August 31, 2009

What We're Listening To ** August

P E T E R * B O E H I

Marcin Nowakowski - Better Days (2009)
Saxophonist Marcin Nowakowski hails from Poland, this is his second release, recorded in Los Angeles, produced by Jeff Lorber, mixed by Paul Brown, featuring artists like Paul Jackson Jr., Tony Moore, Lenny Castro, Alex Al, Jeff Pescetto, Dave Weckl, Michael Landau and more, giving us a picture perfect smooth jazz album. Pure bliss!

Tropical Jazz Big Band - Fantasy (2009)
This is the funkiest and tightest big band you can imagine, they are from Japan and are conducted by Shingo "Carlos" Kanno who is a ingenious arranger and percussionist, each of their CD blows me away. Their lastest release features great covers (EWF's "Fantasy" among them) and originals, only top notch material and performances, stunning!

Michael Ray Tyler - Grazing The Land (2008)
This album is a work of art and beauty. Flugel horn player Michael Ray Tyler reminds me a lot of Chuck Mangione, but he is technically better and his compositions are excellent, as are his side men. This CD is a breath of fresh air, full of honest musicianship, creativity and above all - quality. One of the best releases of recent times!

76 Degrees West Band - 76 Degrees West (2009)
This is a project featuring Pieces Of A Dream saxophonist Eddie Baccus Jr., it is a great mix of jazz funk instrumentals and r&b songs, featuring Eddie's sax, I also noticed great trumpet and trombone solos in the funky mix, this is a bunch of great players that are allowed to express themselves and jam. Thumbs up!

Roger Glenn - Reachin' (1976)
As usual a nod to the past with this classic album by flautist Roger Glenn, produced by the Mizell Brothers, lots of funky playing and great soloing by all involved. This is the music I always love to go back to!

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

Basia, It's That Girl Again (Koch)

Brian Bromberg, It Is What It Is (Artistry)

Four80East, Roll On (Native Language)

Jeff Golub, Blues For You (E1)

Joe McBride, Lookin' for a Change (Heads Up)

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

Chaka Khan, Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 (Rhino / Wea Peak Records) (2005)

Jackiem Joyner, Lil' Man Soul (Artistry Music) (2009)

Craig Chaquico, Follow the Sun (Shanachie) (2009)

Torcuato Mariano, So Far from Home (Nu Groove Records) (2009)

Fattburger, Good News (Capitol) (1990)

D E N I S * P O O L E

The Alexander ZonjicJeff Lorber collaboration, ‘Tongue Twister’, from Zonjic’s latest release Doin The D. This understated yet up beat gem serves as a blueprint for what great smooth jazz should be.

‘CD 101.9 by Candy Dulfer from her sensational new release Funked Up. Complete with an excerpt from an original 1991 radio station broadcast this stunning track says everything about an album that in a matter of weeks has re-established Dulfer as a major force on the contemporary jazz scene.

The delightfully retro flavored ‘Back In The Day’ by Paul Taylor from his new album Burnin. With Taylor’s simmering tenor merging with great vocals from Billy Cliff there is little doubt that this will be one of the songs of the year.

‘Lets Walk’ by J Dee from the album Smoove On The Move. Dee’s own take on the dance phenomenon of ‘steppin’ is sensational. With a great ‘instructional’ rap from Big Hos and a luscious veneer of horns this one will enliven even the most tired of dancing feet.

‘On The Beach’ by Les Sabler from his forthcoming release Les Sabler Live. This faithful version of Chris Rea’s sophisticated classic is Sabler’s first-ever vocal recording and demonstrates a different side of this silky smooth guitar player.

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

Jonathan Butler, Live in South Africa (Rendezvous)

Chris Camozzi, Slow Burn (Samson)

Four80East, Roll On (Native Language)

Paul Taylor, Burnin' (Peak)

Marion Meadows, Secrets (Heads Up)

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:34 PM

August 29, 2009

The Ultimate Summer Groove in Southern California

By Ricky Richardson

The 22nd Annual Long Beach Jazz Festival was held on August 7-9, 2009, at the gorgeous grassy knoll of the Rainbow Lagoon.

