January 22, 2012

Kirk Whalum - Romance Language

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.

It was in 1963 that legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane collaborated with vocalist Johnny Hartman to create an album of romantic standards which has since been described as being essential for all jazz collections. Simply titled John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman, and with a running time of only thirty minutes, it comprised six classic compositions from the likes of Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn and Billy Strayhorn.

Fast forward almost fifty years to Grammy winning saxman Kirk Whalum who has re-recorded the complete collection, added four more tracks and, with the help of younger brother Kevin Whalum, delivered the truly sensational Romance Language.

The CD opens much like the 1963 original with a spine chilling rendition of the timeless ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’. It provides the brothers with an early opportunity to declare their mellow intent and they stay in deliciously turned down mode throughout. In fact Romance Language proves to be a decidedly family affair as with ‘Almost Doesn’t Count’ the vocal honors pass to Kirk’s uncle, the 83-year-old Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum. His gravelly zones on this fresh re-imagining of Brandy’s 1999 hit single are a real show stopper yet standout songs just keep on coming and with Sammy Cahn’s haunting ‘Dedicated To You’, Whalum delivers another.

The familiar strains of ‘My One And Only Love’ will transport those in the know into the soundtrack of any number of Woody Allen movies and later, as Kevin Whalum slips effortlessly to center stage, the result is the stunningly beautiful ‘Lush Life’. In fact a feature of the entire project is the way producers Kirk Whalum and John Stoddart have expertly blended the past with the present and this is never better demonstrated than in the contrast between a song first recorded in 1945, the dazzling, Latin tinged ‘Autumn Serenade’, and ‘Spend My Life With You’ which was a hit for Eric Benet in 1999.

Classics of a different kind come with Whalum’s sensitive handling of Joe’s wonderful ‘I Wanna Know’ and his equally impressive version of Heather Headley’s ‘I Wish I Wasn’t’. Of course this latter number comes from the pen of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis but the massive surprise packet of the whole set comes with a sensational eight minute thirty two second R & B interpretation of Rodgers & Hart’s ‘You Are Too Beautiful’. Beginning with Kevin Whalum’s sparkling vocal, and transitioning to a deep soul groove that is totally out of this world, this, if listened to in the company of the one you love, may well need to be handled with care.

Romance Language is scheduled for release on February 14, Valentines Day, and is a must for true romantics everywhere.

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 4:56 PM

January 18, 2012

Matt Marshak - in Boca and Beyond

By Val Vaccaro

Smooth jazz guitarist, composer, and producer Matt Marshak is scheduled to perform a great show with saxophonist, flutist, and vocalist Marcus Anderson on January 21st as part of the Royal Palm Place Jazz Series at The Funky Biscuit (formerly known as Club 303) in Boca Raton, Florida.

Matt Marshak and Marcus Anderson should make for an exciting and dynamic show since they are terrific performers and also have worked together before. In 2011, they performed a number of concerts together - one show was on New Year’s Eve sponsored by The Groove radio station at the Melbourne-Viera Holiday Inn. They have also played shows together at the Rehoboth Jazz Fest last October, as well as at venues in NYC last August and January. Marshak and Anderson also appeared at the Genuine Jazz & Wine Fest in 2010 with Four80East. See a video from that 2010 show.

The Royal Palm Place Jazz Series of concerts is produced by Jacqui Wyatt (Director of Marketing for Investments Limited/Royal Palm Place in Boca Raton). Jacqui Wyatt is booking artists with Steve Butler, CEO of Mighty Music Corp. Jacqui Wyatt is also co-host with Peter Leonard of a popular radio show “The Talk of The Town” on WBZT 1230 AM and online. The radio show was #1 on Boca Raton Magazine’s 2011 “Ultimate It List…The Boca 100.” Since November 2010, when the Royal Palm Place Jazz Series started, it has featured artists such as Matt Marshak, Jackiem Joyner, Urban Gypsy, Marc Antoine, Jeff Kashiwa, Brian Simpson, Jeff Lorber, and Alexander Zonjic.

Just last year on January 15th (Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday), Matt Marshak had performed a fantastic show of his original songs and some great covers as part of the Royal Palm Place Jazz Series at The Funky Biscuit club (known last year as Club 303). During that concert, Matt Marshak, a native New Yorker from Long Island, was backed by top Florida-based musicians who often perform with smooth jazz saxophonist Eric Darius. The band included super-funky bassist Tim George, powerhouse drummer Third Richardson, and soulful keyboardist Wayne Levy. Also, saxophonist Ally Voz was a special guest on the show. The band had support setting up the show from Randy Bennett – Station Manager at the smooth jazz radio station The Groove WGRV FM 93.1 Melbourne, Florida (which is a nonprofit organization), and from top audio engineer Neal Newman who set up the excellent sound for the show. After that show, Marshak signed CDs and tee shirts for fans who gathered around to express their delight and appreciation for the great show (with merchandising support by Lori Henry who does promotion for Nuance Music Group, Marshak’s independent record label).

