April 30, 2009

What We're Listening To ** April

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

Down to the Bone, Future Boogie (Shanachie)

Grant Geissman, Cool Man Cool (Futurism)

Gregg Karukas, GK (Trippin N Rhythm)

Nils, Up Close and Personal (Baja/TSR)

Phillippe Saisse, At World's Edge (Koch)

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

Chuck LoebBetween 2 Worlds (Heads Up) (2009)

Jim PeterikLifeforce (TNT Media Group (FL) (2009)

Spyro GyraDown the Wire (Heads Up) (2009)

Marion MeadowsSecrets (Heads Up) (2009)

Pieces Of A DreamSoul Intent (Heads Up)  (2009)

P E T E R * B O E H I

Jakob Elvstrøm - SaxClub Vol. 1 (2009)
Fresh, funky smooth jazz sax by Danish saxophonist Jakob Elvstrøm who delivers a truly great upbeat album boasting great chops and memorable melodies. A breath of fresh air!

David Stevens - The Shedd (2008)
Great smooth jazz album by guitarist David Stevens, guests include Steve Cole and Gerald Veasley, excellent production and catchy songs. Thumbs up!

76 Degrees West Band - 76 Degrees West (2009)
This band features Pieces Of A Dream saxophonist Eddie Baccus Jr., it is a funky & groovy affair with great playing by all involved. Excellent!

Keith Marks - Foreign Funk (2006)
Funky flute by Keith Marks who goes through some great covers like "Summer Breeze", "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and others. Cool stuff!

Frank Wess - Wess To Memphis (1970)
A here is my nod to the past with this LP by flautist Frank Wess, the album is funky, groovy and soulful with some great vibes. They don't make these anymore!

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘Black Book’ by The Rippingtons from the album Modern Art; With a vibeness that is the hallmark of The Rippingtons at its very best this compelling tune sparkles with great keys from Bill Heller, spellbinding bass from Rico Belled and an overall input from the band that should stand them in good stead for the next twenty three years.

‘Always There For Me’ by Toni Redd from her nuGroove debut N The Key of Redd: With a singing style that is a delicious amalgam of R & B, contemporary jazz, and classic soul, her feisty collaboration with Sam Sims might just get in your head and not go away.

‘Jazz Cruise’ by Nils from his CD Up Close And Personal: This, the first cut to go to radio, is driven along with the sort of energy that only sax powerhouse Shilts can provide. It is an absolute winner.

The aptly named ‘Smooth’ from the album Just Groovin from guitarist Ronny Smith: With an amazing groove plus splashes of Hammond B3 this is one seriously good tune.

‘Foreign Exchange’ by Paul Brown & Marc Antoine from the album of the same name: This sensational tune is infectious in the extreme and as captivating as they come. With horns that are to die for it will, without a shadow of doubt, prove to be one of the top cuts of the entire year.

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

De’ Nate’, Reminisce (NuGroove Records):  De’Nate’ is the magnificent brainchild of producer/artist Nate Harasim and standout vocalist Deborah Connors, at the recommendation of nuGroove Records president,  David Chackler, who saw “something” potentially explosive in such a union. Boy, was he ever right!  Coming your way on August 19.
Novello, B3 Soul (NuGroove Records):  John Novello, a former member of the progressive jazz rock group, Niacin, which produced tunes under Chick Corea’s Stretch label in the 1990s, has expanded the dynamic of jazz here with his interpretation of how the great Hammond B3 organ sound can be further introduced in that most interesting combination of jazz, soul, and funk. 
Richard Elliot, Rock Steady (Artistry Music):   Saxophonist Richard Elliot has been a mainstay and a beacon for excellence in smooth jazz since I can recall and his upcoming release, Rock Steady, scheduled to hit stores on May 19, is just that: Rock steady in its approach to the fervor, the steel resolve, the soulfulness, and the electric energy that is Richard Elliot. 
Jackiem Joyner, Lil Man Soul (Artistry Music):  This one is loaded with all sorts of melodic treasures that will appeal to all sorts of smooth jazz ears. Speaking from experience, there are tunes that you will have the most difficult time getting out of your head because of the sweet melodies and hypnotic hooks. 
Down to the Bone, Supercharged (Narada Jazz): It’s been two years since this one was released, and I’m still dancing and listening...and waiting for the next blast from this supercharged group from across the “pond.”  This one is, and will always be, dangerously funky!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 11:56 AM

April 29, 2009

First Sade CD In 9 Years Likely This Year

Sade fans, your wait looks like it could be almost over. Several indications point to a new CD by the reclusive singer this fall, which would be her first since Lovers Rock was released in November 2000. In addition to a post from the singer Maxwell, who has worked with both Sade and her band and says the CD is definitely coming out, Sade’s record label, Sony, has re-launched the singer’s official website in the U.S., sadeusa.com.

That’s where you can interact with fans at forums and sign up for updates. In addition, there are links to her MySpace and Facebook sites.

Sade, who has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, is best known for her many hits singles, including “By Your Side,” “Hang on To Your Love,” “Smooth Operator,” “The Sweetest Taboo,” “No Ordinary Love” and “Kiss of Life,” among many others. In 2005, Sade did compose a song called “Mum” specifically for a DVD called Voices of Darfur.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 4:42 AM

April 28, 2009

Joyce Cooling - Global Cooling

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. There is little doubt that San Francisco based guitarist Joyce Cooling has the monopoly on the kind of tight mid tempo smooth jazz that will always find an audience. Known for both her unique finger picking style and her passion for rhythm and harmony, the collaborations she has long enjoyed with writing partner Jay Wagner have signposted her career and now she is back with her brand new release, the cleverly titled Global Cooling.

Written entirely by Cooling and Wagner, this sumptuous eleven track collection which Wagner also produces is a mouth-watering creation of some of the best smooth jazz cuts you will hear this year and as one delicious number after the other comes rolling by the feeling is one of tremendous warmth. It is music that is special on many fronts, not least of which being the infectious rhythms of many complexions that Wagner expertly weaves into the majority of the songs. In fact at times his touches are nothing short of incredible and a wonderful example of his art is the one minute and twenty four seconds of ‘In The Streets’. This play-out track draws from the title of the earlier (and Jobim-esque) ‘What We Are Waiting For’ (where Cooling excels on vocals) and converts it into a totally rhythm driven chant that evokes a street carnival in Rio or the buzz of an expectant audience at a stadium gig. Equally memorable is the distinctly Middle Eastern beat of ‘Cobra’ that provides an exotic backdrop to Cooling’s urgent yet perfectly smooth playing. Again the rhythm is intoxicating and acts as a prelude to the crazy percussive extravaganza that is ‘We Can’. With Cooling’s quirky spoken word segments and innovative world influences this is indeed a ‘one of a kind’ tune. Cooling keeps the tempo spicy for the Brazilian tinged ‘Delores In Pink’ where drummer Celso Alberti really excels and when Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi takes over for ‘Rhythm Kitchen’ his interplay with bass player Nelson Braxton (of the Braxton Brothers) ensures a groove that shimmers with the country of Nashville and the blues of the Delta.

