March 3, 2013

Marion Meadows - Whisper

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 1990 that smooth jazz sax-man Marion Meadows made his debut with the critically acclaimed For Lover's Only and only two years later he was back with the wonderful Keep It Right. The fact it found him forging a soulful liaison with the likes of Will Downing, Bob Baldwin, Angela Bofill and Norman Connors is significant as it placed Meadows very much on the urban side of contemporary jazz. As he proceeded to amass a significant body of work this soulful connection has never been too far away and now, newly ensconced on the Shanachie label, he is all set to further progress his musical journey with Whisper that will be released February 26, 2013. Featuring twelve choice tracks, of which the majority are originals, Meadows weaves a fine thread of soul and fire, intellect and emotion, sensitivity and power. The result is a delight and sure to cement Meadows’s place in the very highest echelons of smooth jazz.

Whisper is Meadows’ first new recording in four years and it opens in fine style with the hugely rhythmic driven ‘The Visitor’ which sublimely segues into the atmospheric title cut. It was co-written by ‘in demand’ keyboard player and producer Michael Broening while other production talents involved in the project include Carlos Pennisi, Bob Baldwin and Rahni Song.

The collection’s first single is the smoothly supercharged ‘Black Pearl’ where writing credits are shared with Pennisi and elsewhere ‘Timeless’ proves to be a tender ballad in the best traditions of the art form. The tune was written in partnership with Rahni Song who also lends a hand on keyboards and when Meadows ratchets up the urgency with ‘Curves’ he not only delivers a dance floor filler of the highest order but also provides a real personal favorite.

Equally scorching is the James Brown inspired ‘Wild Thing’ and although ‘Magic Life’ and ‘Golden Curtain’ (with fabulous flute from Althea Rene) are both wonderful examples of textbook smooth jazz, it is when Meadows takes a nostalgic look back that things become really interesting.

His version of Freddie Hubbard’s classic ‘Sky Dive’ is added to in no small measure by the cool trumpet of Joey Sommerville and another superb reimagining comes in the form of the Dave Grusin number ‘Marcosinho’ which can be found on the 1980 CD from Dave Valentin, The Hawk.

Later, the always-immaculate Bob Baldwin teams with Meadows to create, what are arguably, some of the finest moments that Whisper has to offer. The seductive melody of ‘Turn Up The Quiet’ represents the perfect vehicle for a memorable ‘Meadows – Baldwin’ double act and when long time Baldwin collaborator and flautist Ragan Whiteside joins them for the jazzy yet easy grooving ‘Bottoms Up’ the outcome is even better.

Whisper is Meadow’s twelfth album release and comes highly recommended.

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 4:55 PM

February 11, 2013

Paula Atherton - Enjoy The Ride

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.

When in 2009 I reviewed Groove With Me from New York based singer, songwriter and woodwind player Paula Atherton I commented that this sensational collection had made her a major player on the contemporary jazz scene. It followed her 2004 debut recording Let Me Inside Your Love that made its mark on the national smooth jazz charts and provided the cut ‘I Long For Your Love’ for the compilation CD Ladies of Jazz which also featured Natalie Cole, Candy Dulfer and Eliane Elias. Now, after way too long, she is back with the delicious Enjoy The Ride.

Paula quickly makes up for lost time with the opening track, the immensely zesty ‘Herbie’, where on flute she gives a respectful nod to the legendary Herbie Mann. Later, when that modern day legend, the one and only Nick Colionne, enters the scene he adds some serious horsepower to the appropriately titled ‘Sassy Strut’ and another guest artist to be found strutting her stuff is rising star Cindy Bradley whose blistering trumpet contributes in no small measure to the Latin drenched ‘Rice And Beans’.

As well as being a wonderful sax player and flautist, Paula also has a singing voice with the power to captivate. She demonstrates this with the decidedly soulful ‘Wont Give Up’, the emotionally charged ‘Try It Again’ and again with ‘Let It Be’ that luxuriates in an easy groove and underlying message.

Yet perhaps best of all is the mellifluous ‘Cant Get You Out Of My Mind’ that proves to be the perfect vehicle with which to showcase her considerable vocal talent. When later she reprises the number in instrumental form the result is just as good and, although ‘Catch Me If You Can’ is a sumptuous slice of textbook smooth jazz, the hard driving ‘Turn it Up’ finds her packing in another powerhouse performance on sax.

For those of you who have yet to discover the magic of Paula Atherton there has never been a better time to start.

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 5:36 PM

January 8, 2013

An Interview With Greg Adams

Greg-Adams JPEG.jpgWelcome 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. This time around I am indebted to Andrea Adams for drawing my attention to the following article on the wonderful Greg Adams. It recently appeared in the publication Herald de Paris and is reproduced here with the full permission of Greg and of his management.

The sound of Greg Adams is one of the world’s best-known musical signatures. His musical journey has spanned nearly four decades and from the early ‘70s, when he first arrived on the San Francisco Bay Area music scene, he has been a driving force in defining an artistry that transcends musical genres. Still seeking out a course not yet traveled, Adams is at his best when testing his own innovative boundaries. Not only that, his diversity has made him the consummate performer, setting no boundaries and seeking no labels.

Adams is a founding member of Tower Of Power and his horn arrangements, that made the TOP horn section a sought-out entity all its own, have become legendary. Today, TOP is still traveling the world and playing the arrangements that will forever include the musical signatures Greg invented so very long ago.

Beginning early with his arrangements on Santana’s ‘Everything Is Everything’, Elton John’s ‘The Bitch Is Back’, Chaka Khan’s ‘Fool’s Paradise’, Little Feat’s ‘High Roller’ and Heart’s ‘Tell It Like It Is’, Greg has played on over five hundred recordings. You’ve heard his collaboration with Paul Shaffer on the opening theme of Late Show With David Letterman and on score arrangements in such films as ‘Duets’, ‘Mask’, ‘Top Gun’, ‘Saving Silverman’ and ‘Austin Powers in Gold Member’ with the band Smash Mouth. He teamed up with Stanley Clarke on ‘Little Big League’ and on ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’ with the illustrious Sir George Martin.

Greg has arranged, performed and recorded with numerous artists which display a diversity mirrored only by that of his own career. They include Rod Stewart, Eurythmics, Lyle Lovett, Heart, Linda Ronstadt, Luther Vandross, Aaron Neville, The Brothers Johnson, Phish, Little Feat, Wilson Pickett, Huey Lewis and the News, Raphael Saadiq, Al Green, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, Everclear, Chicago, Bonnie Raitt, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, Peter Frampton, Billy Preston, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Josh Groban Madonna, the Rolling Stones and Celine Dion.

For Adams it is always about the journey and where it will take him - and he is always ready to go. Now Greg has a new band poised for international recognition. Called East Bay Soul it has already put out one album and has recently followed it up with East Bay Soul 2.0, which was produced, arranged and co-written by Greg. This collection of dynamic songs, an equal mix of instrumental and vocal songs, funk, jazz, R&B and soul, is backed by his band East Bay Soul and has Adams signature sound clearly stamped through all ten tracks.

Greg’s work is a musical travelogue that has earned him both Grammy® and Emmy nominations, and an International Broadcasting Award from The Hollywood Radio and Television Society. He is in sync with an ever evolving musical landscape and has produced a life’s work that has included success as an arranger, songwriter, producer and performer. In so doing he has toured the world and contributed to some of the most important recordings in pop culture.

Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez first interviewed Greg in 1977 on KFRC Radio in San Francisco. This was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with an old friend and have a very candid and heartfelt conversation. As an even older friend, the late Jerry Garcia, might have said; “What a long, strange trip it has been.”

AC: I understand your family was involved with the Salvation Army. Does this experience inform your musicality?

My parents were missionaries in WWII in China, India and Burma. I grew up in a musical family with mother playing piano and trombone and my father playing cornet. I attended Salvation Army band camp every summer since being a small boy. It had a great brass program because of the British heritage - brass bands are very big there - I picked up the cornet when I was about five years old. I didn’t get much of a sound out of it until I was about ten, yet I continued to drag it around. I was enamored by the shininess of it. It was my first influence and my biggest influence. I think the spirituality of music comes from the heart so that was probably something that was ingrained in me since I was young. I guess I’m an old softy. I can well up with tears quite easily sometimes with an emotion born from my younger years.

AC: What was your school experience like and what music did you listen to?

Grew up and went to high school Daly City just south of San Francisco. I listened to the music of the era: Beach Boys, the Beatles and then of course James Brown and the Famous Flames. From that I went to R&B, then horn bands like Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears. Jazz enamored me completely and, of course, the Memphis sound: Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns.

AC: You grew up in the Bay Area. How did the ‘Summer of Love’ affect your musical sentimentalities?

Guess we were all affected by the ’summer of love.’ It was crazy in San Francisco and the Haight Ashbury: long hair, pauli oil, incense and the smell of pot everywhere, fringe leather jackets and the whole thing. Sure I grew my hair long. There were concerts in Golden Gate Park and shows at the Fillmore West and Winterland, all that and never really knowing that someday I would be playing at those venues.

There was a club on Haight - I want to call it the Juke Club. I was a high school kid and on Sunday afternoon there was a piano on stage and an open drum set so anyone was welcome to jam. I remember taking my horn in there and getting my first chance to play on a stage with elderly black men who were great players. I was being a sponge and it was a great time. I wasn’t into The Jefferson Airplane, but the club was right in the neighborhood so that was my ‘summer of love.’ In 1968-69 I wasn’t into the Dead or the Airplane. By then I changed to trumpet to be in the school band.

AC: High School?

My high school education was crucial to what I am today. We had a great jazz band and I was in the jazz band from my freshman year until my senior year. In my junior/senior year my band teacher was Howard Loffler and he basically let me have the band. See, he saw I was a budding arranger and composer. He said, “Why you don’t run the band I will be in my office if you need anything.”

AC: What was the linchpin that changed everything for you?

We had some very good friends of my parents who were music aficionados. They took me to see Duke Ellington at Basin Street West in North Beach. It was 1968/69 and it was THE band; I was blown away after the first set. We went back stage after the show. The people I was with knew Duke so they wanted to introduce me. Duke was on his back with a wet towel on his bare chest and his hair was all over the place. Our friend said, “Duke this is our friend Greg. He is a budding arranger. Do you have any words of advice for him?” He sat up and shook my hand he said, “Just keep writing kid, you will get it right someday.” That was a moment I will never forget. It was such a great experience and I took that back with me to my writing for my high school band. We would go to Reno, Nevada for the University of Nevada jazz band competitions and we would always win. It was always a great experience and there is no way I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for that experience. I am a big proponent of high school music programs. It is a shame that so many band and musical programs have been shut down because of lack of funding.

AC: You were accepted into the prestigious Berkeley School of Music but you didn’t go.

I wanted to attend the Berkeley School of Music, but I joined the University of Tower Of Power instead. Which, if you think about it, I could go to Berkeley for four of five years and then hope that Tower Of Power would come along and give me a chance. There it was, right in front of me. I think I chose wisely. I got to do all the things I wanted to do. So I don’t have a teaching credential. So hey, what are you going to do? It’s still one of those things. I’ve been in this business for over forty years and the experiences that I have had have been very memorable; I have no regrets. I think going to the University of Tower Of Power at the age of 18, playing in the band, recording music, seeing the world and meeting girls is quite an education. What I have done in my forty-plus years? ; worked with a lot of people and a lot of great names.

AC: The call?

I was ready to go to Berkeley then Tower called one afternoon. I knew them as a club band that did a lot of covers in the Bay Area. I had a fake ID when I was 16 and I was playing with Linda Tillery, Sweet Linda Divine and The Loading Zone. We would run into each other, Doc and Mimi and me, so they knew of me. They had an opening on the band; Mic Gillette had gone to Cold Blood. There I was and the rest is history. We went in and finished East Bay Grease. That was the beginning of the band’s career.

AC: What did you bring to the table?

I started arranging. They really didn’t have the charts all set-up, things weren’t arranged and structured the way I was used to. I brought the horn section into the forefront and it was one of the things that made us unique. If you look at the band, the horn section is not in the background – it is on the front line with the singer. That was the whole gist of it. The arrangements I did back in the day? Tower still plays them around the world today. Some forty-plus years later and it’s still all the arrangements I did for the band. I will say that when I left I took my sound with me. I am flattered that those arrangements still hold up.

AC: What made your arrangements so different?

When I arranged the horns I not only thought of them as melodic organ sounds but also as percussive. If you notice in a swing band, horn players can kind of lag - they lay back. With me it was always on top of the beat - it can’t drag. The band is a metronome. I wrote for each individual player in the horn section. I capitalized on each of their strong points and sometimes their weak points and what I could do to make them shine; to bring them to the front even if some of them were not as good as others. It wasn’t easy but defining it and working it over the years, it became the signature sound of the band. Singers came and went; it was always the horn section that got the notices. That’s why they had an identity that has been used by hundreds of artists over the years. We played with Santana, Doobies, Little Feat, in fact so many that once I get going it’s hard to remember them all.

When the band started getting popular it was a heady time. Like I said, when I went to Winterland or the Fillmore, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever play there and we ended up playing those venues. We would open for acts at those venues while hoping someday to headline. I remember once when we opened for Aretha Franklin and she did the live record at the Fillmore. Those are memories that we really keep. I remember going out on the road, opening for Credence Clearwater Revival when they were big in ‘72 and ‘73. Our music was not the kind of music that the Credence fans where used to hearing. I remember we played an arena gig in Louisiana and there were unopened beer cans thrown at us. They didn’t take kindly to our music.

I lived in San Francisco; I am not an East Bay guy. I eventually moved to Orinda and Lafayette before moving to LA. It did take its toll and there where problems from that era. Lots of people had drug problems.

AC: How did fame and fortune affect you?

I think fame and fortune did change the band. The band did have problems with drugs. That is pretty much known - it wasn’t anything new to the music business.

AC: The music was not marketable because it didn’t fall into any niche?

As far as the marketability of the music, I think now, as I look back in retrospect, sure it affected the band’s creativity. There was some hypocrisy in the band as to who was doing what. There was a lack of vision sometimes because of the fogginess with the drug use, but then again you know hindsight is 20/20 and whatever happened, happened.

AC: Did you try to sound black?

I didn’t arrange the band to sound like a black band - it was what it was. I brought the sound that I invented and it happened to be based on rhythm and blues. It’s just how it came. We all had influences but I truly feel that my sound is original. I never really studied with a writer or arranger or composer per se; it was derivative of the work from people like Quincy Jones, Nelson Riddle, Billy May. I was never tutored by anybody. I was writing and teaching myself at the same time. It’s hard to articulate how artists do what they do. How does a painter do it? He just paints. I write. I just write and it’s a sound all my own. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery; I know that I have been imitated several times. There is an ad on TV lately about a New York City business and it was a real funk horn line. I don’t know how many people asked me if I did that.

Like I said, when I left TOP I took my sound with me. They have tried to find people who can write like me and it’s kind of sideways you know? But they don’t know and cannot replicate what is inside of me. That makes that whole sound tick.

AC: How do you define the word ‘funk?’

The word ‘funk’? Well, if that’s what I do, then call it funk. I call it music. I am fortunate to have the ability to almost be like a chameleon because I have worked with so many people in the studios. With different artist and bands, I bring my sound to them and they tell me, “Just do what you do. That’s why we called you. We want you to put out your sound on our sound.” It humbles me to bring in an arrangement and not have it approved! There was only one time that I had to do a massive rewrite for Dan Fogelberg. We did the session. We did the song. It was relatively easy. Bottom line, he didn’t like it and that worked out fine - I didn’t like him.

AC: When did you know that you really made it?

What really put the horn section on the map was when we worked with Elton John on his Caribou record. That transformed us into to an entity that was really in demand. We went on to play with so many people, live and on records. We went live with the Rolling Stones at Candlestick Park and went to London with Little Feat after doing several records with them. We did the ‘Waiting For Columbus’ album with them in London. Of course there was Santana too. One time we played a New Year’s Eve with the Grateful Dead and Etta James sang. We were afraid to drink anything because we didn’t want to get dosed with LSD. We were supposed to play Auld Lang Syne at midnight but didn’t go on until 4:30 in the morning. We did so many gigs and it was all because of Elton; he was so big. We were at the Record Plant in Marin three days a week; people were flying in from LA and New York to add our horns to their records. Finally we had to move to LA -the music Mecca.

AC: Tell us about the bittersweet element of the Tower of Power 40th Anniversary DVD.

Yes, I did sit in on the TOP 40th Anniversary DVD and I did say that Tower is my musical legacy. I though about the DVD and realized it was the Emilio Castillo show more than anything else. I know there were a lot of fans disappointed watching the DVD when the band started playing at the Fillmore and they would cut to an interview with Emilio or someone else saying how brilliant Emilio was. I did about 40 minutes of interviews and those were the two words left in the two hour presentation.

AC: How did you feel?

I was kind of devastated that I was left out of the larger picture. I had so much to do with the sound of the band and was not recognized for it. It is one of those things that had its ups and downs; towards the end it was down. I was not happy; I left the band because I thought it was morally bankrupt at the time. The leader, Emilio, was a reformed alcoholic in the AA program. I though at the time that the arrogance he was displaying was destroying the band. We were in Europe (Germany) and I had had enough. We had about two weeks to go. It was like Rome was burning and Nero is fiddling, so I just gave my notice at a band meeting – a meeting that was called because the crew was quitting. I had had enough of this stupidity; the band was not growing in creativity – since 1974 they had not grown. It was stifling, to tell you the truth. I was doing too much. Because I was so depressed about being in the band, I gave my notice and by the next day the record company called. They said they’d heard the news, they were sorry to see me go, but would I like to have a solo career? And so I started on that. I took them up on it.

AC: Regrets?

My only regret is that I hadn’t left ten years earlier. Wish I had seen the writing on the wall earlier. I was so serious and committed to see the band really do something. We had a chance in 1974 and the drug abuse pulled the band back. I’m glad I’m gone and that’s it.

AC: Going Solo?

When the record company called they asked if I wanted to have a smooth jazz career. I did ‘Hidden Agenda’ and did a cover of Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’. Both the song and the album went to the top of the charts for five weeks. The album served us really well. I never thought I would be a solo artist. I had no plan. I knew I could come back and be a studio rat and do sessions for motion pictures and records and such. This was a new thing. I was the guy who stood on the end of the horn section and all of a sudden I was going to be the guy in front center stage. It took a lot.

AC: Why smooth jazz?

I never really chose smooth jazz. It chooses me. Pop and rock? It’s more profitable for a trumpeter player to go where the genre will take him at that was obviously to jazz.

AC: Tell us about your friend Paul Shaffer.

Paul Shaffer (The Late Show with Dave Letterman) and I go way back. He had a band called the World’s Most Dangerous Band when they were on NBC. When we would play the Bottom Line in New York in the 80’s and 90’s, Paul would ask us if we wanted to sit in on the Letterman show. It almost became a tradition. I would do arrangements for the band and they would do some Tower tunes. Paul was and is a fan of Tower Of Power and we have been friends for over thirty years. I recently did a week on the Letterman show on CBS now that they have the big band. I filled in for Al Chez and they were getting another trumpet player. Paul and I were nominated for an Emmy award for one of the anniversary shows for Letterman. He was also an executive producer on my ‘East Bay Soul 2.0’ CD. We did it though Kick Starter, a great fund rising platform for funding projects. It was great for Paul and Dave to hold up the East Bay Soul CD everyday for a week. You cannot buy that kind of publicity.

AC: Would you ever take the trumpet gig at the Late Show if it was offered?

The role of the trumpet player on the Late Show band is to hit the high notes. I am more of a mellow player. I thought about the gig but I have a hard time with winters in New York. I think if they truly had offered me the gig, I just may have taken it.

AC: Tell us about you and new media?

I like new media. Every Sunday on Facebook I like to write little stories about my journey in music. One time I was at Tommy Johnston’s (Doobie Brothers) house. I went to use what I thought was a coaster for my drink but realized it was a check for 250,000 dollars. I’m going to write a book some day. There are some good stories that I haven told yet. Quite frankly I can’t allow them to come out until the some folks are dead.

AC: Could you give us a few short stories? What about Van Morrison? Larry Graham? Doc needing a Doc?

Took me four hours to find Van Morrison’s house – it was all covered over with trees. He sat me down at the piano and he had all of his gold records to see. We had just come off working with Elton in England. Van is so prolific! The material was unbelievable and could have changed the public’s perception of Van Morrison forever. I took the music home, wrote the arrangements, recorded it, and it never came out. Everybody in the horn section at the recording date at the Record Plant said it was a stupendous song.

I would go over Larry Graham’s house arranging for Graham Central Station. He never really let me in the house. He put me in a closet that had a cardboard box as a desk and a drum stool for me to sit on. I listened to the cassette player. He didn’t want anybody to see me at his house.

