December 31, 2011

Happy 2012

I wish to all of our reader a successful and happy new year!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 8:27 PM

December 27, 2011

What We're Listening To ** December 2011

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘What A Day’ by Demetrius Nabors from the CD A Journey Within. In terms of genre defining smooth jazz, a better tune than this would be hard to find. Crammed full of all the rhythm and melody you will ever need this one looks set to put Nabors on the map.

‘Touch’ by Randy Scott from his latest album 90 Degrees At Midnight. This engagingly mellow cut is added to in no small measure by a fine contribution on piccolo bass from Terrance Palmer.

‘Written In Red’ by Hart Ramsey from his second CD My Next Heartbeat. With a terrific bass line from co-writer Sean Michael Ray, and in contradiction to the gentle nature of much of the collection, this one turns out to be a real mover and shaker.

‘Enjoy The Ride’, which is the title track from the fresh new album by guitarist Jay Stewart. This mellifluous tune really takes the honours. With Jimmy Bralower immense on congas it’s a track with genuine cross-genre appeal and the potential to do really well.

‘To Catch A Thief’ from the highly anticipated new album East Bay Soul 2.0. This year, for those true funk soldiers whose donations made the rapidly emerging East Bay Soul 2.0 project become a reality, Christmas came early. In fact it came one day early as true to his word bandleader Greg Adams circulated the pre-release download of the first single from what will surely be one of the albums of 2012 to everyone of those who pledged their support. With a languid yet easy grooving vibe this ultra cool cut is in the best traditions of Adams’ best work and benefits from some killer Hammond B3 from Joey Navarro. The title ‘To Catch A Thief’ was inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name.


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

Bob James & Hilary James, Christmas Eyes (Koch Records) (2008)

Bryan Lubeck, We Three Strings (Earthscape Media) (2006)

Steve Oliver, Snowfall (Koch Records) (2006)

Jeff Golub, Six String Santa (Metro Cafe) (2007)

Blake Aaron, A Romantic Christmas (Innervision Records & Entertainment LLC) (2011)


P E T E R * B O E H I

Mark Stephens - The Dream Of The Peaceful Warrior (2011)
This CD by keyboard player Mark Stephens is the best album to come along in recent times, it bristles with energy, enthusiasm and great playing by all involved. I especially enjoyed the sax playing of the late Michael Brecker, who participated on the album, like Marcus Miller, Jonathan Butler, The Andreae Crouch Singers, Chaka Khan and several others. Mind-boggling stuff!

Al Turner - Sunny Days (2011)
Bassist Al Turner is a veteran on the scene - having toured with artists like Kem and Earl Klugh - and his solo albums are always top-notch smooth jazz affairs. His latest is no exception, it boasts guests like Dave McMurray, Marlon McClain, Nelson Rangell, Bob James and others. The CD contains a bunch of groovy, catchy and funky instrumentals featuring not only the leader, but his well chosen guests as well. Another winner!

Papa John DeFrancesco - A Philadelphia Story (2011)
Organist Papa John DeFrancesco is the father of famous organist Joey DeFrancesco who also appears on this album, this CD is a great collection of funky and swinging tracks, also notable are the contributions of his other son, John DeFrancesco Jr. on guitar, nice covers like "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" make this a well rounded session. The recording quality is outstanding. A fun album!

Gábor Vermes Group - Slap The Bass (2011)
Gábor Vermes hails from Budapest, Hungary and delivers a really good album of jazz-funk with lots of bass slapping, a technique he developed to perfection, but it doesn't stop there, the music is not only funky, but also memorable and catchy, musicians and production are top-notch. Check it out!

Jeff Cascaro - The Other Man (2011)
Jeff Cascaro is an outstanding soul singer from Germany, this is his third album and again, it is full of heartfelt, soulful music featuring the singer's unique and easy recognizable voice. The music is deeply rooted in the 60ies and 70ies, with organic grooves and real instrumentation. A gem!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 5:30 PM

December 11, 2011

Hart Ramsey - My Next Heartbeat

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. Back in 2010 I hailed the stunning debut recording from producer, keyboardist, engineer, and songwriter Hart Ramsey as one of the contemporary jazz surprises of the year. Titled Charge It to My Heart, it’s emergence as one of the hottest releases of 2010 was perhaps all the more astonishing 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. Now he is back with the equally beguiling My Next Heartbeat.