Despite its nod to the Tango, ‘The Red Rose’ carries with it a distinctly Parisienne flavor which, in no small part, is due to magnificent accordion from Wagner. Cooling’s playing remains smoothly mellow throughout and when she switches to vocals for the quirkily funky ‘Chit Chat’ the fine use of horns overlays the whole piece with a velvety veneer. She stays in top vocal form for the delightfully mid tempo ‘Save This Dance For Me’ and the pent up urgency of the title tune delivers rhythm and melody by the spade full. Its clearly one of the album’s top tracks but just shading it as the Secret Garden favorite cut is the breathtaking ‘Grass Roots’. Wagner is his usual superb self on keys and as more luscious horns combine with Cooling’s tight playing the result is truly memorable.

As with her 2006 CD Revolving Door she is denoting a portion of all sales from Global Cooling to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As she explains, “just by buying a copy of the CD, you've donated!” For all the latest news go to www.joycecooling.com. For information on the National Alliance on Mental Illness check out www.nami.org.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:30 PM

April 21, 2009

Paul Brown & Marc Antoine Tickets and CDs Giveaway

You can experience Paul Brown and Marc Antoine live. They’ll be on tour and contemporaryjazz.com is happy to give away to one lucky person a pair of tickets to the KIFM festival in San Diego on May 23 where Marc and Paul will be performing. The winner will also get a signed copy of ForeignXchange, their current CD. Additionally, a couple of copies of the CD are given away.

To win the ticket and autographed CD, just visit contemporaryjazz.com - good luck!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:09 PM

April 16, 2009

Mindi Abair Shooting Pilot For TV

One day, perhaps one day soon, saxophonist Mindi Abair just might become the next big TV star. That’s because Abair recently spent time in Philadelphia filming a pilot for a new TV show called Music In America. Abair says the show, which she is co-hosting with good friend and blues musician Keb’ Mo’, is basically about going to cities all across America to learn a little bit about each city’s musical history, its hot spots, and of course the current music scene.

While in Philadelphia, Abair interviewed Bobby Eli, a guitarist behind the Sound of Philadelphia scene in the 1970s. Although Music In America has not yet been sold for syndication, Abair says the show will soon be edited and shopped around.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 8:16 PM

April 15, 2009

Dominic Amato -- Fresh From the Groove

Dominic Amato is yet another of the up-and-coming young smooth jazz artists with powerful charisma and skill combined with an uncanny sense of what this music is really all about: character, soul, and intense groovability. The young saxophonist has apparently been able to wrap his head and heart around this concept and exhibits this understanding boldly and brightly on his debut release, Fresh From the Groove.

Grammy award-winning producer/composer/keyboardist Michael Broening joins in the celebration of this maiden voyage for the young talent, along with bassist Mel Brown and guitarist Freddie Fox (both of whom are instantly recognizable as serious, personified vibes in the business).

The collection of material here shows that Amato and Broening are no strangers to finely sculptured hooks, effects (e.g., the talkbox makes an appearance on “Greezy,” a slinky, funky, tight piece), and diversity in style (check out the rhythmic Caribbean flavor of “Jamaica,” one of my top cuts here). For the romantic, you will find “Still With You” (another fav of mine) a sweet and apropos title for a soulful and seductive tune that , if you pay close attention, sounds like the whisper from one lover to the other, professing his or her commitment and undying love for the fortunate mate. The intensity yet softness is there, the unseen yet felt gaze is there, the bond that was perhaps formed a long while ago still holds as firmly as ever. Yeah, you hear all of that in this piece. When an artist can take you there, he or she has truly arrived.

There are plenty of other examples of how successful Amato should be in reaching his listeners with this project. The chilled “Jazzy’s Flow” will certainly strike a chord (no pun intended) with most, as will the up-tempo “Out The Gate,” and two other sweet and soulful journeys entitled “Letsjustchill” and “Myluvsounds Juslikethis (For Wifey)”—more talkbox action on the latter. All in all, a great first effort for an artist whose work promises more of the same (or even better) in future endeavors. Welcome, Dominic!

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 7:01 PM

April 13, 2009

Cindy Bradley--Bloom

Newcomer trumpeter Cindy Bradley is escorted onto the smooth jazz scene here by the Trippin N Rhythm record label with a ton of class and finesse in this beautifully sassy and sexy debut album, Bloom, due in stores nationwide on June 23. Full of sultry rhythm and passion, this young lady adds a distinct touch of silky-to-the-soul flair in such a manner as to make it undoubtedly a part of her identity now and, hopefully, in future endeavors.

Bloom’s first and title track is about as soft and swaying a rhythmic introduction to this lovely addition to our world of smoothness as one could imagine. It’s a delicate piece with a very catchy and delightful melody, a strong preview of what’s to follow. What immediately does follow is another “groove-while-you-stroll-or-ride” tune with a lot of body.

Buoyed by strong support from guest appearances by such prominent artists as guitarists Tim Bowman, Jay Soto, Freddie Fox, and saxmen Marion Meadows and Jaared, Bradley bolts from the starting line in a blinding blaze and never lets up.

Trumpeters always have a tendency to be completely noticed or unnoticed. In my view, the sound and phrasings either fit or they don’t. Unlike the late inimitable Miles Davis, many are just ornaments or decorations for an already erected base of sound, and some offer little by way of mystique. Then, there are the Bottis, the Brauns---and the Bradleys of the scene. They get it done. Leads that are meant to be leads—not just propped up as leads. Cindy Bradley is definitely here to show us the difference. Tunes teeming with funk (e.g., “Uptown Drive”), tease (“Sycamore Soul”), and exoticism (“Catch the Wind,” with its alluring hook and melody) are here in one magnificent production designed to embrace all of your senses. You can taste, feel, smell, hear, and see this stuff all in one fell swoop. It’s a smooth jazz aficionado’s ideal image of smooth in the hands of a properly played, properly phrased/massaged/caressed trumpet.