For almost a decade now, guitarist Matt Marshak has delighted audiences with his shows in the U.S. and Europe. Marshak has performed at numerous jazz festivals such as: Seabreeze Jazz Festival, Jacksonville Beach Jazz Fest, Space Coast Jazz Festival, Rehoboth Beach Jazz Fest, Hartford Jazz Fest, Berks Jazz Fest, Genuine Jazz & Wine Fest, Potomac Jazz Festival, Catalina Jazz Trax Fest, Jazz in the Woods, Low Country Jazz Fest, River Raisin Jazz Fest, Dauphin County Jazz Fest, Tucson Jazz Society’s concert series, Penns Landing in Philadelphia, and others. Matt Marshak has also performed shows at contemporary jazz venues around the U.S. such as Humphrey’s Backstage in San Diego, Spaghettini Grille and Lounge in Seal Beach outside of LA, Houndstooth Pub in NYC, Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, Jazz Alley in Seattle, Blues Alley in Washington D.C., Raphael Vineyards and Bedell Cellars in Long Island, and other locations. Marshak has also played shows on numerous jazz cruises (and is scheduled to perform on an upcoming Soul Jazz cruise to Bermuda this May 2012).

Also, guitarist Matt Marshak has opened for or shared the stage with many contemporary artists including Marcus Anderson (as mentioned earlier), Dave Koz, Boney James, Guitars and Saxes (with Richard Elliot, Peter White, Jeff Golub, and Steve Cole), The Sax Pack, Alex Bugnon, Earl Klugh, Nick Colionne, Shilts, Spyro Gyra, Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, Jackiem Joyner, Four80East, Brian Simpson, Shilts, Joyce Cooling, Peter White, Will Donato, Jaared, David Mann, Chris Geith, Bakithi Kumalo, Rodney Harris, Dwayne Kerr, Robert Poe, David Wells, Carl Burnett, Mario Cruz, Lucy Bonilla, Jack Licitra, John Favicchia and many more.

For the past few years, Matt Marshak’s “hometown” band members in the NY area often include Kenny Harris on bass, Chris Marshak on drums (who also happens to be Matt’s brother) and Tim Regusis on keyboards.

The music of Matt Marshak is a blend of jazz, funk, soul, blues, chill, world music, neo- soul and other influences. To date, Matt Marshak has released six CDs: Urban Folktales (2011), Family Funktion (2009), On the Rocks (2008), Groovosphere (2006), This Time Around (2004), and Preservation (2001).

Matt Marshak’s Urban Folktales CD was released in April 2011, three months after his show in January for the Royal Palm Place Jazz Series – so he will have some new material to play at the upcoming January 21, 2012 concert. Back in April 2011, the world premier radio debut of Marshak’s Urban Folktales CD was on SmoothJazz.com’s global online radio station with radio host Carol Handley. Last June, a CD release show was held in Melbourne, Florida.

When the Urban Folktales CD was released, Matt Marshak wrote in his newsletter:

“For the first time in my musical journey, I decided to put out a record based on a concept. The theme is the late night sound. Part jazz, part R&B, part atmosphere, part Neo-Soul, part just whatever you may want to call or label it. George Benson's "Give me the Night," Teddy Pendergrass' "Love TKO," Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite record, Jill Scott's "Give it to Me," and Anthony Hamilton’s "Can't Let Go" were all very influential R&B tunes and records that have inspired me. There is a certain soulful and enigmatic quality to this sub genre--the urban experience defined musically... We were not worried about putting out a smooth jazz anthem, rather stories or folktales of the Urban kind.”

In May 2011, Matt Marshak’s Urban Folktales CD was the #1 best seller of CDs in both the Smooth Jazz and Urban/R&B: Neo soul music genre categories on CDBaby.com. On May 23rd and May 30th, Urban Folktales rose to #1 on the Top 50 Smooth Indie Star jazz chart for radio airplay and was also #16 on SmoothJazz.com. The first single from the Urban Folktales CD, “A Silent Knowing” debuted on Billboard Magazine’s “Smooth Jazz Top 30” chart. More recently, in regards to radio airplay in the U.S., the Urban Folktales CD was #25 on the Smooth Indie Top 50 Indie chart for independent labels (as of Jan. 9, 2012), and was #29 on the 2011 “End of Year Top 50 Smoothjazz.com Chart.”

The Urban Folktales CD has received glowing reviews at JazzTimes magazine and in other jazz media. According to the CD liner notes, the music is described this way: “Tunes to reflect to, dance to, or just relax to… Take the deep breath, grab your favorite merlot, dim your lights, and enjoy this soundtrack for the evening hours.”

The Urban Folktales CD includes soulful, smooth jazz songs to ‘chill out’ to such as “Next to You” (a collaboration with Marcus Anderson on vocoder) and “Teddy” which is a warm, relaxed tribute to the late, great pop/soul singer Teddy Pendergrass (who recently passed on in 2010). “Silent Knowing” is a smooth jazz track with Matt Marshak’s sweet guitar tones accompanied nicely by muted trumpet riffs from Barry Danielian. There are also upbeat, funky, joyful tunes with pronounced bass and horns, such as “Tell Me How You Feel,” “Glen Burnie,” and “Dancin’ With My Daughter - Madison’s Song” (written for The Marshak’s baby daughter – who was born to Matt and his wife Dionne in 2010).

