September 30, 2012

What We're Listening To ** September 2012

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘Metropolis Night’ by Croatian sax-man Igor Gerzina from the CD Metropolis. In terms of contemporary jazz strongholds, this former Yugoslavian republic may not be the first to come to mind yet this is a collection that might well change all that. My own personal favorite is ‘Metropolis Night’ which, segueing between an approach that is entirely off the chain and one somewhat more melodic, proves to be a total triumph.

‘Lately’ by Anita Baker from the soon to be released CD Only Forever. Baker’s distinctive tones have been lighting up the world of smooth soulful contemporary jazz since she made her debut in 1983 with The Songstress. Only Forever will be released on October 23 and if the sumptuous ‘Lately’ is anything to go by it’s going to be something special.

‘Breakthrough’ by Julian Vaughn from the album of the same name. This sublime cut features Tobbi White Darks on vocals and with Darren Rahn making a fulsome contribution on sax this massively soulful song is totally to die for.

‘Feels Like Heaven’ by Neamen Lyles from his hot new album So Free. With a melodic swagger that checks every contemporary jazz box imaginable this track is yet another reason why Lyles (who is an experienced teacher and clinician at the Arizona Jazz Institute in Tucson, AZ) may not be back at school anytime soon.

‘Master Blaster (Jammin)’ by saxophonist Elan Trotman from his new release Tropicality. Co-produced by Peter White this is a collection that gives a nod to Trotman’s Barbadian roots and the Caribbean connection extends to this, the first single, which is Trotman’s juicy interpretation of the Bob Marley classic.

P E T E R * B O E H I

Matt Marshak - Colors Of Me (2012)
Guitarist Matt Marshak delivers another great slice of organically sounding, funky and groovy smooth jazz with lots of hammond b3 and horns. Catchy melodies and top-notch playing yield another winner. Thumbs up!

Euge Groove - House Of Groove (2012)
This latest release by saxophonist supreme Euge Groove is a laid-back yet still groovy affair, it is beauty and perfection rolled into one, the songs are catchy and go down like good wine. Smooth jazz bliss!

Jeff Kashiwa - Let It Ride (2012)
Saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa comes up with another solo release, it offers more of Jeff's gutsy sax playing supported by a cast of great players, it's another solid slice of smooth jazz. Good stuff!

Dean Brown - Unfinished Business (2012)
Guitar player Dean Brown takes no prisoners on his latest release, it is a funky affair running the gamut from funk to jazz and blues, featuring the adventurous guitar of the leader and an all-star cast. Just excellent!

Jim Hall & David Matthews Orchestra - Concierto De Aranjuez (1981)
My nod to the past goes to this LP from 1981, featuring guitarist Jim Hall with the David Matthews Orchestra, going through a catalog of great compositions, most notably the classic "Concierto De Aranjuez", which is a track I always love to go back to. Stood the test of time!

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

John Dukich, Down in Brazil (Ferential Studios) (2012)

Jonathan Butler, Grace and Mercy (Rendezvous Music) (2012)

U-Nam, Weekend in L.A (A Tribute to George Benson) (Skytown Record) (2012)

Jeff Kashiwa, Let It Ride (Native Language Music) (2012)

Four80East, Off Duty (Boomtang Records) (2012)

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:12 PM

September 16, 2012

U-Nam : Weekend In LA (A Tribute To George Benson)

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.

From the time in 2007 when guitar player Emmanuel ‘U-Nam’ Abiteboul moved from his native France to the musical intensity of LA he has been steadily building his reputation as one of the most innovative performers in the smooth jazz, R & B and soul genres. Originally a renowned producer, U-Nam has worked with heavyweights such as Barry White and Kool & the Gang while as a solo artist his 2007 recording Back From The 80s garnered the chart topping hit ‘Street Life’. Unanimity followed two years later and now he is back with the hugely adventurous Weekend In LA (A Tribute To George Benson). This look back at the music of one of the true pioneers of contemporary jazz is enhanced by an outstanding of list of guest performers and is far from merely being just a compilation of covers.

Indeed anyone expecting a velvety re-imagining of some of Bensons most popular songs is in for quite a surprise. A case in point is ‘Shiver’ where ‘velvety’ is replaced by ‘edgy’ and Paul Jackson Jr. rocks it out on guitar. Another highpoint of this terrific tune are the vocals of Tim Owens that, throughout, sizzle at soul-factor ten. In all Owens features on five of the album’s eleven tracks and he is back for the seminal ‘Give Me The Night’ that is very much where Benson meets techno. If that sounds unlikely then just go with the flow, you won't be disappointed.

