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. As well as being one of the genre’s most consistent chart-toppers, soulful saxophonist Richard Elliot has done as much as anyone to delightfully blur the margins that separate smooth jazz from funk. His 2009 release, Rock Steady, was a nod to the R&B artists of the 1970s & 80s that inspired him most and he has stayed with a similar theme for his latest effort, the sparkling In The Zone. Notable on many levels, the album finds Elliot reuniting with Jeff Lorber who, not for the first time, proves himself to be the perfect producing and songwriting partner. Together they write nine of the ten choice cuts and, with able support from the likes of Michael Thompson, Tony Maiden, Alex Al and Lenny Castro, the credits read like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of contemporary jazz.
Indeed the pedigree of those involved is demonstrated as early as the opening track where the velvety vibe of ‘Island Style’ owes as much to David Mann’s excellent horns and horn arrangements as it does Elliot’s fine playing. In fact Mann contributes to seven of the songs and among them is ‘Bring It’ which, in the final analysis, is all about the funk.
Elsewhere, the collection’s only cover is an exquisite take on the Marvin Gaye classic ‘Inner City Blues’ (Makes Me Wanna Holler)’ where a killer bass-line from regular band member Nate Phillips really hits the spot. Other regulars to join Elliot on In The Zone are drummer Tony Moore and guitarist Dwight Sills. Both are in outstanding form for the title tune which, all things considered, comes as close to authentic jazz fusion as anything that In The Zone has to offer and, although the melodic swagger of both ‘Panamera’ and ‘The Lower Road’ affords a showcase for vintage Elliot at his fulsome best’ ‘Golden Triangle’ reveals a more sensitive side of his musical persona.
The moody ‘Metropolis’ maintains a relaxed tempo but in so doing ensures the groove remains deliciously intact while, later, Lorber’s jazzy influence can be found all over the slinky ‘Just A Taste’. It sits in enchanting contrast to ‘Boom Town’ which is the sort of powerhouse cut for what Elliot is famous and is already storming up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio.
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
‘The Ebor Sound Machine’ by Acoustic Alchemy from the excellent CD Roseland. With an understated reggae beat, this is a track that not only shows all the signs of becoming seriously addictive but which also 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.
‘Too Hot’ by Tom Scott from the album Telling Stories. Scott’s smoky horn captures the true mood of this Kool & The Gang blockbuster to perfection and, when one factors in a sublime vocal duet between Paulette McWilliams and Will Downing, this may well prove to be a highlight of the musical year.
‘Out On The Town’ by Aaron Bing from his forthcoming release Rebirth. Sax-man Aaron Bing’s latest single ‘Out On The Town’ is all set to debut mid October on iTunes. I have already described it as one of the best smooth jazz cuts you will hear this year and a ‘must have track’ for any discerning music fan’s collection.
The enticingly languid ‘The Lady In My Life’ by the great George Benson from his latest project Guitar Man. This, the first single to be released to radio, provides a stunning showcase for Benson’s sublime guitar playing and confirms how his style, although copied by many, has been matched by but a few.
‘South Street’ by Brian Lenair from the album Eye Of The Storm. This extremely pleasing tune has a terrific vibe, a catchy hook and tremendous playing from Lenair. I am tipping it to do really well.
J E F F * D A N I E L S
Rob Tardik, Balance Energy Laughter Love (RobTardik.com) (2011)
Cindy Bradley, Unscripted (Trippin & Rhythm) (2011)
Tim Cunningham, Reflection (TAWC Records) (2011)
Michael Franks, Time Together (SHC19) (2011)
Gail Jhonson, Her Story (111 East Jazz Records) (2011)
P E T E R * B O E H I
Ramsey Lewis - Taking Another Look (2011)
Ramsey Lewis revisits his jazz-funk days of the 70ies & 80ies which was one of the most fruitful periods in his long career. He lost me a bit a the end of the 90ies which his more acoustic outings, but this new release brings him back with a vengeance. Supported by a top-notch electric band - among the players is guitarist Henry Johnson - he "takes another look" at several of his classic tracks, creating a loose funky vibe featuring his sparkling piano and fender sounds, perfectly recapturing the spirit of the 70ies. Ramsey still has got it!
Taijiquan - Taijiquan (2011)
This band from Houston, TX delivers an outstanding and funky instrumental album of jazz-funk, acid-jazz, smooth jazz and some straighter tracks thrown in for good measure. The beat is groovy, the songs are catchy, and the playing is excellent. Thumbs up!
Misz - Lovin' What I Do (Musical Perspectives) (2011)
Misz aka The Groove Producer has the heart in the right spot. Usually, I am reluctant to embrace mostly self-produced and played projects, but this one works extremely well with its organic "phat" grooves and fluid playing, guest artists include Michael Powers on guitar among others on sax and keys, the opening track "Daddy Keys" which is dedicated to Bob James won my heart right away, and the rest of the CD doesn't disappoint either. Groove on!
Brian Lenair - Eye Of The Storm (2010)
Saxophonist Brian Lenair delivers a polished and stylish smooth jazz album that delivers just the right combination of moods and grooves, guests include Alyson Williams and Jonathan Davis. This album goes down like fine wine!
John Tropea - Tropea (1975)
My nod to the past goes to this LP by guitarist John Tropea that delivers the best from the NY jazz-funk scene of the 70ies, one of the most creative times in music history. Always worth coming back to!