We were playing in New York City, at The Fillmore East, opening for Santana and Roland Kirk. We did the four nights, Thursday through Sunday. Monday morning early we had to go out to La Guardia and fly to Las Vegas to do a show with Rod Stewart that night. We stayed up all night as young rock and rollers would do. Doc got real drunk and passed out on the plane. It was really cold and they kept him in First Class – just covered him with his coat and his scarf. When we landed in Vegas it was hot as we walked down the steps across the tarmac into the terminal. Doc was the last to get off the plane and he had a rabbit skin coat on. He looks terrible - almost had to be in a wheelchair. We get to the hotel and he sleeps it off, still high as a kite. On stage he is hanging on for dear life. We were doing ‘Funkifize’ – this was in the early days of video screens on each side of the stage. They were doing close ups on the jumbotron and were doing close-ups of the horn section, first me then Mic. When they got to Doc he vomited on camera. Every one of us around him started to gag. He looked down at Mic (who is much shorter) and just smiled and kept on going. I have lots of stories I hope to write about someday.

AC: How does new media affect the business of music?

New media has really transformed the way we do business. Andrea, my wife and manager, uses it to the max. We have friends all over the world and we really feel united. You have a feeling that you are a part of a club and through Facebook everyone has a story to tell. We are all interconnected.

Years ago it was so hard to make a record. It’s easier now. New media is a tool to do things that you couldn’t do before. You have the infrastructure now and you don’t need the big record companies and management teams. There is also a lot of mediocrity out there. It tends not to police itself.

AC: And the business of smooth jazz?

Smooth jazz is something that I had success with right off the bat. It has become increasingly more difficult to make a living as a smooth jazz artist. A few years ago there was a call to arms by those in the clique of smooth jazz. It was basically ‘circle the wagons and don’t let anybody else in on the smooth jazz circuit.’ It became so that all you’d hear was seven or eight artists. On the radio they did all of the same shows, tours, and concerts in the same cities. That is all you were able to hear on the radio or live.

I wasn’t in that clique. I was left out. The way smooth jazz radio has gone, and it has all but disappeared now, it’s because that clique cannibalized itself. It was the greed of a few. It has taken on a new life form. This is why I have changed my musical direction on my last two CD’s with East Bay Soul.

AC: Tell us about East Bay Soul.

I found that I wanted to do something different once again. I wanted to go back to something more comfortable to me, my own sound. It figures they are not going to play me on the radio because I’m not in the clique anymore. No one needs to name names; they know who they are. I went back to something that is close to my heart, that I love to do. I am an orchestrator so I love a big band and it’s like a bigger canvas to paint on. The way it develops was I had my band for years but I needed a singer. Then I got a new drummer; Herman Mathews is the best drummer I have ever played with in my life.
The singer, Darrel Walker, is the best singer I’ve heard and I have had to work with a lot of singers in Tower Of Power - lots of recording dates. Speaking of singers, I want to mention that Celine Dion is the best female singer I ever worked with. I had a fleeting experience with her: I played on a prime-time Grammy nomination TV show with her when she did the Janis Ian tune ‘At 17’. She asked me to do the horn solo on that. We rehearsed that day at The Staples; she is so nice she makes you feel like you are an old friend. She says very sweetly, “I have to go on to rehearse.” They go into the Titanic song ‘My Heart Will Go On’. She is like six feet from me and she is singing this like the arena is full. She is an astonishingly good singer.

East Bay Soul is in my blood. Andrea asked me what I wanted to do next. I told her I wanted a big band. She has helped me put it together and get it on tape. On our first effort we used several singers, but Darryl was amazing. Things started to gel for us on the last song we cut. The response has been overwhelming.

AC: You recorded a song by our friend George Grund?

George Grund is a fan who emailed me. He said he knows I don’t solicit songs. I said I really don’t solicit songs, but why don’t you send it along. It was an instrumental less than two minutes long, no lyric, but it was such a beautiful piece of music that I wanted to record it. Could we put a lyric to it? Andrea, who has never written a lyric before, thought about the wars and how it feels when a soldier comes home from battle. We called it ‘I’m Coming Home’. When Darryl sang it for the first time you could really see and feel it. It was the last song we recorded and I like to do things contemplative.
We did our last project though Kick Starter. We have a group a friends and supporters called The True Funk Soldiers and we raised 35 thousand dollars in 60 days! Incredible friends tell friends and it’s growing exponentially.

AC: What about gigs?

We just play a Christmas gig in San Francisco to a sold out crowd. We went over to the East Coast and sold out about a few shows there - friends bring friends. We are growing by leaps and bounds. We are getting offers for shows. We don’t have one weak link in the band and there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. They bring a lot of potato salad to the picnic.

AC: How can Europe get to see EBS live and in living color?

One of the things that blows my mind is that I don’t have a booking agent. Everybody in the contemporary smooth jazz world has a booking agent but me. I am going to say it right now: I am looking for a booking agent! This band needs to go to Europe, and to Japan, we can’t be denied! Once you hear it you will say there is nothing like it.
Right now I’m working on Dave Koz’s record. I am also doing something different: producing a record for Rufus Miller, the singer on the East Bay Grease album. We are doing an EP with four songs using my East Bay Soul band members.

AC: Bucket list?

I don’t believe in bucket lists. There are so many things I want to do. I’m 60 but still think like a kid. If you can make a living at something you love then it’s not work.

AC: What would you tell folks just starting out in the game?

Don’t smoke. And as you make your way up the music ladder, be nice to people because you may meet them on the way down. It doesn’t last forever but people remember you. I’ve always tried to be a nice guy and do everything with sincerity - and hope you will be recognized for it.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:30 AM

December 23, 2012

Euge Groove - House Of Groove

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 2009 that smooth jazz superstar Euge Groove partnered with Shanachie Records for the release of the delightful Sunday Morning. Two years later he was back with the highly acclaimed S7even Large and if his latest project is anything to go by the creatively friendly surroundings that the label provides are suiting him just fine. Titled House Of Groove the album is everything one has come to expect from an artist who, with his 2000 self titled debut, really hit the ground running and truth to tell has been running ever since. It is his eighth solo recording and one which artistically finds him very much in control. He writes or co-writes all ten tracks, produces throughout and carries out mixing duties in the good company of long time mentor Paul Brown. Not only is this a collection that confirms his position as being in the very highest echelons of contemporary jazz but is also one of the best recordings of the year so far.

Indeed, from the first note of the first tune (the charmingly relaxed ‘Knock Knock Who’s There?’) there is no mistaking that here is Euge Groove at his familiar best. In fact much of this sumptuous CD can best be described as being ‘easy on the ear’ and this is particularly so with ‘Fellowship Hall’ where a piano solo from Tracy Carter really gets the job done.

Think funky, think very funky, and you will pretty much get what the high octane title cut is all about and although this is a style that serves Groove well he quickly slips back into a more melodic disposition for the aptly named ‘Old Edu (Old School)’. In similar vein is ‘Faithful Central’ which benefits from a nice guitar solo from Paul Brown and while ‘Lampin’ It’ opens with a wonderfully seductive vibe it quickly expands into a fine free flowing example of mid tempo smooth jazz.

House Of Groove features three vocally orientated numbers with the first being the tranquil ‘God Bless You’ where Kate Milner Moebel’s warm tones fit perfectly with Groove’s tender playing. Even better is the super soul charged ‘It’s Only Rain’ for which Chioma, (born in Africa, raised in Europe and now living in New York City), is a complete revelation.

The track is further blessed by trumpet from East Bay Soul’s Lee Thornberg yet in terms of personal favorites the rolling hypnotic quality of ‘Indian Summer’ marks it out as being right up there with the best that House Of Groove has to offer. However, just as good is the magnificent ‘Never Met A Woman (Like You)’. Soulful vocals from the always excellent Jeffrey Osborne totally hit the spot and in terms of crossover urban jazz it really doesn’t get better than this.

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 6:08 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 DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:28 PM

August 4, 2012

Jonathan Fritzen - Magical

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.

When Jonathan Fritzén’s highly acclaimed Diamonds made #1 on both the Billboard airplay charts and the Amazon.com sales chart it prompted legendary broadcaster Art Good to name Fritzén as his ‘debut artist of the year’. Maybe he was unaware that Fritzén’s first recording actually came in 2008 with the sumptuous Love Birds. With every one of its eleven original compositions reaching to the very core of what great smooth jazz should be it announced him as a performer of tremendous promise. Less than a year later Fritzén returned with the equally impressive VIP. Now, with the imminent release of his latest CD, the appropriately titled Magical, Fritzén seems all set to embark on another chapter of what is proving to be an outstanding career.

With Magical Fritzén’s talents as a composer, producer and performer are again all brilliantly on display. A case in point is the easy grooving title cut that finds Fritzén at his outstanding best and sublimely in tandem with sax-man Boney James who predictably leaves his mark all over this wonderful tune.

When Jackiem Joyner takes over on sax for the feel good flavor of ‘Love Will Overcome’ he assists Fritzén in checking every smooth jazz box imaginable while elsewhere the deliciously languid groove of ‘Sweet Spot’ owes much to the fabulous interplay between Fritzén and Paul Brown. Staying in mellow mode, the hugely cinematic ‘Angels’ proves just how effective Fritzén can be when shifting to a romantic vibe and this is also evident with the stunning ‘Nostalgia’. It combines elements of chill with marvelous melody in a way that only he can and in similar vein is the extremely sensuous ‘Nordic Night’. Later, when Fritzén calls on Darren Rahn (who also mixes the album) for the intensely poignant ‘Lullaby’ his contribution on sax serves as the perfect accompaniment to this heartfelt song and with ‘Cant Get You Out Of My Mind’ it’s the vocals of Danish singing star Malene Mortenson that pave the way to more of Fritzén’s superb playing on keys.

In the final analysis if anyone really wants to know what Jonathan Fritzén is all about they need look no further than the fabulous ‘Turn Back Time’. This vibrant number has that same catchy quality that typifies much of his best work and when the rapidly emerging Vincent Ingala becomes the last of four saxophonists to guest on ‘Magical’ his performance for ‘To The Top’ helps to create more of the delicious up-tempo same. However, all things considered 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.

With a street date of August 21, Magical comes hugely recommended.

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 4:49 PM

June 17, 2012

Gerald Albright & Norman Brown - 24/7

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. Friends for three decades and now recording partners, smooth jazz superstars Gerald Albright and Norman Brown are all set to release their first ever album together. Titled 24/7, this fine ten-track recording draws on their collective jazz sensibilities in a way that is little short of sublime and with almost fifty years of recording experience between them, there is little doubt that these two fine players sit loftily at the very peak of their respective careers. In fact Albright’s resume reaches all the way back to 1987 and the CD Just Between Us while Brown, by way of a massive coincidence, made his debut in 1992 with a project that, remarkably, was also named Just Between Us. Despite all of that it seems certain that for both of them, 24/7 will bring a future that is every bit as good as their illustrious past.

24/7 is a wonderful slice of ultra accessible smooth jazz which with ‘In The Moment’ starts exactly the way it intends to go on. One of seven originals written or co-written by either Albright or Brown it has the sort of feel good vibe that typifies much of what the genre should all be about while elsewhere the vibrant ‘Buenos Amigos’ is the place where Latin meets funk in the most delightful of ways.

‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ was written by Brown in collaboration with up-coming sax player Jeanette Harris. It has an easy grooving retro tinged vibe that checks every box imaginable and another of Brown’s tunes, ‘Perfect Love’, is replete with the fluid playing style that he has made entirely his own and comes complete with dreamy backing vocals from Rochella Brown and Demille Cole-Heard. Rochella is Brown’s daughter and Demille his godson so its no surprise that with the silky smooth title cut Albright also makes it something of a family affair. Not only does he come up big on alto sax, flute, bass and percussion but in addition puts the song’s sumptuous vocals into the capable hands of daughter Selina Albright. This is a track that can be best summed up as six plus minutes of unadulterated smooth jazz joy and when Selina returns to sing background vocals for the brilliant ‘Champagne Life, Brown and Albright make this outstanding Ne-Yo song feel brand new. In fact the inclusion of the song was Albright’s idea. He thought it would work particularly well for the duo’s live summer concert dates but in the event it stands out amongst the finest that 24/7 has to offer.

Written by Brown’s long-term production partner Herman Jackson, ‘Keep It Moving’ is another feisty tune that showcases to perfection the chemistry that Albright and Brown have going on and, although the hip swinging, mid tempo ‘Yes I Can’ has the sort of edgy quality that is sure to play well with a live audience, a mellow cover of the Brothers Johnson 1976 hit ‘Tomorrow’ proves to be a highlight of a CD crammed full of them.

With strings courtesy of everyone’s favorite contemporary jazz violinist Mark Cargill, 24/7 is brought to a thoughtful yet emotional end by the velvety Albright composition ‘Power Of Your Smile’. Again the combined artistry of Albright and Brown is immense and like all great albums leaves the listener yearning for more.

24/7 will hit the streets on June 19 and comes highly recommended.

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 5:12 PM

May 19, 2012

Gary Honor - Heads & Tales

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.

Gary Honor is a sax-star in the making and if the CD Heads & Tales is anything to go by that stardom is not too far away. It marks his debut on Trippin n Rhythm and includes one well-chosen cover plus twelve original compositions that Honor has written in collaboration with label-mate and producer Oli Silk. Make no mistake, Heads & Tales is the real smooth jazz deal and seems a lifetime away from 2004 when Honor journeyed from his native Australia to Fort Lauderdale for a vacation aboard the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise. Whilst on board Gary entered the cruise ‘star search’ which had been created to find smooth jazz talent from amongst the paying passengers and under the watching gaze of some of the finest musicians the genre has to offer, he duly won. After a spell in the United Kingdom (where he first hooked up with Silk) Honor progressed to work on a whole range of musical projects both in the USA and in Australia. Now with Heads & Tales he is all set to take his career to an exciting new level.

The album is quickly up and running with the zesty title cut that not only captures the innate feeling Honor has for silky smooth contemporary jazz but also demonstrates how he can get funky with the best of them. Talking of funky it doesn’t really get more so than with the big, brass driven ‘Don’t Push It’ or for that matter the equally high octane ‘Cor Blimey!’ for which it is inconceivable that cheeky English chap Oli Silk did not have an input into this extremely ‘London-centric’ title. ‘Chatswood Chase’ is another track where Gary has his foot firmly on the gas. It is embellished by a nice guitar solo from Mark Jaimes while in similar vein is ‘Rock The Jazzbah!’ where Jaimes again plays a part and something comparable to a disco beat makes the whole piece fizz.

When Honor switches to flute for the delightfully easy grooving ‘Southern Exposure’ the effect is akin to being wrapped in a warm comforting blanket and he stays with flute for ‘Dreamweaver’ that is bolstered by a multiplicity of world rhythms. ‘Way Back When’ reverberates to a big anthem like hook which serves as a delicious backdrop to Honor’s fine playing and although ‘Island Pearl’ finds him in romantic mood he quickly shifts gears for the hugely jazzy and percussive ‘Under The Influence’ where is a strong bass-line from Orefo Orakwue grabs the attention.

Oli Silk’s distinctive piano tones herald in the moody ‘Leave Tomorrow Behind’ which is right up there with the best Heads & Tales has to offer. In terms of personal favourites it is in the good company of the tremendously accessible and mid-tempo ‘Juan Step Ahead’ which complete with nice production touches from Silk has radio ready written all over it. It must have been a clear contender for the first track to be serviced to radio but instead that particular accolade goes to ‘Close To You’. Not to be confused with the Carpenters song of the same name this is in fact a swaggering reimagining of the Maxi Priest blockbuster and features vocals from both Briana Cowlishaw and Troy Anthony-Smith. As cover versions go this one is right up there and is one reason among many why Heads & Tales deserves close scrutiny.

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 4:25 PM

April 29, 2012

Jeff Bradshaw - Bon Appetit

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 2003 that trombone player; vocalist and producer Jeff Bradshaw made a tilt for solo stardom with the CD Bone Deep. Of course since then he has featured often with many of his Hidden Beach label-mates but now has come roaring back with a double album which might yet prove to be one of the best cross-over releases of 2012. It’s titled Bone Appetit and what Bradshaw is really all about can be summed up in the one minute and thirty seven seconds of the opening number ‘Searching’. Atmospheric, urban and hypnotizing, this is what he routinely does best and, in an expansive collection that explores the varying complexions of jazzy R & B, Bradshaw also proves himself to be the undisputed master of urban trombone.

Make no mistake this is a fabulous body of work. ‘Til Tomorrow’ has an urgency that is infectious and is added to in no small measure by vocals from Raheem DeVaughn and Ms Jade. It’s a track that is entirely current and when Bradshaw gets his hands on a fabulous cover of the Toni Toni Tone blockbuster ‘Lay Your Head On My Pillow’ (from the 1994 project Sons Of Soul) he conjures up a real highlight. Another cut right there with the album’s best is the sparse yet horn enriched ‘Looking For Love’ yet elsewhere a clever sample from Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, a cool vocal from Marsha Ambrosius and sweet horns from Brass Heaven all combine to make ‘Got Til It’s Gone’ really something special.

Of course Ambrosius is one half of the duo Floetry. The other is Natalie Stewart and she joins Bradshaw for ‘I See The Sunshine’ where she is instrumental in serving up a heady slice of deep neo soul. More soul of the neo variety comes in the form of the intense ‘Umi Says’ while later, and developing from Bradshaw’s earthy vocals, ‘I Don’t Know How’ evolves into an ultra catchy, trombone driven gem with a warm and comforting vibe. That said, one of the more interesting songs is ‘Wait Around Love’. Check out Peter White’s ‘Lullaby’ from his Caravan Of Dreams collection then segue to this tender number where Randy Bowland on guitar utilizes the same melody as a backdrop to Bradshaw’s sensitive vocal.

‘So Thankful’ is a tasty excursion into deep soul where vocal honors are sublimely shared between Bradshaw and singing sensation Coko. Indeed, Bone Appetit has much to commend it but all things considered the extremely easy grooving ‘All Day Lovin’ is my selection for Secret Garden top tune. Not only does it enjoy sumptuous backing vocals from Kindred The Family Soul but also allows Bradshaw, not for the only time, to demonstrate the trombone as a much-underrated contemporary jazz instrument.

Not only does Bone Appetit conclude with a bonus outro of the title cut but those who have purchased Bone Appetit Vol 2 (which comes as a digital exclusive or special limited edition two-CD set), can enjoy seven additional tracks including those featuring Maysa, Brass Heaven and Bradshaw’s version of the Maze classic ‘Happy Feelin’s’. Check it out. There is much to enjoy.

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 7:08 PM

April 21, 2012

Darren Rahn - Speechless

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 through his work with the late Wayman Tisdale that producer, composer and saxophonist Darren Rahn first made his mark. At first his role was very much behind the scenes and behind the mixing console but his studio activities with Tisdale and an assortment of other smooth jazz heavy hitters proved pivotal in launching his solo career. Three critically acclaimed solo albums ensued and now he is back with number four, the high octane Speechless.

The CD opens with ‘Wave of The Future’ which is a shuffling mid tempo track that builds into something altogether more potent. It includes Darren’s brother Jason on trumpet and was co-written by Rahn and Dave Koz. When Koz returns for the ultra powerful ‘Flashback’ his interplay with Rahn is fabulous and although ‘One Step Ahead’ provides a tasty slice of regulation smooth jazz, much of the early buzz surrounding ‘Speechless’ has been about the first song to go to radio. Titled ‘Magnetic’ this compellingly accessible cut is, not surprisingly, taking the contemporary jazz charts by storm.

The big thumping ‘Into The Light’ is in the best traditions of what we have come to expect from Darren Rahn and much the same can be said of the punchy, sax driven ‘Revelation’ which includes a fine bass solo from Mel Brown. When Rahn and Brown hook up with label mate Nate Harasim for ‘Euro Trippin’ they deliver a tune that can can accurately be described as being entirely off the chain and later Harasim provides more stellar input to the sizzling ‘Studio 54’ which features superb flute from none other than Najee.

The zesty, urban inclined ‘Magical’ is a song with massive crossover appeal and, featuring wonderfully streetwise vocals from Joshua, is a clear contender for the accolade of Secret Garden top track. Yet amongst the frequent bolts of high-energy lightning there are several tender moments and in this respect there is none better than the wonderful ‘Give ‘N’ Take’ where Paul Brown is at his unmistakable best on guitar. Mellow of a different kind comes in the form of the hugely atmospheric title cut which owes much of its seductive quality to the vocals of the rapidly emerging Maxine Hardcastle while elsewhere ‘The Healing’ provides a melodic ending to what is a splendid addition to this year’s crop of new 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 3:05 PM

March 16, 2012

Reinhold Schwarzwald - Sunset

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.

I recently became aware of the music of saxophonist and producer Reinhold Schwarzwald through the release of the radio single ‘Sunset’. Lifted from the album of the same name it is an outstanding example of the best that contemporary jazz has to offer and one of many great tunes in a collection crammed full of them. In fact the CD provides a superb showcase for Schwarzwald’s ultra smooth talents and is embellished by a stellar line-up of backing musicians that include guitarist Doc Powell and the stupendous flautist Valerie King.

