November 30, 2009

What We're Listening To ** November

P E T E R * B O E H I

Craig Sharmat - So Cal Drivin (2009)
Funky, upbeat, groovy, cool and hip smooth jazz album by guitarist Craig Sharmat which is not just suitable for cruising in LA - guests include Rick Braun, Greg Mathieson, Philippe Saisse, Andy Suzuki and others. A gem!

Tom Baxter - Sugar On The Bone (2009)
Funky and groovy trombone-led smooth jazz album featuring top-notch guests like Randy Crawford, Wilton Felder, Michael Lington, Everette Harp and Val Davis. Very recommended!

Rob Tardik - The Right Time (2009)
Guitarist Rob Tardik delivers a great smooth jazz album with a tight band full of catchy compositions. Don't miss it!

Dee Brown - A Little Elbowroom (2009)
This is a laid-back, polished and ultra-smooth album by guitarist Dee Brown that just makes you feel good. Thumbs up!

Justin Young - Nothin' But Love (2009)
Newcomer Justin Young on the saxophone comes up with another great release showing that he can compete with the best of the genre. Players include Ricky Lawson, Alex Al, Sheldon Reynolds and Darrell Crux among others, so you know it is top-notch!

D E N I S * P O O L E

The intoxicating ‘Open Road’ by Tom Braxton from his new CD Endless Highway. With interplay between guitarist Derrick Winding and Braxton that is magical, and a percussive energy from Len Barnett and Rico Gonzales to savor, this mid tempo smoker is amongst the standout smooth jazz tunes of 2009.

‘One Wish’ by Hiroshima, from the band’s re-imaged retrospective Legacy. One of three tunes lifted from the 1985 release Another Place this is a complete showstopper. Funky yet enthralling, it has a vibe to die for and all the attributes of being seriously addictive.

‘Beauty And The Beast’ by Mike Catalano from the excellent A Manhattan Affair. This sensitive take on the tune from the 1991 Disney motion picture of the same name finds the unmistakable Bob James on Fender Rhodes, Chuck Loeb on guitar and great sax from Lou Marini.

‘Breaker One-9’ by guitar player and vocalist Carlyle Barriteau from his album Groovin’ At Sunset. Replete with a sunshine filled smooth jazz groove and co-written with bass player Roberto Vally it’s a tune to instantly confirm Barriteau as a consummate purveyor of sweet sounding ‘west coast’ contemporary jazz.

The atmospheric ‘Brief Encounter’ by UK based funk band Dr Sax from the CD Take It To The Bridge. With a great vocal from Steve Williams this is arguably the albums best track.

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

Euge Groove, Sunday Morning (Shanachie) -- The sax giant is back from recently wrapping up a European tour with Tina Turner and unleashes a sensational set of new grooves on us. This time, however, you may notice a slightly more laid back approach, but the quality, the feel, and the oomph are, as always, firmly intact.

Craig Sharmat, So Cal Drivin (Scoredog Music) -- The guitarist showcases his debut release here, which has a most apropos title, considering the mood he instills in the album.

Vision Jazz, Distant Visions (Vision Jazz) -- If a new and refreshing jolt to the genre is what the doctor is ordering, this group just may have that prescription in stock. This is their debut effort and features veteran saxman Greg Vail.

Johannes Linstead, Mistico (Earthscape Media) -- As if Johannes Linstead fans didn’t already know it would happen again, the Canadian guitarist is once more igniting passion, desire, and dreams through his exotic and fiery handling of the Spanish guitar.

Fabio Mignola, Take Me Higher (Bonmusic) -- With a bright Mediterranean flair and Brazilian moves intermingled with some truly fine smooth highlights, guitarist/composer Fabio Mignola oftentimes reminds one of the illustrious Marc Antoine, but with a vision all his own.