Al Williams, the founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival and his staff of Rainbow Promotions and volunteers were blessed by the weather Gods with some ultimate Southern California weather. The weather was tolerable but pleasant with a nice breeze all weekend.

Al Williams welcomed the early arrivals ready to keep off their weekend at day one of the festival Friday evening. The crowd was asked to stand in remembrance of our Military veterans as a recording of “America” by Ray Charles were played. Everyone remained standing while Pastor Raymond LeBlanc said a prayer.

This year’s festival was dedicated to the late great NBA player and jazz musician Wayman Tisdale. The program got under way with saxophonist Eldredge Jackson a new rising star on the smooth jazz, Adult Contemporary music scene. Eldredge Jackson and Listening Pleasure played a set filled with smooth and funky grooves on “Ain’t Nobody,” “I Like That,” “Hello” and “Rock With You.” The bands debut CD Listening Pleasure was co-produced and several songs were written by Wayman Tisdale.

Saxophonist David Sanborn got down with a high energy set of material from several of his award winning CD’s as well as featured tunes from his latest recording Here & Gone. Throughout his set, Mr. Sanborn kept moving and grooving seamlessly from straight-ahead and improvisation jazz to pop/rock and R&B sounds.

A Summer Storm poured down on the Rainbow Lagoon featuring Norman Brown - guitar, Eric Darius - alto sax, Gail Jhonson - keyboards and Brenda Russell replacing Patti Austen to close out the first evening of the jazz festival. Their current tour is dedicated to the late great Wayman Tisdale.

Al Williams, Founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival, is a noted drummer. Day two Saturday got under way with Eric Seats as he introduced new talent through “The Next Great Drummer.” Their set was well received by the audience. I’m hoping that this will be an annual event to open the festival on Saturday’s. All of the talented drummers were featured in the spotlight as Eric Seats guided the group thru several genres of music.

Composer, Producer, Arranger, keyboardist Dr. Clarence McDonald took the crowd on a musical journey of tunes that he wrote and recording that he performed on including the hits “”What Is This” by Les McCann, “Best of My Love”- The Emotions, “Lovely Day”-Bill Withers, “Summertime,” “Heaven Help Us”-Ray Charles, “Just For Your love”-Earl Klugh, “I Like The Way You Move.” Vocalist CJ Edmonds or CJ Hammonds performed superbly with the band.

Bassist Brian Bromberg is another musician in demand as a sideman. Their set was good as the group performed original tunes and tunes that Brian Bromberg recorded with other jazz greats such as  “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock.

Hiroshima turned it up a notch with their blend of contemporary sounds with Asian instrumentations from their latest CD Legacy which will be released in the coming weeks. “Red Beans & Rice,” “I’ve Been Here Before,” “Another Place,” and One Wish” were some of the highlights of their set.

Jazz piano legend Les McCann Swiss Movement featuring saxophonist Javon Jackson were grooven as only Mr. McCann knows how to groove with jazz hits “Compared to What,” and “Cold Duck Time.”

Vocalist Ledisi was the first of a trio of neo-soul singers to grace the stage. She was enthusiastically received as she showcased her soulful, sultry voice from her previous CD’s Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue and Lost & Found.

The jazz festival crowd was ambushed with a crowd pleasing Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler and Richard Elliott to close out the second day of the festival.

Sunday, the final day of the festival got under way with the Jazz Search Winner. I didn’t arrive to the festival in time to catch her performance.

Al Williams Jazz Society featuring Al Williams - drums, Nedra Wheeler - bass, Dave Bradshaw - keyboards/piano, Tony Poinsett - congas, Dr. George Shaw - trumpet, and Doug Webb performed well in their usual Sunday afternoon time slot. The band performed “First Light,” “Sandy’s Smile,” “Cantaloupe Island,” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” In the absence of Barbara Morrison, a guest from the VIP section - Barbara Burton joined the band to sing the blues “Rock Me Baby.”

The combination of two great guitarists Marc Antoine and Paul Brown cause a musical frenzy when saxophonist John Klemmer joined the band to perform his classic tune “Touch” from the CD Touch. If you like smooth jazz, this CD is a must have for your music library. This song continues to get radio airplay.

