November 25, 2010

Gabriel - Told Ya So

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. Horn player Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, aka Gabriel, has joined forces with Jeff Lorber, Paul Brown, Marc Antoine and Darren Rahn for his brand new release Told Ya So. Predictably, the result is something quite special. Gabriel co-writes twelve of the songs with Miles Black (who plays keyboards, bass and guitar on each of them) another with Lorber and the collection is rounded off by the addition of one superb cover. Indeed the project brims with understated magnificence and has already garnered a nomination in the category ‘Album of the Year’ at the upcoming Wave Awards that will be held on April 29, 2011 in Ontario Canada. In addition it has led to Gabriel being nominated as Instrumentalist of the Year at the same event but, awards ceremonies notwithstanding, the legacy of Told Ya So will surely be in the quality of its music.

The restrained nature of the entire piece is a wonderful plus and is exemplified by a haunting version of the Temptations blockbuster ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. Its positioning as the opening track really sets a mood that is replicated often and none more so than with the beguiling ‘Azure Moon’ for which Black on keys is excellent.

‘Told Ya So’ was produced by the pairing of Gabriel and Miles Black while Gabriel also had a hand in mixing, this time in partnership with the acclaimed Paul Brown. In fact Brown plays guitar on the easy grooving ‘Equate Her’ where his interplay with Gabriel is terrific. Undoubtedly one of the album’s best tunes it is in the good company of ‘Releasing’ where the input of rising star Darren Rahn on tenor sax adds hugely to this sultry cut.

‘Haranara’ proves to be a textbook example of mid tempo smooth jazz that shows every sign of becoming seriously addictive and when Gabriel is joined by Jeff Lorber for the controlled yet edgy ‘Rockin The Ribjoint’ it allows him to demonstrate his collective prowess on trombone, trumpet and flute. Truth to tell Gabriel multi tasks throughout and for ‘Beyond The Stars’ adds flugelhorn to his impressive repertoire. This turned down charmer says much about what ‘Told Ya So’ is all about and although ‘Peace Song’ has a light reggae infusion it remains completely in keeping with the album’s overall tranquil vibe.

The CD’s one vocal number is ‘How Long Is Forever’ which finds the soulful tones of Amanda Wood being perfectly complemented by Gabriel’s Latin tinged trumpet and although he takes a detour into jazz fusion for ‘The Road Less Travelled’ he is quickly back on mellow message for ‘That Look In Your Eyes’ which exudes a romantically smoky aura.

On those occasions when Gabriel does notch up the tempo the effect is as delightful as it is surprising. This is particularly so with the jazzy ‘Shake It Down’ where Rock Hendricks on sax makes a notable contribution but it when Gabriel slips back into reflective mode that ‘Told Ya So’ really delivers. The magically introspective ‘In Santo Quala’ features some truly beautiful playing from guitar maestro Marc Antoine but just shading it as S top track is the deconstructed but totally hypnotic ‘Pastels’. With Gabriel and Miles Black again sharing the honors, chilled out contemporary jazz doesn’t come better than this.

Told Ya So is a worthy addition to Gabriel’s already considerable discography and even though he has enjoyed protracted solo success in both Asia and Canada, it looks likely to elevate him to smooth jazz stardom.

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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 10:50 AM

November 21, 2010

Boney James In Vegas This December


Boney James will make an appearance for one night at the Boulder Station Hotel on December 4th.

The group Hiroshima, celebrating over thirty years together, performed to a packed house at Aliante Station on November 6th.

Singer / songwriter Basia, made a rare appearance on November 20th at the Boulder Station Hotel.

Contemporary jazz group, Blu7, performed at the Hardrock Hotel on Thursday, November 18th, performing selections from their forthcoming CD.

The other local contemporary jazz group on the scene, The Killer Groove Band, will be at The District for a special appearance during the afternoon on Saturday, November 27th.

Keiko Matsui returns to Vegas on December 11th at the Green Valley Ranch resort.

The hot funky sounds of The Lon Bronson All Star Band will be performing New Year's Eve, at Green Valley Ranch, December 31st.

