December 17, 2010

Hart Ramsey - Charge It To My Heart

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. 2010 has provided some wonderful contemporary jazz surprises and none more so than the stunning debut recording from producer, keyboardist, engineer, and songwriter Hart Ramsey. Titled Charge It To My Heart and featuring guest performances from Eric Essix, Phil Davis, Kelley O'Neal and Rick Watford, it’s emergence as one of the hottest releases of the year is perhaps all the more surprising for the fact that Ramsey has a Doctorate in Pastoral Ministry. In fact when not making music he teaches weekly services at Northview Christian Church in Alabama. However, although the collection does have a slight gospel tinge, it differentiates itself not with any sacred element but by the quality of the music which in terms of contemporary jazz is as good as anything currently on offer.

Ramsey explains the origin of the CD’s twelve all original compositions as songs he has written over the years with melodies that have touched his heart. The selection includes several cuts with all the attributes necessary to stand the test of time and one such number is the hauntingly beautiful ‘Longing’ (included in both instrumental and ‘introspective’ form) where Ramsey’s cool keys grab the plaudits. It is right up there with the album’s best and, in this respect, is in the excellent company of the distinctly hip ‘Something New’ that features Phil Davis on keyboards. Just as good is the tight, in the pocket, ‘What About Love’ where the interplay between Ramsey and sax-man Kelley O’Neal is nothing short of magical. However, that said, a real personal favorite is the high octane ‘Centerpiece’. This upbeat sensation includes more great sax from co-writer O’Neal, Ramsey at his impressive best and a fabulous guitar solo from Eric Essix who over the years has enjoyed solo smooth jazz hits with tunes such as ‘For Real’ and ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’.

The combination of these three players’ works to perfection and on other tracks is replicated several times. They are again to the fore with ‘Be Attitude’ which proves to be a swaggering slice of mid tempo smooth jazz and when Essix gives way to the equally impressive Rick Watford for the decidedly edgy ‘Keep Showing Up’, his rock inspired guitar solo steals the show. Watford also comes up big on the easy paced ‘Archangel’ where a more melodic approach coupled with a shuffling backbeat makes this one a real gem but when Essix steps up for ‘Prey Before You Go’ he takes center stage for what can best described as a restrained charmer.

Robert Moe’s inspirational vocal provides a velvety backdrop to the shimmering ‘Be Who You Make Me Be’ where Ramsey on keys is top notch and he confirms his gospel roots with the uplifting ‘You Are My Life’. It is a great example of how sacred music can also be entirely current and when O’Neal makes a welcome return he adds hugely to the chilled out ‘Fitly Joined Together’ before ruffling the aura surrounding the sparse yet beautiful ‘I Found In You’ with some timely sax interventions.

Charge It to My Heart is out now on N-Coded Music and is a total delight.

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 4:49 PM

December 12, 2010

What We're Listening To ** November 2010

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

Walter Beasley, Backatcha (Shanachie) (2010)

Shilts, Going Underground (Blanket Records) (2010)

Fourplay, Let's Touch the Sky (Heads Up) (2010)

Wayman Tisdale, Fonk Record: Featuring Tiz & Fonkie Planetarians (Rendezvous Records) (2010)

Tony Williams, The New Tony Williams Lifetime Believe It (Columbia Europe) (2004)

P E T E R * B O E H I

Craig Sharmat - Outside In (2010)
This guitar player pushes all the right buttons on this picture perfect smooth jazz album full of great musicianship by several a-list players and catchy tunes. You will love it!

Greg Manning - The Calling (2010)
This CD is another outstanding piece of smooth jazz with great tracks, groovy rhythms and top-notch players guesting (like Mindy Abair and Kirk Whalum). Thumbs up!

Phillip Brooks - Ocean View (2010)
This keyboarder has been a recent discovery, he delivers an excellent slice of smooth jazz with just the right mix of grooves and moods, done in an impeccable manner. Great stuff!

Patrick Yandall - The Window (2010)
Guitar player Patrick Yandall comes up with a great new release boasting top-notch material from beginning to end that should please every smooth jazz lover. Don't miss it!

Caldwell Plus - As We Bop (1988)
My nod to the past goes to this CD by the Caldwell brothers, despite relying on programmed beats, the playing on keys and reeds (especially EWI) and the strong compositions make this an album one I still love to go back to today. Stood the test of time!

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘Centerpiece’ by Hart Ramsey from his debut CD Charge It To My Heart. This upbeat sensation includes great sax from co-writer Kelly O’Neal, Ramsey on keys at his impressive best and a fabulous guitar solo from Eric Essix who over the years has enjoyed solo smooth jazz hits with tunes such as ‘For Real’ and ‘Rainy Night In

‘Pastels’ by Gabriel from his latest release Told Ya So. Trumpet, flute, and flugelhorn player Gabriel Mark Hasselbach (aka Gabriel) delivers a deconstructed but totally hypnotic gem that finds him sharing the honors with Miles Black on keys, bass and guitar. Chilled out contemporary jazz doesn’t come better than this.

