allow her inside your soul to caress those broken and uneasy places. The music she uses as her vehicle comes elaborately wrapped in elegance and class, as is evident in tunes like�I Can�t Change You,� �All I Need,� and the title track (which holds a lot of jazz flavor), all of which have a totally different texture and touch from that of the very R&Bish �Pimp Talk,� an equally fine tune but with a more biting edge. The latter is an effective knock on guys who can�t quite get it together in terms of appreciating a good woman. Definitely an ear-catcher. Then, there are some good ol� unbridled rhythm and soul pieces, as showcased on the more up-tempo songs like �Will U Be There� and �Mystery.� Oh, did I fail to mention the funk element? Just try on the George Duke-like funk of �Free Yourself� for size.

Yes, the diversity of Layne�s talent is on full display on this very melodic album. Truly one you should be proud to have in your collection.

Shakatak�Emotionally Blue

I recently wrote here at SJV about the UK acid and smooth jazz sensation, Shakatak, and its latest release, Afterglow. I mentioned that I�d like to get my hands on the release just prior to this one, entitled Emotionally Blue. Well, I�ve now had the pleasure of listening to this gem released a couple of years ago, and just like clockwork, it is dependably Shakatak with all of its fluid motion, electricity, harmony, and funk. Vocalist Jill Saward and Co. simply refuse to disappoint.

Emotionally Blue is full of crisp cuts from a band that�s never skimped on quality. The vintage and signature Shakatak sound is here in abundance on tunes like the title track and �Osaka Skyline.� These tunes display the cool, swank flavor and swagger of the music, with Bill Sharpe�s keys doing their thing in setting the buoyant, yet oft bluesy, mood. Then, there are the funk pieces that simply beckon you to naturally follow as they bop and strut down the musical path with attitude.

One of the qualities I�ve always admired about Shakatak is the crystalline, silky vocals of Jill Saward and the handling of the harmonies. This is an integral part of the group�s identity, as much so as Sharpe�s trademark keys work or the glossy and tight sax work often on display. There is truly so much to admire about this upstanding group that it�s increasingly hard for me to believe that they�ve not included any live performances in the States in my recent memory. That has to pinch a little for us Shak fans here, and I reiterate what I said in my previous review: Shak, you�ve gotta make the States scene. We love you here, and your distinct sound is so welcome. Don�t let us down. Bring that splendor here for us all to witness!

Anyway, give this one a listen and see if you don�t agree that it�like so many of their other smashes--is a fit for your library.