Maybe not exclusively so, but Trippin N Rhythm has a knack for grabbing the suave, debonair, and just generally laid-back yet funky smooth artists bound to be magnetic with poise and style. Cindy Bradley, this formally trained bold young lady who’s worn trumpet since 4th grade, who’s already had the pleasure of touring with the renowned Pieces of a Dream, and who regularly works with Maceo Parker’s bassist and his band, just claimed a place at the table of not only Trippin N Rhythm’s elites, but of all discriminating smooth jazzers with Bloom. Congrats, lady. Pull up a chair. Let’s all sit, chat, and drink of the creatively prepared “wine” you’ve created with this project. What a wonderful taste.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 8:33 PM

April 11, 2009

Gregg Karukas -- GK

Here is Gregg Karukas (a native of my neck of woods ) tantalizing us with the mellower side of his superb keys work with help from so many notables that the studio probably needed no electrical light—just the glow from this array of talent. Needless to say, the keyboardist himself is here again with all of the keen smoothness that he’s always embodied.

GK (guess what that stands for and you get a lollipop, kids!), in my opinion, is considerably more laid-back than, say, his funkier “Looking Up” album. Nonetheless, it only speaks to the tastes and versatility of the man who touts this vibe of smooth jazz so well.

“Manhattan,” the lead-off track is a perky yet somewhat “quiet” little gem set in a moderate tempo with nifty piano runs, while “Napa Road” comes at us in a snappy up-tempo setting with melodic runs and bright horns featuring world class trumpeter Rick Braun & the cool of saxman Michael Paulo. The style is definitely typical Karukas. “Floating in Bahia” does truly float lazily and seductively and hints of an earlier melody – I’m thinking mostly of the George Howard version of “Love Will Find A Way,” just slower and “easier” here. This cuddly piece features Braun and guitarist Ricardo Silveira.

The track, “Wildwood,” brandishes an up-tempo and swinging mood with authoritative sax work from Paulo. A tune of special note to me is the rhythmic, very samba, and very jazzy “Jamba Samba” with Silveira on guitar and Luis Conte on percussion just settling into one of those grooves that lets you know they would have been comfortable right there all day and all night. “Coyote Party” is perhaps the most like a “party” on this cozy and reflective album. Its bluesy yet popping rhythm and melody are quite effective, as guitarist Paul Brown jumps in, adding his special concoction of spice to the tune.

If you like Karukas in a mellow mood (or mellower mood, considering that this is already a pretty laid-back artist), this is just the stuff for what ails you. Whether he is going all out in a funky setting or just tickling the ivories as you slip into a delicious state of oblivion, he remains on top of his charming and fluid game.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:26 PM

John Swanson's "Rent Party"

Malindy Music, Inc. founder John Swanson—also the producer of this effort-- has turned out a quality product here in Rent Party with the help of veteran saxophonist Cal Bennett (who has played and recorded with Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and Donna Summer) and veteran multi-instrumentalists. Generally well-conceived and orchestrated, the R&B-flavored project should have broad appeal to smooth jazzers, who generally enjoy tight, crisp execution of smooth jazz as it is finely interwoven with this soulful element, anyway.

Rent Party wastes no time in pushing the funk-laden tracks at you in measured paces, starting with the competent and calling sax of Cal Bennett in the smooth-dancing opening track, “Can I Spend the Night,” which includes some really decent harmony backing vocals from a number of apt vocalists including Cristi Black, Shea Chambers, Sandy Simmons, and others.

The album rolls effortlessly along, providing grooves to chill by, to whisper by, to love by. A case in point would be the steady “Swing It,” a tune not big on bridges, hooks, and the like but huge on hitting that “spot” and providing that good ol’ “that’s it” feel. Track 3, “I Wanna Dance” is a gritty, very nastily funky, mid-tempo piece that also provides little by way of bridges, etc, but calls on the animal in you to get on the floor and burn it up with sheer sensuality. If slow and sweet is your thing, Cal Bennett’s sax and the endearing backing vocals bring it home on “Johnny’s Amour” with mellow yet pulsating spirit and depth. Wanna work up a sweat? Try “I Wanna Be Your Man.” This one is on fire from the opening note and comes adorned with nicely arranged horns to complement the overall aura of funk.

As mentioned a couple of times, many tunes on this album seem to focus more on the continuity of the groove and feel than on any diversity of “twists and turns” in the compositions themselves (e.g., bridges, breaks, etc.). Many of the hooks that are present are a bit repetitive, but they work. The vocals—sometimes taking on a spiritual light-- often step in to really color the pieces in ways that bring brilliance to the forefront. “If You Only Knew” is truly representative of this. A tune that does offer both continuity and diversity might be the well-crafted “I Believe.” Again, those quality backing vocals don’t hurt at all!

Overall, this is an album very much worth its weight and does what it apparently set out to do: Partner the serious the urban R&B/funk groove with the cleverness and taste of smooth jazz. As I’ve said, it works. Check this out at CDbaby.com.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:10 PM

April 10, 2009

The 17th Annual City Of Lights Jazz Festival

The 17th Annual City Of Lights Jazz Festival hosts five great acts this year. Boney James, Wayman Tisdale, Maysa, Marion Meadows, and the young female sax sensation, Jessy J.
The all day event will take place on April 25th in Las Vegas at the Clark County Government Amphitheater. Check City Of Lights Jazz Festival to be directed to more detailed information regarding tickets, accommodations, and travel.

The Killer Groove Band will be performing at two venues this month. The first is The District At Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, NV. on Friday, April 10th, the weather withstanding chances of rain. Then you can catch them at the Black Label tavern in Las Vegas on Saturday, April 25th, which is endorsed by The Las Vegas Jazz Society.

Ongoing events include Monday nights at the Palms Resort with Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns.

On an editorial note:
Keep listening to traditional jazz college stations as they begin playing artists again like Spyro Gyra, Fourplay, Nelson Rangell, and other musicians who once garnered attention on smooth jazz radio stations. With the decline of that format the afore mentioned have been recording material more suited for the contemporary jazz listener who favors modern funk and soul rhythms, but with a little more "meat" creatively.
This is the way it was before the "smooth" era was manufactured by corporate radio program directors in the late '90s.
It will be nice to hear some type of soloing happening in this kind of jazz once more. Even Kenny G is soloing and experimenting again since his arrival at Concord Records, following his decision to abandon the Arista / Clive Davis "play-another-watered-down-formula-pop-song-and-go-platinum-again" philosophy. And with Kenny's partnership with Starbucks it appears his sales have not diminished by much in the last year or so.

Posted by Danny Desart at 8:19 PM | TrackBack

April 8, 2009

Wayman Tisdale Entering College Basketball Hall Of Fame

Congratulations to Wayman Tisdale, the University of Oklahoma's all-time leading scorer, who will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Tisdale – who was also a star in the NBA for 11 season and is now a smooth jazz superstar, of course – was a three-year first-team All-American and Big Eight Player of the Year who averaged 25.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game during his three seasons with the Sooners.