Talking of seminal, Benson hits don’t come much bigger than ‘Love X Love’ and U-Nam’s mega soulful version of this wonderful tune checks almost every box imaginable. Later, when he is joined for the title cut by Ronnie Foster on keys and fellow guitarist Andreas Oberg, what starts out as an extremely easy grooving slice of contemporary jazz quickly evolves into an eight-minute journey which includes a sequence of amazing of twists and turns. However, in terms of duration that is nothing compared to the eleven plus minutes of ‘This Masquerade’ that not only features both George Duke and Marcus Miller but also provides more cool vocals from Tim Owens. That notwithstanding perhaps Owens’ finest moment comes when he takes the lead on the sumptuously soulful ‘I Just Wanna Hang Around You’ which, in terms of personal favorites, is right up there and in the choice company of a superbly fluent rendition of ‘Turn Your Love Around’.

A clever mash up of ‘Before You Go’ and ‘Breezin’ is eight minutes of music that you may never want to end and is enhanced in no small measure by a guest performance by the magical Patrice Rushen. Elsewhere, as vocal duties pass to Mint Condition front man Stokley Williams, his fulsome tones do much to move ‘Nature Boy’ to another dimension. It’s another number that is categorized by a pulsing beat and although the jazzy ‘Hip Skip’ serves as a fine showcase for U-Nam’s intricate playing its when Owens returns on vocals for ‘On Broadway’ that the magic of Benson really comes flooding back.

There is even a fabulous bonus track in the form of the zesty ‘Never Give Up On A Good Thing’ that, with vocals from Thorsten Good, might well be one of the best covers of 2012.

Check out Weekend In LA (A Tribute To George Benson), hang on and enjoy the ride.

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 5:28 PM

September 15, 2012

Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2012

The annual "Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg" 2012 was held for the 5th time, which is an important milestone for the festival. After some less successful editions in Bregenz and Munich, the festival now found its permanent home in Augsburg, Germany which is a nice town in Bavaria with 265'000 inhabitants and a historic center of town. Thankfully, festival organizer Christian Bössner never gave up and relentlessly kept up his work to promote and establish this festival, providing smooth jazz artists an opportunity to perform and bring this great art form to European audiences.

This year, smooth jazz fans from all over Europe came to Augsburg in droves to see a great lineup of players, who were backed up by a top-notch band of German session players (Lutz Deterra - keyboards, Günter Asbeck - bass, Martin Feske - guitar and Andy Pilger - drums). The festival was held at the historic Parktheater im Kurhaus Göggingen, which has proven to be the perfect venue for this event with its nice park, extensive catering area and garden to hang out between concerts. In addition, the partnering hotel this year was the Hotel Steigenberger Drei Mohren in the heart of town, a freshly renovated historic building providing superior accommodation and easy access to the shopping areas, as well being the perfect starting point for sightseeing tours.

Friday night was opened by John Stoddart, longtime member of Kirk Whalum's band who also has a string of solo albums under his belt and is increasingly recognized as a soulful singer and pianist. He did several of his own songs, depicting the ups and downs of relationships, most notably "Angel" dedicated to his wife, providing lots of soulful singing and occasionally some great piano playing. During his cover of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day", the audience was invited to sing along, while Kirk Whalum guested on sax during one song. His set was well received and provided just the right warming up for the things to come.

Next was saxophonist Kirk Whalum, who proved to be in a league of his own. His trademark playing is soulful and always from the bottom of his heart, he opened the show with "Big Ol' Shoes" dedicated to his hero, Grover Washington, Jr., later doing an instrumental version of "Autumn Serenade" from his current CD Romance Language, during this song he was strolling in the audience doing some great improvisations. Having been touring with the late Whitney Houston for 7 years, he did his tribute to the lady with a heartfelt version of "I Will Always Love You", which was a highlight of the show. His set was a great mixture of originals and covers, running the gamut from slow to jazzy to funky, providing a truly entertaining set.