Saxophonist Steve Cole and vocalist Leela James pumped up the energy of the festival, and fully engaged the crowd in their back to back respective sets. Both artists received a standing ovation at the conclusion of their sets.

The festival concluded with straight-ahead jazz set by Ramsey Lewis Trio followed by festival headliner Angie Stone who performed her brand of soul, R&B, and neo-soul that has made her internationally famous.

For two decades, thousands of people have been enriched by the sounds of straight-ahead jazz, smooth jazz, R&B and neo-soul at one of Southern California’s premier jazz festival - Long Beach Jazz Festival. Now would be a good time to plan on attending the festival in 2010.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 1:00 PM

August 28, 2009

Paul Taylor - Burnin

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. With a title that says it all, smooth sax superstar Paul Taylor is back on the scene with his fifth CD on Peak Records, the stunning Burnin. This stellar collection of nine original tunes and one well crafted cover finds Taylor, for the fourth album in a row, enlisting the services of Rex Rideout and Barry J. Eastmond to variously add their legendary writing, production and performing skills to an end product that is as good as anything released this year. Rideout is best known for his collaborations with an A-list of contemporary jazz superstars that include Boney James, Larry Carlton and Will Downing while Eastmond has worked with everyone from Britney Spears to Al Jarreau, Phil Perry to Freddie Jackson and Anita Baker to Jonathan Butler. Taylor was totally blown away by the excitement that each of them brought to his 2003 project Steppin Out and not surprisingly brought them back to play a part on his 2005 Nightlife. Their collective contributions to Taylor’s 2007 blockbuster Ladies Choice ensured it was his most soulful to date and with Burnin they are again demonstrating their innate ability to deliver urban jazz that goes the extra mile.

The album is typified by the Rideout – Taylor composition ‘Side Pocket’ which has that strutting feel good vibe that over recent years Taylor has employed to define how great smooth jazz should sound. This same combination returns for the turned down ‘Remember The Love’ where Taylor’s cool alto sax sends shivers down the spine while completely different, but also from the pen of Rideout and Taylor, is the thumping ‘Revival’. It shimmers with gospel tinged backing vocals and is given depth by input from fellow sax-man Gary Meek and trumpeter Ron King. Rideout is back to handle production on Taylor’s funk drenched rendition of the War classic ‘Me And Baby Brother’ whilst that same funkiness is on display with the first of six Eastmond – Taylor cuts, the grooving mid tempo ‘Groove Shack’.

More of the delectable same comes in the form of the strident ‘Juke Joint’ and when Taylor slips into textbook smooth jazz territory the result is the luscious ‘So Fine’. It’s probably only a matter of time before radio is tempted by the big, infectious and totally ‘in the pocket’ ‘It’s Like That’ but the one already tearing up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio is the sunshine filled title tune. A sensation of rhythm and melody it is sure to monopolize the charts for some time to come but that said the Secret Garden top track is the delightfully retro flavored ‘Back In The Day’. As Taylor’s simmering tenor merges with great vocals from Billy Cliff there is little doubt that this will be one of the songs of the year.

Burnin by Paul Taylor is a revelation from beginning to end. Go out and buy it now. For more go to

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:45 PM

August 23, 2009

The Killer Groove Band CD Release Party

Vegas based Killer Groove Band will host a CD Release Party Friday, August 28th, at Big Dogs Brewery starting at 6pm. The CD release date is slated that same day. The new album is titled "Get Out".

, headed up by trumpeter James Barela, will perform September 4th at the Rhythm Kitchen.

Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns are still tearing it up on Saturdays at The Palms Hotel. Great funk, vocals, jazz solos, and originals account for a packed house every week.

Catch the Lon Bronson Band who perform periodically at the Green Valley Ranch Resort. Thursday, August 20th, they brought their unique Tower Of Power style funk sound to a very enthusiastic audience.

Chris Botti will be performing Saturday, September 5th, at Aliante Station Hotel.

The Jazz Attack with Rick Braun, Jonathon Butler, and Richard Elliot, perform one night only in the Railhead Showroom at The Boulder Station Hotel.