‘That Man’ by Paula Prophet that is taken from her debut collection From Me To You. Written by Paula, the track originally featured on Bradley Leighton’s 2006 project ‘Soul Collective’ where it showcased Tom Scott on sax. Here the playing of John Rekevics matches Scott note for note while Prophet generates a distinctly 5th Dimension like sound.

‘5 O’Clock In Rio’ by Shilts from has latest recording Going Underground. This easy grooving cut finds Shilts notching 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.

With Christmas right around the corner, the best seasonal smooth jazz cut so far is the fine new mix by guitarist Jim Adkins of the classic ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Released digitally, it not only captures the festive spirit but also taps into that distinctive Adkins sound that was so prevalent on his splendid 2008 album City Streets.

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

Marcus Johnson feat. Young Pulse, Flow Chill, Vol. 2 (Three Keys)

Ray Charles, Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters (Concord)

Darryl Anders, Agape Soul (Darryl Anders)

Alan King, The Experiment (King Music Group)

Jack Prybylski, Out of the Box (Innervision)

Posted by Peter Böhi at 12:47 PM

December 7, 2010

21st annual Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest brings big star power

The 21st annual Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, runs March 25-April 3, and features some of the hottest names in contemporary and traditional jazz, blues, R&B, fusion and more.

With a new title sponsor and one of the most diverse lineups in festival history, the 2011 Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest promises to be one of the best yet. More than 130 events are hosted at large venues, clubs and restaurants throughout Berks County.

There is something for everyone: the legendary Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio; the always-popular Guitars & Saxes, featuring Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Peter White and Jeff Golub; B-3 master Joey Defrancesco with his trio; jazz icon Dave Brubeck with his quartet; electric bass legends Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten; and guitar masters Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola, Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini.

Don’t miss big names like The Rippingtons; Rick Braun, who is joining the Reading Pops Orchestra; and Brian Culbertson, who is wrapping up this year’s festival with a finale concert featuring vocalist Kenny Lattimore.

Expect memorable shows by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Steve Tyrell; contemporary jazz-fusion masters Chieli Minucci & Special EFX; jazz supergroup Fourplay; Pieces of a Dream and Phil Perry; Norman Brown and Richard Elliot; Euge Groove; and more.

Fusion has a big presence at this year’s fest, with Jeff Lorber Fusion, featuring Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Jimmy Haslip, Michael White, and special guest Randy Brecker; Al Di Meola’s World Sinfonia; and Steve Smith & Vital Information: NYC Edition.

Several brunches offer a delightful way to start the day, with Andrew Neu; the trio of Marc Antoine, Brian Simpson and Jeff Kashiwa; and a blues brunch with the Clarence Spady Band.

Ensemble shows are always a treat, and there is no shortage of ensembles this year.
The BeBop Sessions with Chuck Loeb & Friends features Loeb, Brian Bromberg, Randy Brecker, Rick Braun, Philippe Saisse, Gerald Albright, Ada Rovatti and more.

The Vista All-Stars bring the experience of a jazz cruise to you, with Wycliffe Gordon, Houston Person, Ken Peplowski, Shelly Berg, Tom Kennedy, Ernie Adams and Dee Daniels.

The Original Jazz Crusaders, featuring Joe Sample, Wilton Felder and Wayne Henderson bring their reunion tour to Reading.

Brian Bromberg and his band are coming to town for a CD release concert, and will include special guest Randy Brecker in the celebration.

Gerald Veasley, a Philly native and Berks favorite, is hosting Gerald Veasley’s Sounds of Philly, with Will Downing, Carol Riddick, Nick Colionne and Walter Beasley. Join Gerald ’Round Midnight for two late-night jams at his namesake club, Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base. This in-the-moment event is a new festival favorite.

Gerald Albright will present The Man and His Music, with special guests Rick Braun, Larry Braggs, and Selina Albright, plus the Berks Jazz Fest Horns.

Blues once again has its own niche in the festival, with concerts by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue; Walter Trout and opening act Gina Sicilia; Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout, featuring Lazy Lester, Jerry Portnoy, Mark Wenner and the Blues Survivors; and the young and rising stars of Homemade Jamz Blues Band.

The Ladies of JazzSharon Bailey, Suzie Ernesto and Toni Lynne -- are back, and are joining The Last Big Band for an afternoon of standards.

Dance Hall Docs always promise a rousing show, with their Music of Tower of Power and More concert, featuring vocalist Brent Carter, a former lead singer of TOP.

The always-popular free community concerts, sponsored by Reading Eagle Company, are back, with the U.S. Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble welcoming two different special guests on back-to-back nights of shows. Randy Brecker joins RIB for the first show, and Ernie Watts will be sharing the stage for the second. The Berks High School All-Star Band is opening both nights.

This year’s festival brings a rich variety of musical genres, with two promises – great music, and a really good time.

A complete schedule of concerts, artist bios, hotel information and more is available at

Tickets go on sale Saturday, Dec. 4, at 10 a.m.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:21 PM