Posted by Danny Desart at 2:50 AM

November 17, 2010

Urban Funk – Heroes and Legends

Bringing us some East Coast jammin’ is this MD-based group, Urban Funk, which does a really decent job of incorporating a solid group of covers with some competent original material to create Heroes and Legends, a nice collection to add to your smooth jazz goodies.

Designed with the intent, as the group says, “to pay homage and elaborate on the creativity of our teachers, gurus and masters of an art form we love” as well as to “add original material as the culmination of the experiences performing, recording and representing the pulse of the eras in we which we participated,” this album obviously has a direction. The covers are nicely interpreted though only conservatively tweaked. I suppose that was to drive home the point that the approach to these tunes was to preserve the integrity of the compositions and to show respect for the work of those coming before this group. A noble gesture.

The original material suggests that the group didn’t just sit down and bang out a few notes, record them, and thrust them forward without regard to the listening public’s sensitivities.

After a funky and snappy opening track, their original “Urban Phunk,” the group goes right after Steely Dan’s “Josie,” a brave gesture in my opinion, since I highly respect Steely Dan’s work, and it handles it most effectively.

There are other examples of some satisfying quality playing (and singing, as is evidenced on Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” sung here quite well by one Tommy Lepson), and you can hear that time was truly used wisely-- and not wasted-- in creating this production.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 8:28 PM

November 7, 2010

Shilts - Going Underground

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. Bringing back the funk has been a common theme for a whole crop of recent contemporary jazz releases but in the case of high octane sax player Shilts the funk has never really gone away. With a style which in the most part has been characterized by the big funky sound of Down To The Bone (with whom he enjoyed a long and successful association) he has been painstakingly building a solo career which started out in 2001 with See What Happens and gained momentum in 2006 with Head Boppin’. The added sophistication that came courtesy of his 2008 project, Jigsaw Life clearly demonstrated his rapidly growing musical maturity and now he is back with the excellent Going Underground. As with previous ventures Shilts calls upon some of the best musicians around to lend a hand and is variously backed by the powerhouse combination of Bill Steinway, Randy Jacobs, Nate Phillips, Jon Gilutin and Jervonny Collier.

The fact Shilts hails from London, England is betrayed not only by the ‘subway’ themed title of the new CD but also by the names of several of the tracks. Indeed he has been playing saxophone since his early teens and at the age of 15 he was asked to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain. While with them gained experience by supporting such great jazz stars as Nancy Wilson, Buddy Greco, Rosemary Clooney, George Shearing and Mel Torme.

A professional musician by the age of 16, Paul was soon working in nightclubs and backing the likes of Rose Royce, The Temptations, Four Tops, and The Drifters. Refreshed from a travel spree that saw him work in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean he firmly established himself on the London session scene where he recorded with artists that included David Bowie, Jimmy Paige, Bill Wyman and Lulu. He hooked up with UK pop band Breathe who went on to have a sequence of top 10 hits in the USA but Shilts never lost sight of his love for jazz. He co-formed System X with five other like-minded London session musicians and this different kind of exposure led to him being noticed for his soulful, funky saxophone style. He joined British Acid Jazz group The Brand New Heavies in 1994 and stayed with them for six years. In 1995 he took time out to tour with chart toppers Jamiroquai but it was during his time with the Heavies that Shilts met keyboard player Neil Cowley. That in turn led to an introduction to Chris J Morgans at Internal Bass and Stuart Wade, who was then and is now, the creative force behind Down To The Bone. Chris and Stuart asked Paul to form and front the live incarnation of DTTB with the result that Shilts become the face of the DTTB live band and a budding solo artist in his own right.

Although Shilts writes or co-writes eight of the nine choice tracks it is the album’s only cover, a high powered rendition of the Brecker Brothers ‘Sneakin Up Behind You’, that perhaps best sums up the overall vibe of Going Underground. It finds Shilts very much in ‘Down To The Bone mode’ with all that entails and is particularly noticeable with ‘Lambeth Strut’ that includes a handsome guitar solo from Nick Colionne. ‘Standing Room Only’ is of a similarly feisty disposition and, although ‘Uncontainable’ is another strident horn driven number, the rhythmic ‘Tunnel Vision’ opens out into a superb showcase for Shilt’s thrusting sax.

