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. Despite his award winning contributions to the world of television and film, guitarist, composer and arranger Chieli Minucci has (with the exception of a brief period in the late nineties) been synonymous with the evolution of jazz fusion band Special EFX. In fact it was back in 1982 when the multi talented Minucci co-founded Special EFX with percussionist George Jinda. They released the bands eponymous debut CD in 1984 yet despite artistic differences, and Jinda’s untimely death in 2001, the impact of this Grammy nominated collective on the evolution of smooth jazz remains nothing short of immense. In the course of a phenomenal musical journey Special EFX has released 25 albums, including Minucci’s eight solo offerings, and a live concert DVD. Along the way contemporary jazz has been blessed with unforgettable songs such as ‘Daybreak’, ‘Cruise Control’, ‘Bella’ and ‘Seduction’. Now Minucci has just released the band’s 25th anniversary double CD, Without You.
This diverse collection of jazz-fusion and Latin rhythms is notable on many levels and has been brought alive not only by the free flowing guitar artistry for which Minucci is best known for but also by input from original Special EFX favorites such as drummer Lionel Cordew, bassist Jerry Brooks and keyboard player Jay Rowe. Not only that, this stellar lineup is complemented by the abundant talents of Jeff Lorber, Lao Tizer, Karen Briggs, bass player Dave Anderson and violinist Alan Grubner.
Talking of great performances, the song ‘Love’s Lost in Translation’ showcases the silky vocal tones of Philip Hamilton while long time fans of Special EFX will quickly pick up on the fact that ‘The Night Is Ours’ is a completely re-written version of the band’s 1984 signature song ‘Sambuca Nights’. Another throwback comes in the form of ‘Hushabye’ that was originally released as the instrumental ‘Sweet Surrender’ but which here is transformed by Will Brock’s soulful vocals. For aficionados of George Jinda the tune ‘Man With A Drum’ wonderfully captures the original percussion sounds of the great man and guest keyboard player Lao Tizer brings his own powerful vibe to the tracks ‘Bacchanalia’ and ‘Afterglow’.
In fact Minucci discovered Tizer when he was only 19 years old and has been collaborating with him ever since. In this respect the most recent occurrence has been with the trio ‘Tizer’ that also includes mega talented violinist Karen Briggs. She is also included on the ‘Without You’ roster and brings her own special magic to the tunes ‘Lakeside’ and ‘Wonderboy’.
That said, in terms of personal favorites, there is nothing to surpass Minucci’s breathtaking transformation of the 1992 tune ‘Make Me Smile’ into the easy grooving ‘You Make Me Blue’. The original version was recorded during the period when Special EFX was first experimenting with the smooth jazz format and this sumptuous reworking (which benefits from superb violin from Grubner) is a total delight. Later, when the number is reprised as the smoothed out ‘You Make Me’ the result is just as good.
Elsewhere, Jeff Lorber injects his own particular jazz flavorings into ‘Mountina Jameroon’ and in the final analysis ‘Without You’ showcases to perfection the band’s special gift for combining flawless technique with remarkable passion.
For more go to www.chielimusic.com
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.
D E N I S * P O O L E
‘When Will I Know For Sure’ by Dave Koz from the hotly anticipated album Hello Tomorrow. A delicious collaboration between Koz and fellow sax master Boney James, it includes creative contributions from Darren Rahn and Nate Harasim, bass from Marcus Miller and keys from the always excellent Dave Delhomme.
The easy paced ‘Luxuriam’ from Tom Grant’s latest CD, Delicioso. With memorable trumpet from Paul Mazzio, this charming tune proves to be a chunk of timeless smooth jazz.
The soul drenched ‘Questions’ by Cal Harris Jr from his debut CD Inside Out. This seductive example of smooth R & B features sensational vocals from Tiarra and is certainly one to watch.
‘Rocket II To The Moon’ by silky smooth vocalist Ty Causey from his CD Down II Earth. This easy grooving charmer includes handsome sax from Chris Richardson and is exactly how romantic velvety soul should be.
The sumptuous title cut from Aysha’s brand new EP Stay With Me. Mid tempo and delightful, this smooth track is blessed by superb sax from Everette Harp and has ‘radio ready’ written all over it.
B R I A N * S O E R G E L
Paul Brown - Love You Found Me (Shanachie)
Dave Koz - Hello Tomorrow (Concord)
Eric Roberts - My Brazilian Heart (Music Magic)
Oli Silk - All We Need (Trippin N Rhythm
J E F F * D A N I E L S
Brian Culbertson - XII (GRP Records) (2010)
Marcus Johnson - This Is How I Rock (Three Keys Music) (2010)
Billy Cobham - Palindrome (VARESE FONTANA) (2010)
Stanley Clarke - The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up) (2010)
P E T E R * B O E H I
Stephen Richard - Bread N' Water, Vol. 1 (2010)
Intimate trio featuring Stephen Richard on sax who strikingly sounds like Grover Washington Jr., he delivers some great original tracks over sparse instrumentation (percussion and keys), on some songs the excellent trumpet player Andre Hutchins joins the band. Intelligent and entertaining, keeping up the spirit of Grover.
Rico Belled - The Pursuit Of Comfort (2010)
This album by multi-instrumentalist Rico Belled was a pleasant surprise to me with its acoustic live feeling, grooviness and great songs ranging from latin to funk, performed by some top-class artists - one of them is Jeff Kashiwa. A gem.
Shilts - Going Underground (2010)
This is the brand new CD of saxophonist Shilts which was self-produced, it features some of his buddies like Rick Braun, Nick Colionne and Marc Antoine among others and delivers more of the groovy, sax-led smooth jazz we have come to love from this consummate artist. Thumbs up!
Hart Ramsey - Charge It To My Heart (2010)
This album by keyboardist Hart Ramsey is a mighty fine slice of smooth jazz pushing all the right buttons, great playing by all involved and well produced. Very recommended.
Randy Weston - Blue Moses (1972)
My nod to the past goes to this CTI session by pianist Randy Weston, arranged by Don Sebesky and featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Grover Washington Jr. on sax. Classic stuff!