September 30, 2011

Basia - From Newport To London - Greatest Hits Live

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. Recorded in Łódź, Poland, From Newport To London: Greatest Hits Live…And More marks a welcome return for the excellent Basia. With fifteen live songs plus three new studio recordings (written and produced by Basia and her long time Musical Director Danny White) the CD is the ultimate showcase for her work and a timely reminder of the sumptuous quality of her distinctive vocals.

Basia’s collaboration with keyboard player Danny White dates back to their early days together in the trio Matt Bianco. In 1987 she partnered with him for her platinum selling solo debut, Time And Tide and when the follow up, London Warsaw New York, also went platinum it seemed distinctly possible that only the sky would be the limit. The Sweetest Illusion followed in 1994 yet despite the fact her first live collection, Basia On Broadway, was released a year later, fans had to wait fourteen more years for her next studio project. Titled It's That Girl Again it served to underwrite the enduring writing and performing partnership of Basia and Danny White while also featuring Danny’s brother Peter White on guitar.

The fact that From Newport To London: Greatest Hits Live…And More has been produced to smoothly blend one track into the next serves to give the album a wonderful fluidity and the delightfully Latin ‘Third Time Lucky’ sets a zesty scene for what is to come. It is added to in no small measure by a dazzling keyboard solo by Danny White and as Basia runs off one magical hit after the other it is guitarist Giorgio Serci who comes up big for the familiar ‘Promises’. In fact the caliber of the supporting musicians is outstanding throughout and none more so than Marc Parnell on drums, sax-man Paul Booth and backing vocalists Veronique Clarisse and Annick Clarisse-Willequet.

Elsewhere Basia uses the shuffling beat of ‘Drunk On Love’ to keep the tempo high and although the jazzy swing of ‘How Dare You’ ratchets up the intensity even more it is with the passionate ‘Copernicus’ that she really explodes. ‘Asrud’ and ‘If Not Now Then When’ provide further glimpses of Basia at her Latin best whilst the studio recordings show off another side of her musical persona. The jazzy title cut is the first to be serviced to radio, the oriental flavor of ‘Wandering’ is as enticing as it is different but in terms of new music there is nothing to surpass the stunningly mellifluous ‘There’s A Tear’. It is right up there with the album’s best but, that said, the quality of this predominately live collection is exemplified by her rendition of the signature hit ‘Cruising For Bruising’. Sounding every bit as good as on the recorded version, this superb track is further enhanced by fine trumpet from Kevin Robinson.

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 8:20 PM

September 19, 2011

Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2011, Germany

September 16-18, 2011, the 4th annual Smooth Jazz Festival took place in Augsburg, Germany. After Bregenz and Munich, the festival now found its permanent home in Augsburg, Germany where the festival was held for the second consecutive time in the Park Theater at Kurhaus Göggingen, a historic building which provided the perfect backdrop for the concerts. There were plenty of bars and catering areas to take care of our needs.

Like last year, the headlining players were backed by a local band of professionals who played with many great smooth jazz instrumentalists over the years and had extensive experience from musicals, tv and touring, so we had to make no deductions from quality and overall experience, this band delivered and was always up to the task at hand. Musical director Lutz Deterra on keys, Günter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Martin Weiss on guitar provided the perfect accompaniment to the smooth jazz stars who came over from the US to play for us.

Friday night, the festival was opened by the lovely Jessy J on tenor saxophone, her soft and smooth saxophone sound reminded me of John Klemmer and in parts of Gato Barbieri, she played several songs from her brand new album Hot Sauce and more material from her previous catalog - like the classic "Tequila Moon" - she was joined in the middle of her show by Swedish keyboardist Jonathan Fritzén who she collaborated with on one of his albums. Later her mentor, producer and friend Paul Brown entered the stage to play a couple of songs with her on guitar, kicking things up another notch. Jessy J proved to be not only a good looking woman, but to be most of all a credible sax player that was well in command of her instrument. Her performance was well received.

Next was guitarist Paul Brown, who started his career as a producer and luckily decided to step away from the mixing console into the spotlight onto a stage, his guitar playing comes straight from the George Benson/Wes Montgomery school, but with a contemporary and funky twist. This was my first time seeing Paul Brown doing an own show, it was a total treat to see this man immerse himself into grooves and melodies and play his heart out. He did a song originally recorded with Marc Antoine, having Martin Weiss on acoustic guitar stepping in, it was total bliss. Not totally unexpected, Jessy J came back to the stage to return the favor, also Jonathan Fritzén joined the party, along with Italian sax player Rocco Ventrella, to end the night in an exciting fashion. This was another special evening of smooth jazz by some outstanding players.

Saturday night was opened by Rocco Ventrella on sax, who hails from Bari, Italy. Rocco Ventrella is a regular of the festival and almost played at each one, he is a crowd pleaser with his emotional and energetic style. He opened with "Soulful Strut" and got the audience in the palm of his hand right away. During his short set, he invited Paul Brown on guitar for one song, before he had to make way for the next performer. Rocco Ventrella sounds better each time I see him and I always look forward to hear him. He has a new album to be released soon.