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

Brian Culbertson, Live From the Inside (GRP)

Poncho Sanchez, Psychedelic Blues (Concord)

Lawson Rollins, Espirito (Infinita)

Spencer Day, Vagabond (Concord)

Everette Harp, First Love (Shanachie)

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

Steve Raybine, In The Driver's Seat ( (2009)

Matt Marshak, Family Funktion (Nuance Music) (2009)

Max Middleton, Land of Secrets (RL-2) (2009)

Redtenbacher's Funkestra, Falling from Insanity (2009)

Kevyn Lettau, Walking in Your Footsteps (Cats and Dogs Music) (2009)

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:41 PM

November 29, 2009

Kafele Bandele--Acid Reign

This artist was introduced to me recently during a Facebook session with one of his fans. Though this is an older project (released back in 2006), I think the fact that this independent artist put so much effort into it and produced what I think is a pretty stand-up product, certainly warrants recognition.

Acid Reign is a good fusion CD, full of a lot of diverse material (I hear acid jazz, hip-hop/rap, African grooves laced with some cool scat, a touch of straight-ahead here, free or avant garde jazz there, and a smooth groove or two.

Kafele Bandele is a trumpeter, composer, and producer who has been playing trumpet for about 15 years. Born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bandele was first exposed to jazz by his parents. In fact, he attributes his love and appreciation for the art to his father who often played John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, and Miles Davis, among others. Later, his brothers and sister introduced him to Hip-Hop and R&B. This musically diverse background is certainly evident and provides clear answers as to his influences and pretty unique style.

Tunes that warrant a listen on this album include the title track with its hip-hop/free jazz fusion feel, the bright and rhythmic African-flavored “Morning Rush,” a hard-to-pigeonhole-free-jazz effort, “Softly She Blows By,” with its interesting vocals and chords, the aforementioned “Faraway Places,” and the stylish and exotic “Every Time She Breathes” with its interesting timing and suave vocals.

This album is full of unique expression, and Bandele’s trumpet does a great job of unleashing the free style that it often adopts. His is as serious approach to such expressionism as I’ve heard. It has that Miles flavor, that Coltrane touch, and yet a flair all its own. It’s not at all exclusively smooth jazz, but if you’re seeking to shed a different light on your jazz, Bandele may have had your taste in mind with Acid Reign.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 3:44 PM

November 28, 2009

Tom Braxton - Endless Highway

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. Not surprising, the untimely death of the much loved Wayman Tisdale set off shock waves that were felt throughout the world of contemporary jazz. In this respect no one could have been more affected than saxophonist Tom Braxton who, as an integral member of Tisdale’s touring band, had been with him right from the start. That said, life has a way of creating opportunities and for Braxton the opportunity to pay homage to his long time friend and mentor has come in the form of his latest solo recording, the aptly titled Endless Highway. Released on the San Diego-based Pacific Coast Jazz label it is his second CD with Pacific Coast Jazz and follows the 2007 Imagine This that at the time I described as has “having it all going on”. With an outstanding array of instrumentalists and vocalists in support, Braxton uses the ten superb tracks of Endless Highway to take the listener on a groove-oriented excursion that, consistent with the best of the genre’s current offerings, shimmers with a delightful urban sophistication.

Replete with tremendous smooth jazz flair, the silky title cut sets the album on a road from which subsequently it never deviates. One of six songs either written or co-written by Braxton it profits from the inclusion of a velvety horn section and this same line-up is again on call for ‘Soul Purpose’. This, another Braxton original, turns out to be an understated gem and his masterstroke in including Jennifer Ritter on cello for the mellow ‘Distant Skies’ affords this tranquil tune a whole new dimension. Braylon Lacy’s work on fretless bass is completely in keeping with the quality of the piece whilst elsewhere the sassy ‘Just in Time’ leverages the considerable talents of Chicago producer Tim Gant to deliver an urban swagger that stands out from the crowd. When Gant returns for ‘Detour Ahead’ he combines with Braxton to generate an extremely free flowing, happy vibe and, although ultra easy on the ear, the Eric Willis composition, ‘The Journey’, is infused with the sort of beat that assumes hypnotic proportions.