The evening was closed by saxophonist Eric Darius, who kicked up things a notch with his energetic and enthusiastic playing on the alto sax. He was jumping around on the stage with endless energy, playing "In the Moment", "Going All Out" and "Slick" from his growing catalog (being on the scene for around 10 years by now). He did a welcome tribute to Herbie Hancock with the classic "Butterfly", Joey Sommerville joined the band for this one, doing some great solos on the trumpet. Eric did go out into the audience as well, serenading the ladies with his horn playing, spreading joy and fun. His set was the highlight of Friday evening, and the audience was screaming for an encore well past midnight, so everybody on the evening's bill joined for the final track, bringing a great evening to a close.

Saturday night was bringing more great music to us. The first set featured trumpet player Joey Sommerville who just found the right groove and mood to kick off the evening in style, having the audience in the palm of his hand, he delivered a great show that - as he made clear at the beginning of the concert - had something new, old, borrowed and blue, which was the right setting for an entertaining show. Joey alternated between trumpet and flugelhorn and also sat behind the keyboards once in a while. Among the tracks played was a great cover of Duke Ellington's "Caravan", "Swag" (from his current The Get Down Club CD), a nice Doobie Brothers cover of "You Belong To Me" and, my personal highlight, his own composition "Moonshadows", which was a slow burning and heartfelt song. He finished his show with an uptempo blues track.

Next was guitar player Nils, who originally hails from Munich, Germany, but now lives in Los Angeles for many years. He performed already at "Smooth Jazz In The Cube" last year where he was such a crowd pleaser that he was invited again. Nils has a total knack for this cool, laid-back southern California L.A. groove, which explains why he had three number 1 hits in the past. He kicked off his show with "Georgy Porgy", later he did his hit "Summer Nights", his playing on the guitar was pure bliss. To increase the heat, he did "Get On The Dance Floor" from his brand new release City Groove. As en encore he played Carlos Santana's "Europa", which provided more excellent fret work, bringing a great show to an end.

Japanese keyboard player Keiko Matsui, just having flown in from Tokyo for this event, provided my personal highlight of the whole festival with her outstanding set. She was supported by a local saxophone player (next to the house band) who did a good job, it was a joy to watch this petite lady play the keyboards or - most of the time - the grand piano with her expressive style, she played a selection of songs from her vast catalog, among them "Forever, Forever" and "The Road…". She even went into the audience with her keytar, and played a little percussion as a surprise. She did a beautiful solo piano version of "Deep Blue", before all the players of the evening were re-united for a rousing finale.

This was another great smooth jazz festival, and I applaud Christian Bössner for pulling it all off. Next will be the Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival which will take place May 3-5, 2013, before the next Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg will be held September 13-14, 2013.

[Images @ Flickr]

Posted by Peter Böhi at 2:44 PM

September 12, 2012

ITI Records Resurfaces After Many Years Dormant

After Thirty Years since its inception, ITI Records is returning to re-release its catalog as well as new titles in the future. Original owner, Mike Dion, who had been recalled to Active Duty in 1998 by the Navy, due to the wars in Bosnia and the Middle East has retired and has since returned to the Music Industry.

Dion, in the past had stated that “ITI was one of the avenues for known and unknown jazz artists to get their music to the public”, is now committed to strive for that again. Some of today’s well known Smooth Jazz artists initially had their start-ups with ITI included Richard Elliot, Windows, Wayne Johnson, Kenny Pore, and Daryle Chinn. Dion states that he will continue to look for the young and experienced talent that exist in the market and that ITI will expand itself to include most formats.

With the new digital age all titles will be available via the e-commerce outlets. ITI titles initially to include the back catalog of Heard Ranier Ferguson, Ruth Price, Tom Garvin and Bill Mays, Red Mitchell.

ITI Records will be re-released through Warrant Music. Expect two titles monthly through the remainder of 2012.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:42 AM

September 11, 2012

Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2012

I am looking forward to the Smooth Jazz Festival 2012 which will be held in Augsburg, Germany Sept 14-15, where it has found its permanent home at the Parktheater im Kurhaus Göggingen, a historic building which provides the perfect backdrop for this event. Organized by Christian Bössner, it is going to feature a great lineup of major smooth jazz artists to perform in Europe, bringing this artform once more to European listeners and fans. Friday evening, John Stoddart, Kirk Whalum and Eric Darius will perform, while on Saturday evening, it will be Joey Sommerville, Nils and Keiko Matsui entertaining the crowd. The backing band will consist of the tried and tested players we enjoyed during the previous years (Lutz Deterra, Günter Asbeck, Andy Pilger and - new this year - Martin Feske). The setting of the festival allows easy mingling of the artists and fans, and this year's festival hotel should provide another excellent location to enjoy the festival among like minded fans. I will cover the festival like usual here on Smooth Jazz Vibes and post images later on Flickr. Say hi if you are in Augsburg, I should be seated somewhere in the front rows.