The easy grooving ‘5 O’Clock In Rio’ gives Shilts the opportunity to notch down the intensity that characterise much of the collection. Notable both for its smooth Latin groove, Marc Antoine’s input on guitars and a wonderful piano solo from Brian Simpson this is a track that is right up there with the albums best while elsewhere Shilts remains in restrained mode for the mid tempo ‘Seeing Things Clearly’.

The nostalgia that drips from every note of the retro tinged ‘Eyes Down’ owes much to Steinway’s contribution on Fender Rhodes and he again provides a significant input, this time on piano, for the jazzily mid tempo ‘Hip Bop’ for which Rick Braun on trumpet also features.

All things considered, Going Underground is a worthy addition to Shilts already formidable discography and is well 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 2:43 PM

November 6, 2010

What We're Listening To ** October 2010

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

Michael Paulo feat. David Benoit, Michael Paulo with the Magenta Orchestra (Apaulo)

Ulla Haesen, Love, Tears & Joy (Ulla Haesen)

Walter Beasley, Backatcha! (Shanachie)

Drew Davidsen & Friends, We 3 Stringz (Creative Soul Jazz)

Nils, What the Funk? (Baja/TSR)

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

Kenny G, Heart And Soul (Concord Records) (2010)

Heart Ramsey, Change It to My Heart (Prayer Closet Music) (2008)

George Duke, Deja Vu (Heads Up) (2010)

Larry Carlton & Tak Matsumoto, Take Your Pick (335 Records/Vermillion Records) (2010)

Tim Bowman, The Collection (Trippin' 'N' Rhythm) (2010)

P E T E R * B O E H I

Oli Silk - All We Need (2010)
This is one of the best smooth jazz albums of recent times, done by UK keyboardist Oli Silk. It is funky, groovy, mellow, sweet and boasts great playing by all involved. Thumbs up!

Walter Beasley - Backatcha! (2010)
Excellent album by saxophonist Walter Beasley doing what he does best in impeccable style, featuring great melodies and top-notch playing. Catchy stuff!

Tom Browne - S'Up (2010)
Welcome return by this great trumpet player with a groovy album featuring Fred Wesley and others. In large parts funky and raw, it is just what the doctor ordered!

Banda Black Rio - Movimento (2002)
I just have rediscovered this gem from Brazilian jazz-funksters Banda Black Rio. They sound like a mix of EWF and Tim Maia, with lots of horns and jazzy solos. A classic!

Billy Cobham - A Funky Thide Of Sings (1975)
My nod to the past goes to this classic album by drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham which was one of the defining albums on my jazz journey as a listener. It stood the test of time and still grooves like hell. Powerful stuff!

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘Jump Start’ from Nils from his current CD What The Funk?. This is first single to be serviced to radio and, at the time of writing, is already making a major impact on the chart of most played on the smooth jazz airwaves. The fact it features live strings from Dov & The Lovestar Strings only adds to the magic but other notable contributions come from bass player Reggie McBride and the excellent Oliver Brown on percussion.

‘Make Me Smile’ by Chieli Minucci & Special EFX from the album Without You. This breathtaking transformation of the 1992 Special EFX tune ‘You Make Me Blue’ is quite something. The original version was recorded during the period when Special EFX was first experimenting with the smooth jazz format and this sumptuous adaptation benefits from the superb violin of Alan Grubner.

‘Love TKO’ by Fourplay from the brand new Let’s Touch The Sky. This stunning rendition of the Teddy Pendergrass blockbuster is given new meaning by former American Idol winner Ruben Studdard who became known to Nathan East (and Fourplay as a whole) after appearing with him at an event in Washington DC. Without doubt this is the best cover of the year so far and arguably of any other besides.

‘Our Love’ by Brian Simpson from his highly acclaimed new release South Beach. A metaphor for everything great smooth jazz should be, this mellifluous masterpiece finds Yarone Levy in tremendous form on guitar while Steve Alaniz contributes some stunningly soulful sax.

‘Expansions’ by the interestingly named fo/mo/deep from the band’s latest project Eclecticism. Delivered in both vocal and instrumental form, this brilliant take on the Lonnie Liston Smith classic is a tune that evokes the great days of jazz fusion and then some.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 9:33 PM