He will be inducted Nov. 22 at the College Basketball Experience in the Sprint Center in Kansas City. He’ll be in some pretty good company – also being inducted will be Indiana State's Larry Bird and Michigan State's Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

Tisdale was also honored on April 7 with a Community Hero Award by the new Oklahoma City Thunder pro basketball team. He received the honor during halftime of the Thunder’s game against the San Antonio Spurs.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 1:54 AM

April 6, 2009

The Roberts Bros., Twins, (BDM Records)

Earlier here, I wrote about The Roberts Bros., a dynamic duo with the punch, thickness, funk, soul, and rhythm more than capable of making any smooth jazzer proud to be a smooth jazzer. I also mentioned that the duo had released a subsequent project in 2007 called Twins and that I would be grabbing a copy of it. Well, I have and am I glad I have! Add “consistent” to my description of these guys. Here again, the funk and the “We-Get-It” factor come across boldly. These guys know what works. Period. From the moving, gyrating track 1, “Seems Like Yesterday,” to the snappy funkfests, “Don’t Look Back,” and “From Head To Toe,” and throughout this masterful piece of work--with laid-back catch-your-breath pieces like “Lazy Summer Day,” “Just Like That,” and the very sweet finale “Between Now and Then” thrown in for good measure--this is another gem that simply must be added to any serious smooth jazzer’s library. Watch this duo. Keep them on your radar screen, if they’re not there already. They bring smoke, heat, and soul to fill any heart, any void. You just can’t go wrong with consistency of this sort. Available via their website at www.therobertsbros.com. Enjoy!

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:15 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Jazz Attack

Sunday night, the festival finale laid in the hands of super-star group Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun on trumpet, Richard Elliot on saxophone and Jonathan Butler on guitar and vocals. They relied on their tried and tested formula playing their hit songs like Rick Braun's "Notorious", while Richard Elliot delivered his beloved Stylistics song "People Make The World Go Round", where he took the opportunity to baffle the audience with some growling and purring sounds from his saxophone. Jonathan Butler sang a heartfelt version of "No Woman, No Cry", which was one of the highlights of the show. As for something new, Rick Braun played one song from his upcoming CD dedicated to the music of Herb Alpert, which is destined to become a radio hit, while Richard Elliot played "Move On Up" and "Rock Steady" from his brand new current release. They were backed by Nate Phillips on bass, Ricky Lawson on drums and Dwight Sills on guitar plus keyboards. The concert was finished with the Jonathan Butler hit "Lies", which also brought another great Berks Jazz Festival to an end.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:14 PM

e.s.p. -- Time's Up!

While this is not an exclusively contemporary offering—at least not from many a smooth jazzer’s perspective, ESP is a group of extremely talented and competent musicians who quite obviously take their jazz seriously —as equally straight-ahead as it is contemporary in spots (actually, I’d say it is predominantly straight-ahead). Time’s Up is a fine piece of work that both contemporary fans and jazz purists can easily enjoy. This project is not really my personal preference, mind you, but that takes nothing at all from the caliber of material set forth here.

The tone, cadence, “swells,” and overall groove of many of these tunes do periodically flirt with contemporary elements, as with tunes like the generously lengthy “La Hija,” a rhythmic, melodic Latin-tinged piece that does brightly bring to light that element. “Copper Room,” with guitarist John Magnante’s stylish work, would be another that nods at the contemporary in a very handsome, controlled way. I also absolutely love Brian Scherer’s sax work on that tune. Coming to mind would also be “Stone Cold,” a real exercise in the art of timing and another testament to contemporary jazz. On the other hand, pieces like the opening track are a purist’s dream come true.

Throughout the album, Scherer’s brilliant scale work on sax and sweet melodic flute, coupled with really tasty string and electric bass lines by Matthew Vacanti, the bright guitar work by Magnante, and soothing keys by special guest Brian Blumenthal, do much to add flair to what can surely be found in the quaint, dimly lit jazz clubs across the country.

The album’s title is obviously a witty effort to speak to the diverse timing found here. “Post Bob Republic” the “walking” straight-ahead offering differs, of course, from the timing on the aforementioned “La Hija,” “Meet Me in Paris,” a smoky slow tempo bluesy little thing, “Merge,” or the previously mentioned “Stone Cold.” Blues fans should enjoy “Be-Bop-Da-Wop,” a bright yet bluesy/jazzy stroll that highlights the sharp skills of Magnante and Scherer.

All in all, this is a refreshing predominantly straight-ahead project with enough contemporary jazz infused to give it a nice shape. Not necessarily a completely balanced shape, but a nice shape nonetheless. The appeal of the marvelous melodies and the styles of the musicians and their obvious connection to the music in an easy, unimposing way speak volumes about the character of both the artists and their music. Classy effort indeed.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:08 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: David Benoit / Warren Hill

Sunday afternoon, Smooth Jazz 92.7 gave us their second Listener Appreciation Day concerts with the double bill of David Benoit and Warren Hill which took place at the Crowne Plaza Reading Hotel Ballroom in front of a capacity crowd.

Pianist David Benoit played the grand piano and a little keyboards, he was accompanied by a stellar band featuring Jeff Kashiwa on sax, David Hughes on bass and Jamey Tate on drums. This concert was a breath of fresh air, David Benoit was in a relaxed mood, he played some songs from his Heroes CD, among them "Mountain Dance", "Human Nature" with a heartfelt solo by Jeff Kashiwa, and "Light My Fire". The band was grooving along, the tasteful playing of David Hughes and Jamey Tate never overpowering the piano of David Benoit, which yielded a really great musical experience allowing the music to breathe. It brought a dimension to the festival I had been missing so far. The nod to Dave Brubeck was "Blue Rondo A La Turk" with some great sax playing by Jeff Kashiwa, before they went through some of David Benoit's biggest hits like "Beat Street" and "Freedom At Midnight". This was a well rounded concert by a great artist, supported by a great band.

After that, Warren Hill and band were turning up the heat with their powerful performance. He opened the show with "Come Together", blowing us away with his great alto-sax playing. He was backed by a great band, among them Wayne Gerard on guitar. Another highlight was "Mambo 2000", a great latin track which was delivered with aplomb by all involved. He slowed down things in the middle of the concert, when he took the acoustic guitar and sang a gentle song dedicated to his daughter, showing a completely different musical side of his personality. After that, he played the beautiful "Still In Love", a song written for his wife. He also played a couple of songs on the soprano saxophone before it was time to give us his signature song, Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" which had the crowd cheering along. As an encore, they played a great blues song that gave Wayne Gerard the opportunity to shine. This was a great concert by a consummate player.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:01 PM

Candy Dulfer -- Funked Up!