As well as being an accomplished song writer, Braxton is well known for his ability to re-imagine some classic covers. For his previous release he did just that with a stellar version of Patrice Rushen’s 1980 smash ‘Haven’t You Heard’ and here his take on the America blockbuster ‘Ventura Highway’ is every bit as good. It benefits from a great vocal from the Grammy winning Arthur Dyer yet in many ways, and for obvious reasons, the centerpiece of the entire collection is ‘That Wayman Smile’. Anyone lucky enough to have spent time in Tisdale’s presence will know that the title is entirely self explanatory and with bass player Braylon Lacy capturing to perfection the spirit of the great man’s music this infectious cut is both a fitting tribute and a sure fire bet to finds its way onto the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio.

Despite the fact that Braxton’s tender alto lights up every aspect of ‘Home Sweet Home’ the number reverberates with a restless energy that is totally compelling. It is without doubt one of the album’s outstanding tracks and in this respect is in the wonderful company of the intoxicating ‘Open Road’. With interplay between guitarist Derrick Winding and Braxton that is magical, and a percussive energy from Len Barnett and Rico Gonzales to savor, this mid tempo smoker is destined to become one of the standout smooth jazz tunes of the year.

The CD is another significant step on Tom Braxton’s “endless highway” and comes highly recommended. For more go to and to appreciate the total breadth of the Pacific Coast Jazz catalog 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 12:40 PM

November 14, 2009

Reza Khan – Painted Diaries

Critics often talk about “interesting” projects, and I certainly have heard my share. The term is sometimes loosely tossed around. However, here with this latest release from Reza Khan, entitled Painted Diaries, the term could not be more appropriate, as the product involves so much in terms of diversity. The “problem” might be that it could be seen by some as too much. While there are definite smooth jazz elements here, this project is probably as much (if not more of) a soft rock project, even a hint of a country rock project. There is also some world flavor tossed in for good measure.

For sure, the vast majority of these tunes are well-done and quite melodic; so, you may not care how to categorize the CD. On the other hand, for those who are not necessarily into rock or some unique variation or hybrid of it or any of the other genres touched on here, you might have a dilemma. You just might have a problem blowing off some of the catchier melodies and hooks just because they don’t “fit” in your library.

Admittedly, while the CD has some fine melodies and hooks, I’m not so crazy about some of the instrument choices. There are spots where sax could have reached me far better than a guitar. By the way, Andy Snitzer is one of two saxophonists who sit in on this project.

So, what’s the bottom line? Well, after you listen to “Dawning,” a dreamy type of precursor coming in at track one, and you’re confronted with the lengthy rockin’ “Day Break” and the equally alive soft rocker “Catalina’s Dream,” the island-flavored mellow “Bahia Mama,” with the tender vocals of one Jennifer Grimm (who also treats us to her charms on “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow?”), you’re faced with a simple decision: Let this atypical potpourri of sound come in and find a comfy place in your collection, or pass it by. I personally chose the former option. For me, the plusses are worth it.

As I said at the outset, this CD (available via Amazon and CDbaby) is truly one of the more “interesting” pieces of work I’ve heard lately. Listen closely. Depending upon your level of receptivity, you may or may not be up for the somewhat unique but colorful ride it offers, but you’ll find that the tunes are quite worthy of your undivided attention nonetheless.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 8:01 PM

November 12, 2009

Live From The Inside… It’s Brian Culbertson!

Contemporary jazz star lets fans into his musical world on new DVD/CD release

On Tuesday, November 10, 2009, contemporary jazz star Brian Culbertson released Live From The Inside (GRP Records), a dynamic – and yet intimate – DVD/CD capturing the multi-instrumentalist with his longtime band and special guests recording his songs live in the studio. Live From The Inside is a DVD (with over 90 minutes of special features) and a 12-song CD that offers Culbertson fans newly-rendered versions of some of his most popular numbers, as well as a brand new song entitled "Go."

Culbertson, who is known for his high-energy concerts and expert musicality, wanted to document live performances with his band, but desired to also give his fans something special…an entry into his world behind-the-scenes. Instead of shooting the performance segments of the DVD on stage, he decided to film his band both rehearsing and performing live in the studio - playing at the same high energy level as if they were in concert, but with the advantage of optimal sound and visual lines.