Posted by Danny Desart at 5:49 PM

August 20, 2009

Palmdale Jazz and Wine Festival Uncorks September 12

The City of Palmdale Mayor, Jim Ledford, and Director of Parks & Recreation, Russ Bird, announced the entertainers who will perform at the third annual Palmdale Jazz & Wine Festival, coming Saturday, September 12 at the Palmdale Amphitheater at Marie Kerr Park, 2723 Rancho Vista Boulevard, Palmdale, CA.

The entertainment lineup opens with contemporary jazz guitarist Richard Smith, whose latest album, Soulidified, spent 17 weeks at the top of the jazz charts.

With eight Top 5 Radio & Records singles, four of which hit #1, contemporary jazz saxophonist Euge Groove will perform beginning at 7:30 pm (PST).

The evening closes with a 9:00 pm performance by guitarist/singer/songwriter Norman Brown. Since the release of his critically acclaimed 2002 album, Just Chillin' –which won a Grammy in the prestigious Best Pop Instrumental Category – this innovative and original guitarist has been front and center in the fast evolving fusion of pop, R&B, and jazz that has captured the imagination of true music aficionados across the country and around the world.

The Festival will be announcing an additional performer and special guest MC in the next few weeks.

The Palmdale Jazz and Wine Festival will feature a variety of outstanding local and California wineries. Guests will also be able to purchase a delicious selection of gourmet foods and micro brewed beers.

Tickets are on sale at Reserved seating tickets are $50, and festival seating tickets are $35. Guests who purchase Festival-seating tickets are encouraged to bring short back lawn chairs or blankets. Both tickets include four wine tasting tickets and a commemorative wine glass upon arrival. A designated driver ticket is available for $25. Designated drivers are encouraged to bring short back lawn chairs or blankets. Advance ticket sales end Friday, September 11 at 11:59 pm (PST) or when tickets sell out, whichever occurs first. On the day of the festival, tickets are $60 Reserved, $45 Festival and $35 Designated Driver. Parking is free.

The Palmdale Jazz & Wine Festival is generously sponsored by Wine and (presenting sponsor), American Medical Response, Antelope Valley Mall, Antelope Valley Harley-Davidson, AT&T Real Yellow Pages, Fresco II, The Palmdale Hotel, Robertson's Palmdale Honda, Time Warner Cable, Valleywide Dental, and Sponsorships are still available, and businesses that would like to participate as a sponsor to promote their business, products and services should contact parks and recreation at 661/267-5611.

For more information about the festival, please call the parks and recreation department at 661/267-5611 or visit

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 7:02 PM

August 19, 2009

Soul Ballet -- 2019

No sitting down allowed here. The Soul Ballet party is always alive and pulsating. Since launching the pseudonym’s debut release in 1996, producer/multi-instrumentalist/composer/programmer (and just the consummate one-man music machine) Rick Kelly has managed to keep Soul Ballet in the forefront of the collective mind and conscience of smooth jazz audiences everywhere with his signature mix of jazz and electronica. His marked journeys into the dark recesses of space and the future are so heavy, it often boggles the mind how he’s able to create such a masterful and funky groove from themes that others have tried but have hardly been as consistently successful as Kelly. Heavy, fat, and loud are sometimes terms one uses to describe someone or something in a negative manner, but it also works in a most creative and positive manner when describing Soul Ballet’s latest project, 2019, to which “tastefully done” must be added to that description

So often, electronica can be monotonous, even boring, with the artist simply programming the same runs and hooks to repeat over and over again against the backdrop of some beat that is expected to drown out the monotony and try to convince the listener that it’s all about the dance. Soul Ballet has shown consistently that its sound is unique in quality and in its ability to always remain fresh, expressive, and almost introspective. Therefore, Kelly plows forward with a huge sense of pride and bravado with each release.

Each tune here, from the driving opening track, "Boom! It’s On!" through the powerful groove and hook of "Her Tears Transform U," provides its own push and pull, a life full of breathless energy and purpose. I have to admit that here is yet another artist who never fails to impress me, but it goes beyond the music. It speaks to his commitment to thinking outside the box, to looking ahead (as his futuristic tendencies demonstrate) and to be certainly atypical of the average electronica/techno project, even those who may attempt the merge with jazz. Only a very limited handful can pull off the one-man extravaganza thing with any real success, and Kelly is undoubtedly one of them.