Ah, the Mistress of Funk has returned from the Candy Store all Funked Up! What a birthday treat I can expect on May12, the release date of the monster on the horizon, Candy Dulfer’s Funked Up! album. What can I say? After clearing the smoke from my ears and settling down after a sweatfest of dancing, I was able to assess the dynamics of this one and this explosive artist. Simple question: How does she keep it up??

This titan production kicks it in high gear from track 1, “First in Line,” a primo place to be when going to one of her fiery concerts. It’s followed by a hip-hop-laced funkster called…“My Funk” (imagine that!). Joining the sexy saxtress from Holland on this endeavor is a rapper/vocalist from the Netherlands, Pete Philly who adds that sassy, in-your-face energy so needed to keep pace with Dulfer’s fly-high style. Among others, bassist Chance Howard and drummer Kirk Johnson are right here with her, offering their great talents as key components of this Candy engine.

Every tune here is cut from the colorful, textured cloth that has come to define the sweet and marvelously talented character of the Dutch beauty whose sax has become as much a household item in a smooth jazzer’s life as a hammer. By the way, I have several favs here, and among them would be the opening track, the oh-so-melodic “Don’t Go,” the reggae-flavored “True and Tender,” and the finale, “Roppongi Panic.” There are others, but these are at the top of the heap for me on this one. Such an abundance of structure and soul.

For added effect, there’s a sound bite on ”CD 101” that I just love as she pays tribute to the New York radio station that gave her plenty of airplay around the time of the band’s 1st visit to the States in 1991. The DJ talks about the music not being for the “faint of heart” and how the station would need to take a break while they get some “roofing experts” in to repair the damage that was certain to have been caused by the heat of the Candy sound! Well said.

You know, there is such a marvelous story behind this talented wonder. I’ll just touch on a few key points. Her dad, Hans Dulfer (with whom she collaborated on a joint effort a while back, I seem to recall), was a well-known Dutch saxophonist who founded the Bimhaus, the famous jazz club that was originally subsidized by the Dutch government to promote the arts. Ironically, her dad was ousted from the organization for embracing styles outside the strict confines of traditional jazz. Can you imagine? This, of course, motivated the young Candy, who went on to form her own funk/R&B band, Funky Stuff. Nothing “traditional” about that, I’d say. The rest, as they say, is history.

At any rate, this is quality and trademark Candy. If you’ve loved her in the past, you’ll certainly eat her up here.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 4:59 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Metro

Saturday, I attended the late-night show of Metro at the Jazz Base in the Crowne Plaza Reading Hotel, Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base club. Metro is the fusion project of guitarist Chuck Loeb featuring Mitch Forman on keyboards, Dave Weckl on drums and Gerald Veasley on bass. The band was extended for this festival with additional soloists Randy Brecker on trumpet and Bobby Francescini on sax. They went through their hard hitting songs which were not primarily about melody, but much more about straight playing, soloing, and technical complexity. Bobby Francescini is a very powerful player giving us some great solos while the band was grooving like hell with the great Dave Weckl on drums and Gerald Veasley on bass providing the rock-solid foundation to the proceedings. Mitch Forman, Randy Brecker and Chuck Loeb added their share of excellent soloing, and the whole band proved to be a cohesive unit yielding an impressive concert.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:13 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Boney James

Saturday evening, superstar Boney James appeared in the Scottish Rite Cathedral delivering his ultra-smooth brand of saxophone led groovy instrumental music. He was accompanied by a youthful band, among them bassist Sam Sims. They brought us up to speed with "All Night Long", Boney was dancing and moving around across the stage while playing his horn, his way to express himself is totally unique and special. His current CD Send One Your Love is decidedly the ultimate make-out album, so the majority of the songs were rather laid-back and sensual, but this is the style Boney feels the most comfortable in. From this CD, he played Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby", the album's title track, Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love" and the great Stylistics classic "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)", the rest of the show featured some of his well known tracks and trademark playing. He did his stroll into the audience and had several women dancing along to his playing, he even stepped onto some seats right behind us to play standing in the middle of the cheering crowd. The concert was sold-out and the many "Boney" shouts from the audience proved the popularity of this artist.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:09 PM

April 5, 2009

Paul Brown + Marc Antoine - Foreign Exchange

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Foreign Exchange by Paul Brown and Mark Antoine hits record stores across the USA on April 7 and captures the wonderful chemistry of acoustic and electric guitar in a way not seen since 1987 when George Benson and Earl Klugh got together to record the classic Collaboration. Indeed Antoine’s penchant for irresistible melodies coupled with Brown’s propensity for funk enriched smooth jazz has ensured an eclectic collection of the highest order yet the fact the album was ever made owes something to good fortune. Having performed together at Paul Brown’s Guitar Night in 2008, two time Grammy winner Brown, who was in the early stages of producing a follow-up to his 2007 smash White Sand, invited Antoine to play on one of the songs. The initial session sparked a creative flow which developed into a dynamic new partnership and, in turn, the aptly titled Foreign Exchange. With outstanding support from some of the genre’s biggest hitters, plus top rated session men Roberto Vally, Dan Lutz and Lenny Castro, this is a project that cannot fail.

Recorded at Brown’s Funky Joint studio in Sherman Oaks and Antoine’s facility in Madrid, Spain Foreign Exchange is in many ways a contrast between two musical entities. The first hinges on the guitar by-play between these two great players and the second, although still having Brown and Antoine left, right and centre, is given a totally different feeling by input from Brown’s regular horn section. This world class line-up of Bill Richenback on trombone, sax-man Dan Higgins and the legendary Jerry Hey on trumpet makes its presence felt with the decidedly seductive ‘Sweetness’ while at the other side of this musical divide ‘Feel The Love’ finds Antoine and Brown joined by the always excellent Jeff Carruthers on keys. It’s a tune that is blessed with a melodic lilt and subtly Latin aroma whilst when Philippe Saisse takes over on keyboards for ‘Bridges Of Paris’ his distinctly French interventions are complemented by distinctive flute from Jessy J. This compellingly beautiful number sums up much of what Foreign Exchange is all about and in this respect is in the good company of both the Latin tinged ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ and the extremely catchy mid tempo groove of ‘Wine Night’. Each serve to further showcase the wonderful musical fit that Brown and Antoine have found and, in addition, feature more great keyboards from Philippe Saisse. He stays around for the jazzily intense ‘On The Low Down’ for which Brown gets a real Wes Montgomery thing going on and again for ‘What About Bob’ which turns out to be a melodic joy.