"I was flying home from the Berks Jazz Festival back in March (2009) when the whole idea for this project hit me, " Brian states. "I wanted to show people a true inside look at not only my music, but my life as a musician. I guess you could call the concept a high-energy blast of 'best of' and biography."

Live From The Inside features Culbertson on keyboard, trombone, and bass along with his long-standing band: drummer Chris Miskel, bassist Lamar Jones, singer/keyboardist Eddie Miller, guitarist Wayne Bruce, saxophonist/singer Marqueal Jordan, trumpeter Michael Stever, and singer/guitarist Sheldon Reynolds. All-star guests such as Ray Parker Jr., Dave Koz, Eric Marienthal, Michael Lington, Eric Darius, and Brian’s father, Jim Culbertson, joined in on the sessions, which were recorded in the famed Capitol Records (Studio A) in Hollywood, CA.

The result is an electrifying “live in the studio” performance filled with vigor, verve, and ferocious vitality. Hit songs such as “Always Remember,” “Get It On,” and “On My Mind” are given a new lease on life with fresh tempos and thrilling accents as Brian and his crew re-imagined the music to keep it exciting for both themselves and their audience. And of course, the recordings wouldn’t be complete without covers of some classic funk tunes – “Hollywood Swinging" (Kool & The Gang) and "Serpentine Fire" (Earth Wind and Fire) – get an updated treatment from Culbertson and his band.

But this is much more than a mere music video: Live from the Inside gives fans a guided tour of all things Culbertson: his childhood home, the high school and college he attended, the recording studio from whence countless projects sprung, the apartment where he recorded his first album. Fans will also get a sense of what life on the road is like for the Brian Culbertson Band as the camera documents their journey – from the monotony of airports and buses to the venue for soundcheck, and finally, the moment that makes all of it worthwhile: showtime!

Following the release of Live From The Inside, Culbertson will hit the road once again, taking Brian Culbertson’s A Soulful Christmas tour to venues across the country. This year, Brian is proud to share the stage with good friend and chart-topping sax-man, Michael Lington. AirTran Airways is returning as the tour’s sponsor. In typical Culbertson fashion, the show will feature uplifting and soulful performances of holiday favorites as well as songs featured on Live From The Inside.

Brian’s first, DVD/CD, Live From The Inside, is available now in both retail and online stores including

Posted by Peter Böhi at 3:54 PM

November 9, 2009

R&B and Smooth Jazz for a Worthy Cause

By Ricky Richardson

Long Beach - Teamster Black Caucus So. Cal Chapter presented their First Annual Music Festival 2009, on Saturday, November 7. The festival was held at the Queen Mary Events Park.

The skies were gray as I left my apartment in route to the festival. The skies got brighter as four of the talented stars of R&B and smooth jazz lit up the stage during their respective sets.

The show got under way with Greg Adams. Mr. Adams is a talented Grammy and Emmy-nominated trumpeter/producer and a founder member of Tower of Power. His melodic muted trumpet sent notes high over the festival venue and the nice cool breeze carried them over the Marina. His set was fantastic and upbeat, as you would expect from the former member of a group with a signature sound that continues to be a sought out entity. The crowd and I enjoyed “What’s It Gonna Be,” “Smooth Operator,” “Just Like Breathing” (ballad) and closed his brief set with “What’s Up With That.” Please check out his latest CD East Bay Soul features several songs written with Tower of Power band mate Nick Milo.

EMCEE Vesta Williams with background vocalist Robert G, Alex Day and Romeo Johnson aka The Fantastics entertained the crowd with “Sweet, Sweet Love,” “Congratulations,” and “Don’t Blow a Good Thing.” Someone in the crowd requested an encore of “Congratulations” as this tune spoke to people on a very deep and personal level.

Guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., produced some head bopping and body swaying as he performed material from his latest CD Lay It Back. His latest CD is an R&B-inspired smooth jazz assortment of originals and covers. The crowd were entirely engaged as Paul gave them “The Workout,” and went back in the day with “It’s A Shame,” “Walkin’, written along with Brian Culbertson. “Two for 10, 000,” and saxophonist/keyboardist Ralstein Calhoun wailed away on an un-named blues song to the roaring delight of the crowd. Mr. Jackson thru a smooth punch on “Love TKO,” and gently concluded his set with “Easy.”