‘Two Roads’ gets the show on the road with feisty sax from Kelley O’Neal and a lively beat which might best be described as verging on the intense. This lively beginning is in contrast to much of the album which often finds Ramsey in mellow mode and this is particularly so with ‘In Spite Of Myself’. It features a cool guitar solo from regular Ramsey sideman Rick Watford and he stays in or around quiet storm territory for the ultra chilled ‘The Commitment’ where vocals are shared with the Robert Moe. Later, when vocal duties are passed to Daniel Johnson, his interplay with Ramsey on the silky smooth ‘Cover Me’ is magical and, elsewhere, ‘The Better Part’ features Eric Essix on guitar and, much like many of Ramsey’s best tunes, more great sax from Kelley O’Neal. It’s an easy grooving slice of smooth jazz and much the same can be said of ‘Merry Heart (Like Medicine)’ which bounces along on a happy vibe and proves to be the perfect vehicle for Ramsey’s always superb keys.

‘Look You In The Face’ is an easy grooving number in keeping with the CD’s overall mood and although ‘Until The End Of Time’ turns out to be another agreeably tranquil cut, ‘Start Now’ opens with a chilled out groove that expands into something altogether more urgent. Truth to tell this one is all about the rhythm which, from time to time, is interspersed with some fine backing vocals and a killer keyboard solo from Ramsey.

‘See Into Me’ is a slice of late night smooth jazz designed with lovers very much in mind while despite being predominately keyboard driven, the zesty title track is illuminated by bursts of jazzy sax from O’Neal. This pleasantly swaggering cut is amongst the album’s best and in terms of personal favourites is in the excellent company of ‘Written In Red’ which in contradiction to the gentle nature of much of the collection turns out to be a real mover and shaker. With a terrific bass line from co-writer Sean Michael Ray this one really hits the spot yet just as good is ‘Don’t Be Afraid To Do It Again’ where, in addition to Ramsey’s wonderful keys, some splendidly soulful vocals can also be found.

To deliver a follow up worthy Charge It to My Heart was, for Hart Ramsey, a very big ask indeed. The fact he has done it with aplomb speaks volumes of his potential for the future.

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.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:57 PM

December 9, 2011

What We're Listening To ** November 2011

P E T E R * B O E H I

Roberto Vazquez - Between Two Worlds (2011)
Keyboardist Roberto Vazquez hails from Cuba and delivers one of smoothest, finest and most beautiful albums of recent times, boasting nice grooves and melodies, sparkling piano by the leader and great playing by all involved - among them Marion Meadows on sax, Julio Hernandez on bass and Sammy Figueroa on percussion - yielding outstanding results. Very recommended!

Jay Kim - Perfect Experience (2011)
Saxophonist Jay Kim hails from Korea and is a force to be reckoned with on the smooth jazz scene. His latest release is a polished, groovy affair with flawless sax playing, catchy melodies to hum along, most notable guest is Jeff Lorber on keys, helping to make this album another winner. Thumbs up!

Wayman Tisdale - The Wayman Tisdale Story (2011)
This album brings more music of the late, great bass player to us, loads of bass slapping and a heavy dose of funk, along with a few more introspective songs, will satisfy his legion of fans, guests include George Duke and Dave Koz, to top it all, you get a bonus DVD about Wayman Tisdale's life and career with many insights from the man. Wayman, we miss you!

Richard Elliot - In The Zone (2011)
Saxophonist Richard Elliot, having found his niche, delivers more of his trademark gutsy horn playing and soulful funky grooves rooted in 70ies funk, supported by a top-notch cast of players. You can't go wrong with this one!

Salena Jones & Stuff - My Love (1981)
My nod to the past goes to this album from 1981 by songstress Salena Jones who is backed by the band Stuff, which provide a warm organic backdrop to Salena's singing, it is always worth to come back to and a must-hear especially for the fans of Stuff. Timeless!


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

Taijiquan, Taijiquan (Backroom Productions) (2011)

Daniel Davis, Play For Me (DD Pro Records) (2011)

John Carey, New Beginnings (Gico Music) (2011)

Muracle, Music Is Miracle (V Company)  (2011)

Ramsey Lewis, Taking Another Look (Hidden Beach Records (US)) (2011)


D E N I S * P O O L E

‘Day N Night’ by Maysa from the CD Motions Of Love; The high octane, retro tinged ‘Day N Night’ has the ability to fill the largest of dance floors and is Maysa’s own tribute to disco divas such as Linda Clifford and Thelma Houston.

‘Galaxy’ from the album of the same name by Jeff Lorber Fusion; There is magic in every second of this fine collection and this is particularly so with the intense title cut that is a perfect example of the tight, high octane performances that can be found throughout.