In addition, the subtle vocals provided by Ariah Firefly and Deborah Cade add a touch of sweetness to this otherwise in-your-face experience, as vocals always have on Soul Ballet releases, and it makes the project even sexy. The saying goes that if something works, you don’t mess with it. I’d say Rick Kelly/Soul Ballet learned that a long time ago while still managing to introduce originality in each effort. And so the story continues on into the future…

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 3:18 PM

August 15, 2009

Jimmy Sommers - Time Stands Still

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. First take fourteen timeless tunes. Then marry them up with some of the greatest contemporary jazz performers around today. What do you get? Time Stands Still the surprising yet wonderful new release from urban jazz saxophonist Jimmy Sommers. It’s an album that represents quite a musical departure for Sommers who’s previous CD, Sunset Collective, flirted outrageously around the margins of where contemporary jazz meets R & B, Latin and dance. The sensational outcomes that emanated from this stellar 2007 collection makes the wow factor of Time Stands Still that much more acute and leaves the listener to marvel at the breathtaking versatility which Sommers has now added to his undisputed creativity.

In fact Time Stands Still is a joy from beginning to end and, in the company of Chris Botti, Rick Braun, Paul Jackson Jr., Eric Benet and Bill Cunliffe, Sommers delivers some truly magical moments. Co-produced by Sommers and the legendary Jeff Carruthers Time Stands Still also benefits from the arrangements of the Grammy nominated Cunliffe who as writer and pianist is rapidly making a name for himself in the parallel worlds of jazz and classical music.

Time Stands Still opens with ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ that, thanks to Sommers sublime playing, glistens with sophisticated elegance. However, truth to tell, as with any compilation of classic compositions, it is less about the individual tracks and more about the overall impression that the entire body of work provides. It is also about personal preferences and in this respect the ultra cool ‘The Look Of Love’ and the familiar strains of ‘When I Fall In Love’ are right up there. However another Secret Garden favorite, and a glittering star in a dazzling constellation, is the Kern – Fields, Academy Award winning, song ‘The Way You Look Tonight’.

With romance dripping from every note, and the all pervading aura of a smoky late night jazz club, this extremely tender yet very different rendition sounds every bit as good as that first performed by Fred Astaire in the film ‘Swing Time’.

Released on nuGroove Time Stands Still is a wonderful antidote to the stressful world in which we all live and is worth checking out.

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

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:44 PM

August 10, 2009

Guitars and Sax Show Coming to Fort Dix, New Jersey August 14th


Fort Dix, New Jersey is hosting the 2009 "Hot August Night Wine and Jazz Festival" on August 14th. Club Dix is the site of an evening of wine and smooth jazz. Taste New Jersey's finest wines while grooving to the "Guitars and Sax" featuring Euge Groove, Jeff Golub, Jeff Lorber, and Jessy J. The event Includes the concert and wine & cheese tasting and complimentary wine glasses (while supplies last). Free copies of the recently debuted Wine and Jazz magazine will also be available.

The event is held annually in support of Soldiers deploying and returning from Iraq, plus all the support staff that handle the mission. It's open to the pubilc and will be held at Sixth Street and Alabama Avenue, Fort Dix, New Jersey. Tickets are $24.00 for Military ID card holders and $29.00 for all others. Master Card and Visa accepted. Age must be 21 or over to participate in wine tasting.

Tickets have been on sale since June 15 at FMWR headquarters, BLDG 6043, Doughboy Loop, Fort Dix. Tickets are also available by calling Club Dix at (609) 723-3272 or FMWR Headquarters at (609) 562-6772.

For more information about the event, call 609-562-5881, Extension 6772. For driving directions, visit Producing this show are Fort Dix FMWR and Lerer Media.

Doors open at 5:30 PM. with two opening bands performing just before the Guiitars and Sax show! We hope to see you there for a fun night of wine tasting and smooth jazz!