The DJ kept the crowd on the makeshift grass dance floor before the headliners took to the stage. There was lots of audience participation when the DJ played “Cupid’s Shuffle.”

The Emotions, three DIVAS from the windy city of Chicago warmed the hearts of the crowd as they reached into their extensive catalog of hits to close out the festival. Their set brought back many fond memories for everyone in attendance on the following tunes “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” “Show Me How,” “Best of My Love,” “Blessed,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Rejoice,” and “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” just to name a few.

The inaugural Music Festival was a family event that included a children’s activity area, door prized, food and beverages and various other booths.

The Teamsters Black Caucus So Cal Chapter will use proceeds from the event towards its various causes including helping feed families at Thanksgiving & Christmas and provide toys for children at Christmas and scholarships for students in the community.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:34 PM

November 6, 2009

Kyle Eastwood -- Metropolitain

Here’s a slice of hot and cool fusion jazz you’ve gotta thoroughly enjoy, even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool smooth jazzer. Kyle Eastwood, actor Clint Eastwood’s bass-wielding son, should have you fully engaged and acknowledging the quality, poise, and eloquence of his compositions here on Metropolitain by record’s end. Maybe it was the melodies; maybe it was the sheer power. Whatever it was, this album caught and held me fast. Clearly an artist with magnificent and laudable skills on bass, complete with stylish chords and harmonics, Eastwood’s writing is as superb. Ordinarily, I restrict my reviews to the tastes of smooth jazzers, but this one drove me to such a state of sheer appreciation that I felt I would be totally remiss—not to mention grossly unfair-- to ignore the tightness, the clarity, and the boldness of the splendid piece of fusion going on here.

This latest effort was recorded in Paris and co-produced by Miles Davis’ son, Erin, as well as Eastwood’s writing partner, Michael Stevens. There, Eastwood formed collaborations with some of the artists he admires most on the current scene, including drummer Manu Katché, trumpeter Till Bronner, French vocalist Camille, and Pianist Eric Legnini. This team put together some of the most savory sounds a purist--or a fusionist--could seek.

With offerings like the steamy and melodic “Bold Changes,” brought forward with some superior Bronner trumpet work and a crisp sax contribution by Graeme Blevins, as well the smokin’ tune, “Hot Box” (you’ve gotta check out Andrew McCormack on electric piano here, as well as awesome runs by Eastwood) that hints at some of the stuff Herbie Hancock might conjure up (think “Actual Proof” from Thrust), Eastwood sets out to add even more definition to both straight-ahead and fusion jazz with a serious spirit. Knocking it out of the park with the funky “Rue Perdue” and capping it all off with the finale, “Live for Life,” which is quite an atypical piece of funk for this particular CD (complete with some sassy rap, no less!), coupled with the fiery vocals of Nigerian-born Toyin (it’s the album’s only vocal-led track), Eastwood’s got the stuff here to make even the strictest of smooth jazzers sit up and take notice. It is, after all, what should cause all jazzers to celebrate the vastness of the world of jazz and to appreciate all of its diversity and radiance. Well done, indeed.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 6:32 PM

November 5, 2009

Terri Brinegar - Having the Time of My Life

With a style that, at times, could be considered akin to the bluesiness of pop/R&B vocalist Joss Stone, Terri Brinegar has some nice choice cuts here on her latest CD, Having the Time of My Life, with a leaning toward a little of everything from soft rock to blues to R&B. I would be hesitant to classify this project as purely smooth jazz, but the lady can sing, and she does possess a type of rhythmic bluesiness (and there is a difference between my definition of a rhythmic bluesiness and R&B, by the way). Cases in point would be very pleasant tracks such as the title track, “Surrender to Loving You,” “Now My Heart,” “The Sun Shines For You,” and “That’s How I Know.”