In an album that glides seamlessly from one outstanding cut to the next it’s difficult to choose favourites but, suffice to say, the horn infused ‘French Connection’ is right up there. With many of Brown’s typical production touches and a delicious ‘in the pocket’ vibe it is a stunning example of what great smooth jazz should be yet even better and Secret Garden top track is the sensational title tune. Infectious in the extreme, as captivating as they come and with horns that are once more to die for this will, without a shadow of doubt, prove to be one of the top cuts of the entire year.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:36 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Joyce Cooling / East Bay Soul

Saturday evening we got the Golden Gate Double-Header, taking place at the Plaza Reading Hotel Ballroom with two concerts in a row.

First was Joyce Cooling who was promoting her brand new CD called Global Cooling, due in stores in one week. Hailing from San Francisco, she and musical partner Jay Wagner on keyboards brought us their brand of sunny, laid-back smooth jazz. She opened the show with some her familiar instrumental tunes, among them "Come And Get It", before featuring some new songs, among them "Cobra" and a nice song called "What Are We Waiting For", just stripped down to guitar and percussion. Another memorable moment of the concert was her performance of the track "Revolving Door", sitting on the edge of the stage. Apart from that, we got our little samba interlude with the whole band at percussion instruments featuring their great new percussionist, before finishing the show with some more familiar uptempo instrumental tracks.

Next were East Bay Soul, a band featuring former of Tower Power trumpet players Greg Adams and Lee Thornburg, plus Michael Paulo on sax and the inimitable Phil Perry on vocals. It was evident that the roots of this band were in funk and soul, the horn arrangements were very reminiscent of TOP. Greg Adams played some great trumpet and flugelhorn solos, bringing back a much welcomed jazz element. The opening track was smoking. Soon, singer Phil Perry was brought to the stage, singing two songs, among them his take on the War classic "The World is A Ghetto". Then, things slowed down a little with Sade's "Smooth Operator", Greg Adams playing beautifully on muted trumpet, paving the way for another great Phil Perry ballad and his rendition of "Walk On By". Then, Greg Adams played a great instrumental featuring him on flugelhorn, classic stuff with some great horns backing him up and a soulful sax solo by Michael Paulo. They wrapped up the show with some TOP classics, yielding one of the best shows of the whole festival.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:42 PM

April 4, 2009

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Sax Pack

Late Friday night, the Sax Pack, featuring saxophonists Kim Waters, Steve Cole and Jeff Kashiwa were performing at the Plaza Reading Hotel Ballroom delivering a truly entertaining show full of top-notch musicianship and comedy. The first song was a group effort, then the next song featured Kim Waters who really set the standard, and the whole evening revolved around the concept of competition between the players, who tried to outshine each other, pulling their legs and still showing a great sense of camaraderie. Their funny remarks between songs yielded many laughs, and each of these players has a great sense of humor. One of the highlights was Steve Cole playing "Curtis", his slow burning song dedicated to Curtis Mayfield, allowing him to pull out all the stops and have the crowd cheering withjoy. Jeff Kashiwa played "When It Feels Good" from his current release, then after a funny interlude about zodiac signs, they went into "You Are My Starship", which was well appreciated. Then as a group effort, they played their big radio hit from their Sax Pack album called "Fallin' For You", which stayed for 10 weeks at #1. The band was introduced: on guitar was Jerry Johnson, Mike Logan on keyboards, Andre Berry on bass and Clyde Davis on drums. They wrapped up the show nicely with some uptempo tracks, giving us one of the most entertaining and musically satisfying shows of the festival.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:38 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Soul Summit II

Friday evening, Jason Miles presented Soul Summit II, another star-studded event celebrating classic soul music by a great cast. Prior to the show, Jason Miles was given an award by Bob Davis of Soul-Patrol.com for his contributions to soul music and his various projects over the years, a sign of appreciation truly deserved. Then Jason Miles introduced the players for Soul Summit II. As last year, backbone of the band were living legends Bob Babbit on bass and Reggie Young on guitar who both played on an endless list of classic recordings ranging from Elvis to Herbie Mann; Steve Ferrone played the drums, while Jason Miles took care of the keyboards. Featured guest artists were saxophonists Eric Darius and Richard Elliot, guitarist Jeff Golub, singers Maysa, Simone and the male duo Soul Survivors from Philly. They recreated some old-school vibes with the first soul-drenched track featuring Jeff Golub on guitar, before Eric Darius entered the stage blowing us away with his youthful energy. Then the Soul Survivors threw us back to the 60's with their Sam & Dave like performance, before Maysa delivered, among others, "Let's Stay Together" the way only she can. Eric Darius played "Knock On Wood" and "Coming Home Baby" before Simone, daughter of Nina Simone, sang a beautiful version of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" with a truly inspired guitar solo by Jeff Golub, and "Love And Happiness", which had people grooving along. Richard Elliot came to the stage and gave us his powerful rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady", followed by Al Green's "A Change Is Gonna Come", putting all his heart and soul into the performance, giving me goosebumps! As a little surprise, Jason Miles sang one song, which led seamlessly into AWB's "Pick Up The Pieces", having all artists together on stage for the rousing finale. This was another truly great show and memorable musical experience as only Jason Miles can put together.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:34 PM

A Match Made in Jazz Heaven: Bobby Lyle and Paul Jackson, Jr.

Text: Beverly Packard
Photo: Michael C. Packard

Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base was the intimate venue for two life-long friends to come together and enjoy blending the music they both love. Bobby Lyle and Paul Jackson, Jr brought the house down with a rousing tribute to Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery. With them was the talented Mark Prince on drums.

At times soft and poignant, at times unbelievably intricate and boisterous, this dynamic duo easily held our attention for the night. In between the songs of Montgomery and Smith, Jackson and Lyle shared stories of the past, making the show interesting and educational as well as entertaining.

Early in the show Jackson credited Bobby Lyle with his decision to pursue becoming a musician. By the look on Bobby’s face, it was easy to see he couldn’t be more pleased that Jackson has been part of his circle and was there with him on stage. Often exchanging knowing looks and smiles in appreciation of each other’s playing, their special relationship in music was very evident.

One of Jackson’s stories involved his father, who, upon hearing that Jackson had played with the likes of Cher and later Whitney Houston and many other top stars, would give a proper nod of approval, but when Jackson told his father he was involved in a Jimmy Smith project, his dad’s eyes widened and he said, “REALLY??” Jackson’s father sat in the audience for this show and we found him to be a most charming man in talking with him after the show.