Swedish keyboardist Jonathan Fritzén is the son of a Swedish mother and American father, he lives in Stockholm and is a rising smooth jazz star. He plays his keys with an emotional intensity that is very special, his songs are catchy and groovy, making you feel good. He played songs from his first three releases, among them one track he did with Jessy J on sax. It was done over the Internet without the two actually having met, and tonight it was the first time for the two players to perform this song together live, which was a truly special affair. Another highlight of the show was his stroll with a little Korg synth strapped around his neck wandering into the audience. I was totally blown away by this player and hope to be able to experience him live soon again.

Next was probably the biggest star of the whole festival, legendary saxophonist extraordinaire Gerald Albright. He was in a relaxed mood and played flawlessly, his clean sound and trademark staccato lines were a joy to listen to. He did his trademark song "George On My Mind", "My My My" and other tracks from his vast catalog. At the end of his show, Jessy J, Rocco Ventrella and Paul Brown joined the stage to end the show in an all-star frenzy. As expected, this show was the highlight of the festival and it was great to have Gerald Albright playing at our shores.

Like Friday night, after the show our beloved DJ Ralph "Jazzcrusader" Schulz took care of the after party with a mix of smooth jazz, funk and disco for those not ready to hit the sack yet.

Sunday morning we got the Martin Ehlers Trio featuring trumpet player Ingolf Burkhardt, the acoustic piano trio did their program of acoustic, very melodious and easy on the ear songs, which was just the right thing for an easy Sunday morning.

This was another great festival and I applaud Christian Bössner to pull it all off. The next Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg will take place Sept 14-16, 2012, so mark your calendars!

More pictures @ Flickr

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:25 PM

September 12, 2011

Reza Khan – A Simple Plan

Producer/keyboardist/guitarist Reza Khan definitely knows and handles his niche in music well. His hard-to-pigeonhole style of intermixing a little country, a little rock, and a lot of world influences gives his projects a unique sound that followers of such a blend have to really appreciate.

Here with his latest release, A Simple Plan (a title that I’m sure was inspired by his daughter-inspired song of the same name here), Khan lays out simple catchy melodies representative of lands and settings from every corner of the earth in many ways.

As I implied in my review of his previous release, Painted Diaries, his music touches a special kind of palate. While not for everyone, its appeal is undeniable among “world travelers.”

Khan employs the saxy sax of Andy Snitzer on this project on select tracks, and it only enhances those tunes. My fave here would “Painted Stories” where the saxman exhibits his noteworthy skills passionately. The beautiful finale “September Morning,” with all of its world touch, is a truly appropriate way to end this potpourri of global journeys.

Using the sitar, accordion, and a kind of “riding on horseback into the sunset” approach, this album covers many of the universal moods.

On the jazz side of things, a couple of tracks get the job done. The tunes that come to mind would be “Language of Love,” “Sweetest Things,” and the funky-in-a-country-kind-of-way track, “Funktionality”—this latter piece features a very impressive accordion solo by Viviane Amoux, by the way. The rest of the album is a well-done world-flavored project, especially if you like that “outdoorsy/frontier” kind of world material.

Overall, another fine effort by a fine artist who knows the landscape of his music and how to paint vivid images of it.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 7:47 PM

September 11, 2011

Acoustic Alchemy - Roseland

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.

Always about innovation and adaptability, the story of Acoustic Alchemy spans almost twenty five years and is all set to add another chapter with the release of the band’s latest CD Roseland. Produced by bandleaders Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale, the project is their first on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group, and has been licensed to Heads Up by AA’s newly formed Onside Records. Not only that, recorded in England at Gilderdale’s newly constructed home studio, the album’s thirteen tracks explore elements of jazz, rock, country and reggae that from beginning to end contain not one weak link.

In fact the musical evolution of Acoustic Alchemy began in 1987 when Red Dust and Spanish Lace provided guitarists Greg Carmichael and Nick Webb with access into the then fledgling adult contemporary market. Since then the sad passing of Webb and his replacement in 1998 by Miles Gilderdale, has, over time, led to an amalgam of influences that even extends to luscious horn driven grooves yet essentially continues to be underpinned by that hallmark combination of steel and nylon stringed guitars.

Roseland confirms all this and more. The title cut is a bold extravaganza of sound that resonates around fine guitar from Carmichael and Gilderdale while the foot tapping ‘One For Shorty’ benefits from the interjection of a fulsome brass section which includes regular AA contributor Snake Davis on sax. Not surprisingly ‘Marcus’ is framed by a pulsating bass line and more classic Acoustic Alchemy comes in the form of ‘Sand On Her Toes’ where the electric guitar of Gilderdale spars deliciously with Carmichael’s trademark nylon strings.