No newcomer to the music biz, Brinegar has released three CDs of original tunes and one classical CD. There is strong evidence here that this lady could probably rip into some serious smooth jazz material if she chose to do just that. I would have preferred a more defined leaning toward smooth jazz as we know it, but that’s just me. Still, this might be just what many of you seek: Diversity and material that can’t be pigeonholed as just smooth jazz. If so, she definitely deserves a listen.

There’s no denying Brinegar’s vocal “chops.“ They’re certainly right for the blues; they work for certain types of R&B; they’re right for soft rock. Also, like I've mentioned, there's no doubt that, taking a clearly smooth jazz route, she can be quite a presence there, as well. However you would wish to classify this, there are quality melodies here that should definitely be taken seriously.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 6:04 PM

November 4, 2009

Hiroshima - Legacy

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. It was in 1974 that Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto formed Hiroshima. With the ground-breaking convergence of eastern and western music as its fulcrum, the band quickly found success with its self titled debut CD and since then has gone on to record fourteen more spellbinding collections that demonstrate the commitment its founding members have to their own special brand of cross cultural innovation. This dedication is as strong as ever and now, in the company of Hiroshima’s current line-up of keyboard player Kimo Cornwell, drummer Danny Yamamoto, percussionist Shoji Kameda and bass-man Dean Cortez, they are rolling back the years with the release of the wonderful new album Legacy. Out now on the Heads Up International label it features eleven songs from the first ten years of the bands prolific history yet, with every track having been re-recorded live in Dan Kuramoto’s home studio, this is far from being a run of the mill ‘best of’ project. In many cases the tunes are fairly similar to the originals. In others they are very different. With guest performances from Hiroshima’s ‘extended family’ of percussionist Richie Gajate Garcia and vocalists Terry Steele, Yvette Nii and Jim Gilstrap the result is as good as any contemporary jazz recording released this year.

In countless ways Legacy is a breathtaking insight into the genre bending excitement that typified the evolution of contemporary jazz throughout the eighties. A case in point is the title cut from ‘Another Place’ which, although originally just over three minutes in duration, is delivered here as a nine minute tour de force with gargantuan solos from Kimo Cornwell and June Kuramoto. Equally potent is the bands seven minute take on the atmospheric ‘Winds of Change’. Undoubtedly this is vintage Hiroshima at its best while elsewhere ‘Thousand Cranes’ serves as a showcase for June Kuramoto’s virtuosity on koto. This thirteen string zither like instrument proves an unlikely yet hugely effective contemporary jazz device and it is again to the fore both with the mesmerizingly beautiful ‘I’ve Been Here Before’ and the zesty ‘Hawaiian Electric’. This latter track was originally recorded in 1987 for the Go CD and is entirely evocative of the period. However, some music is simply timeless and in this respect personal favourites include the magical ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’ from the bands 1979 debut offering. Yvette Nii on vocals has never sounded better and when the lead switches to the soulful tones of Terry Steele the outcome is the emotionally charged ‘Save Your Love For Me’. One of three tunes lifted from the 1985 release Another Place it is in the good company of ‘One Wish’ that could arguably be described as the album’s real showstopper. This funky yet enthralling number has a vibe to die for and all the attributes of being seriously addictive.

For those who missed out on Hiroshima the first time around Legacy is an amazing opportunity to begin a journey that promises more great things to come. Meanwhile, aficionados of the band are sure to luxuriate in the reimagining of some truly astonishing music.

To learn more about Hiroshima and its music 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 6:05 PM

November 1, 2009

Hiroshima 30th Anniversary Tour Stops Off In Vegas

The legendary contemporary jazz group Hiroshima will be making a stop in Las Vegas on November 21st at the Santa Fe Hotel as part of their Anniversary tour.

Local original contemporary jazz funk fusion band, The Killer Groove Band, perform at the Rhythm Kitchen, Saturday, November 14th

Kenny G will be performing at The Star Of the Desert Arena at Primm Resorts, located at the state line of Nevada-California, November 20th.

Boney James performs one night only, December 5th, at the Boulder Station Hotel in the Railhead Showroom.

Manheim Steamroller will inspire the holidays with their one night only concert at The Orleans Hotel, December 14th.

Posted by Danny Desart at 9:24 PM | TrackBack