Happy Jazzin'

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

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 2:39 AM

August 3, 2009

Peter White - Good Day

So, there I am, rolling along the highway, coming up on my exit while listening to my advance copy of the upcoming Peter White CD, Good Day, and I completely missed the exit—so into what was emanating from my car speakers: One of the best “returns” I’ve heard in years-- Peter White back from several years of covers to the splendor of original material as only he can render. This is truly a beckoning to all smooth jazzers to return to the Peter White of the 90s and early 2000s, to recall the images and good feeling his originals always conjured up. It is all here in abundance. Those of us who have waited for the guitar master’s fascination with covers (great though they were) to subside a bit and for his return to that which fascinated us so fully over the years will definitely not be disappointed. The wait, the patience, and the undying allegiance to the man who has always offered contemporary jazz acoustic guitar with so much color and flair have truly paid off in immeasurable manner, and that's no overstatement. True, I have always admired the effortless, silky skills of the Londoner, but anyone who’s into real smooth or contemporary jazz will have to admit to the appeal of this one.

With guest appearances by Philippe Saisse (who appears on all but the last three tracks) and Basia, each tune here has legs of its own. No fillers. Each melody carries its own signature, each hook its own bite. From the flavorful title (and opening) track with its funky emphasis on solid bass lines, percussion, and rhythm to “Bright,” his rousing tribute to our fallen brother, Wayman Tisdale, to the Latin-flavored “Ramon’s Revenge” and beyond, the British gentleman again dazzles with melody, style, and grace, proving once again why he is such an integral component of the contemporary jazz engine.

By the way, “Ramon’s Revenge,” which just happens to be one of—and I stress one of-- my favorites here, has a marvelous little tale that comes with it. It seems that White viewed this piece as one with epic cinematic quality that tells the tale of two rival Spaniards vying for the affections of the same woman. “In the end,” White states, “I imagine Ramon riding away on his horse with his girl, who has come back to him after leaving his rival in the dust.” Realizing that the tune has no lyrics to bear this out, White then smiles and adds that listeners are welcome to make up their own version. Well, guess what, Peter? Your version works extremely well for me. My mind’s eye immediately captured that image and totally endorsed it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt the imagery when the last sound you hear in the piece is that of a galloping horse.

The final track, “Say Goodnight,” speaks volumes as it appears to quiet things down a bit and ask listeners to reflect on what just transpired here.

Peter White fans—and just general lovers of great contemporary jazz—have waited for this one for years (and it has been years in the making, according to White). The wait will be over on September 8 as Peak Records sends this one forward to charm jazzers as only Peter White can charm them. I think a hearty “Thank you” is in order. That’s my take, and so as not to miss the obvious opportunity: Have a Good Day!

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 11:04 PM

Get George Benson's Hit Single For Free

Singer, composer and guitarist George Benson is now offering a free download of the first smooth jazz hit single from his upcoming CD Songs and Stories. “Living in High Definition,” an original song written by Lamont Dozier, includes Benson’s guitar and scatting. In addition, there’s Greg Phillinganes on piano, Marcus Miller on bass, vibes and string production, and John Robinson on drums.

To get the song, go to To access the download, you must first sign up to receive Benson’s newsletters. Songs and Stories will be released on Aug. 25.

Posted by Brian Soergel at 9:09 PM

August 2, 2009

Calvin Richardson -- Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack

O.k., o.k., so this is definitely not smooth jazz, and I may have just pushed this one through to my column with a bit of bias. However—and this is a big “however”—this is a CD that begs to be taken as a worthy exception. Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack is a tribute to one of the greatest soul vocalists to ever tackle the genre with equal amounts of grit, blues, and melody. The gentleman brave enough to don this hat in tribute is Calvin Richardson. When you hear this dedication, you’ll understand why I just had to render an opinion here.

Richardson is himself a recognizable force in soul. The native North Carolinian has built a reputation since his 1999 debut album, Country Boy, as one of the finest soul singers of his generation. Facts of Life is Richardson’s fourth effort, and it packs a decent wallop, worthy of Womack’s nod of approval.