Born of an Austrian father and Hungarian mother, Schwarzwald relocated to LA in 1999 and since then has been building a reputation as a writer, performer and educator. His music has been extensively featured on both radio and television but it is as a solo artist that a future in smooth jazz now beckons. Sunset is full of warm melodies and intoxicating rhythms that are typified by the zesty ‘Downtown’ which finds Schwarzwald on sax at his excellent best. The Latin intensity of ‘Seven Islands In Four Days’ is also a song that really fizzes while, elsewhere, soulful vocalist Fred White lends a considerable hand to the impressively heartfelt ‘All Your Love’. Later, when Schwarzwald reprises the number as an instrumental, the result is entirely magical.

In fact Sunset is a recording of delightful contrasts and although Schwartzwald ups the tempo for the high octane yet attractively rhythmic ‘Heartbeat Of The City’ he notches it down again for the mellow Brazilian sway of ‘Malheiros’. Another track that starts out in reflective mode is ‘Rain In Paris’ which nevertheless quickly evolves into something altogether more edgy. Just as intense is the fabulous, reggae infused ‘Heartbeat of The City’ and fitted neatly between eight original compositions is a smoother than smooth rendition of the Eric Clapton hit ‘Change The World’.

One of three songs produced by the genre defining recording artist Patrice Rushen, it paves the way to the appropriately named ‘Feel Good’ which, as well as doing everything the title suggests, has what it takes to make an impact on radio. However, it is when Rushen’s production skills are again called upon that Schwartzwald really strikes gold. The tasty title cut comes complete with a seriously infectious hook yet just as good is the gorgeous ‘Saxdance’. Opening with a rhythm reminiscent of what Quincy Jones used to routinely do for Michael Jackson, and developing into a wonderfully commercial smooth jazz tune, this one is sure to do well.

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

March 4, 2012

Najee - The Smooth Side Of Soul

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.

Well known for his classy virtuosity, sax and flute player Najee has been one of the most influential figures in contemporary jazz for the past twenty-five years. He enjoyed his first big break in 1983 when, with his brother Fareed, he toured with Chaka Khan. This in turn brought him to the attention of producer Charles Huggins and it was through Huggins that Najee cut his debut recording for EMI, Najees Theme, in 1986. The album went platinum and two years later this success was repeated with the follow up Day By Day. Since then Najee has added eight more releases plus one ‘best of’ compilation and has garnered four ‘gold discs’ along the way. Now he is back with his latest offering, The Smooth Side Of Soul.

Variously produced by Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis, Darren Rahn and Jeff Lorber plus guest input from Phil Perry, James K Lloyd and Mel Brown this is an album that delivers exactly what the title suggests it might. In doing so it provides several numbers that can best be described as ‘radio ready’ while still including plenty of the sophisticated grooves for which Najee has become famous.

Talking of radio, the hugely attractive ‘One Night In Soho’ is a fine example of highly commercial, mid tempo contemporary jazz that Najee nevertheless injects with a quota of his trademark edgy sound. Indeed, among the current crop of contemporary jazz saxophonists, Najee is arguably the most comfortable when stepping over to the straight-ahead side of the tracks and although not quite going there with ‘Dis N Dat’ he takes it as an opportunity to show off his jazzy prowess. Later Najee goes one step further with ‘Sound For Sore Ears’ where he partners with Lloyd to recreate the familiar Jimmy Heath tune that can be found on the 1972 long-player ‘The Gap Sealer’.

Najee switches to flute for the enticingly mellow ‘You Tube’ while elsewhere ‘In The Clouds’ proves to be another deliciously turned down cut that finds Najee at his sublime best on sax. In keeping with this tranquil theme the introspective ‘Mari’ serves as another tremendous vehicle for Najee’s intoxicating flute yet all three are in delightful contrast to the swaggering ‘Fu Fu She She’ where his playing is very much on the funky side.

Jeff Lorber’s contribution to ‘First Kiss’ is notable for the way in which he reigns in his typical fusion flavored disposition in favor of something altogether smoother and another track which is right up there with the collection’s best is ‘Perfect Nights’. With Najee hitting a melodic, easy grooving stride, this one is very hard to beat yet in terms of personal favorites it is the shimmering ‘Just To Fall In Love’ that steals the honors. Here Najee’s playing on flute is wonderful and complemented in no small measure by the outstanding vocals of Phil Perry.

Out now on the Shanachie label, The Smooth Side Of Soul is well worth closer attention.

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 5:54 PM

February 11, 2012

East Bay Soul 2.0

Much of the early buzz surrounding the release of East Bay Soul 2.0 has been about how a sensational campaign to raise the $25,000 necessary to record the album hit its target. However, now it’s all about the music. Make no mistake, this is a collection of the highest order and everything (plus a little bit more) that one would expect from the creative genius of its creator Greg Adams. Of course Adams was the founding member of Tower of Power where his signature sound as performer and arranger made the TOP horn section a sought out entity all it's own. Now, factor in Darryl Walker's powerful soul drenched vocals, add eight other world class artists and the result is a singular vision of instrumental funk, jazz and soul music brought to audiences in a fresh new way. This is new a movement in Urban Jazz; this is East Bay Soul 2.0.

If anyone is in any doubt as to the credentials of this highly anticipated release they need look no further than the big, brassy and in your face ‘The Getaway’ which provides a wonderful platform for Adams on muted trumpet. Totally in the finest traditions of what he does best it is mirrored by ‘Back to Oakland’, which serves as a superb showcase for the entire band. This tremendous coming together of the horn and rhythm sections also includes a taster of Darryl Walker’s vocals, yet Walker is found at his soulful best for the albums only cover, Adams silky re-imaging of the Marvin Gaye classic ‘What’s Going On’.

When Walker returns for the emotionally supercharged ‘I’m Coming Home’ he helps to provide one of the CD’s more tender moments yet truth to tell Adams creates adequate time and space for some outstandingly soul tinged ballads. In this respect there is none better than the magnificent ‘Once and For All’ while elsewhere ‘The Love Of My Life’ proves to be another big, soulful ballad with Walker very much center stage. He sticks around for the high octane and totally enthralling ‘The Devil You Know’ but when the emphasis switches back to instrumentals, the joyous ‘Carry On’ finds Adams in fabulous form. It’s the sort of track to put a huge smile on your face and, with a smattering of Hammond-B3 from Joey Navarro, is completely on the money.

The aptly named ‘Brassalicious’ just about explains all you need to know about this lusciously funky tune and the first single to be serviced to radio is ‘To Catch A Thief’ which features Adams on Flugelhorn. The title ‘To Catch A Thief’ was inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. In writing the song it conjured up for Adams the role of John Robie, a reformed jewel thief known as “The Cat” who, in the film, was played by the great Cary Grant. With a languid yet easy grooving vibe this ultra cool cut benefits from more killer Hammond B3 Navarro and is certain to do well.

The street date for East Bay Soul 2.0 has been slated for February 28, 2012 and is sure to be a highpoint of the contemporary jazz year.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:01 AM

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 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

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 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

November 30, 2011

Maysa - Motions Of Love

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. Often described as the best kept secret on urban AC radio, the incredible Maysa has just released her ninth solo CD, the totally outstanding Motions Of Love. Substantially produced by Chris 'Big Dog' Davis, the album is, in part, Maysa's way of moving on from a recently broken relationship yet, in purely musical terms, the original intent was to deliver what for her would have been a first, an all R&B recording. In the event it has evolved into a fourteen-track R&B collection dappled with funk, jazz and disco with a little New Orleans gumbo thrown in for good measure. Without doubt it is Maysa's most commercial project to date and at long last looks set to open her appeal to the wider urban mainstream.

Motions Of Love opens with the zesty 'Get Wit Me' which resonates with the jazzy attitude so prevalent in her early Incognito work while despite the CD's intensely personal nature the sensationally soulful title cut was given to Maysa by husband and wife singing - songwriting duo, Tony and Joann Kemp after a chance meeting at an Incognito gig. It has the sort of relaxed groove that is to die for and is an immediate personal favorite whilst when she ratchets up the tempo for the disco styled 'Love Sweet Love' the result is every bit as good. Written by Maysa, her bassist Charles Baldwin and keyboard player Damon Bennett this is a number which, for her, represents quite a departure and another is the sumptuous urban anthem 'Special Place' that has the potential to get in your head and not go away.

For the last couple of years Maysa has toured extensively with vocalist Angela Bofill who suffered severe stokes in both 2006 and 2007. Although these afflictions have left Bofill unable to sing at her previous standard she uses her live appearances to narrate her life story with Maysa singing the songs. Consequently the inclusion on Motions Of Love of Bofill's 1979 classic, 'I Try' is especially poignant and Maysa stays in reflective mode for 'When It's Over' that she wrote during a forty five minute plane journey. Davis' production incorporates attention grabbing horns and wonderful backing vocals whereas when she reprises the track later in the album, the addition of smoky sax from Carl Cox Jr provides an entirely new dimension.

Of course it is well chronicled how, back in 1991, Maysa went directly from Morgan State University to sing backup for the legendary Stevie Wonder as part of his Wonderlove backing group. Now, twenty years on, the pair are reunited as Wonder co-writes, plays harmonica and sings backing vocals on the romantically inclined 'Have Sweet Dreams'.

Another gem in an album crammed full of them is the delicious 'You Won't Find Your Way' that she co-writes with Kim Waters. It affords the perfect vehicle for Maysa's sultry yet heartfelt tones and although 'Your Name's Not On The List' takes her briefly into country blues territory she is firmly back on R & B message with the easy grooving 'Come And Dance With Me'. More mellifluous magic comes in the form of 'Flower Girl' for which Maysa enlists the assistance of neo soul artist Dwele and as she slips into an enticing Latin rhythm the outcome is the spiritually themed 'Hold On'.

However, given the R & B styled theme of the entire project my Secret Garden top tune is the high octane, retro tinged 'Day N Night'. With the ability to fill the largest of dance floors this shimmering song is Maysa's own tribute to disco divas such as Linda Clifford and Thelma Houston.

Motions Of Love is out now on Shanachie and comes highly recommended.

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 5:52 PM

October 22, 2011

Richard Elliot - In The Zone

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.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:40 PM

September 30, 2011

Basia - From Newport To London - Greatest Hits Live

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. Recorded in Łódź, Poland, From Newport To London: Greatest Hits Live…And More marks a welcome return for the excellent Basia. With fifteen live songs plus three new studio recordings (written and produced by Basia and her long time Musical Director Danny White) the CD is the ultimate showcase for her work and a timely reminder of the sumptuous quality of her distinctive vocals.

Basia’s collaboration with keyboard player Danny White dates back to their early days together in the trio Matt Bianco. In 1987 she partnered with him for her platinum selling solo debut, Time And Tide and when the follow up, London Warsaw New York, also went platinum it seemed distinctly possible that only the sky would be the limit. The Sweetest Illusion followed in 1994 yet despite the fact her first live collection, Basia On Broadway, was released a year later, fans had to wait fourteen more years for her next studio project. Titled It's That Girl Again it served to underwrite the enduring writing and performing partnership of Basia and Danny White while also featuring Danny’s brother Peter White on guitar.

The fact that From Newport To London: Greatest Hits Live…And More has been produced to smoothly blend one track into the next serves to give the album a wonderful fluidity and the delightfully Latin ‘Third Time Lucky’ sets a zesty scene for what is to come. It is added to in no small measure by a dazzling keyboard solo by Danny White and as Basia runs off one magical hit after the other it is guitarist Giorgio Serci who comes up big for the familiar ‘Promises’. In fact the caliber of the supporting musicians is outstanding throughout and none more so than Marc Parnell on drums, sax-man Paul Booth and backing vocalists Veronique Clarisse and Annick Clarisse-Willequet.

Elsewhere Basia uses the shuffling beat of ‘Drunk On Love’ to keep the tempo high and although the jazzy swing of ‘How Dare You’ ratchets up the intensity even more it is with the passionate ‘Copernicus’ that she really explodes. ‘Asrud’ and ‘If Not Now Then When’ provide further glimpses of Basia at her Latin best whilst the studio recordings show off another side of her musical persona. The jazzy title cut is the first to be serviced to radio, the oriental flavor of ‘Wandering’ is as enticing as it is different but in terms of new music there is nothing to surpass the stunningly mellifluous ‘There’s A Tear’. It is right up there with the album’s best but, that said, the quality of this predominately live collection is exemplified by her rendition of the signature hit ‘Cruising For Bruising’. Sounding every bit as good as on the recorded version, this superb track is further enhanced by fine trumpet from Kevin Robinson.

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 8:20 PM

September 11, 2011

Acoustic Alchemy - Roseland

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.

Always about innovation and adaptability, the story of Acoustic Alchemy spans almost twenty five years and is all set to add another chapter with the release of the band’s latest CD Roseland. Produced by bandleaders Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale, the project is their first on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group, and has been licensed to Heads Up by AA’s newly formed Onside Records. Not only that, recorded in England at Gilderdale’s newly constructed home studio, the album’s thirteen tracks explore elements of jazz, rock, country and reggae that from beginning to end contain not one weak link.

In fact the musical evolution of Acoustic Alchemy began in 1987 when Red Dust and Spanish Lace provided guitarists Greg Carmichael and Nick Webb with access into the then fledgling adult contemporary market. Since then the sad passing of Webb and his replacement in 1998 by Miles Gilderdale, has, over time, led to an amalgam of influences that even extends to luscious horn driven grooves yet essentially continues to be underpinned by that hallmark combination of steel and nylon stringed guitars.

Roseland confirms all this and more. The title cut is a bold extravaganza of sound that resonates around fine guitar from Carmichael and Gilderdale while the foot tapping ‘One For Shorty’ benefits from the interjection of a fulsome brass section which includes regular AA contributor Snake Davis on sax. Not surprisingly ‘Marcus’ is framed by a pulsating bass line and more classic Acoustic Alchemy comes in the form of ‘Sand On Her Toes’ where the electric guitar of Gilderdale spars deliciously with Carmichael’s trademark nylon strings.

Melody is again high on the agenda for the extremely pleasing ‘Swamp Top’ for which flashes of Hammond B3 from Ricky Peterson and cool trombone from FayyazVirji add to the pleasure. Peterson’s contributions are significant throughout and none more so than with ‘Marrakesh’ which, far from being full of the eastern promise that the title suggests, is a zesty rhythm fest of the highest order. In fact vintage AA would be an apt description and much the same can be said of the dramatic ‘State Of The Ark’ which demonstrates the intensity that often characterizes the music this classy collective routinely delivers.

Carmichael’s daughter has just completed her studies in Bristol where she attained a masters degree in chemistry. The contemplative ‘Templemeads’ (a district of this English city and also the name of its train station) is his way of providing her with some recognition. Elsewhere, the simple yet cinematic ‘Stealing Hearts’ is nothing short of magical and although ‘Right Place – Wrong Time’ allows the band to show off the ‘straight ahead’ side of its musical persona, there is a quick return to more familiar territory with ‘World Stage’. Hypnotic in the extreme and held down in impeccable style by Greg Grainger on drums this tantalizing track builds to an incredible crescendo which is fuelled by Gliderdale’s bluesy guitar and more stellar input from Peterson.

From uncomplicated beginnings ‘A Kinder Loving’ grows steadily into yet another melodic gem that is right up there with the album’s best but in terms of personal favourites there is nothing to surpass the understated reggae beat of ‘The Ebor Sound Machine’. Showing all the signs of becoming seriously addictive this mellifluous masterpiece 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.

Roseland will be released on September 27 and is destined to be one of the outstanding collections of 2011.

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 5:13 PM

August 15, 2011

The Brotherhood Has Arrived

Brotherhood-Hitting-Soon.jpgWelcome 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.

Take the heady musical amalgam of Detroit in the late seventies, factor in some of the hottest emerging talent in contemporary jazz and what do you have? The answer is the The Brotherhood which finds legendary ‘Motor City’ session men Jerry Jones, Jervonny Collier and (band leader) Bruce Nazarian in the choice company of keyboard players Greg Manning, and Renato Falaschi, the always-excellent percussionist Gary Stanionis and special guest sax-man / vocalist Jaared whose current solo release ‘Manhattan Nights’ has garnered two #1 hits. Indeed, drawn together by their mutual love of funk and jazz, The Brotherhood is poised to break out in late 2011 with their own special brand of funky contemporary jazz which, if their collective track record is anything to go by, is sure to be right on the money.

Way back when, musical chameleon and guitarist Bruce Nazarian combined with drummer Jerry Jones to assemble an A-team of fellow Detroit studio musicians and in so doing created the aptly named ‘The A Band’ which by 1979 had become The Automatix.

A fusion of rock and soul influences, The Automatix was signed to MCA records in 1981, and, shortly afterwards, released its debut LP ‘Night Rider’. However, it was a tale of what might have been as, while the first single was still climbing the charts, the band fell victim to a management reorganization and was dropped from the label roster.

Fast forward thirty years and after several decades as an in-demand digital media specialist, and award-winning post-production sound supervisor, mixer, and sound editor, Nazarian returned to music production with the debut CD from Italian saxophonist Rocco Ventrella. Titled ‘Give Me The Groove’, it featured heavily in the SKY.FM Smooth Jazz year-end countdown for 2006 with the track ‘Soulful Strut’ making it all the way to #1. Now involved in internet radio, concert promotion, artist management and other behind-the-scenes activities, Nazarian has reached out to old friends Jones and Collier, and some new friends besides, to rekindle the kind of musical magic that never gets old.

Collier has played bass in Bruce Hornsby’s band for almost twenty years. In The Brotherhood he is in the good company of drummer Jerry Jones who, in an amazing career, has performed with everyone from Stanley Turrentine to Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes. Manning is a former musical director for Jonathan Butler, Falaschi a renowned European musician who worked on Ventrella's release ‘Give Me The Groove’ and Jaared is already a well-established recording artist. To date he has four critically acclaimed solo albums to his name and his extensive credits include appearances with the likes of Peter White, Stevie Wonder, Maysa and Rick Braun. Completing the line-up is in-demand LA percussionist Gary Stanionis who, as part of Jackiem Joyner's touring band, is well known to contemporary jazz fans throughout the USA.

The Brotherhood is more than a title and more than a band. It is about collective passion and solidarity. Watch out for them on the club and concert scene soon.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:16 PM

July 29, 2011

Be Part Of Greg Adams' New CD

Now for your chance to play a part in the production and release of the latest CD from the wonderful East Bay Soul. Much like the band’s 2009 debut, the project is the brainchild of trumpeter Greg Adams who has well as being a founder member of the legendary Tower of Power has carved out a unique place for himself within the higher echelons of contemporary jazz. With major record labels becoming fewer with every passing year Greg is going alone on this one and needs your help. Read on for Greg’s own words on how you can be part of it all.

A message from Greg:

I am hoping that you'll join me at Kickstarter to make a pledge, and if you can, spread the word to your circle of friends. I need all the support I can gather. The money is going towards the recording studio, engineering, mixing, mastering, artwork, CD manufacturing and of course the musicians. I am pretty fast in the studio, am writing now and will have ten original songs with which to go into the recording sessions. More than ever I have something to say and, having made three CDs on my own, have come as far as I can. If we are successful at Kickstarter I am planning a release date in the fall or early January. No pledge is too small!!

When someone makes a pledge with a credit card, it goes through the Amazon credit card services and is held there in an escrow account, and then, only if the project reaches its goal, will the credit card be charged. No one's pledge is publicly displayed. You may make a pledge for any dollar amount you want and in return select a reward of your choice.

At Kickstarter, if the financial goal is not attained the project does not get funded and all the money pledges are cancelled. In other words no one gets charged. It's an all or nothing deal!

If the goal is exceeded, we put the additional funds towards into making the CD even better! Maybe add real string players and even perhaps some promotional activities.

Thanks for checking out what I am doing at kickstarter.com. I want to make a CD with you and some history too!

The goal is $25,000 and with the deadline of August 10 at 4.56PM PST, rapidly approaching $15,866, i.e. 63% of the required total, has been pledged so far.

Here is the link to the fund raising platform at, www.kickstarter.com/projects/2065985585/join-greg-adams-and-east-bay-soul-20. Check it out and, if you can, please support this fantastic project.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:00 AM

July 23, 2011

Down To The Bone - The Main Ingredients

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.

Ever since 1997, when they burst onto the scene with the seminal Manhattan To Staten, Down To The Bone has been all about the groove. The brainchild of non musician Stuart Wade, Down To The Bone came out of the acid jazz movement that was prevalent in the UK during the early 90’s. In the intervening years, and with sax man Shilts at its centre, the band delivered a series of high octane albums but now (with Shilts away to pursue his solo career) DTTB are entering a new phase of what by any measure continues to be an interesting career. Recently signed to Trippin N Rhythm, the band’s latest offering is The Main Ingredients where the forte Wade has for using his production skills to bring alive his musical idea’s through a frequently changing group of ultra-talented performers is once more reaping rich dividends.

