Retro Forward from soulful sax-man Eric Darius is his sixth studio project and the second on the Shanachie label. Yet Darius has always been a man in a hurry. In 2001, at age 17, he independently released his debut CD Cruisin, a venture for which he had been writing music over the previous four years and when in 2004 he secured a deal with Narada Jazz it enabled the follow up, Night On The Town to be unveiled on the Higher Octave label. Significantly, following an impromptu meeting in Los Angeles, he got the chance to join Brian Culbertson's touring band and has also collaborated with such diverse talents as Prince, George Benson, Mary J. Blige, Wynton Marsalis and Brian McKnight. He has even appeared on the US version of Simon Cowell's hit TV series, The X Factor but now, in 2014, Eric Darius is very much his own man and with his own unique sound.
Take for example the thumping beat of the opening 'All Around The World' that puts down a marker for a collection that fuses contemporary jazz with hip-hop, R&B and soul in a way that simply oozes innovation. Similarly, the neo soul groove of 'What's Her Name' features the earthy vocals of Eric Dawkins who in his time has written and produced hit songs for artists such as Tyrese, Chris Brown and Mary J. Blige. It is a tune that encapsulates the mood of the entire album and another is 'Healing' that is laced with a multiplicity of influences and pays tribute to Eric's Caribbean roots.
In terms of personal favorites, the edgy, mid tempo title cut proves to be a top-notch slice of smooth jazz with urban attitude and just as good is the brass enriched old school vibe of 'Back To You'. With horn arrangements from Michael Stever (who this summer has been on the road with Brian Culbertson) this is a track that really gets the job done and much the same can be said of the outstanding 'Broke Down' which in every respect may well prove to be an authentic dance floor filler.
Returning to the theme of old school, Darius tips a hat to Stevie Wonder and Motown with the supercharged 'Heaven Sent'. It benefits from the fabulous vocals of Dessy Di Lauro from the group Neo-Ragtime while elsewhere Darius takes Barry White's seminal 'Cant Get Enough Of Your Love' and, with the injection of his sultry vocal duet with Terry Dexter, makes it feel brand new.
The album's other cover is a riotously pleasing version of Pharrell Williams' smash hit 'Happy' which has not only played well for Darius on radio but also is a shoo in for inclusion in my top ten covers of the year.
With 'Forever Yours' Darius finds space for a slice of mellifluous uncluttered smooth jazz and although 'Never' continues in similar vein, the lasting impression that Retro Forward makes is one of sublime variety delivered by an artist at the very top of his game.