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:55 PM

September 3, 2012

What We're Listening To ** August 2012

P E T E R * B O E H I

Slim Man - Live (2012)
This great live CD by Slim Man (aka Tim Camponeschi) with his long time band members delivers some great live performances, some of them featuring guitarist Marc Antoine, and it is a winner combining jazz, soul and pop to an irresistible mix of music, graced by the smooth vocals of the leader. The release of this CD was successfully funded via Kickstarter (with a little help from yours truly). Thumbs up!

The Rippingtons feat. Russ Freeman - Built To Last (2012)
More magic by Russ Freeman on guitar with his Ripps, in parts supported by an orchestra, delivering their trademark sound featuring great compositions and playing, you can't go wrong by getting their music. Classic stuff!

Gerald Albright & Norman Brown - 24/7 (2012)
Saxophonist Gerald Albright hasn't sounded so fresh in a long time like on this collaboration album with guitarist Norman Brown, this is a perfect slice of smooth jazz with catchy compositions and superior playing by all involved. Simply excellent!

Bruce Riley - Smooth Jazz and Smooth Jazz 2 (2012)
Despite the generic titles, these are very worthwhile CDs featuring groovy, accessible instrumental music with top-notch playing, there is no background info on the artist on CDBaby, but nevertheless, the stuff is good! Take it from me!

Greg Errico - Giants (1978)
My nod to the past goes to this LP by drummer Greg Errico, this album features Carlos Santana on guitar, Lee Oskar on harmonica and Herbie Hancock on keys, it delivers some funky instrumentals and grooving latin tracks, my favorite is "Kilimanjaro" and "Fried Neckbones And Home Fries". Track it down!

D E N I S * P O O L E

‘Just Give Me A Minute’ by sax-man Shilts, from his latest album All Grown Up. As Shilts moves further from his Down To The Bone phase he is now delivering cutting edge contemporary jazz that is always compelling and never too smooth. A case in point is ‘Just Give Me A Minute’ which with a down and dirty beat is entirely to die for.

‘Its Real’ by trumpet and flugelhorn player Gabriel Mark Hasselbach from his new CD Kissed By The Sun. This rhythmic, mid-tempo number features Rob Tardik on guitar and is a real personal favorite.

‘Yes You Have’ by Sean O’Bryan Smith from the album Reflection. This thoughtful number from one of the best bass players in the business includes soul-tinged vocals from Gary Brown. With a free flowing melody that you will want to return to often it is one reason among many why you should check out this interesting collection.

‘Electric’ by the incredible Jonathan Fritzén from his brand new project Magical. With Fritzén’s talents as a composer, producer and performer all brilliantly on display this is proving to be one of the albums of the entire year. Although crammed with standout tunes there is nothing to surpass the rhythmic splendor of the superb ‘Electric’. Without doubt a contemporary jazz classic in the making, this is a track that is certain to make it into my top twenty of 2012.

‘Star Of The Story’ by Rahni Song from his current CD Breakin’ The Rules. Seems like producer, arranger, songwriter and recording engineer Rahni Song, has been drip-feeding an appreciative audience with a sequence of singles from this fine album. First came the fabulous ‘91 North’ which is already inked in as one of my tracks of the year while other gems include a wonderful cover version of the Roberta Flack – Donny Hathaway classic ‘The Closer I Get To You’ and ‘Barry’s Medley’ that Song uses as his own evocative tribute to the great Barry White. Now comes the sumptuous ‘Star Of The Story’ that includes luscious vocals from Berklee School Of Music graduate Chantel Hampton. This smooth and soulful cut is a real winner.

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

Return to Forever, The Mothership Returns (Eagle Rock Entertainment) (2012)

Mike Stern, All Over the Place (Heads Up) (2012)

David Benoit, Conversation (Heads Up) (2012)

Shilts, All Grown Up (Blanket Records) (2012)

Yonrico Scott, Be in My World (Blue Canoe) (2012)

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:49 PM