In addition to Montgomery and Smith classics, which included Caravan, Baby It’s Cold Outside, Round Might, Blues for Dexter, Bumpin' on Sunset and Road Song, they did an original tune, a real crowd pleaser entitled, Jump In. Walk on the Wild Side rounded out the set and although the crowd was ready for more, it was time to end, since another fortunate group of fans was scheduled to join them for the later show.

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 5:15 PM

April 3, 2009

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Berks All-Star Jazz Jam

Text: Peter Böhi and Beverly Packard
Photo: Michael C. Packard

Late thursday night at the Plaza Crowne Hotel Ballroom, one of the greatest jazz-extravaganzas known in the scene took place in the form of the Berks All-Star Jazz Jam. Under the musical guidance of guitarist Chuck Loeb, an incredible number of artists gathered on the stage to jam. There was Dave Weckl on drums, two bass players (Brian Bromberg and Gerald Veasley), four guitar players (Chieli Minucci, Paul Jackson Jr., Chuck Loeb and Matt Marshak), six saxophonists (Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, Kim Waters, Nelson Rangell, Richard Elliot and Eric Darius), two trumpet/flugelhorn players (Rick Braun and Leon Jordan Jr.) and two keyboard/organ players (Bobby Lyle and Mitch Foreman). For the first song, they all crammed the stage performing Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time" with alternating solos by several of the players, before the band split up into smaller group allowing the individual players to shine. Next was Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower", featuring Jeff Kashiwa on soprano and the incredible Leon Jordan Jr. on the flugelhorn who delivered a extensive, quite capable solo, while Brian Bromberg played a fine acoustic bass solo. Next was a funked and sped-up version of Miles Davis' "So What" that gave Gerald Veasley, Richard Elliot, Matt Marshak and Leon Jordan Jr. ample solo space. This was followed by "On Broadway", and this version was turned into a guitar frenzy by Chuck Loeb, Paul Jackson Jr. and Chieli Minucci (who toured together as Guitarzzz in the past), cranking up their guitars and jamming like crazy. The show slowed down for a while with Nelson Rangell whistling and playing the piccolo, before the speed picked up with Herbie Hancock's "Canteloupe Island" extending the band again. They wrapped up the show with all involved with Stevie Wonder's "I Wish", which brought another great concert to an end. Once again, Chuck Loeb realized his vision of what so many talented players could bring to surely the most regularly-attended show of the entire festival.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:00 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Chieli Minucci & Special EFX

Text: Peter Böhi and Beverly Packard
Photo: Michael C. Packard

Thursday evening, Chieli Minucci & Special EFX appeared at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom, celebrating their 25th year of touring as a band. The lineup consisted of leader Chieli Minucci on guitar, Philip Hamilton on percussion and vocals, Lionel Cordew on drums, Jerry Brooks on bass, Jay Rowe on keyboards and Nelson Rangell on sax & flute. In addition, the Berks Jazz Fest Horns (Michael Anderson on sax, Rob Diener on trumpet and John Loos on trombone) supported the band. The concert was opened with "Daybreak" featuring the amazing vocals of percussion player Philip Hamilton who really added a new dimension to the whole sound with his jazzy phrasings. Saxophonist Nelson Rangell was the special guest of the band and delivered some great contributions on sax and flute, blending well with the band. Chieli Minucci delivered his well known brand of fusion and smooth jazz on electric and acoustic guitars, giving us his longer renditions of popular chart-topping songs "Kickin' It Hard" and "Cruise Control". Also featured was "Body Beat" and long time favorite "Uptown East". Some of the tunes were extremely layered, while others were more laid-back, leaving more room to breathe and allowing the players to more fully express themselves. A highlight for the crowd was the rendition of "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" which built nicely and left the crowd wanting more. Minucci has become a real favorite at the jazz festival; he is happy to be here and considers Berks to be part of his 'family,' he delivers simply amazing solos, and he has an enthusiastic band, as evidenced by the band's focused attention on giving him what he wants, and Jay Rowe's infectious smiles and dancing during his awesome keyboard playing. The show was very well received, with a number of standing ovations on the part of some or all of the crowd.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:07 PM

April 2, 2009

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Brian Bromberg

Wednesday I went to see the concert of the Brian Bromberg Quintet at the Jazz Base, the lineup consisted of Brian Bromberg on acoustic & electric bass, Mitch Foreman on keyboards & piano, Nelson Rangel on saxes, flute & whistling, Dave Weckl on drums and Chuck Loeb on guitar. The club setting was cool, and the band was ready to jam. They kicked off the show with Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon", followed by Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time", both tracks can be found on Brian Bromberg's latest CD Downright, Upright. Despite the fact that the musicians just gathered for this concert the band played very well together, Dave Weckl was never missing a beat, Nelson Rangell was blowing a mean horn and later whistled beautifully, while Chuck Loeb delivered a few burning solos on guitar. Another highlight was the keyboard playing of Mitch Foreman, who delivered some outstanding solos. But the man holding it all together was bassist Brian Bromberg, who alternated between acoustic and electric bass, a special highlight was his solo acoustic bass performance, before they closed the concert with a rousing version of Herbie Hancock's classic "Cantaloupe Island". This was a great concert by a world-class band.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:22 AM

April 1, 2009

Intermission - Berks Jazz Fest 2009

Text and photo: Michael C. Packard

One unique aspect of Berks is the chance to participate in some really fun activities that occur during the week, between the world class shows. A Reading Eagle newspaper advertisement highlighted a two hour "meet the artists" event hosted by the Verizon store, with on-air coverage by Jo Painter of WEEU-AM radio.

A sunny and warm spring afternoon with two free tickets for Saturday's East Bay Soul show for the first twenty people beckoned. Bassists extraordinaire Brian Bromberg and Gerald Veasley, as well as Uptown Band members, Erich Cawalla and Jennifer Kinder were on hand to autograph promotional photos, free CD's which were given away.

We had a fun time mixing it up with the Berks Arts Council folks, the radio people, and chit-chatted with the artists, friends, and fans. Everyone who attended had a laugh, got some free stuff, and left a little bit happier.

PS: On the photo (from left to right): Brian Bromberg, Peter Böhi, Gerald Veasley.

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 8:00 PM

Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Steve Smith & Vital Information

World renowned Steve Smith and his band Vital Information put on an entertaining – and informative -- show Saturday evening at Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base in the Reading Crowne Plaza Hotel. Before the show began, the chatter in the audience reflected how eager everyone was to see what magic Steve Smith was going to bring to his drumming on this, the second night of the Berks Jazz Festival.