Talking of DTTB’s frequently changing personnel, The Main Ingredients finds the excellent Oli Silk playing keys and sharing writing credits on three of the tracks. Of these, the intensely rhythmic ‘Music Is The Key’ is underpinned by Wade’s luscious horn arrangements and also happens to be the first single to be serviced to radio while ‘South Side Overdrive’ finds the collective DTTB line-up at its ultra funky best. Silk is again on top form with the Latin tinged ‘Watch Me Fly’ that is brought alive by wonderful vocals from former Eurovision contestant Imaani and in similar vein is ‘Second Nature’ where her contribution is just as good. The song is co-written by Neil Angilley whose performance on keys really steals the show and his contribution is equally significant with the easy grooving ‘Uptown Hustle’ which is notable for more of DTTB’s trademark funk.

In this respect it is in the good company of ‘Cut And Run’ and, although the (relatively) relaxed yet totally mesmerising ‘Universal Vibe’ owes much to splendid bass from Julian Crampton, when Imaani returns for a third and final time the delightfully soulful ‘Closer’ proves to be one of the album’s standout tracks. That said, in terms of personal favourites the brass driven ‘Together We Stand’ is right up there. With the horn section of Tim Smart on trombone, trumpeter Ryan Jacob and sax-man Tom Richards making velvety magic, the whole tune sizzles in a way that perhaps only the music of DTTB can.

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 6:21 PM

June 23, 2011

Michael Franks - Time Together

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.

Michael Franks is unique. His mellifluous meanderings on life and the things he holds most dear never fail to enthrall and his latest (and 18th in total) album, the entirely delicious Time Together, is right up there with his best work. Not only is it Franks’ first release since the 2006 Rendezvous in Rio but also signals his debut on the excellent Shanachie label. As if to mark the event he has gathered some fine supporting musicians around him and amongst these both Eric Marienthal and Chuck Loeb play a significant part. In fact this sumptuous eleven song collection unfolds like a summer vacation for grown ups and there is little doubt that long after some of this years new music has come and gone Time Together will still be a firm favorite in the Secret Garden CD player.

The intensely personal nature of Time Together is revealed by the delightful ‘One Day In St. Tropez’ where Michael recounts a hitchhiking adventure through Europe during his college years and again with ‘Charlie Chan in Egypt’ that he uses to lay bare his thoughts on America's current foreign policies and it’s presence in other countries. That said this is far from being message over melody and both tracks shimmer with the distinctively restrained vibe for which he is famous. Much the same can be said for the zesty yet relaxing ‘Summer In New York’ whilst ‘Samba Blue’ proves to be a mellow gem that is enriched by backing vocals from the always superb Carmen Cuesta and wonderful contributions from Marienthal and Loeb.

Elsewhere, the title track (a tribute to his recently deceased dog) is nothing short of beauty personified while ‘My Heart Said Wow’ is notable in part for the input of touring band regulars Charles Blenzig on keys, Jay Anderson on bass, David Mann on sax and vocalist Veronica Nunn. ‘I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right’ proves to be a gentle treat and, although ‘Time Together’ concludes with the languidly rhythmic ‘Feathers From An Angel’s Wing’, in terms of personal highlights, the first single to be serviced to radio is the intoxicating ‘Now That The Summer’s Here’.

It again finds Marienthal and Loeb in sparkling form yet just as good is the completely dreamy ‘If I Could Make September Stay’. Reminiscent in mood of Franks’ sensational ‘How I Remember You’ (from the 1993 CD Dragonfly Summer) it checks every box imaginable yet just shading it as Secret Garden top track is the whimsical but totally beautiful ‘Mice’. Brought alive by the vibraphone of Mike Mainieri and sumptuous guitar from David Spinozza, this melodious tour de force will get in your head and not go away.

In common with some of the finest songwriters of what might be described as the ‘modern era’ Michael Franks possesses a unique gift for creating timeless masterpieces that combine eloquent literary imagery with picture perfect musical accents. Time Together is a consummate example of his art and comes highly recommended.

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 12:18 AM

May 29, 2011

Patrick Cooper - The Way It Used To Be

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. Described as a “throwback collection that puts a contemporary spin on vintage jazz funk” the latest album from keyboard player Patrick Cooper is the appropriately titled The Way It Used To Be. Indeed although achieving his goal of capturing the sound and spirit of music produced decades ago, Cooper has also used the project to show off his considerable skills as a performer, composer and producer. With a little help along the way from sax player Phillip ‘Doc’ Martin, bass-man Martin Dyson and vocalist Nehemiah Booker he has delivered a quality body of work that effortlessly builds a bridge between the present and what has gone before.

After growing up in Portland OR, Cooper changed locations and coast lines to make a home in Washington DC where his flourishing musical career found him in collaborations with the likes of Martin, Dyson, Jackiem Joyner, Marcus Johnson and Jaared. He has shared the stage with Nick Colionne, Michael Lington and Maysa to name only a few but now, with his second solo CD, Cooper is making a pitch for solo stardom.

Evoking those times when it was still necessary for contemporary jazz to be routinely edgy, the vintage vibe that permeates much of the collection is exemplified by ‘Struttn’. It’s the first single to be released to radio and the way the track blends classic jazz funk with what can only be described as smooth jazz sensibilities should ensure plentiful air-play.

Less smooth and more overtly funky is ‘It’s OK To Move’ and although Cooper takes a jazzy detour for the ultra cool ‘Side Steppn’ its when he turns to the delicious ‘Next 2 U’ that he finds a welcoming mid tempo vibe. The easy grooving ‘Come Sunday’ is another brassy and inviting number but as Cooper slides further into mellow mode he conjures up the sultry ‘Denise’ for which the luscious sax tones of Bryan Mills are right on the money. Clearly one of the album’s outstanding tunes it is in the fine company of the warm and brassy title cut where sax from Martin, bass from Dyson and some tremendous work by Cooper serves to really take you back.

However, just shading them both as Secret Garden top track is the languid urban groove of ‘I’m The Man’. Owing much to the wonderfully soulful vocals of Nehemiah Booker this is a song that will resonate equally with the BET generation is it will with those whose musical tastes are grounded in the past.

The Way It Used To Be will be released on July 12 and is well worth a look.

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 6:42 PM

May 22, 2011

Dee Lucas - Standing Room Only

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. Although released late in 2010 the current CD from saxophonist Dee Lucas is certainly worthy of comment. Titled Standing Room Only it follows on from his 2007 project Something To Ride 2 which at the time I described as being a superb example of cutting edge urban jazz and entirely in keeping with the smoky direction in which the genre is currently moving. Here, with production input from Phil Davis and Lee Hurst, he picks up right where Something To Ride 2 left off and in the process delivers a body of work as fresh as anything I have heard this year.


Atlanta born and based Lucas first came to prominence in 2004 with his debut offering Remembrance. His homage to the great George Howard, it was greeted with stunning reviews, garnered extensive airplay and paved the way for prominent engagements to open for artists such as Roy Ayers, Hugh Masakela, The Gap Band and Lalah Hathaway. His success was all the more remarkable for the fact that as a self taught musician he did not pick up the sax until the age of 28 but now, three albums in, he continues to go from strength to strength. In fact those discovering the music of Dee Lucas for the first time need look no further than the opening track of the new release, the easy grooving ‘Keep Knockin’. Not only is it delightful on the ear but also very much in keeping with what his playing is all about and much the same can be said of the mid tempo ‘Scorpio’ where fine flute from Nakayo and the zesty brass of Nelson Render really make a difference.

Dee slips into reflective mood for the tender ‘Tiffany’s World’ and although a shuffling jazzy intro heralds in the lively title cut, the languidly hypnotic ‘The Friday After’ quickly returns Lucas to a more tranquil groove. Composed by Phil Davis the tune also benefits from the cool trumpet of Cedric Young while elsewhere ‘Shadow In The Dark’ serves as a classic example of ‘in the pocket’ contemporary jazz. Clearly up there with the collection’s best it is in the good company of both the heavily urban ‘Stressing’ and the massively seductive ‘Don’t Go’. Already a firm Secret Garden favourite, this latter number proves to be the perfect vehicle for Dee’s mellow playing and is added to by sexy vocals from Tamar Lucas.

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 9:33 PM

May 17, 2011

Westbound - Gone For A Walk

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. Italian contemporary jazz outfit Westbound is actually the exquisite pairing of Cristian Rocco and Enrico Catena. Their latest project is the predominately mellow Gone For A Walk which finds Rocco providing eleven all new compositions to complement his fine work on guitars and keys. Catena is his usual tight self on drums and percussion yet the album also affords a platform for stellar performances by some great guest artists. One such collaborator is the superb Roberto Vally who has played extensively with Paul Brown and is the bass player of choice for Bobby Caldwell. He is featured on five of the twelve choice tracks and for one of them is joined by smooth jazz superstar Rick Braun. Recorded in Italy, the result is an excellent addition to this year’s crop of new music and an end to the myth that great smooth jazz is the exclusive province of the USA.

Gone For A Walk opens up with the ultra cool ‘Here I Am’ where a catchy hook proves to be a perfect device to get the show started. Elsewhere, the CD’s only cover is a relaxed instrumental version of Al Green’s seminal ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and although it checks all the right boxes the real magic comes courtesy of Rocco’s own music. A fine example of this is ‘Soul To Soul’ (where Rocco is reminiscent of Nils at his best) and another is ‘Hollywood Nocturne’ which glides along on a smooth guitar driven haze and enjoys the added benefit of a terrific piano solo from Lino Sabbadino.

‘Baker Street’ is not under any circumstances to be confused with the Jerry Rafferty classic of the same name and is in fact another slice of contemporary jazz at its compelling best. Indeed ‘compelling’ could well be a metaphor for the whole collection and is perfectly exemplified by the sultry groove of ‘The Big Chill’ and the delicious ‘Night Dance’. Both are in total contrast to the sunshine filled but equally pleasing ‘Baha’ while sunshine of a different kind comes courtesy of the feel good factor provided by ‘A Little Less’.

The title cut, with Braun’s moody trumpet and solid bass from Vally, is likely to grab the attention but truth to tell right up with there with it is the wonderfully happy vibe of ‘Globetrotter’. Already evolving into a real Secret Garden favourite this is a tune that is likely to play and play but just as good is ‘Babalu’ where an edgy streetwise intro paves a way to what is a totally ‘in the pocket’ delight.

Gone For A Walk is out now, comes recommended and is available at www.cdbaby.com.

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 9:18 PM

April 16, 2011

Boney James - Contact

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. Over a succession of outstanding albums, Boney James has differentiated himself not only by his penchant for sumptuous sensual melody but also for his collaborations with some of the hottest R & B performers around. His latest CD, Contact (which was released on March 28) delivers on both counts and, in so doing, confirms Boney is the undisputed master of urban contemporary jazz.

Much of the early buzz surrounding Contact has been all about the title cut which also happens to be the first single serviced to radio. Velvety and horn driven it’s a number that shimmers with Boney’s hallmark playing but in terms of the instrumental tracks that this fine collection contains both the contemplative ‘Cry’ and the equally thoughtful ‘Deep Time’ capture to perfection the essence of what Boney James is all about. Elsewhere, ‘There And Back’ is a weighty, heartfelt tune, supercharged with emotion, and although Boney slips back into reflective mode for the tender ‘Everything Matters’, the infectious rhythm of ‘Spin’ provides the ideal backdrop for more of his deliciously understated playing.

Moving much closer to the R & B that Boney so obviously loves, the haunting lilt of ‘Close To You’ includes excellent vocals from Donell Jones while when James calls upon former Destiny’s Child mainstay LeToya Luckett she adds hugely to the wistful yet soul drenched ‘When I Had The Chance’. The performance of Heather Headley on ‘I’m Waiting’ is right on the urban money but as for personal favorites there is nothing to surpass the dance orientated ‘That Look On Your Face’. With dazzling vocals from Mario, a thumping beat and fabulous sax from Boney, this one is sure to play and play.

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 7:40 PM

March 22, 2011

Rod Kelley - Mama's Boy

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. The multi talented Rod Kelley never forgot what his mother told him, that he could be “anything he wanted to be”. It inspired him to make music, and years later, with Barack Obama elected to the United States Presidency, he is reminded that his mom's words were true.

Annie Ruth Wise Kelley loved the music of the day, the soul of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Otis Redding and James Brown, music that propelled a whole generation of artists to a position in American society which, before the advent of popular music culture, could never have been possible. Indeed it is interesting to speculate how James Brown, if he had been alive to witness Obama’s inauguration, might have put his own musical spin on the new found feeling of ‘living in America’. With his latest CD, Mama’s Boy, Rod reflects all of this and in so doing includes music that he believes would have made his mother proud. Not only that, the recording pays generous tribute to her and sends out a beacon of inspiration to those who in their own lives have been held back through fear or doubt.

Rod has huge love and respect for what he describes as ‘the mother of lands,’ Africa, and of his ancestry as an African American. He opens Mama’s Boy with the languid, easy grooving ‘Moments’ that he co-writes with long time collaborator Todd Bethel. It shimmers with the African rhythms that he holds so dear and carries the message that we should savor every precious moment that life presents to us. This is a premise that Rod returns to often and underpins many of the beliefs that he formed while still a boy. Rod’s happily grooving and retro tinged ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ leads snuggly into his cover of Michael McDonald’s ‘Taking It To the Streets’ which he not only infuses with a wonderful gospel warmth but also uses as a commentary on his formative years when growing up in the ‘Projects’ of Bowen Homes, Atlanta, GA. These were times when community spirit was everything and Rod still cherishes the recollection of hearing Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. speak during one of his many visits to the city.

Of course Dr King’s dream did come true and with ‘POTUS, the 44th’ , Kelley, with the help of an edgy rap from Joel “Profit” Kelley, tips a funky hat to Barrack Obama and the new hope he has given to millions.

The album’s central theme is spectacularly brought to mind by the spine tingling ‘Mothers Love’ where vocals from Tawana Lael work to perfection and Kelley further respects the memory of his late mother with the sumptuous ‘I See The Look In Your Eyes’ which, courtesy of his own velvety vocal, proves to be an authentic slice of nostalgia laden, old school soul.

Rod’s mother passed away when he was only ten years old. She was a gospel recording artist with the group Souls of Faith and Rod is certain that if she had lived she would have gone on to become the Queen of Soul. Consequently, it is no surprise that Kelley finds space for a song from the proclaimed Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. ‘Natural Woman’ is delivered with an understated swagger, the addition of fabulous sax from Karen Green plus the stunning backing vocals of Maria Kelley, Symone Kelley & Stewart Gardner which combine to make it feel brand new. In a way it sums up the groove of the entire collection and much the same can be said about the incredibly tight ‘Fat Chance’ which demonstrates that special knack Kelley has for playing contemporary urban jazz that can look back whilst remaining totally current.

Rod’s valve trombone driven ‘Sexy Bone (My Little Groove)’ serves as a short but extremely rhythmic transitional track and when it is reprised as ‘Tickle These (My Little Groove)’ his switch from trombone to keyboards represents how, over the years, his focus has changed from one instrument to the other. Both stand alone as mini masterpieces and as the album concludes with a great version of Quincy Jones’ ‘The Streetbeater’ (aka the theme from Sanford & Son) there can be no question, Rod’s Mama really would have loved it.

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 7:43 PM

March 9, 2011

San Diego's Anthology To Host Stunning Smooth Jazz Showcase

From the wreckage of the failed Oasis Contemporary Jazz Awards, good things are beginning to flow. The special music showcase featuring the combined talents of Jarred, Greg Manning and Vincent Ingala has been switched from the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego to the wonderful Anthology on India Street where it will take place on Saturday March 12 from noon until 4-00 PM. Anthology is southern California?s preeminent music venue and, in addition to these three original artists, event organiser Bruce Nazarian tells me that guitarist Brad Rambur plus at least six more stars of smooth jazz are expected to perform.

This will not only be a spectacular show in a stunning setting but will also provide the perfect antidote to the disappointment of the failed Oasis promotion.

Surprises are definitely on the cards so with time running out go to http://TDG2010.eventbrite.com and reserve your place now. This is not a free event but with a donation of $20 you will receive a complementary copy of the brand new compilation CD The Digital Guy's Outstanding Tracks Of 2010.

The album is a compilation of the very best music played over the last twelve months on Bruce Nazarian's Digital Guy Radio Show and as well as featuring tracks from Manning, Ingala and Jaared, the collection includes tunes from, among others, Dave Koz. Part of the proceeds from the sale of every CD will go to benefit school music programs in the Californian cities of Glendale and Burbank. The underlying plan is to extend this support to other parts of the USA and The Digital Guy Foundation has been set up to help make this happen.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:10 AM

February 27, 2011

Vincent Ingala - North End Soul

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. Under any circumstances the CD North End Soul from the multi talented Vincent Ingala would be considered as an outstanding piece of work. However, given that at the time of its release Vincent was only seventeen years old, this classy collection can truly be regarded as little short of remarkable. The album derives its title from the North End of Waterbury, CT where many of Vincent’s family members grew up listening to the funk, R & B and soul of the day. With North End Soul he has embraced these old school sensibilities in a way that belies his years and in so doing conjures up what can only be described as a complete gem.

The mood of the entire piece is summed up by the opening ‘Vintage Vibe’ for which the title says it all. Here, Ingala’s cool playing is reminiscent of Euge Groove at his very best and elsewhere he uses the sultrily compelling ‘Night Flight’ to further demonstrate the penchant he has for infectious ‘radio-ready’ contemporary jazz. Later, when Ingala switches to keys for the sumptuously ‘in the pocket’ ‘Free To Groove’, he delivers what might arguably be the albums best track yet amongst this, and five other of his own original compositions, are also three exceptionally crafted covers.

The first of these is a delightfully fresh interpretation of that Junior Walker staple ‘What Does It Take’ where, between snippets of his own vocals, Vincent blows up a considerable storm on sax. His take on The Moments much overlooked but nevertheless wonderful classic ‘Look At Me (I’m In Love)’ is every bit as good and a personal favourite is Ingala’s stunning version of the MFSB blockbuster ‘K-Jee’. Although retaining the brassy swagger of the original, Vincent skilfully bestows the tune with a fabulous drum and bass induced club vibe that is right on the money

Ingala notches down the tempo for the chill influenced ‘Lost In You’ whilst it is the sax driven ‘It Is What It Is’ that proves to be a slice text book smooth jazz at its finest. More of the amazing same comes in the form of ‘Midnight Pass’ and, with Vincent playing all instruments and producing throughout, North End Soul is indeed a superb showcase for his burgeoning talents.

For more news on Vincent Ingala go to www.vincentingala.com

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 3:35 PM

January 29, 2011

The Rippingtons - ‘Cote D’Azur’

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. After many excursions to France, and train trips from Paris to the Cote D’Azur, Rippingtons leader Russ Freeman felt music stirring inside him. Now this artistic outpouring has manifested itself in the band’s latest (and eighteenth) offering, Cote D’Azur, which takes its name from that sublime region of the French Riviera and is due for release on February 1. In fact Freeman’s extensive travels to this unique coastline have, in the main, been made in the company of his wife Yaredt Leon and although the influence of Freeman on Cote D’Azur is front back and centre it is Leon who co-writes the high energy title track and the closing number ‘Mesmerized’ with him. More exotic and deeper than any project that Freeman has previously written or produced, every one of the ten all original compositions are far more than a simple travelogue, they are from the heart.

Heralded in on an almost European style dance beat, Cote D’Azur is dramatically up and running with the lively title cut that quickly hits a typically intense Rippingtons stride. Rhythmic and inviting it is in delicious contrast to ‘Provence’ which is afforded a whole new dimension by superb keys from Bill Heller and smoothly evolves into what can only be described as a reflective charmer. The familiar Rippingtons line-up is completed by Rico Belled on bass, drummer Dave Karasony and notably Jeff Kashiwa whose vibrant sax is a feature of the upbeat ‘Riviera Jam’. It’s the sort of inspiring tune for which this classy collective has become famous and whilst ‘Le Calypso’ proves to be another slice of vintage Rippingtons, ‘Rue Paradis’ takes the band into unfamiliar chill territory where paradoxically they appear totally at home.

Elsewhere, the Moorish influences that have endured on this coast of France for centuries are captured to perfection with the North African overtones of ‘Bandol’ and again with the complex ‘Passage To Marseilles’. In fact the love Freeman has for this unique part of the Mediterranean shines through in every note and this is particularly so with the warmly evocative ‘Sainte Maxime’. In fact sumptuous understated melodies are a feature of the entire collection and as the tempo slows for the magically restrained ‘Postcard From Cannes’ all that remains is for the album to glide to a tranquil finale with the beautiful ‘Mesmerized’ which conjures up vivid images of a golden sun sinking beneath a shimmering horizon.

With Cote D’Azur Freeman has painted a stunning musical picture that reveals a very different Rippingtons and one that is sure to enthrall fans both new and old.

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.