Melody is again high on the agenda for the extremely pleasing ‘Swamp Top’ for which flashes of Hammond B3 from Ricky Peterson and cool trombone from FayyazVirji add to the pleasure. Peterson’s contributions are significant throughout and none more so than with ‘Marrakesh’ which, far from being full of the eastern promise that the title suggests, is a zesty rhythm fest of the highest order. In fact vintage AA would be an apt description and much the same can be said of the dramatic ‘State Of The Ark’ which demonstrates the intensity that often characterizes the music this classy collective routinely delivers.

Carmichael’s daughter has just completed her studies in Bristol where she attained a masters degree in chemistry. The contemplative ‘Templemeads’ (a district of this English city and also the name of its train station) is his way of providing her with some recognition. Elsewhere, the simple yet cinematic ‘Stealing Hearts’ is nothing short of magical and although ‘Right Place – Wrong Time’ allows the band to show off the ‘straight ahead’ side of its musical persona, there is a quick return to more familiar territory with ‘World Stage’. Hypnotic in the extreme and held down in impeccable style by Greg Grainger on drums this tantalizing track builds to an incredible crescendo which is fuelled by Gliderdale’s bluesy guitar and more stellar input from Peterson.

From uncomplicated beginnings ‘A Kinder Loving’ grows steadily into yet another melodic gem that is right up there with the album’s best but in terms of personal favourites there is nothing to surpass the understated reggae beat of ‘The Ebor Sound Machine’. Showing all the signs of becoming seriously addictive this mellifluous masterpiece draws its name from the city of York in the United Kingdom (where the CD was recorded) and which in the time of the Roman occupation (circa AD43) was known as Eboracum.

Roseland will be released on September 27 and is destined to be one of the outstanding collections of 2011.

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 5:13 PM

September 10, 2011

What We're Listening To ** August 2011

P E T E R * B O E H I

Cindy Bradley - Unscripted (2011)
This is an absolute standout album by trumpet player Cindy Bradley, her tone is warm and soulful, while on the muted trumpet she delivers some sharp lines. The production is top notch, the players are excellent, and the material covers a lot of ground, from the catchy house track "Massive Transit" to her contemporary rendition of "Footprints" to my favorites, the introspective "You Don't Know What Love Is" and the slow burning "Inevitable". Gorgeous stuff!

Neamen - So Free (201)
Newcomer Neamen Lyles on sax delivers a great upbeat smooth jazz album full of catchy melodies, beautiful playing and excellent production. This is another standout album and I expect to hear a lot more from this gifted player in the future. Pure smooth jazz bliss!

Jessy J - Hot Sauce (2011)
Lovely sax player Jessy J comes up with another release which was produced by mentor Paul Brown, as expected it is a smooth, sexy, sultry and laid-back affair with the typical latin vibe, her playing reminds me of John Klemmer and Gato Barbieri at times, she is supported by some heavy weights like Joe Sample and Harvey Mason. Style and quality!

Brian Hughes - Fast Train To A Quiet Place (2011)
Guitarist Brian Hughes is often compared to Pat Metheny, but his music is definitely his own. This latest release is a very satisfying album with excellent guitar solos, beautiful melodies and top notch musicianship. The vibe is airy and the styles covered go from funky to latin to straight. Truly excellent!

Noriki - Dream Cruise (1984)
My nod to the past goes to Japanese keyboardist Soichi Noriki who did this classic album back in 1984 with an all Japanese cast, the music sounds like Stuff and Tom Scott, being in line with the Japanese tradition of perfect emulation of their US idols. Still a valid album I always love to return to.

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

Pat Metheny, What's It All About (Nonesuch) (2011)

Andy Snitzer, Traveler (Native Language) (2011)

Joep Van Leeuwen, It Could Happen To You (iM Jazz EU) (2011)

Duane Parham, Motor City Sax Appeal (SaxVille Avenue Records) (2011)

Marcus Anderson, Now (Anderson Music, LLC) (2011)

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘I Think About Amy’, the new maxi-single from sax-man Michael J Thomas. With both vocal and instrumental versions, this is a tune that blends the best elements of contemporary jazz and R&B with more pop orientated flavorings. Not only that, given Michael writes, plays alto and (on the vocal version) sings throughout, this memorable recording is a wonderful showcase for his undoubted versatility.

The shuffling, understated ‘Marseille’ by Andy Snitzer, from his latest album Traveler. This is the best from what is a really wonderful collection and with a guitar solo from the currently ubiquitous Chuck Loeb, delivers sophisticated contemporary jazz of the very highest order.

‘Midnight And You’ by Nick Colionne from his blockbuster new release Feel The Heat. Sultry in a quiet storm kind of a way and with Colionne his usual immaculate self on both guitar and vocals, this is a song that is sure to make it into the list of top tracks for 2011.

‘Rainbow Gold’ by Jessy J from her current CD Hot Sauce. Written by Jessy and the legendary Joe Sample, this choice cut finds her on both on sax and vocals. Not only that, the piano induced intensity that Sample routinely generates is out of this world.

‘It’s Tough In Here’ by keyboard player Mike Di Lorenzo from his latest album Bring It Back. This joyously rhythmic cut sublimely defines the music of Di Lorenzo and in so doing serves as a metaphor for the entire collection.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 11:50 AM