Joining Smith was Baron Browne on bass guitar, Tom Koster (formerly of Santana) on keyboards, and Vinny Valentino, the latest addition to this band, on guitar. A guest appearance by Andy Fusco on saxophone rounded out the evening. These artists come out of rich musical background, having made their mark on the music industry even before joining Steve Smith. Fusco is part of a second band that Steve Smith leads, known as Jazz Legacy, a more straight-ahead jazz group dedicated to the legacy of drummer Buddy Rich and many other great drummers. The set list included Time Tunnel, Interwoven Rhythms – Synchronous, Get Serious, Seven and a Half, Interwoven Rhythms – Dialogue, JBen Jazz, Bottom Line, The Blackhawk or Looks Bad, Feels Good, The Closer, and for an Encore, The Trouble With/Jimmy Jive.

Vital Information has the corner on being a tight band; there is such precision in every piece they play, not a space or note is wasted. And the rhythm of the songs was nothing short of amazingly complex and perfectly executed. Twice during the show, the audience was given ‘vital information’ about music and rhythm that the artists gleaned on recent trips to India. Smith explained the time the band members learned to reframe in their minds the beat of a song in 15:8, simplified by musicians in India who taught them to use 7 ½ time, which is 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7-and-a-half -1 & 2 and so forth in a repetitious pattern. He clapped this beat for us, and so it was easy to pick up…at first. But as they played and the song became more layered and complicated, it was nearly impossible for us to find the beginning of the phrasing of beats. Wow, and some of us really worked at it!

The audience was also educated in the use of voice percussion called konokol. Smith and Valentino demonstrated these vocalizations which articulate the complex rhythm in a song. There were patterns to the type of vocalization used for various phrasings in the song. It was quite fascinating to see how voice percussion is used and interesting that even perhaps one of the most famous drummers in the world can still add something new to his repertoire in the area of percussion.

When watching a great drummer like Steve Smith, somehow I begin to believe that if I could just sit in his seat for awhile, I feel certain I could produce some decent sounds and stay with the beat using syncopation and lots of other effects to make it interesting. Although I’m eager to try it, it doesn’t take long before I realize that this is probably pretty unlikely! While Smith makes it appear effortless, he has so many sticks and tricks and variations of the way he gets just the right effect that it would be impossible for almost anyone in the world to duplicate, and there are probably only a handful of drummers who can do it.

In a sense, Vital Information’s shows are about rhythm, about how challenging and complicated the music can become. Despite my love for a more recurring melody line and perhaps less complication at times, in a live show like this it’s easy to get lost in what each artist is bringing to it and in the joy they feel having accomplished what they set out to do by the end of the song. Speaking of the ending of the songs, they were superb in every case. Again, perfectly executed, all together, exactly on the same space in time for each final note.

It’s the second time I walked away from a Vital Information show simply mesmerized by the talent musicians can exhibit and the fun atmosphere that is created when a group of people sit and appreciate what a rare treat is before us.

Vital Information’s latest CD, entitled ‘Vitalization,’ was released in 2007. Please visit www.vitalinformation.com to learn more about Steve Smith and the band.

Happy Jazzin'

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo: Michael C. Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 5:43 PM

JaR -- Scene 29

JaR’s brand of contemporary jazz is unique and appealing in many different ways. Its Steely Dan feel, tone, chord phrasings, and stinging guitar riffs are quite polished and sophisticated. I remember shying away from the later Steely Dan material (post-“Countdown to Ecstasy” or maybe later) when I was regularly playing guitar because I found their intricate chords and techniques somewhat intimidating. I thought then: Nobody will ever be able to tap and emulate that sound! Well, judging from JaR’s moving project here, Scene 29, I was apparently very wrong.

The witty and deep lyrics, coupled with chords reserved for serious jazz along with a jolt of the acidity of rock, make for a rather cerebral production of monumental proportions. This is the stuff a formal contemporary jazz student should be studying (and probably does!).

I have to admit that, when I first opened this CD and read the 2nd page of the liner notes, I was put off by what appeared to be a self-serving and very esoteric rant about “level wars” and the “over-compression” of music in the studio. How many average listeners really care about that?, I thought. Sure, musicians may get it, but are they the audience?? However, after listening to this quality product—while I still feel that the esoteric chatter was unnecessary—the feel of this one is spot on in terms of capturing the essence of the genre. Walter Becker and Donald Fagan must be impressed! Tunes like “Cure Kit,” “Call Donovan,” “Make Somebody” (a tune that reminds me of another cool artist, Raul Midon), the title track, and “GPS” convinced me that the snap, crackle, and pop of this style is alive and well, thanks to this superb duo. By the way, some may ask: Who are these guys? Well, let’s look into that.

Among his many accomplishments over the years, guitarist Jay Graydon was once nominated by the Grammy board as Studio Guitarist of the Year. One of the most notable achievements for me is that he was also the soloist chosen over several other auditioning guitarists by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker for the legendary guitar solo on the tune “Peg” on the duo’s “Aja” album. Ah, so that’s why he seems so comfortable and familiar with the “Dan” sound!

Graydon played on practically every "A" list session in Los Angeles, acquiring a glowing reputation as an ace studio guitarist/solo specialist on numerous albums with all the major artists of the era, including the Motown luminaries such as the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Supremes, Diana Ross, and on and on. He was voted the second favorite guitarist in the world by the readers of the Japanese music magazine, ADLIB. His 2006 solo album at the time, "Past to Present - the 70s," was ranked by that magazine as number 9 of the favorite albums.

Another major notable: Some may already know Jay Graydon as the key songwriter/producer for smooth crooner Al Jarreau during the ‘80s. That could surely raise a few eyebrows, considering the appeal of Jarreau then, as well as now.

As for Randy Goodrum, as a most prolific songwriter/producer, he has had songs recorded by such diverse artists as Phoebe Snow, Tammy Wynette, Gladys Knight, Earl Klugh, Alabama, Ray Charles, Chaka Kahn, and a multitude of others.

Goodrum has also performed on keyboards on hundreds of recording sessions with such legendary artists as Chet Atkins, Roy Orbison, Dionne Warwick, Steve Perry, Earl Klugh, DeBarge, Al Jarreau, Steve Wariner, and George Benson.

Goodrum's numerous awards include being inducted into the prestigious Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in October 2000. He has also won dozens of ASCAP Songwriter and Publisher Awards for the many hits throughout his career.

So, you can see how beneficial and electrifying the union should be between these two. The evidence is already present in this debut product. Scene 29 should be the promising start of something that just may be quite a long and fruitful partnership, much to the delight of listeners.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:11 PM