In celebration of The Rippingtons' latest album Cote D'Azur, Peak and Concord Music Group are giving away a Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest Superfan Package!

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:27 PM

January 17, 2011

Paul Hardcastle - Desire

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. With Valentines Day right around the corner there could be no better time for Paul Hardcastle to release what has already been described as his most seductive recording yet. In fact Desire, which will hit the streets on February 14, is partly a response to the numerous requests he has received to release a compilation of his favourite slow tracks. However one of Paul’s gifts is his ability to surprise and even those of his fans who are entirety familiar with what is now a considerable discography will surely be captivated by the riches on offer.

In fact the title cut from Desire actually comes from his 2002 recording Hardcastle III. It sets the zone for what is to follow and as Hardcastle continues to raid his back catalogue, he bookends his ‘Jazzmasters series’ with the timeless ‘Lost Summer’ from the 1991 album Jazzmasters 1 and the sumptuous ‘Cloud Watching’ from his 2010 project Jazzmasters 6.

Jazzmasters II and Jazzmasters III are revisited for ‘Wonderland’ and ‘Lost In Space’ respectively while the parallel ‘Hardcastle series’ is also remembered both with ‘Forever Dreamin’ from his 1994 offering Hardcastle 1 and ‘Closer’ that can be found on the 2008 CD Hardcastle 5.

Given Paul Hardcastle’s consummate skill as a producer and mixer it is hardly surprising that each and every one of these tracks gel together seamlessly. However, that said, this is far from being simply a collection of ‘oldies’. The aptly titled ‘Valentine’ was written by Hardcastle specifically for the Desires album and features vocals from daughter Maxine. For all the world it looks to be a sure fire radio hit and with her appearance on Nate Harasim’s current single ‘Different Kind Of Love’ Maxine Hardcastle is really going places. She is also to the fore with the addictive ‘Smooth Jazz Is Bumpin’ from the splendid 2005 release Hardcastle 4 and with ‘Same Place Same Time’ Paul comes up with a real piece of buried treasure. Taken from his lesser known vehicle ‘Kiss The Sky’ it features the superb Jaki Graham on vocals and in every respect is a real keeper.

Much the same can be said of the immensely soulful ‘Ready Or Not’ that Hardcastle wrote back in the early nineties but which was never released. Here, with co-writer Steven Dante on vocals, the result is something very special and as Hardcastle utilises his ‘Ibiza Chill’ mix of ‘Don’t You Know’ to draw the collection to a chilled out conclusion, there can be no doubt, this could well be the most seductive CD ever made.

Desire is out on the excellent Trippin’ N Rhythm label. For more news go to www.trippinrecords.com

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 4:25 AM

December 17, 2010

Hart Ramsey - Charge It To My Heart

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. 2010 has provided some wonderful contemporary jazz surprises and none more so than the stunning debut recording from producer, keyboardist, engineer, and songwriter Hart Ramsey. Titled Charge It To My Heart and featuring guest performances from Eric Essix, Phil Davis, Kelley O'Neal and Rick Watford, it’s emergence as one of the hottest releases of the year is perhaps all the more surprising 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. However, although the collection does have a slight gospel tinge, it differentiates itself not with any sacred element but by the quality of the music which in terms of contemporary jazz is as good as anything currently on offer.

Ramsey explains the origin of the CD’s twelve all original compositions as songs he has written over the years with melodies that have touched his heart. The selection includes several cuts with all the attributes necessary to stand the test of time and one such number is the hauntingly beautiful ‘Longing’ (included in both instrumental and ‘introspective’ form) where Ramsey’s cool keys grab the plaudits. It is right up there with the album’s best and, in this respect, is in the excellent company of the distinctly hip ‘Something New’ that features Phil Davis on keyboards. Just as good is the tight, in the pocket, ‘What About Love’ where the interplay between Ramsey and sax-man Kelley O’Neal is nothing short of magical. However, that said, a real personal favorite is the high octane ‘Centerpiece’. This upbeat sensation includes more great sax from co-writer O’Neal, Ramsey at his impressive best and a fabulous guitar solo from Eric Essix who over the years has enjoyed solo smooth jazz hits with tunes such as ‘For Real’ and ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’.

The combination of these three players’ works to perfection and on other tracks is replicated several times. They are again to the fore with ‘Be Attitude’ which proves to be a swaggering slice of mid tempo smooth jazz and when Essix gives way to the equally impressive Rick Watford for the decidedly edgy ‘Keep Showing Up’, his rock inspired guitar solo steals the show. Watford also comes up big on the easy paced ‘Archangel’ where a more melodic approach coupled with a shuffling backbeat makes this one a real gem but when Essix steps up for ‘Prey Before You Go’ he takes center stage for what can best described as a restrained charmer.

Robert Moe’s inspirational vocal provides a velvety backdrop to the shimmering ‘Be Who You Make Me Be’ where Ramsey on keys is top notch and he confirms his gospel roots with the uplifting ‘You Are My Life’. It is a great example of how sacred music can also be entirely current and when O’Neal makes a welcome return he adds hugely to the chilled out ‘Fitly Joined Together’ before ruffling the aura surrounding the sparse yet beautiful ‘I Found In You’ with some timely sax interventions.

Charge It to My Heart is out now on N-Coded Music and is a total delight.

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 4:49 PM

November 25, 2010

Gabriel - Told Ya So

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. Horn player Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, aka Gabriel, has joined forces with Jeff Lorber, Paul Brown, Marc Antoine and Darren Rahn for his brand new release Told Ya So. Predictably, the result is something quite special. Gabriel co-writes twelve of the songs with Miles Black (who plays keyboards, bass and guitar on each of them) another with Lorber and the collection is rounded off by the addition of one superb cover. Indeed the project brims with understated magnificence and has already garnered a nomination in the category ‘Album of the Year’ at the upcoming Wave Awards that will be held on April 29, 2011 in Ontario Canada. In addition it has led to Gabriel being nominated as Instrumentalist of the Year at the same event but, awards ceremonies notwithstanding, the legacy of Told Ya So will surely be in the quality of its music.

The restrained nature of the entire piece is a wonderful plus and is exemplified by a haunting version of the Temptations blockbuster ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. Its positioning as the opening track really sets a mood that is replicated often and none more so than with the beguiling ‘Azure Moon’ for which Black on keys is excellent.

‘Told Ya So’ was produced by the pairing of Gabriel and Miles Black while Gabriel also had a hand in mixing, this time in partnership with the acclaimed Paul Brown. In fact Brown plays guitar on the easy grooving ‘Equate Her’ where his interplay with Gabriel is terrific. Undoubtedly one of the album’s best tunes it is in the good company of ‘Releasing’ where the input of rising star Darren Rahn on tenor sax adds hugely to this sultry cut.

‘Haranara’ proves to be a textbook example of mid tempo smooth jazz that shows every sign of becoming seriously addictive and when Gabriel is joined by Jeff Lorber for the controlled yet edgy ‘Rockin The Ribjoint’ it allows him to demonstrate his collective prowess on trombone, trumpet and flute. Truth to tell Gabriel multi tasks throughout and for ‘Beyond The Stars’ adds flugelhorn to his impressive repertoire. This turned down charmer says much about what ‘Told Ya So’ is all about and although ‘Peace Song’ has a light reggae infusion it remains completely in keeping with the album’s overall tranquil vibe.

The CD’s one vocal number is ‘How Long Is Forever’ which finds the soulful tones of Amanda Wood being perfectly complemented by Gabriel’s Latin tinged trumpet and although he takes a detour into jazz fusion for ‘The Road Less Travelled’ he is quickly back on mellow message for ‘That Look In Your Eyes’ which exudes a romantically smoky aura.

On those occasions when Gabriel does notch up the tempo the effect is as delightful as it is surprising. This is particularly so with the jazzy ‘Shake It Down’ where Rock Hendricks on sax makes a notable contribution but it when Gabriel slips back into reflective mode that ‘Told Ya So’ really delivers. The magically introspective ‘In Santo Quala’ features some truly beautiful playing from guitar maestro Marc Antoine but just shading it as S top track is the deconstructed but totally hypnotic ‘Pastels’. With Gabriel and Miles Black again sharing the honors, chilled out contemporary jazz doesn’t come better than this.

Told Ya So is a worthy addition to Gabriel’s already considerable discography and even though he has enjoyed protracted solo success in both Asia and Canada, it looks likely to elevate him to smooth jazz stardom.

For more go to www.gabrieljazz.com

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 10:50 AM

November 7, 2010

Shilts - Going Underground

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. Bringing back the funk has been a common theme for a whole crop of recent contemporary jazz releases but in the case of high octane sax player Shilts the funk has never really gone away. With a style which in the most part has been characterized by the big funky sound of Down To The Bone (with whom he enjoyed a long and successful association) he has been painstakingly building a solo career which started out in 2001 with See What Happens and gained momentum in 2006 with Head Boppin’. The added sophistication that came courtesy of his 2008 project, Jigsaw Life clearly demonstrated his rapidly growing musical maturity and now he is back with the excellent Going Underground. As with previous ventures Shilts calls upon some of the best musicians around to lend a hand and is variously backed by the powerhouse combination of Bill Steinway, Randy Jacobs, Nate Phillips, Jon Gilutin and Jervonny Collier.

The fact Shilts hails from London, England is betrayed not only by the ‘subway’ themed title of the new CD but also by the names of several of the tracks. Indeed he has been playing saxophone since his early teens and at the age of 15 he was asked to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain. While with them gained experience by supporting such great jazz stars as Nancy Wilson, Buddy Greco, Rosemary Clooney, George Shearing and Mel Torme.

A professional musician by the age of 16, Paul was soon working in nightclubs and backing the likes of Rose Royce, The Temptations, Four Tops, and The Drifters. Refreshed from a travel spree that saw him work in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean he firmly established himself on the London session scene where he recorded with artists that included David Bowie, Jimmy Paige, Bill Wyman and Lulu. He hooked up with UK pop band Breathe who went on to have a sequence of top 10 hits in the USA but Shilts never lost sight of his love for jazz. He co-formed System X with five other like-minded London session musicians and this different kind of exposure led to him being noticed for his soulful, funky saxophone style. He joined British Acid Jazz group The Brand New Heavies in 1994 and stayed with them for six years. In 1995 he took time out to tour with chart toppers Jamiroquai but it was during his time with the Heavies that Shilts met keyboard player Neil Cowley. That in turn led to an introduction to Chris J Morgans at Internal Bass and Stuart Wade, who was then and is now, the creative force behind Down To The Bone. Chris and Stuart asked Paul to form and front the live incarnation of DTTB with the result that Shilts become the face of the DTTB live band and a budding solo artist in his own right.

Although Shilts writes or co-writes eight of the nine choice tracks it is the album’s only cover, a high powered rendition of the Brecker Brothers ‘Sneakin Up Behind You’, that perhaps best sums up the overall vibe of Going Underground. It finds Shilts very much in ‘Down To The Bone mode’ with all that entails and is particularly noticeable with ‘Lambeth Strut’ that includes a handsome guitar solo from Nick Colionne. ‘Standing Room Only’ is of a similarly feisty disposition and, although ‘Uncontainable’ is another strident horn driven number, the rhythmic ‘Tunnel Vision’ opens out into a superb showcase for Shilt’s thrusting sax.

The easy grooving ‘5 O’Clock In Rio’ gives Shilts the opportunity to notch down the intensity that characterise much of the collection. Notable both for its smooth Latin groove, Marc Antoine’s input on guitars and a wonderful piano solo from Brian Simpson this is a track that is right up there with the albums best while elsewhere Shilts remains in restrained mode for the mid tempo ‘Seeing Things Clearly’.

The nostalgia that drips from every note of the retro tinged ‘Eyes Down’ owes much to Steinway’s contribution on Fender Rhodes and he again provides a significant input, this time on piano, for the jazzily mid tempo ‘Hip Bop’ for which Rick Braun on trumpet also features.

All things considered, Going Underground is a worthy addition to Shilts already formidable discography and is well worth checking out.

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 2:43 PM

October 19, 2010

Special EFX - Without You

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. Despite his award winning contributions to the world of television and film, guitarist, composer and arranger Chieli Minucci has (with the exception of a brief period in the late nineties) been synonymous with the evolution of jazz fusion band Special EFX. In fact it was back in 1982 when the multi talented Minucci co-founded Special EFX with percussionist George Jinda. They released the bands eponymous debut CD in 1984 yet despite artistic differences, and Jinda’s untimely death in 2001, the impact of this Grammy nominated collective on the evolution of smooth jazz remains nothing short of immense. In the course of a phenomenal musical journey Special EFX has released 25 albums, including Minucci’s eight solo offerings, and a live concert DVD. Along the way contemporary jazz has been blessed with unforgettable songs such as ‘Daybreak’, ‘Cruise Control’, ‘Bella’ and ‘Seduction’. Now Minucci has just released the band’s 25th anniversary double CD, Without You.

This diverse collection of jazz-fusion and Latin rhythms is notable on many levels and has been brought alive not only by the free flowing guitar artistry for which Minucci is best known for but also by input from original Special EFX favorites such as drummer Lionel Cordew, bassist Jerry Brooks and keyboard player Jay Rowe. Not only that, this stellar lineup is complemented by the abundant talents of Jeff Lorber, Lao Tizer, Karen Briggs, bass player Dave Anderson and violinist Alan Grubner.

Talking of great performances, the song ‘Love’s Lost in Translation’ showcases the silky vocal tones of Philip Hamilton while long time fans of Special EFX will quickly pick up on the fact that ‘The Night Is Ours’ is a completely re-written version of the band’s 1984 signature song ‘Sambuca Nights’. Another throwback comes in the form of ‘Hushabye’ that was originally released as the instrumental ‘Sweet Surrender’ but which here is transformed by Will Brock’s soulful vocals. For aficionados of George Jinda the tune ‘Man With A Drum’ wonderfully captures the original percussion sounds of the great man and guest keyboard player Lao Tizer brings his own powerful vibe to the tracks ‘Bacchanalia’ and ‘Afterglow’.

In fact Minucci discovered Tizer when he was only 19 years old and has been collaborating with him ever since. In this respect the most recent occurrence has been with the trio ‘Tizer’ that also includes mega talented violinist Karen Briggs. She is also included on the ‘Without You’ roster and brings her own special magic to the tunes ‘Lakeside’ and ‘Wonderboy’.

That said, in terms of personal favorites, there is nothing to surpass Minucci’s breathtaking transformation of the 1992 tune ‘Make Me Smile’ into the easy grooving ‘You Make Me Blue’. The original version was recorded during the period when Special EFX was first experimenting with the smooth jazz format and this sumptuous reworking (which benefits from superb violin from Grubner) is a total delight. Later, when the number is reprised as the smoothed out ‘You Make Me’ the result is just as good.

Elsewhere, Jeff Lorber injects his own particular jazz flavorings into ‘Mountina Jameroon’ and in the final analysis ‘Without You’ showcases to perfection the band’s special gift for combining flawless technique with remarkable passion.

For more go to www.chielimusic.com

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 8:11 PM

September 25, 2010

Dave Koz - Hello Tomorrow

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. A new CD from smooth jazz superstar Dave Koz is the highlight of any musical year and the fact Hello Tomorrow is his first collection of original music since 2003 has only served to heighten the excitement which surrounds it. In reality this is a body of work that for Dave represents a fresh start in almost every way. Recently signed to Concord Records and with Grammy award winning producers Marcus Miller and John Burk on board, he has delivered an album that not only raises the bar but also embraces a whole new musical concept.

There are many things to commend the memorable Hello Tomorrow and among them is how Koz has gathered together a stellar group of guest artists on a scale that, with the possible exception of Brian Culbertson’s recent work, is unparalleled in the genre. Koz recently debuted the breezy lead single, ‘Put The Top Down’ on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno when he sat in with Rickey Minor and The Tonight Show Band. Underpinned by the message that “it’s OK to have fun too” the track includes great performances from guitarists Lee Ritenour and Ray Parker Jr. In fact it is one of five tunes written by Koz in partnership with the prolific Brian Culbertson and another is the spine chillingly beautiful ‘It’s Always Been You’ which is blessed by the smooth guitar of Paul Jackson Jr and percussion from Sheila E.

Culbertson returns to provide writing and performing inputs to the delightfully mid tempo ‘Anything’s Possible’ and although ‘The Journey’ affords Koz the opportunity to ease things down he is quickly back on fire with ‘Getaway’. Complete with a wonderful vocal chorus from Jonathan Butler and Sheila E this is a tune that is as infectious as they come. Feel good music really doesn’t get better than this.

Talking about a happy vibe there can be none more so than that generated by the zesty ‘Think Big’ where Culbertson again plays a part. However, in terms of these sumptuous Koz – Culbertson collaborations there is nothing finer than ‘There’s A Better Way’ which owes much to earthy sax from Koz, a cool vocal from Keb Mo and Hammond B3 from Bobby Sparks that, as they say, really takes you back.

‘Start All Over Again’ has all the attributes of a song that might be played over the title credits of a Hollywood film and given it is written (and features vocals) by Dana Glover this is hardly surprising. Indeed, having previously written music for the movies ‘The Wedding Planner’, ‘Shrek’, ‘Two Weeks Notice’ and ‘Laws Of Attraction’, she provides something here that is both pleasing and different. Elsewhere the silky rendition of the Bacharach - David classic ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ proves to be something of a first in that it enables Koz (for the first time ever) to exercise what is revealed as an excellent singing voice. Lynne Fiddmont is predictably magical on backing vocals whilst there is a real treat when none other than Herb Alpert steps up to play the memorable melody that made this great tune famous.

Truth to tell, legends abound. Jeff Lorber is well known for delivering contemporary jazz with an edge and this is exactly what he does when sharing production and playing keyboards on the splendidly uplifting ‘Remember Where You Came From’. Co-written by Lorber and enriched by a wonderfully brassy veneer it is right up there with the collection’s best while in terms of personal favorites there is much from which to choose. However, a real attention grabber is ‘When Will I Know For Sure’ which finds Koz sharing the spotlight with Boney James. With creative contributions from Darren Rahn and Nate Harisam, bass from Marcus Miller and keys from the always excellent Dave Delhomme, this one seems destined for great things yet just as good is ‘Whisper In Your Ear’. Without doubt the album’s most sensual cut, and with Koz perfectly teamed with Paul Jackson Jr on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass and co-writer Harvey Mason Jr on keys, it may well be a vehicle for what could easily be the world’s greatest smooth jazz super-group of all time.

With a nod to Wayman Tisdale and former Concord executive Hal Gaba (who both sadly passed away in the last year) ‘What You Leave Behind’ is a reflective but totally appropriate end to what in every respect is a magnificent CD. It will be released on October 12 and comes highly recommended.

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 4:25 PM

September 19, 2010

Cal Harris Jr - Inside Out

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. Inside Out by Phoenix based keyboard player Cal Harris Jr has been ten years in the making yet the vibe that this hugely accessible eleven track gem generates makes the wait entirely worthwhile. Not only that, with contributions from the likes of bass player Freddie Washington, guitarist Matt Marshak and drummer Michael White, this fine collection of all original music has the red thread of quality running right through it.

The son of Grammy-nominated sound engineer Calvin Harris, young Cal grew up wandering the halls of the renowned Motown Studios in Los Angeles. The influences he gained there must have been significant as Cal was quickly following in his fathers footsteps to a career as a sought after recording engineer, programmer, and keyboard player. Not only did it lead to work with artists such as Earth Wind & Fire, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, Whitney Houston, and Beyonce but also contributed to what became a lifetime of priceless industry know-how. It is these experiences combined with Cal’s talent for composition that differentiates ‘Inside Out’ from the crowd.

By and large the music of Cal Harris Jr. can be best described as deliciously understated and certainly the beautifully constructed ‘Millennium Blues’ suggests something akin to instrumental ‘quiet storm’. In similar vein is the warmly inviting ‘Hidden’ which further confirms the penchant Cal has for thoughtful turned-down grooves and this same sublime tranquility is also evident with the haunting ‘Secrets’.

Two musical interludes, each around one minute in duration, serve to add variation to what is an already rich landscape and although ‘Soon As I Get Home’ is another reflective gem, it is great sax from Harold Todd that sets the scene for the brief ‘High Tide’ which takes Harris Jr. firmly into chill territory.

Elsewhere the easy grooving ‘She Loves The Water’ proves to be a delightfully innovative slice of mid tempo contemporary jazz and in this respect is in the good company of the zesty title tune that is right up there with the album’s best. In complete contrast whilst equally good is the brass driven swagger of ‘Jukin’ that owes much to more terrific sax from Todd but the real show stealer is arguably the soul drenched ‘Questions’. With sensational vocals from Tiarra this seductive cut is quite simply a top notch example of smooth R & B.