The kind of soul vocals made famous by the likes of Womack and many of his comrades of that inimitable era that birthed soul music is so robust and gut-wrenching that I would have doubted if it would ever be duplicated again. Richardson’s efforts here clearly prove me wrong. The swaying, bluesy, gospel-filled renderings and the churning moving up-tempo vibes have always been of the one-of-a-kind variety, and it is evident that Richardson, through his mighty performance here, knows this all too well. Tunes like “Across 110th Street,” “Woman Got to Have It,” and “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha” are done with much pride, and the appearance of the charming Ann Nesby and her darling, stirring vocals on “Love Has Finally Come At Last” only add to the charm of the entire project . Richardson has a winner here. One listen, and you just might thank me for slipping in this soulster.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:12 PM

Gianna – Something True

For an R&B vocalist to capture your attention even before you catch the melody is a testament to the strength and full-bodied presence of that vocalist. Newcomer Gianna Welling (aka Gianna) is such a vocalist. Her debut release, Something True, produced in large part by the superb R&B/smooth jazz duo Kloud 9, has a distinct air and quality that was instantly alluring to me. Then came the melodies: At once and in varying spots classy, bouncy, reflective, and neatly arranged.

While mostly in an R&B vein, gentle tones of smooth jazz subtly edge their way in on this attractive production. Gianna’s voice seems to gently ride the wave of the music like a surfer in a manageable current. The two elements definitely complement each other. Evidence of this can be found in the opening track, as well as in the soulful and enticing “In You” and the Kloud 9-like phrasings and dance grooves in “Maybe I Can Be” and the title track. My favorite tune, “The Things That I Do” is a magnetic and magical charmer sporting an unpretentious but lively hook that you’ll sing to yourself over and over again.

Another handsome track, “Took the Last Train” adds the cool, calming effect of a touch of flute, acoustic guitar, a very catchy hook, sweet verses, and an interesting bridge to create a collage of sound that’s hard to resist. There’s also the treat of some smooth handling of Basia’s “Time and Tide.” Nice touch with the sax. The album closes with an up-tempo dance number, “One Step Closer,” that somewhat resembles the movers and shakers found on albums by the British jazz group, Shakatak.

Much of the material here is not overwhelming with the tricks of the studio but, rather, very well-balanced with well-placed horns and solid rhythms and bass lines. It’s R&B sparingly laced with the special comeliness of smooth jazz. Only a voice laced with a satiny touch can enhance such a project. Gianna does so nicely and effectively.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:07 PM

Ray Gaskins – A Night In The Life

This is another installment from Ray Gaskins, a prolific saxophonist/keyboardist/vocalist who comes to me totally unannounced before now. In a word, I’m impressed. The music is full-bodied, the soul is obvious, and the fact that vibist Roy Ayers was drawn to this talent’s side on this latest effort, A Night in the Life, is ample proof that the cat has earned the attention of the players in the business that, quite simply, are.

This CD comes with good choices of covers and is comfortably mellow, with blues, comely scatting, and hints of straight-ahead jazz intermixed in decent doses. There’s even some touching spiritual material (“I Want to Talk About God”) that’s truly moving and inspirational, done with that smooth jazz flair. The blues gets a visit from Gaskins with an original called “Down Home,” featuring some potent horn arrangements, especially a soul-wrenching solo demonstrating his navigational skills around the sax.

Check out the flashy yet oh-so-jazzy manner he handles the classic “New York State of Mind” (easily my fav here), and you’re instantly reminded of the value of interpretation and self-expression. The marvelously bluesy presence of it all is indeed quite striking. In fact, Gaskins’ interpretations are all noteworthy here, taking aurally iconic pieces and reworking them in such palatable fashion that it becomes instantly clear that the man has the ability to reach out and feel the space for flexibility and improv in a piece. I mean, I’ve always duly noted and respected a few of these traditional and classic tunes, but never have I focused as much on them as Gaskins has made me do here. “When I Fall In Love” has as much passion and blue intensity as I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve never heard “Summertime” grooved like this since its conception. Truly an artistic approach. Add to that his own snappy and grasping mid-tempo, blues-soaked “Shady Lane,” and I had it just the way I like it.

There may be a few tunes here that didn’t quite floor me, but for the most part, this is a well-produced effort with a lot of emphasis on interpretation and feel. The original melodies are fresh and tight; the covers are colorful; and Gaskins’ love for the blues is as evident as his love for good jazz of both the mellow and funky variety. Yes, A Night In The Life is a handsome piece of art that works for me.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:03 PM

August 1, 2009

What We're Listening To ** July

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

Streetwize, Put U To Bed (Shanachie) – The latest installment in the Streetwize series from producers Chris “Big Dog” Davis and saxman Kim Waters looms as large and as tastefully urban as urban jazz can get. These guys just keep successfully tapping into the soul and depth of this appealing hybrid form of jazz and never seem to miss their mark. This version contains slow jam hits and compositions by such luminaries as Usher, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Ledisi, T-Pain, and Rex Rideout. Very satisfying indeed.