‘Through The Holiday’ by Chris Standring and Kathrin Shorr from the album Send Me Some Snow. Well, it is almost Christmas and one track that could well evolve into a recurring festive gem is this stunningly beautiful tune which glistens with the kind of bitter sweet sentimentality that never grows old.

‘Philly’ the best track from the brand new self-titled collection by guitarist Lloyd Gregory; This languidly appealing number is one of four songs on the album to be written by Gregory and Felton Pilate. It evokes Fourplay at its delicious best.

‘Closed For The Holidays’, the title cut from an interesting 6 track collection from bass player and songwriter Wayne Jones. Brim full of highly accessible and deeply enriching contemporary jazz, this interesting project features some fine guest performances including those from sax-man Mike MacArthur and smooth jazz super-star Rick Braun.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 12:05 PM

December 7, 2011

Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest 2012

The lineup of the upcoming 22nd annual Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest has been announced and tickets went on sale last weekend. The festival will take place March 23 - April 1, 2012 and will be held at various locations in and around Reading, PA. The festival is well known for its friendly atmosphere and the numerous volunteers that help things go smoothly, in addition to the large number of top-notch artists performing there. Check out the lineup at the festival site, highlights include Jeff Golub, Sax Pack, Global Noize, George Benson, Peter White, Walter Beasley, Nick Colionne, Brian Bromberg, Chieli Minucci & Special EFX, Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Albright, Boney James, Dean Brown, Brian Culbertson, David Benoit, Mindi Abair, Gerald Veasley, Spyro Gyra, Will Downing, Incognito, Maysa, Chick Corea and many more. It's going to be another awesome festival!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 7:19 PM

December 6, 2011

Kirk Whalum duets with his brother, Kevin, to remake a classic album in a Romance Language of their own

Grammy winning saxophonist’s reimaged take on the Coltrane/Hartman collaboration will be released on Valentine’s Day

Memphis, TN (6 December 2011): Most artists would be daunted at the thought of remaking a classic work of art made by legends, but not Grammy winner Kirk Whalum. The multidimensional saxophonist adeptly steps into the role of John Coltrane and tapped his brother, vocalist Kevin Whalum, to fill the shoes of Johnny Hartman on an unabashedly romantic collection of duets originally recorded in 1963 by the seminal artists. Romance Language, due to be released on Valentine’s Day by Rendezvous Music, consists of all six songs that comprise the Coltrane/Hartman recording along with a handful of modern ballads to complete the disc produced by Kirk Whalum and John Stoddart.

In addition to the traditional CD and digital version, an extended and enhanced digital version of Romance Language will be released as the world’s first complete LiveAudio optimized album for JAMBOX by JAWBONE, a leader in personal mobile technology devices. LiveAudio allows music to be enjoyed in a 3D-like, surround sound experience from a single, small Bluetooth wireless speaker. This one-of-a-kind version of Romance Language will be available exclusively at www.kirkwhalum.com/JAMBOX.

In conjunction with the album release, Kirk & Kevin Whalum will perform a Valentine’s Day concert at the Hilton Portland Downtown in Oregon that will stream live to a global audience through Kirk Whalum’s website, www.kirkwhalum.com.

The Whalum brothers approached the half-dozen standards from the original recording with admiration and veneration. Kirk Whalum and Stoddart crafted fresh arrangements that place the time-tested songs such as Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” Sammy Cahn’s “Dedicated To You,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Richard Rodgers’ “You Are Too Beautiful” in present day R&B-adult pop and jazz settings. The newer songs – including renderings of contemporary hits written by Terry Lewis & James “Jimmy Jam” Harris, Eric Benet, and Joe (Thomas) - maintain the mood, feel and ambience of the storied set. Throughout Romance Language, Kevin Whalum’s suave, velvety voice is cool and in command while Kirk Whalum’s sax solos and fills are inspired, warm and nuanced etchings. The amorous album unfolds with the grace of an intimate hand-penned love letter - seductively sweet, genuinely heartfelt, and poetically passionate. Recorded “live” at Dark Horse recording studios in Nashville with very little overdubbing, the musicians accompanying the Whalum’s were John Stoddart (piano, keyboards, organ, backing vocals), Marcus Finnie (drums), Braylon Lacy (bass), Kevin Turner (electric guitar), Michael “Nomad” Ripoll (acoustic guitar), Ralph Lofton (organ), George Tidwell (flugelhorn, trumpet), and percussionists Bashiri Johnson and Javier Solis. Kirk & Kevin Whalum’s 83 years-young uncle, Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum, poured his distinctive, emotion-charged voice into the broken-hearted “Almost Doesn’t Count” and the poignant bonus track, “You Are So Beautiful.”