For more on this great new release, and to buy it via iTunes, go to www.calharrisjr.com

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 11:26 AM

August 28, 2010

George Duke - Deja Vu

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. When George Duke released his 2008 album, Dukey Treats, it marked a return to the funk driven energy that made him a platinum-selling artist and commercial superstar. Duke stays with this theme for the brand new Déjà Vu which revisits the synthesizer sound that characterized his most memorable recordings. Although in comparison to its predecessor the CD features several more straight-ahead and contemporary influences, it nevertheless delivers a collection that will prove to be a ‘must have’ for George Duke fans everywhere.

The ability Duke has to call upon a wide range of supporting artists befits an industry legend who has been writing, producing and making music since the late sixties. For Déjà Vu he enlists the vocal magic of Lynne Fiddmont who enriches the Brazilian flavored ‘A Melody’ as only she can and the tune is further enhanced by great guitar from Paul Jackson Jr. Later, when Duke uses ‘Ripple in Time’ to honor the memory of Miles Davis, it is Oscar Brashear on trumpet who makes a significant contribution. Sax-man Everette Harp is also involved and he returns for the moody ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’ that despite smoky beginnings quickly erupts into a jazz drenched frenzy.

A delightful glimpse of Duke at his mellow best comes courtesy of the tranquil ‘Bring Me Joy’ while in similar vein is the stunningly wistful ‘Come To Me Now’. Clearly one of the album’s top tracks it is in the company of another Secret Garden favorite, the sensational ‘6 O’clock Revisited’. This terrific re-imagining of the classic ‘6 O’clock’ which first appeared on his 1992 project ‘Snapshot’ is brought entirely up to date by a distinctly urban groove and fresh vocals provided by Duke’s son Rashid. Quite simply it is among the best cuts of the year so far.

For more go to www.georgeduke.com

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 6:45 PM

August 21, 2010

Incognito - Transatlantic RPM

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. Attention all ‘old schoolers’ everywhere. Almost thirty years after the legendary Incognito made its debut with the album Jazz Funk, leader Bluey Maunick has reached back to the inspirations he originally took from 1970’s jazz, funk and fusion. The result is the stunning new release Transatlantic R.P.M which, with fifteen all new Maunick compositions (plus one sensational cover), captures to perfection the vibe of an age that, for many, was magical.

Incognito has become synonymous with the movement that started out in the UK as acid jazz and with Transatlantic R.P.M much of what makes the band unique remains evident. However, by enlisting the services of guest performers such as the iconic Chaka Khan and Motown legend Leon Ware, Maunick has engendered a feel that although unashamedly and soulfully retro still feels refreshingly new. This is particularly so with the track ‘Gotta’ that finds the band in collaboration with Philadelphia’s melodic spoken word artist Ursula Rucker. With an intensity that is tangible this is a tune which is already attracting attention and another is a sumptuous cover of the Boz Scaggs classic ‘Lowdown’. In the capable hands of Chaka Khan, Mario Biondi and Stuart Zender, it has a ‘wow’ factor that is off the scale whilst when Chaka Khan returns for easy grooving ‘The Song’ the Latin infused outcome is a total delight.

The silky ‘Make Room For Love’ owes much to the soulful tones of Tony Momrelle and he is in equally fine form for the jazz tinged ‘Tell Me What To Do’. It’s a cut that places the band closer to the often sophisticated, sometimes complex, but always compelling music with which its name was made and in this same vein are songs such as ‘Expresso Madureria’ and ‘Life Ain’t Nothing But A Good Thing’ where classic Incognito style keyboards are in the capable hands of Matt Cooper. Elsewhere the heavy hitting ‘Can’t Get Enough’ proves to be the perfect vehicle for the robust style of Mario Biondi and although the message of ‘Everything That We Are’ is nostalgia laden, the groove it engenders is all about today.

Luscious horns combined with the unmistakable sound of longtime Incognito vocalist Maysa Leak herald in the relaxed yet heartfelt ‘Your Sun My Sky’ and the tempo remains mellow for ‘All My Life’ where the singing voice of Joy Rose takes the honors. She is just as effective for the appropriately evocative ‘1975’ whilst the up beat ‘Put A Little Lovin’ In Your Heart’ seems tailor made to enliven even the most tired of dancing feet.

All things considered, in a collection that will effortlessly and repeatedly put you ‘back in the day’, a real Secret Garden favorite is ‘Line In The Sand’. This very special song is blessed by the soulful vocals of Leon Ware but right up there with it is the wonderful ‘Let’s Fall In Love Again’. Entirely in the best traditions of great dance floor fillers, and with Tortured Soul front man John Christian Urich firmly in control, this is Incognito at its shimmering best.

For more on Incognito go to www.incognito.com

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 5:39 PM

July 26, 2010

Brian Culbertson XII

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. Ever since 1994, and the advent of his debut CD Long Night Out, Brian Culbertson has stood out as the master of R & B tinged smooth jazz. His discography is faultless and has now been further enhanced by the release of his twelfth solo album, the aptly titled XII. Out on GRP Records, this landmark collection offers up twelve original Culbertson compositions and, with a star studded line-up of guest performers, is among the best contemporary jazz recordings of the year so far.

The first single to be slated for Urban AC radio is the edgy ballad ‘Skies Wide Open’ that features stand-out vocals from Avant. It is one of three tracks co-produced by Rex Rideout and another is ‘Don't U Know Me By Now’ that is brought to stunning life by the earthy vocals of Faith Evans. She is also around for the high octane party tune ‘Feelin' It’ for which the horn section of Greg Boyer, Bryan Mills and Brad Clements is to die for. This ultra funky number is further enhanced by input on vocals and guitar from Chuck Brown who is regarded by many as the pioneer of Washington DC ‘Go-Go’ music and when Culbertson teams with Brian McKnight for the sensational steppers cut ‘Out On The Floor’ the result is pure magic.

Of course no Brian Culbertson album would be complete without a smattering of the ultra catchy instrumental tracks with which he made his name. XII is no exception as first for ‘Stay Wit It’ and again with the zesty ‘It’s Time’ he delivers luscious slices of what might be described as ‘classic Culbertson’. This latter tune was written in collaboration with Sheldon Reynolds of Earth Wind & Fire fame and when later they again combine for the mellow ‘Forever’ Culbertson calls upon the legendary Ray Parker Jr. to lend a hand. Parker also features on the distinctly sexy ‘I Wanna Love You’ that evokes memories of the sultry mood so memorably created by Culbertson’s 2005 project It's On Tonight and as he keeps the tempo relaxed for ‘Waiting For You’ the outcome is a velvety, understated gem.

Already making an impact on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio is the feel good groove of ‘That's Life’ that finds Culbertson in delightful partnership with the wonderful Earl Klugh while elsewhere spoken word starlet Natalie Stewart (of Floetry fame) sprinkles her unique talents all over ‘I Don't Know’. The addition of a compelling beat and great keys from Culbertson makes this one of the CD’s best cuts but right up there with it, and a real Secret Garden favorite, is ‘Another Love’. With a thumping old school vibe, and silkily soulful vocals from the always excellent Kenny Lattimore, smooth R & B doesn’t get better than this.

XII is out now and comes highly recommended.

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 5:47 PM

July 13, 2010

Chris Botti At Humphreys

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.

July 9, 2010. Ever since 1995, when he first came to prominence with the CD First Wish, Chris Botti has gradually differentiated himself from other contemporary jazz trumpeters by ever increasing diversions down avenues of standards, classical music and opera. With a stage presence that is both articulate and magnetic, he has the ability to command an audience of any size and at Humphreys open air concert venue on the rim of the San Diego Bay he did just that. In the company of some of the finest musicians to be assembled anywhere, he captivated the sell out crowd with a performance of rare quality and although some may have been surprised by how removed Botti now is from the smooth jazz format, no one could have been disappointed by the magnitude of the virtuosity on display.

The show opened with Botti’s rendition of the title cut from his 2004 When I Fall In Love which here included a jazz drenched piano solo from the Grammy winning Billy Childs. Later, when he revisited this collection for a stunning interpretation of the theme music from Cinema Paradiso, he was joined on stage by guest violinist Caroline Campbell. This evocative song can also be found on Botti’s latest project Chris Botti In Boston and he delved generously into it for ‘Emmanuel’ (where Campbell again played her part), the Miles Davis tune ‘Flamenco Sketches’ and most notably the Leonard Cohen classic ‘Halleluja’ for which Mark Whitfield on guitar was outstanding.

Botti’s backing line-up was completed by drummer Billy Kilson, who has been with him for the last six years; San Diego based keyboard player Geoffrey Keezer and bass player Carlos Henriques. All were significant throughout and particularly so when Botti turned to the title track from his 2007 album Italia. Staying with Italia, he opted for the heavily operatic ‘Caruso’ which he then contrasted with the timeless ‘The Very Thought Of You’ from the same CD.

A highlight of the entire show was the contribution of Lisa Fischer who, for over twenty years, has been the vocal powerhouse behind live performances by Luther Vandross and The Rolling Stones. First with ‘The Look Of Love’ from Botti’s 2003 album A Thousand Kisses Deep and again with ‘Good Morning Heartache’ from the 2005 Duets collection she lit up the night.

Chris Botti’s extensive concert schedule can be found at www.chrisbotti.com

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 6:19 PM

June 29, 2010

Norman Brown - Sending My Love

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 smooth jazz superstar Norman Brown limbers up for his now annual ‘Summer Storm’ concert tour (that gets underway July 16 at the Hyatt, Newport Beach, CA) there could be no better time for his latest CD, the excellent Sending My Love to hit the streets. Released June 22 on Peak Records it firmly returns him to the easy grooving guitar driven smooth jazz with which he made is name. For his fans both new and existing this is an album that is sure to find massive favour.

As early as the opening track, the infectious ‘Come Go With Me’, Brown lays down a marker as to the musical direction of this exquisite collection. It is a tune which displays the unmistakable style of this undoubted guitar maestro and he is again superb for the mid tempo ‘Thinking About You’ that is embellished with a delightful trace of velvety horns.

With the red thread of Latin rhythm running right through it, ‘Play Time’ is another opportunity for Brown to show off his jazzily intricate playing and when he switches to his under utilized singing voice the result is the heart warming ‘Celebrate Me Home’. Despite the surprise of finding a seasonal tune in mid summer this, nevertheless, is a welcome addition and Brown is also in fine vocal form for the distinctly romantic ‘One Last Goodbye’ that also betrays his penchant for an urban vibe. In fact Brown’s previous CD Stay With Me was replete with the kind of urban influences that currently permeate the landscape of contemporary jazz and he briefly goes back there for the extremely easy on the ear ‘I’m Pouring My Heart’.

Brown uses ‘Special Moments’ to fashion an introspective gem which is totally typical of his distinct approach and he stays in mellow mode for the atmospheric title cut that benefits from restrained yet powerful backing vocals.

‘Coming Back (Return Of The Man)’ not only puts Brown back in his familiar mid tempo groove but also close up and personal with a sizzling keyboard solo that sets the track apart as one of the album’s finest. However, that said, right up there with it is the seductively understated ‘Here’s My Number’. With a wow factor that is indecent and backing vocals which, late in the piece, come in like a gift from god, this might just be a metaphor for the very best of the genre.

For more on Brown and the entire listing of Summer Storm dates go to www.normanbrown.com

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 6:02 PM

June 12, 2010

Chris Geith - Island Of A Thousand Dreams

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. There is something about Chris Geith’s music that is precious. Full of glorious melodies and hugely accessible rhythms it is as if every song tells a story. His 2008 release Timeless World was nothing short of a revelation and now he is back with the similarly stunning Island Of A Thousand Dreams. It finds him reunited with sax man Fed Scerbo, Donny D on drums and percussion, Mark Mullers on bass and, significantly, guitarist Matt Marshak who as a solo artist is rapidly making quite a name for himself. Written, produced and arranged by Geith, the resultant fifteen choice cuts prove to be a high quality example of melodic contemporary jazz.

Opening up with entirely accessible ‘Watch Your Step’, Geith delivers what could easily be taken as a metaphor for the entire smooth jazz genre and when he notches down the tempo for ‘When Morning Comes’ it’s Scerbo on sax who makes a significant contribution. Equally introspective are the twin delights of ‘Only The Heart Knows’ and ‘Yesterday’s Goodbye’ yet, whatever the pace, Geith’s consummate playing is always of the highest order. A case in point is the perky vibe of ‘Eternal Spring’ which is a tune that you will return to often and elsewhere the street wise swagger of ‘Once In A Lifetime’ is truly something to savour.

Geith has written for numerous television shows where his credits include Behind The Music and Inside Fame for VH1; Hometime (PBS), Berman & Berman For Women Only (Discovery Health), Autoline Detroit, My Classic Car (Speed Channel), That's My Baby (Animal Planet) and Famous Homes & Hideaways for TBS Super Station. Consequently it should be no surprise that the evocative ‘Coastal Daydreaming’ is a hit TV theme just waiting to happen. Another number with cinematic potential is the tenderly reflective ‘The Mirror Of Happiness’ whilst the uplifting ‘Easy Does It’ benefits from some nice guitar work from Matt Marshak and more great keys from Geith

Geith’s penchant for musical story telling even extends to the sequencing of the tracks. The inspirational ‘Flying West’ merges effortlessly (yet logically) into ‘Above The Clouds’ before the zesty title tune touches down at the albums natural destination. Here the jazzy sax of Fred Scerbo serves as a delicious accompaniment to Geith’s dazzling keys and although ‘Blue Horizons’ is a song that conveys a mood of hope and fulfilment, the inbuilt urgency of ‘Tomorrow’s Promise’ makes it a real Secret Garden favourite.

However, right up there with it and possibly emerging as the CD’s best track is the easy grooving ‘Diamonds In The Sky’. With a hypnotic quality that is special and fabulous guitars from Marshak, this one will play and play.

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 5:52 PM

May 27, 2010

Attila Molnar - Dreams

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. I am indebted to Edwina Goody for drawing my attention to an excellent new album from keyboard player Attila Molnar. Titled Dreams this tight twelve track collection is a noteworthy debut for a performer who, as well as playing keys in the touring bands of Jaared and Slim Man’s Bona Fide, is also an accomplished writer and producer. In fact for Dreams Molnar composes eleven tunes and produces throughout. The result is a welcome addition to this year’s crop of contemporary jazz releases.

Born in 1970, in a small Hungarian town near the Austrian border, Attila Molnar was the only child of musician parents. At six years of age, after experimenting with various instruments, he discovered keyboards and this fortuitous choice propelled him first into a prestigious jazz piano programme which was sponsored by the National Conservatory of Jazz and then later into a career as a professional musician. In 1997 Attila and his wife relocated to the USA where in 2005 he produced, co-wrote, and recorded the CD I Got Your Back for Toni Hutchinson. Subsequently, in 2008, Molnar auditioned for internationally acclaimed smooth jazz group Bona Fide and in so doing became the band’s keyboard player.

Dreams gets under way with the foot tapping ‘Attitude’ which proves to be an authentic slice of textbook smooth jazz. It’s a vibe that fits Molnar’s style to perfection and although ‘True’ provides more of the melodic same, the complex yet funky ‘Secret Place’ reeks with an understated but compelling urgency. ‘Close To You’ is a track that benefits from a restrained, hip swaying Latin rhythm and is in the good company of the retro tinged ‘La Isla Loca’ which evokes the musical excitement of the island of Puerto Rico.

‘Caribbean Eve’ started out as a previously unreleased Christmas number and the tranquil tone it injects is repeated with ‘My Daisy’ which is dedicated to Molnar’s wife. The tenderness of these tunes is in sumptuous contrast to the jazzy ‘What’s Going Down!’ and another change of pace delivers the introspective ‘Two Hearts’ that is memorable both for Molnar’s groove drenched keys and some wonderful sax from the always superb Jaared.

Starting out in mellow mode, the romantic title cut quickly develops into another great showcase for Molnar’s intricate playing whilst the album’s only cover finds him coming up with a tidy and totally appealing version of Roberta Flack’s 1974 stateside chart topper ‘Feel Like Making Love’. It is likely to make a mark as one of the best covers of 2010 and another personal favourite is the aptly titled ‘The Best’. This melodic mid tempo charmer says everything about what Attila Molnar is about.

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 11:48 PM

May 18, 2010

Jaared - In Conversation

May 5, 2010. 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. With Jaared’s brand new album Manhattan Nights already garnering critical acclaim there was added significance to his appearances with Peter White’s band at the Pizza Express Jazz Club. I caught up with Jaared as he prepared for the third of seven dates at this famed London venue and understandably the conversation ranged from his work with Peter White to how Manhattan Nights had come to fruition.

Jaared told me that he first became acquainted with White during the 2002 Oasis Awards. Regular contact by e-mail quickly led to him being co-opted into Peter’s band and since then he has performed with him often. Parallel to this Jaared has also been building an increasingly successful solo career that started out as far back as 2001 with the Marcus Johnson produced Foreward. Hang Time (which included guest spots by Peter White, Ken Navarro and Roberto Vally) followed a year later while his 2008 CD Addiction found him partnering heavily with English keyboard player Oli Silk. It marked Jaared’s debut on Trippin n Rhythm Records and he has stayed with this label for his latest project.

In fact Jaared was quick to acknowledge the beneficial effects that the label has had on Manhattan Nights. First and foremost it was Trippin n Rhythm that suggested he should utilise the production skills of the consistently excellent Michael Broening. Jaared explained that the artistic relationship he and Broening now enjoy has been based entirety on mutual respect and fierce attention to detail. Not only that, it has laid a platform for what he hopes will be many collaborations to come. Being part of the Trippin n Rhythm roster also simplified the process by which Jaared could harness the talents of featured artists such as Cindy Bradley, Jay Soto and U-Nam. He summed up the way in which Trippin n Rhythm routinely operates as “giving the artistry of music making back to the artists” and confirmed that this is something he hugely appreciates.

Another feature of Manhattan Nights is the contribution of Tower Of Power founder member Greg Adams. I asked Jaared how this came about and he told me that he and Adams had been in contact for some time and were eager for the opportunity to work together. When Adams offered to arrange the horns for the album Jaared jumped at the chance but even he was surprised when Adams came through not only with some sumptuous arrangements but also input from fellow Tower Of Power luminary Lee Thornburg and acclaimed trombone player Nick Lane. The fact this brass section adds a rich veneer to several of the tracks has meant that when Jaared takes Manhattan Nights on the road he plans to have an eight piece backing band with him. First port of call will be a CD release event in Phoenix and new dates are continuously being added.

Finally I asked Jaared what to some may well be the $64,000 question. He clearly has a great singing voice and this is born out on Manhattan Nights by his faultless rendition of the Bee Gees ‘How Deep Is Your Love’. I queried with him why he has chosen to limits his vocals to only one track per album and he explained that although it placed him a little outside his comfort zone he has been pleasantly surprised at the positive reaction his singing has received. However, because he would never want to allow the vocals to detract from his billing as a saxophonist, ‘less is likely to remain more’.

Jaared is one of the most talented performers around and throughout our conversation also proved to be one of the most interesting. Equally adept in the recording studio or on the live stage he is rapidly evolving into a ‘must see’ act.

For more on Jaared go to www.jaared.com

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 10:58 PM

April 18, 2010

Greg Adams & East Bay Soul At Anthology

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. Despite the rapidly emerging status of Anthology as San Diego’s preeminent music hotspot it is debatable if this upscale venue has ever staged a performance of such consummate quality and immense power as that served up on April 15, 2010 by Greg Adams and his brand new ensemble project East Bay Soul. This mega funky collective is the brainchild of the Grammy and Emmy nominated trumpeter Adams who just happens to be a founding member of the wonderful Tower of Power. At Anthology, as on the album, he was joined by another ex Tower of Power stalwart, trumpeter Lee Thornburg and the East Bay Soul roster was completed by Joey Navarro on keyboards, Evan Stone on drums, Brian Allen on bass, James Wirrick on guitar, Johnny Sandoval on percussion plus Michael Paulo and Greg Vail on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Suffice to say that the combination was nothing short of sensational throughout.

Ostensibly in town to showcase the excellent new release East Bay Soul, Adams also created space on the set list for several other songs from his illustrious discography. One was a stunning rendition of his seminal hit ‘Burma Road’ from the 1995 CD Hidden Agenda and another was ‘One Night In Rio’ from the more recent Cool To The Touch. It found huge favor with the enthusiastic crowd and Adams slick arrangement allowed the bands rhythm section to really shine.

The show opened with the brass drenched ‘Survival Of The Hippest’ which laid down a clear marker as to the energy that Adams intended to pack into every tune. Although ‘Bop Drop’ offered a jazzy diversion it also built a bridge to ‘Reading Lips’ where the silkily soulful vocals of Darryl Walker provided the velvet glove into which the bands iron fist easily slid. The shimmering ‘Someone New’ (where Adams playing on flugelhorn was spectacular) and the equally impressive ‘iHope’ also found Walker in fine vocal form and he returned to add a little soul to the zesty ‘Awaken’ which incidentally is a number co-written by Adams and the up and coming Alan Hewitt.