Recently, Matt Marshak gave an interview last December with guitar maker Epiphone (whose guitars he plays and endorses). Marshak is currently working on a new modern blues CD – inspired in part by artists such as Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. Marshak said he will be playing on Sheraton and Epiphone Les Paul Ultra III guitars.

Also, Nuance Music Group (Matt Marshak’s independent label) recently made a deal with Octet Records in Japan to distribute the Urban Folktales CD, with a tour planned in Japan in the near future (the label is also seeking corporate sponsorship for the tour). Matt Marshak’s music should become popular with enthusiastic contemporary jazz fans around the world, especially in places like Japan.

In addition to being a composer (of original songs and advertising jingles), producer, recording artist, and touring in the U.S. and around the world - including doing concerts to support a variety of worthy charities and causes - Matt Marshak has another musical mission. For many years now, Matt has been working with his brother Chris to bring music programs to young children in public schools and at events in the Long Island-New York area.

Chris Marshak (Matt's older brother) is also a studio musician who has played on various artists’ CDs, from jazz to pop music. (For instance, Chris Marshak played drums on Steve Winwood’s original new song “Spanish Dancer” on the 2010 CD Revolutions: The Very Best of Steve Winwood and Revolutions 4 CD Box Set).

As a music educator, Matt Marshak is in the process of developing a new program for public schools “to introduce the wonderful world of guitar to a whole new generation of future listeners and players.” Marshak has also taken on the role of artist coach and consultant for musicians seeking feedback and help with their careers.

For tour and other information on guitarist Matt Marshak, please visit "http://www.mattmarshak.com/" http://www.mattmarshak.com/

For upcoming shows in the Royal Palm Place Jazz Series in 2012 – including Four80 East on April 21st, a show for Mother’s Day weekend, and other shows in June, September, and November 2012 – see HYPERLINK "http://www.facebook.com/royalpalmjazz"http://www.facebook.com/royalpalmjazz and "http://royalpalmjazzseries.eventbrite.com/"http://royalpalmjazzseries.eventbrite.com/

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:25 PM

January 3, 2012

Marcin Nowakowski - Shine

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.

Since the release of Smooth Night in 2005, I have followed the career of saxophonist Marcin Nowakowski with interest. A well known performer in his native Poland, Marcin’s 2009 follow-up, Better Days came as a direct result of a visit he made to Los Angeles and the opportunity it afforded to work with some of the genre’s A-list musicians including both Paul Brown and Jeff Lorber. In the ultra competitive market of smooth jazz saxophone Better Days proved to be an outstanding achievement and as if to demonstrate this was no flash in the pan he has reunited with Brown and Lorber for the even better Shine.

In fact the contemporary jazz friendly environs of LA seem to suite Nowakowski rather well and with ten outstanding tracks (six co-written with Brown and four co-written with Lorber) Shine is staking an early claim to be one of the albums of the year. It opens with the hugely radio friendly ‘Nobody But You’ which has Brown’s production touches all over it and benefits from an ultra catchy vocal chorus from Billy Mondragon. Surprisingly it’s a tune that has not yet been offered to radio but one that has is ‘Shine Shoes’. This glittering number is lifted to new heights by the trumpet of Jerry Hey, trombone from Bill Richenbach and the vocals of co-writer Dax Reynosa. Not only that, with Brown again sprinkling his magic far and wide, this seems to be a song that is destined to do well. Another cut already offered to radio is ‘Out Of Time’ for which Brown takes lead vocals and is joined by Reynosa plus regular contributors Ricky Lawson on drums and Roberto Vally on bass. Together they combine superbly with Nowakowski’s smooth playing while another Nowakowski – Brown collaboration is the easy grooving ‘Tell Me Why’ which features Brown on both nylon stringed and acoustic guitar.

Throughout, Marcin Nowakowski remains supremely in command and this is particularly so with the four tracks in which Lorber is involved. ‘Snow Lion’ offers a fine showcase for his playing and with Michael Thompson in top-notch form on guitar; this big expansive number is an exquisite example of what Lorber does best. ‘Coming Home’ is written by Lorber and legendary bass-player Jimmy Haslip. Of course Lorber, with the help of Haslip, has recently re-ignited his Jeff Lorber Fusion project and here they provide a wonderful platform for Nowakowski’s sublime work on soprano sax.

Later, as Nowakowski utilizes the final two tracks of Shine as a way of easing down the tempo, he effortlessly bonds with Lorber for the sumptuous ‘Easy Going’ before duet-ting with Brown on the tenderly spicy ‘Good Night Kiss’. That said, in terms of personal favorites there are many from which to choose but right up there with the album’s best is Lorber’s ‘March On’ This cool mid tempo cut has much to commend it but of particular note are the last 50 seconds where the groove drenched interplay between Lorber and Nowakowski is out of this world. However, just as good is ‘Give & Take’which is written by Brown, Nowakowski and Brown’s long time writing partner Jeff Carruthers. In a collection crammed with them, this zesty tune is yet another example of smooth jazz at its finest.

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 7:14 PM