Romance Language, now so elegantly completed, absolutely qualifies for my bucket list. Having been a fan of Kevin's luscious voice for over 30 years and a fan of the Coltrane/Hartman recording for at least that long, this project is more of a consummation than just serendipity. Every time I listened to the Coltrane/Hartman recording, I thought of Kevin and mused at the idea of redoing the whole album with my little brother. Kevin caressed each and every note. My other ‘brother,’ John Stoddart ‘dined’ with me on these arrangements. My touring band embraced each performance as we recorded ‘live’ in the studio––virtually no overdubs, over-takes or over-production. Just sheer joy and love, respect and reverence for the original recording as well as these amazing compositions,” said Memphis native Kirk Whalum, who will tour with Kevin in the spring to support Romance Language. “Oh... and boy is this album romantic. I invite you to take it on a test drive. Drive slow.”

Romance Language is Kirk Whalum’s 19th album as a front man since his 1985 solo debut, Floppy Disk. He topped the Billboard contemporary jazz album charts twice (And You Know That! and Cache) and amassed 11 Grammy nominations. Whalum took home a coveted Grammy earlier this year for a duet with Lalah Hathaway that appeared on his The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter III. An ordained minister who earned a Master’s degree in the Art of Religion, Kirk Whalum has forged an unparalleled career path in both the secular and the non-secular music words, garnering hits, awards and accolades for his jazz, R&B and gospel recordings. His soulfully expressive tenor sax voice is unique and has appeared on literally hundreds of recordings by Barbara Streisand, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Michael McDonald, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, and Larry Carlton as well as on collaborative albums with Bob James, Rick Braun and Norman Brown. When not recording or performing, he educates and mentors the next generation of musicians in his role as president/CEO of the STAX Music Academy and the STAX Museum of American Soul Music. Additional information is available at www.kirkwhalum.com.

The songs contained on Kirk Whalum’s Romance Language are:

“They Say It’s Wonderful”
“Dedicated To You”
“My One and Only Love”
“Lush Life”
“You Are Too Beautiful”
“Autumn Serenade”
“Almost Doesn’t Count”
“I Wish I Wasn’t”
“I Wanna Know”
“Spend My Life With You”
“You Are So Beautiful” (bonus track)

Posted by Peter Böhi at 10:06 PM

December 5, 2011

Roberto Vazquez - Between Two Worlds

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. Born in Cuba, composer and keyboard player Roberto Vazquez is without doubt a star in the making. Already a considerable force in the sphere of Latin music, this working musician who plays keyboards every week in the prestigious ‘Legends In Concert' stage show in Harrah's Casino on the famed Las Vegas strip, recently showed his contemporary jazz credentials when co-writing the song ‘Sand Dancers’ for Marion Meadows’ 2009 release, Secrets. Now he is spreading his smooth jazz wings even further with the release of his own excellent CD Between Two Worlds.

The flair Vazquez has for contemporary jazz is immediately demonstrated with the album’s opening tune, the wonderfully mid tempo title cut where Ismael Vergara on sax grabs the attention. When sax duties transfer to Scott Klarman he helps to spread the magic of ‘In The Rain’ which has the sort of relaxed vibe that permeates much of the collection and continuously provides the perfect platform for Roberto’s sumptuous keys.

In similar vein is the enchanting ‘Simple Life’ where acoustic guitar from Jose Carmelo Medina only adds to the charm while elsewhere cool muted trumpet from Francisco Jose Cambeiro heralds in the delectable ‘Thinking Of You’. With rhythm and melody to burn, this song is everything a top notch contemporary jazz track should be and much the same can be said of the lusciously Latin ‘Feeling It Again’ which has the sort of easy grooving quality that never gets old.

Not only does Vazquez revisit the fabulous ‘Sand Dancers’ that he co-wrote and performed on with Marion Meadows but also calls upon this undoubted smooth jazz superstar to play sax for him. This deliciously Latin infused charmer sparkles like light on water and when Meadows returns for the understatedly hypnotic ‘Never Far Away’ his playing is complemented by outstanding percussion from Joshua Connolly.

A real standout of the entire collection is the easy paced ‘Going West’ where Jose Carmelo Medina again comes up big and although with ‘Solo Charlie’ (which he uses to close out the album) Vazquez cooks up something of a jazzy storm, the lasting memory of Between Two Worlds will be the sheer beauty of his magnificent music.

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.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:07 PM