‘Always Takes Two’ was delivered with all the horn driven frenzy that one would expect from a line-up with its roots firmly grounded in the uniquely soul based genre of San Francisco’s East Bay area and this was reinforced by the bands sizzling version of the Jerry Ragovoy composition ‘Stop’ which, as well as being outrageously ‘off the chain’, also featured luscious horns and immensely soulful vocals from Lee Thornburg.

Paradoxically the band appeared just as effective with the tempo notched down and this was ably demonstrated by the jazzily smoky ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ where Adams trademark muted trumpet was terrific. He used this same technique to engender a massively chilled out vibe for a tremendous cover of the classic ‘Ghetto’ and amongst ever rising excitement from the audience the band were applauded back to the stage for a much deserved double encore. For this they first went back to Adams 2002 project Midnight Morning for a blockbuster take on ‘Sup With That’ then closed out the ninety plus minute set by coming right up top date for the soulful swagger of ‘Jump, Shout And Holler’ from the new album.

Quite simply this was an incredible show from a group of musicians who generate the sort of tight horn filled rhythms that are both entirely timeless and totally to die for. East Bay Soul will next be in Southern California on May 1 when they are sure to make a significant impact on the Temecula Wine & Music Festival. Miss them at your peril.

For more information go to www.eastbaysoul.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:32 PM

April 13, 2010

American Smooth Jazz Awards 2010

Excitement is mounting with news that the nominees have been announced for the inaugural American Smooth Jazz Awards which will be held on October 29 at the Blue Chip Casino Hotel & Spa in Michigan City, Indiana. Among the 18 categories are both male and female vocalists, instrumentalists, song, album and entertainer of the year.

There is also a category for Journalist Of The Year and I am honored to report that I have been included in the short list. Check back here soon for information on how to place your vote.

Speaking about his aims and aspirations for this ground-breaking event, Bernie Scott, president of Scott & Company Music Group and the American Smooth Jazz Awards is quoted as saying that “We want smooth jazz fans from all over the globe to be part of the voting process”.

Award presenters will be coming in from around the world to be part of the show and to date those confirmed as attending include high-profile radio personalities such as Jimi King from London, Philadelphia’s own Michael Tozzi, Doug Thomas from Sacramento, Lynn Bridges from Las Vegas and the voice of smooth jazz in Cleveland, the one and only Carmen Kennedy.

Blue Chip Casino Hotel & Spa is located 50 miles east of Chicago on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Tickets for the dinner and awards ceremonies are available to the public through Ticketmaster or any Ticketmaster outlet. Special packages are available through Blue Chip Casino Hotel & Spa by calling 888-879-7711.

More news on the American Smooth Jazz Awards will follow. For a full listing of nominees please continue reading.

American Smooth Jazz Awards Nominees

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Dave Koz
Nick Colionne
Brian Culbertson
Richard Elliot

MALE VOCALIST
Spencer Day
Will Downing
George Benson
Phil Perry
Kenny Lattimore

FEMALE VOCALIST
Maysa Leak
Melody Gardot
Norah Jones
Vanessa Williams
Randy Crawford

GROUP OF THE YEAR
Rippingtons
Sax Pack
Fourplay
Pieces of a Dream
Spyro Gyra

BRASS/WOODWIND
Rick Braun
Boney James
Richard Elliot
Darren Rahn
Euge Groove

PERCUSSIONIST
Harvey Mason
Alex Acuna
Rayford Griffin
Lenny Castro
Russ Kunkel

GUITARIST
Peter White
Nick Colionne
Jeff Golub
George Benson
Nils

KEYBOARDIST
Brian Culbertson
Gregg Karukas
Jeff Lorber
Philippe Saisse
Brian Simpson

NEW ARTIST
Cindy Bradley
Spencer Day
Drew Davidson
Kyle Wolverton
Darren Rahn

GOSPEL JAZZ
Greg Vail
Take 6
Jonathan Butler
Angella Christie
David Wells
Kirk Whalum
Ben Tankard

SONG
‘Bright’ - Peter White
‘I’m Waiting For You’ - Jackiem Joyner
‘Living In High Definition’ - George Benson
‘Talk Of The Town’ - Darren Rahn
‘Go For It’ - Bernie Williams

ALBUM
‘Send One Your Love’ - Boney James
‘Bloom’ - Cindy Bradley
‘Rock Steady’ - Richard Elliot
‘Good Day’ - Peter White
‘In Boston’ - Chris Botti

JOURNALIST
Carol Archer - All That Jazz Inc.
Melanie Maxwell - Smooth Jazz News
Denis Poole - Smooth Jazz Therapy, Abyss Jazz, iJazzGlobal and Smooth Jazz Vibes
Brian Soergel Smooth Jazz Network, Smooth Jazz News and Jazz Times
Jonathan Widran - Jazziz and Wine & Jazz

BROADCASTER -TERRESTRIAL RADIO
Randy Bennet
Brian Culbertson
Art Good
Allen Kepler
Dave Koz
Rick O’Dell
Alexander Zonjic

BROADCASTER - INTERNET RADIO
Jimi King
Ted Hasiuk
Mike Scott
Cameron Smith
Michael Tozzi

INTERNATIONAL MALE VOCALIST
Michael Buble
Seal
Matt Dusk
Anders Holst

INTERNATIONAL FEMALE VOCALIST
Basia
Diana Krall
Sophie Milman
Carol Welsman
Corinne Bailey Rae

INTERNATIONAL GROUP
Four80East
Hiroshima
Jazzmasters
Down to the Bone
Incognito
Groove Kings

INTERNATIONAL ARTIST
Jesse Cook
Oli Silk
Marc Antoine
Candy Dulfer
Paul Hardcastle

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:16 PM

April 4, 2010

Kirk Whalum - The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter 3

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 his early days in Memphis, where he played in his father's church choir, saxophonist extraordinaire Kirk Whalum has drawn inspiration from a musical amalgam of gospel, R&B, blues, and jazz. During an illustrious career that began in 1984 (when he was ‘discovered’ by Bob James) his music has often betrayed the depth of his faith and this was confirmed in 1998 with the release of The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter 1. Although it was a glittering example of the way that throughout black history gospel and jazz have often intertwined, his pop jazz approach did not always find critical favor. However, the passing of time and subsequent launch of gospel orientated albums such as Unconditional and Hymns In The Garden meant that by 2002, when his ten track The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter 2 came along, critics seemed much more relaxed about a sacred message being contained in what appeared to be a secular envelope.

Eight years on and attitudes have changed. Whalum, together with artists such as Jonathan Butler, George Duke, Tom Braxton, Oleta Adams and the late Wayman Tisdale have all played their part in making ‘gospel jazz’ a legitimate adjunct to the contemporary genre. As a consequence Whalum’s brand new seventeen song double CD, the expansive The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter 3, is sure to be recognized as a star studded extension to this overall process.

In fact, although released in March 2010, The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter 3 was recorded back in 2007 at Reid Temple in Glenn Dale, Maryland. As well as notable performances by Lalah Hathaway, Doc Powell, John Stoddart and George Duke it also includes significant contributions from several of Whalum’s family members.

Whalum’s shrewd use of popular classics to convey the message of his faith knows no bounds and a case in point is the silky rendition of the much covered Thom Bell – Linda Creed composition ‘You Are Everything’ for which he partners with the excellent guitarist Doc Powell. Other gems include George Duke’s reworking of the Celine Dion pop smash ‘Because You Loved Me’ while Whalum’s treatment of the Frankie Beverly & Maze hit ‘Running Away’ owes much to the vocals of his brother, Kevin Whalum. Kevin is equally impressive for ‘Make Me A Believer’ which was originally recorded and co-composed by Luther Vandross yet in terms of old fashioned sentimentality there is none better than the mellow interpretation of the timeless ‘Smile’ that is effortlessly delivered by Kirk’s uncle, Hugh ‘Peanuts’ Whalum. That notwithstanding a real Secret Garden favorite is the brass drenched ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ for which Lalah Hathaway on vocals is outstanding and Whalum on sax inspirational.

The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter 3 has all the credentials necessary to make it work for different audiences and at different levels. For more go to www.kirkwhalum.com

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 4:51 PM

March 14, 2010

Phillip 'Doc' Martin - Realization

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. Rising sax star Phillip ‘Doc’ Martin certainly has it all going on. Despite his relatively tender years Martin already has the critically acclaimed Saxappeal and Pride & Joy albums under his belt and has now come roaring back with the recently released Realization. An extravagant combination of original music and innovative covers it includes production input from the ubiquitous Darren Rahn and represents a significant milestone in Martin’s rapidly advancing musical career.

Born in Indiana of Jamaican parents Martin grew up in South Florida and by age fourteen was being noticed for the quality of his playing. Before graduation he had already released his debut CD and on moving to Washington DC (to attend the Howard University Of Dentistry) became a member of the Marcus Johnson Project. Pride & Joy followed in 2007. It heralded in his own label, Saxtime Entertainment, and it is on this imprint that Realization has now emerged.

The zesty title cut exemplifies mid tempo smooth jazz at its very best and, although the compelling ‘Fall In Love’ provides more of the sumptuous same, Martin slips deliciously into melodically mellow mode for the cool ‘Love Won’t Let You Down’. In complete contrast, ‘Funky Lovin’ is big, jazzy and enriched by a powerhouse horn section while the mildly turned down ‘Deep Pockets’ is the sort of song guaranteed to grow on you. It’s a further demonstration of the way Martin effortlessly handles fluctuating emotions and another is with ‘Waiting’ where the addition of Cindi Kornhaus on cello and Mike Gamble on guitar affords a real melancholy to this wistfully smooth track.

‘Daydream 2009’ is another turned down gem that this time is underpinned by a shuffling beat and the handsomely understated ‘So Fine’ is one more superb example of the original music on show. Here, Alvin White’s significant contribution on guitar is the link to Jobim’s marvellous ‘Wave’ for which Martin does an equally excellent job and as he stays with cover versions for a chilled out take of the Ledisi hit ‘Alright’ he delivers an urban delight of the highest order.

The track originally appeared on her 2007 CD Lost & Found and when for inspiration Martin turns to Stevie Wonder’s 1969 ‘My Cherie Amour’ he comes up with a stunning interpretation of this timeless tune. His handling of Sade’s ‘Nothing Can Come Between Us’ is sublime yet, in terms of re-imaginings, there is none better than Martin’s rendition of the Jennifer Hudson blockbuster ‘Spotlight’. With a vibe to die for this is right up there with the album’s best.

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 10:31 AM

March 6, 2010

Bernard Alcorn - A New Day

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. When, in 2000, Chicago guitar man Bernard Alcorn released the album Late Arrival the title could not have been more appropriate. Although he had been playing professionally for over 20 years his total commitment to music had been hampered by a parallel career as social worker and vocational rehabilitation counselor. Now, with his eye firmly on the musical ball, he is back with the extremely pleasing A New Day.

This cool blend of jazzy Benson-sque rhythms and smooth contemporary vibes signals its intent with an easy grooving take of the Outkast 2003 hit ‘The Way You Move’. When Alcorn pays his respects to the great Jose Feliciano with a tasty version of ‘Light My Fire’ and tips a hat to the Temptations with a velvety rendition of ‘Just My Imagination’ the results are just as good yet, truth to tell, there is enough original material on offer to demonstrate the credentials Alcorn has as a performer, producer and songwriter.

The Latin flecked ‘Bossamba’ is a tasty delight and contrasts nicely the happy vibe of ‘Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?’ Each demonstrates the capability that Alcorn has to produce music that is both interesting and innovative whilst this is further re-enforced by ‘SOS’ and ‘Future Steps’ which, each in its own way, deliver an edginess that is precious.

Although the infectiously jazzy ‘Keep On Steppin’ allows Alcorn to ratchet up the tempo he proves to be equally effective when easing it down. For instance ‘Down To The Wire’ turns out to be a deliciously chilled out slice of melodic smooth jazz and with a succession of songs that include ‘New Beginning’, ‘Where Is Love’ and the smoky title cut he maintains what is essentially a mellow mood. Similarly, ‘Nice N Easy’ could genuinely be cited as a metaphor for the entire collection and, whist it is right up there with the album’s best, a real Secret Garden favorite is the excellent ‘Chi Town Strut’. With sumptuous sampled horns and a great groove this one is a real attention grabber.

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 2:13 PM

February 18, 2010

Michael J Thomas - City Beat

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. Raised in Cecilia, Kentucky and now domiciled in Destin, Florida, sax player Michael J Thomas may yet turn out to be the smooth jazz find of 2010. His debut CD, City Beat, which hits the streets on March 2, is a tremendously accomplished piece of work and, given that Thomas writes or co-writes all but one of ten choice tracks, proves also to be a wonderful showcase for his art. Thomas’s writing partner is guitarist Shannon Wallace who co- produces and performs with him throughout. Together, with a tight group of backing musicians, they deliver a tremendously commercial collection that has every prospect of doing very well.

The album opens with the sophisticatedly cool ‘Midtown Manhattan’. With an enticing mid tempo groove it is an early indication of the accessibility that Thomas routinely builds into his music and more of the delicious same comes in the form of ‘Cali Trippin’ which has a brassy, easy paced swagger and features moody trumpet from Paul Scurto. In fact whether the pace be relaxed or intense the smooth jazz essentials of rhythm and melody are never too far away. This is demonstrated by the urban tinged ‘Mind Your Step’ which balances Thomas’s cool playing with an underlying horn infused urgency and when he cranks up the tempo even further for the feel good title cut the result has ‘radio ready’ written all over it.

‘Wedding Song’ shows off a more sensitive side to Thomas’s musical persona and in similar vein is the contemplative ‘Back Home’ that benefits from the enchanting synthesised strings of Diki Ross and excellent soprano sax from Thomas. Elsewhere Jonathan Davies on drums and Eric Lampley on bass lay a funky foundation for Thomas’s restrained yet compelling rendition of ‘30-A Degrees’ while in terms of personal favourites there is much to commend the Michael J Thomas - Shannon Wallace arrangement of Michael Jackson’s seminal ‘Billie Jean’. Starting out slowly and quickly hitting a familiar beat this could well be one of the best covers of the year whilst just as good is the original composition ‘Amante Del Vino’. This easy paced gem checks every contemporary jazz box imaginable but just shading it as Secret Garden top track is the tranquil ‘Pretty Skin’. With Ross sublime on keys and Thomas at his delightfully melodic best this is one that will play and play.

For more on Michael J Thomas go to www.michaeljthomas.net

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 2:25 PM

February 4, 2010

Terje Lie - Urban Vacation

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. Norwegian born saxophonist Terje Lie first came into prominence in 2007 with his debut release Traveler. The title seemed to authenticate his relocation to the contemporary jazz friendly confines of southern California and the album quickly established his credentials as a ‘serious’ musician. Lie’s latest release, Urban Vacation, that is due to hit record stores on February 16, does nothing to tarnish that reputation but, with the input of Yellowjackets mainstay Jimmy Haslip and the ubiquitous Jeff Lorber, has resulted in a collection that is by far his most commercially appealing to date.


With the exception of the colorful reworking of Roy Ayers ‘Red Black And Green’ the remaining nine tracks are a consequence of the various writing permutations of Lie, Halsip and Lorber. In addition, Haslip and Lorber play on all tracks and produce throughout. With Tony Moore exquisite on drums and guest performances from Mike Landau, Dwight Sills and bass player Ernest Tibbs, Urban Vacation really is a collector’s item in the making. Sharon Perry adds soulful vocals and the entire piece is underpinned by the Lorber arranged horn section of Ron King and Gary Meek.

Lie began his career with a blues tinged rock band during high school in Norway. At age seventeen he appeared with them as lead vocalist on Norwegian television and over time became part the country’s scene of up coming jazz musicians. Featuring as both singer and saxophonist, Lie toured Norway, Sweden, and Finland with different bands and appeared on the jazz shows of the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Urban Vacation is replete with funk infused tracks that are often groovy and invariably catchy. In fact any number of them could have been plucked for radio exposure but in the event the first to be so is the opening ‘Bail Out’. Written by Lie and Lorber, it’s fluidly flowing horn arrangements set the tone for much of what is to follow and show off Lie’s penchant for funky driving sax. ‘Blue Funk’ is another Lorber – Lie composition that does much the same while Lorber’s tight keys provide a platform for the infectious, brass enriched, ‘Parlophone’ which is rapidly becoming a real Secret Garden favorite,. The equally captivating ‘Crazy Groove’ finds keyboard antics from Lorber that are nothing short of sensational and as the intensity stays ridiculously high it is the sometimes melodic yet often funky ‘Dance On The Water’ that allows Mike Landau on electric guitar to really shine.

Both the the lusciously brassy ‘So Retro’ and the similarly structured ‘Coral Dream’ provide an enticing flashback to the jazz fusion of the early eighties whilst the sultry
‘Sedona’ gives Lie a rare opportunity to ease down the tempo. The fact he does so with aplomb is due in no small part to a breathtaking solo on acoustic guitar from Landau and Lie remains in mellow mode for his own composition, the reflective ‘Tonight’. It proves to be a wonderful tune with which to close out the album yet, despite the magic that drips from every note, the lasting memory of Urban Vacation will be that of funk drenched urgency. This is certainly an album that is worth checking out.

For more on Terje Lie go to www.terjelie.com

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 6:38 PM

January 22, 2010

Chris Standring - Blue Bolero

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. Already described as extremely cinematic, Blue Bolero by Chris Standring is sure to be one of the most talked about releases of 2010. Although the distinctive vibe that has marked out Standring as one of the most soulful smooth jazz guitarists around remains clearly discernable, for Blue Bolero he adds to it with compositions, arrangements and choice of instruments that show off a different side to his musical persona. A case in point is the eight minute six second ‘Overture’. In the way striking string arrangements blend with enticing guitar and flashes of acoustic bass this is a tune that can be rightly regarded as a metaphor for the entire album while the title song, with acoustic bass from Larry Steen and violin by Barbra Porter, demonstrates, perhaps for the first time ever, how contemporary jazz can fuse with classical influences in the most perfect of ways.

In fact the variety that Blue Bolero provides is astounding. The intense ‘Please Mind The Gap’ owes much to the beat that is laid down by Andre Berry on bass and Eric Valentine on drums. Together they provide a platform from which Standring’s edgy playing flourishes and where Katisse Buckingham is able to provide delightful interventions on alto flute. Berry and Valentine stick around for the smoky ‘March Of The Bowler Hats’ that has a catchy vocal chorus from Standring and a fabulous Fender Rhodes solo from Mitch Forman while elsewhere ‘Sunrise’ is as reflective as the title suggests it might be. It’s a track that glistens like light on water and with ‘Lost In Angels’ Standring produces an orchestral expansiveness that could have been taken right out of an Oscar winning film score.

The melodically Latin ‘Bossa Blue’ features great production touches and keyboards from Standring that rival his terrific work on guitar. Rico Belled is exceptional on bass while Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith is equally so for the easy grooving ‘Sensual Overload’. However, when Standring breaks things down to the very bare bones for the chilled out ‘Contemplation’ the sparks really start to fly. His interplay with Steen is magical yet his solo guitar for the fifty eight second ‘On Second Thoughts’ proves just how minimalistic he is prepared to go. The outcome is wonderful and he remains in deconstructed mode for ‘Regarding Tetchwick’ where his mellow playing dovetails handsomely with Porter’s sensitive violin. That said the real sensation is the way the tune segues into ‘Fast Train To Anywhere’ which, without doubt, is the album’s outstanding track. Clever production and superb playing from Standring and Porter make this unusual but totally accessible cut a real winner.

As Blue Bolero glides serenely to its conclusion the charmingly reflective ‘At The End Of The Day’ builds a bridge to a parting encore of ‘Bolero’. Much like the entire CD the drama of the piece is stunning and leaves the listener to contemplate just how different this collection really is. This is not smooth jazz built to a formula or where guest artists have been included simply as a commercial imperative. It is however music for grown ups that demands to be heard and, above all, to be appreciated.

Blue Bolero is Standring’s sixth solo release and due out on March 2. Look out for it and for more go to www.chrisstandring.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:18 PM

January 7, 2010

Ken Navarro Back With New CD For 2010

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. When guitarist Ken Navarro released his 2007 album, The Meeting Place, it immediately became a personal favorite. However, accepting the fact that the follow up, The Grace Of Summer Light, was received to widespread critical acclaim, the recording inexplicably slipped the Secret Garden net. Consequently it is great to announce that Ken is back with his brand new project, Dreaming of Trains that will be available in all good record stores from March 16. It will be Navarro's 19th CD release and includes such featured musicians as Jay Rowe from Special EFX and the Marion Meadows band, Tom Kennedy from the Al DiMeola band and Joel Rosenblatt of Spyro Gyra. Each of the nine original recordings are reported as being built around strong melodic themes with an accessibility that belies the complexity of what overall is a beautifully diverse group of songs.

Check back here soon for a complete review of Dreaming of Trains.