Richard Elliot, After Dark, (Blue Note) – A classic among Elliot albums. This is the one that clearly hooked me and decided for me that Elliot was going to be an integral part of the smooth jazz engine for years to come. Boy, was I right! Too many hits on which to elaborate here, the 15-year-old album is truly a stand-up immortal must-have!

Pieces of A Dream, Acquainted With the Night (Heads Up) – I’m on a classics kick here, I guess, but this album embodies the very essence of a veteran group that has been together , producing quality hits, melodies, and funk, for more decades than some of its fans have lived!

Maysa, Metamorphosis (Shanachie)—When you talk extraordinary vocals from an extraordinary personality who pushes herself to the limits of passion and soul with each release, you have to think Maysa, and you have to have this stylish and moving gem.

Rare Requests, Vol. III (Liquid)—A really well-conceived collection of smooth jazz hits including Ronnie Laws’ “Always There,” Warren Hill’s “Passion Theme,” Torcuato Mariano’s “Last Look” and Dancing Fantasy’s “Cry Nature.” Quality!

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

Jessy J, True Love (Peak)

Najee, Mind Over Matter (Heads Up)

Freddie Fox, Feelin' It (NuGroove)

Micaela Haley, Syren (Posh)

June Kuramoto, Under the Stars (Mauna Kea)

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

HiroshimaLegacy (Heads Up)  (2009)

Jessy J, True Love (Peak Records) (2009)

Paul Taylor, Burnin' (Peak Records) (2009)

Cindy Bradley, Bloom (Trippin & Rhythm) (2009)

Jakob ElvstromSaxClub vol. 1  (Calibrated) (2009)

P E T E R * B O E H I

Yoshiaki Masuo - The Song Is You And Me (1980)
This LP by japanese guitarist sounds like a lost GRP session from their best period thanks to a great session cast and arranging by Yutaka Yokokura. You get breezy latin tracks to funky groovers, Yoshiaki Masuo sounds like a cross between Lee Ritenour and Wilbert Longmire. A gem!

Cassandre McKinley - Baring The Soul: The Music Of Marvin Gaye (2004)
Just stumbled over this excellent album on my iPod. Songstress Cassandre McKinley performs some of the greatest Gaye songs in a stripped down acoustic jazz setting. Slow burning and intense!

Shaun LaBelle - Desert Nights (2009)
Multiinstrumentalist Shaun LaBelle delivers a great smooth jazz album full of contemporary grooves and some top-notch guests. Will make your head bob!

Freddie Hubbard - Love Connection, Bundle Of Joy, High Energy, Skagly, Windjammer
Finally - Freddie Hubbard's Columba catalog is out on CD!

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘The Blink Of An Eye’ by Jeff Golub from his forthcoming CD Blues For You. Relaxed and appealing, this turned down gem shimmers with the sheer emotion that is at the core of most things that Golub does.

‘Steady As She Goes’ by Walter Beasley from his album Free Your Mind. Written and produced by Pieces of a Dream mainstay James K Lloyd, this groove drenched masterpiece finds Lloyd on keys scattering his magic far and wide. In every respect it is the ultimate showcase for Beasley’s melodic playing.

‘Pacific Breeze’ by keyboard player Gail Jhonson from her 2008 release Pearls. The latest from this wonderful album to go to radio this sumptuous track will leave the listener in no doubt as to Jhonson’s consummate skill as writer and performer.

The title cut from keyboard player Jonathan Fritzén’s brand new recording VIP. With a groove that owes much to Brian Culbertson, Joe McBride and Brian Simpson this totally in the pocket tune features Jay Soto who injects a typically tight guitar solo.

‘Move On Up’ by Richard Elliot from his CD Rock Steady. Elliot’s stunning take on Curtis Mayfield’s classic song is already powering its way up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:45 AM