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 4:51 PM

December 20, 2009

Brian Hughes - No Reservations

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. Brian Hughes No Reservations is the excellent new live DVD by one of contemporary jazz’s finest guitarists. Featuring an all-star band it was recorded at one of my favorite venues, Spaghettini Grill & Jazz Club in Seal Beach, CA and includes some real gems from Hughes notable discography. In fact he delves deep for thirteen cuts that reach back as far as his 1990 breakthrough album Between Dusk and Dark from which he conjures both ‘And Dreaming’ and the deliciously mellow hit ‘Promise You’. Later, and fast forwarding nine years, Hughes dips into the highly rated Shakin Not Stirred to include both ‘For You’ and the title track from this same release which, in its time, was notably featured on an episode of Sex in the City.

Of course Hughes has combined a career as smooth jazz ‘A-Lister’ with performing and recording with world renowned vocalist Loreena McKennitt. His skills as a musician and producer are clearly evident on a wide range of her work including the platinum selling An Ancient Muse and the concert DVD Nights From The Alhambra that was filmed in Granada, Spain. He was also nominated for a Juno award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy’s) in the category of ‘Producer of the Year’ for his contribution to McKennitt’s platinum CD The Visit.

Back to No Reservations and the zesty ‘Nasca Lines’ is the sole representative from his 1992 sophomore outing Under The Sky. It gives a glimpse of the penchant he has for Latin moods that he frequently spices with world vibes and when he stops off at his 1995 album, Straight To You, the result is the familiar strains of the radio hit ‘Soul Fruit’. 1998 saw the release of his One 2 One project which here is showcased with a live rendition of ‘While The World Turns Slowly’. This chilled out number is just one more reason why Hughes’ music has stood the test of time and although, understandably, a major proportion of the DVD is given over to music from his most recent studio CD, Along The Way, what really captures the attention is the sheer depth of the music on offer. In fact Hughes features five numbers from Along The Way. The uplifting title tune is a superb example of how great smooth jazz should sound and the very different ‘Omaha Unbound’ evokes a journey across the vast empty expanses of Nebraska. Elsewhere both ‘Son Y Lola’ and ‘Thinkin Of You’ are Latin tinged and crammed full of sunshine while Hughes uses the tranquil ‘Endless Road’ to bring a tender end to this classic set.

For those who have come late to the music of Brian Hughes No Reservations is a wonderful place to start. Others who have been with him for the long haul will feel the memories come flooding back.

For more visit Brian’s excellent website at www.brianhughes.com

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 9:06 AM

December 6, 2009

Tracy Hamlin - Better Days

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. Although perhaps best known for her work as lead vocalist with Heads Up recording artists, Pieces of a Dream, Tracy Hamlin has performed with musical luminaries such as Carlos Santana, Marcus Miller, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, Wayman Tisdale, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Acoustic Alchemy and Richard Elliott. Her solo debut Seasons was released in 2005 and featured both Najee and her colleagues from Pieces of a Dream. It proved to be a stellar showcase for her rich vocal tones and built the perfect bridge between jazz and R&B. Now she is back with the sophisticatedly jazzy Better Days.

The style of Better Days is beautifully demonstrated with the soulfully mellow title cut and when Hamlin partners with Eric Essix for the silky ‘No Regrets’ the result is one of the highlights of the entire collection. The tune is further blessed by great guitar from Essix and excellent sax from Kelley O’Neal who also comes up big for Hamlin’s version of the classic ‘At Last’. Elsewhere smoky muted trumpet from Melvin Jones heralds in the evocative strains of ‘Good Morning Heartache’ and the tight beat of ‘You Are The One’ lays a platform for Hamlin to deliver a soul drenched mid tempo vocal that is reminiscent of Maysa Leak at her very best.

Eric Valentine lends his production skills to the effervescent and Incognito like groove of ‘Free’ while in complete contrast is the introspectively bluesy ‘Last Kiss Goodnight’ that serves to show off the full range of Hamlin’s vocal prowess. Later she manages to pack a load full of soul into her feisty rendition of the Stevie Wonder composition ‘Until You Come Back To Me’ which in its time was a massive hit for Aretha Franklin. It is one of nine numbers produced by Phil ‘Big Dog’ Davis and another is Hamlin’s faithful cover of the Bill Withers blockbuster ‘Use Me’. In fact the contribution that Davis also makes as co-writer and keyboard player leads to some of the album’s most memorable moments and one such delight is ‘You’ve Got To Let Go’. This is a tune that evidences Hamlin’s consummate ability to handle a neo-soul vibe yet in the final analysis it is the deliciously chilled out ‘Yesterdays’ that snatches the accolade of Secret Garden top track. Co-written by Hamlin and Davis, this is as good an example of smooth R & B as will be heard all year.

For more go to www.tracyhamlin.com

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 5:47 PM

November 28, 2009

Tom Braxton - Endless Highway

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. Not surprising, the untimely death of the much loved Wayman Tisdale set off shock waves that were felt throughout the world of contemporary jazz. In this respect no one could have been more affected than saxophonist Tom Braxton who, as an integral member of Tisdale’s touring band, had been with him right from the start. That said, life has a way of creating opportunities and for Braxton the opportunity to pay homage to his long time friend and mentor has come in the form of his latest solo recording, the aptly titled Endless Highway. Released on the San Diego-based Pacific Coast Jazz label it is his second CD with Pacific Coast Jazz and follows the 2007 Imagine This that at the time I described as has “having it all going on”. With an outstanding array of instrumentalists and vocalists in support, Braxton uses the ten superb tracks of Endless Highway to take the listener on a groove-oriented excursion that, consistent with the best of the genre’s current offerings, shimmers with a delightful urban sophistication.

Replete with tremendous smooth jazz flair, the silky title cut sets the album on a road from which subsequently it never deviates. One of six songs either written or co-written by Braxton it profits from the inclusion of a velvety horn section and this same line-up is again on call for ‘Soul Purpose’. This, another Braxton original, turns out to be an understated gem and his masterstroke in including Jennifer Ritter on cello for the mellow ‘Distant Skies’ affords this tranquil tune a whole new dimension. Braylon Lacy’s work on fretless bass is completely in keeping with the quality of the piece whilst elsewhere the sassy ‘Just in Time’ leverages the considerable talents of Chicago producer Tim Gant to deliver an urban swagger that stands out from the crowd. When Gant returns for ‘Detour Ahead’ he combines with Braxton to generate an extremely free flowing, happy vibe and, although ultra easy on the ear, the Eric Willis composition, ‘The Journey’, is infused with the sort of beat that assumes hypnotic proportions.

As well as being an accomplished song writer, Braxton is well known for his ability to re-imagine some classic covers. For his previous release he did just that with a stellar version of Patrice Rushen’s 1980 smash ‘Haven’t You Heard’ and here his take on the America blockbuster ‘Ventura Highway’ is every bit as good. It benefits from a great vocal from the Grammy winning Arthur Dyer yet in many ways, and for obvious reasons, the centerpiece of the entire collection is ‘That Wayman Smile’. Anyone lucky enough to have spent time in Tisdale’s presence will know that the title is entirely self explanatory and with bass player Braylon Lacy capturing to perfection the spirit of the great man’s music this infectious cut is both a fitting tribute and a sure fire bet to finds its way onto the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio.

Despite the fact that Braxton’s tender alto lights up every aspect of ‘Home Sweet Home’ the number reverberates with a restless energy that is totally compelling. It is without doubt one of the album’s outstanding tracks and in this respect is in the wonderful company of the intoxicating ‘Open Road’. With interplay between guitarist Derrick Winding and Braxton that is magical, and a percussive energy from Len Barnett and Rico Gonzales to savor, this mid tempo smoker is destined to become one of the standout smooth jazz tunes of the year.

The CD is another significant step on Tom Braxton’s “endless highway” and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.tombraxton.com and to appreciate the total breadth of the Pacific Coast Jazz catalog go to www.pacificcoastjazz.com.

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 12:40 PM

November 4, 2009

Hiroshima - Legacy

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 1974 that Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto formed Hiroshima. With the ground-breaking convergence of eastern and western music as its fulcrum, the band quickly found success with its self titled debut CD and since then has gone on to record fourteen more spellbinding collections that demonstrate the commitment its founding members have to their own special brand of cross cultural innovation. This dedication is as strong as ever and now, in the company of Hiroshima’s current line-up of keyboard player Kimo Cornwell, drummer Danny Yamamoto, percussionist Shoji Kameda and bass-man Dean Cortez, they are rolling back the years with the release of the wonderful new album Legacy. Out now on the Heads Up International label it features eleven songs from the first ten years of the bands prolific history yet, with every track having been re-recorded live in Dan Kuramoto’s home studio, this is far from being a run of the mill ‘best of’ project. In many cases the tunes are fairly similar to the originals. In others they are very different. With guest performances from Hiroshima’s ‘extended family’ of percussionist Richie Gajate Garcia and vocalists Terry Steele, Yvette Nii and Jim Gilstrap the result is as good as any contemporary jazz recording released this year.

In countless ways Legacy is a breathtaking insight into the genre bending excitement that typified the evolution of contemporary jazz throughout the eighties. A case in point is the title cut from ‘Another Place’ which, although originally just over three minutes in duration, is delivered here as a nine minute tour de force with gargantuan solos from Kimo Cornwell and June Kuramoto. Equally potent is the bands seven minute take on the atmospheric ‘Winds of Change’. Undoubtedly this is vintage Hiroshima at its best while elsewhere ‘Thousand Cranes’ serves as a showcase for June Kuramoto’s virtuosity on koto. This thirteen string zither like instrument proves an unlikely yet hugely effective contemporary jazz device and it is again to the fore both with the mesmerizingly beautiful ‘I’ve Been Here Before’ and the zesty ‘Hawaiian Electric’. This latter track was originally recorded in 1987 for the Go CD and is entirely evocative of the period. However, some music is simply timeless and in this respect personal favourites include the magical ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’ from the bands 1979 debut offering. Yvette Nii on vocals has never sounded better and when the lead switches to the soulful tones of Terry Steele the outcome is the emotionally charged ‘Save Your Love For Me’. One of three tunes lifted from the 1985 release Another Place it is in the good company of ‘One Wish’ that could arguably be described as the album’s real showstopper. This funky yet enthralling number has a vibe to die for and all the attributes of being seriously addictive.

For those who missed out on Hiroshima the first time around Legacy is an amazing opportunity to begin a journey that promises more great things to come. Meanwhile, aficionados of the band are sure to luxuriate in the reimagining of some truly astonishing music.

To learn more about Hiroshima and its music go to www.hiroshimamusic.com

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 6:05 PM

October 10, 2009

Brian Bromberg - It Is What It Is

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 1985, acclaimed bassist and producer Brian Bromberg has been confounding the music industry with an ever increasing catalogue of straight ahead and contemporary jazz offerings that are often driven by specific sounds and themes. His 2002 Wood was built around acoustic bass, Metal had electric bass as its centrepiece and with Jaco Bromberg celebrated the artistry of fretless bass pioneer Jaco Pastorius. He last tickled the sound buds with his 2007 Grammy nominated Downright Upright and is now back with the entirely different It Is What It Is.

In fact part of Bromberg’s magic is his totally predictable unpredictability and with this decidedly funky 13 track collection he not only features what turns out to be an absolutely killer horn section but also calls upon fellow A-listers George Duke, Patrice Rushen, Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot and Rick Braun to lend a hand.

It Is What It Is opens with the big band tinged title cut. It signposts the place where straight ahead jazz collides with that of a more contemporary leaning and is enhanced by the jazzy trumpet of Willie Murrillo, great keys from Lorber and top notch piano from the incomparable Rushen. In total Jeff Lorber contributes to six of the album’s tunes and he is again to the fore with the ultra funky ‘Mr Miller’ where Marienthal and Gary Meek on saxes blow up a proverbial storm. ‘Excuse Me’ is another horn drenched smoker to which Bromberg adds some seriously good bass and he uses ‘Slap Happy’ to provide a fittingly frenetic finale that finds the entire ensemble rocking on to a feisty conclusion.

Much of the conversation surrounding It Is What It Is will revolve around its two covers. The Quincy Jones composed theme from the hit television show ‘Sanford And Son’ is cram full of the fulsome horns that are such a feature of the entire CD and when Bromberg turns his attention to a stripped down version of the B52’s seminal ‘Love Shack’ he ramps up the rhythm in a way that makes it feel brand new. The melody that on first listen sounds like it is played on guitar is in fact Bromberg’s piccolo bass and he uses this instrument to equally good effect for the mid tempo ‘The Anticipation’ where Eric Marienthal is again superb and Dan Siegel on keys makes a significant contribution.

As reflective as its title suggests, ‘The Mirror’ proves to be a Bromberg master class in how great tenor bass should sound and another tune with a distinctly onomatopoeic quality is the big, swaggering and sometimes complex ‘Elephants On Ice Skates’. It delivers exactly what the listener expects while the beautifully understated ‘Heaven’ allows Bromberg ample opportunity to display his virtuosity.

Bromberg turns down the energy for the captivatingly melodic ‘Life’ and confirms, if indeed confirmation was needed, how effective the bass can be as a solo instrument. A complete joy from beginning to end it is among the album’s outstanding tracks and in this respect is in the good company of the excellent ‘Saul Goode’. Here a dangerously infectious horn riff coupled with Bromberg’s catchy playing proves to be a key factor and a further Secret Garden favourite is ‘Martinis At The Velvet Lounge?’ A hint of a Latin beat, more piccolo bass and splashes of flute from Meek all serve to engender a vibe that is wonderfully warm and truly special.

In fact the word special is one that could be applied to It Is What It Is in its entirety. Go out and buy it now.

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 11:06 PM

September 26, 2009

Joe McBride - Lookin For A Change

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. Lookin’ For A Change is the aptly titled and brand new release from smooth jazz pioneer Joe McBride. A departure from his own special brand of piano led contemporary jazz, the album provides interesting reinterpretations of nine familiar pop tunes (plus three McBride originals) that he frames within ‘straight ahead’ jazz arrangements and delivers in classic jazz quartet format. It is his eighth recording for Heads Up International and his first since Texas Hold Em in 2005 which at the time I described as being the classic Joe McBride blend of contemporary jazz and R&B. He is an artist who for the past twenty five years has helped shape a genre and he brings all this experience and more to the delightful Lookin’ For A Change.

McBride was born 1963 in Fulton, Missouri and began playing piano at the age of four. He started singing in high school but, as a teenager, he contracted a degenerative eye disease that eventually caused him to loose his sight. Despite this his passion for music was never impaired and he continued his studies at the Missouri School for the Blind, the University of North Texas and at Webster University in suburban St. Louis where he majored in jazz performance.

Around 1983 McBride made the journey to San Diego, CA where the adult contemporary scene was already strong. He played there with the group Fattburger and guitarist Steve Laury. In 1985 visited his brother in Dallas for what he expected to be a two-week stay. However, faced with the numerous performing opportunities that he found there, he chose to make the city his base and quickly became a regular performer on the local jazz club scene. Also during this period he met a young trumpeter named Dave Love. The two became friends and when Love founded the Heads Up International label he quickly signed McBride to a record deal. In 1992, via the Heads Up connection, McBride featured on Kenny Blake’s debut album Interior Design and began touring with the Head Up Superband, a line up that included Blake, Gerald Veasley and Henry Johnson. He also opened for major stars of the smooth jazz and soul genres including Whitney Houston, Larry Carlton and the Yellowjackets but in that same year stepped out as a leader with his first CD Grace.

The street smarts that emanate from such a musical upbringing are, with Looking For A Change, there for all to see and this is particularly so with his tender rendition of Coldplay's classic tune ‘The Scientist’. Entirely different but just as good is his understated take on the Cameo hit ‘Word Up’ while McBride’s soft singing tones and melodic keys find a perfect fit with Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’.

McBride’s delicate version of the John Mayer song ‘Say’ is a joy and the Latin groove he injects into the Corrine Bailey Rae tune ‘Like A Star’ makes it sound brand new. Elsewhere the Gnarls Barkley breakthrough hit ‘Crazy’, with its jazzy swagger and McBride’s cool vocal, is as pleasing as it is surprising whilst he again comes up big for the pop – blues – jazz amalgam of Rob Thomas’s ‘This Is How A Heart Breaks’.

Much covered and an inspired choice is the sultry Gavin DeGraw composition ‘Don’t Wanna Be’. It’s a fine example of how McBride has mastered the art of fusing musical styles and this is also the case with ‘1000 Miles’. A real Secret Garden favourite, this reworking of Vanessa Carlton’s 2002 blockbuster shimmers with McBride’s sensational playing, immaculate bass from Roger Hines and is in every respect a wonderful piece of work.

The quartet is completed by drummer Elijah Gilmore and Dan Wilson on guitar. The foursome are arguably at their very best for the album’s three original compositions where they merge subtle hints of R & B with hugely accessible straight ahead influences. The vibe they generate with the feisty title track is a case in point and although ‘Secret Rendezvous’ is more restrained, the relaxed interplay between these fine musicians is notable. Of McBride’s own material perhaps the easy paced yet heartfelt ‘It’s Over Now’ best encapsulates what he is all about. His skill in injecting soul into most everything that he does never wavers and with Lookin’ For A Change he is beckoning listeners from different generations and in so doing bridging musical divides.

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 4:48 PM

September 8, 2009

Peter White - Good Day

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 the United Kingdom’s most illustrious contemporary jazz export Peter White has created his own special place in the genre with a distinctive sound built entirely around rhythm and melody that is often embellished with touches of exciting production. Indeed, for almost twenty years White’s music has defined the essence of smooth jazz. However, although his previous releases, the 2006 Playin Favorites and Peter White Christmas that followed a year later, proved to be significant successes, his last all original CD was Confidential in 2004. At the time I commented that it was his finest work to date but now he is back with the outstanding Good Day. Out today worldwide; the album features ten all new self penned compositions plus significant production and performing input from the exceptional Philippe Saisse.

Good Day opens with the easy paced title track that could be used as a descriptor of how great smooth jazz should sound. Co-written by White and long time Euge Groove collaborator Mike Egizi it’s a tune that shimmers like light on water and is added to by the programming of DC who is best known for his work as part of Paul Brown’s formidable production team. Characterized by what could accurately be described as ‘the Peter White sound’ it is in the good company of ‘Just Give Me A Chance’ that seems all set to put a smile on the saddest of faces. The luscious horns, that come courtesy of Shannon Kennedy and Dan Savant, simply add to the warmth of the entire piece while in similar mood is the equally inviting ‘Bright’. Already racing up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio this melodic cut has all the makings of a future Peter White classic and is in fact his tribute to the late Wayman Tisdale with whom he shared the stage several times.

‘Ramon’s Revenge’ is driven by passionate flamenco rhythms and carries with it an expansive, cinematic quality that is helped in no small part by the Latin percussion of Ramon Yslas. White retains a Latin flavour for the ultra accessible ‘Always Forever’ and although ‘(Un)forgiven’ starts out in tranquil mode his magnificent guitar work drives it to what becomes an impassioned finale. This sophisticated tour de force includes snippets of White’s familiar accordion, splashes of oboe and flute from Shannon Kennedy and musical arrangements that exemplify the skills of Philippe Saisse.

The sunshine dappled ‘Love Will Find You’ has interesting origins. The number was brought to White by his brother Danny who had written it with his former Matt Bianco band-mate Basia. White earns partial writing credits for his reworking of the song and the way it is overlaid with his own melody. A happy easy paced Latin rhythm coupled with Basia’s smooth vocal completes the pleasing picture and pleasing is a word that also comes to mind with ‘Say Goodnight’. Tailor made for those moments in his live shows when the audience grow quiet and hang on to every one of White’s sumptuously melodic notes this is the sort of tune that, within smooth jazz, makes him unique.

That said; those familiar with White’s work will know that he can groove with the best of them and he does just that with the smoky ‘Temptation’. Built around White’s foolproof constructs of rhythm and melody, and with a killer bass line that is masterfully held down by Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith, this is among the CD’s best tracks but right up there with it is another White – DC composition, the innovative yet feisty ‘Mission 2 Mars’. It features more of the masterful production touches that makes Philippe Saisse the ‘go to guy’ for so many of the genres current A-list performers, a thumping beat, and keyboard interjections from Saisse that are absolutely to die for.

Good Day is already well set to be one of the albums of the year and is a worthy addition to the discography of an artist who never ever fails to deliver. For more go to www.peterwhite.com

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 7:40 PM

September 6, 2009

Art Sherrod Jr - Seasons

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. Seasons from sax-man Art Sherrod Jr is his second CD and follows All 4 Love that was released in 2005. It represents a significant step on a musical journey that began in his native Texas, continued in Maryland and, along the way, has allowed him to share the stage with such smooth jazz luminaries as Natalie Cole, Angie Stone, Will Downing, Marion Meadows, Norman Connors, Phil Perry, Chuck Loeb, Kim Waters, Najee, Roy Ayers, Pieces of a Dream, Everette Harp and Bob Baldwin. In fact Seasons includes contributions from several of these A-list performers but rather than puzzling at just how Sherrod has managed to assemble so many great artists in the same place at the same time, it is adequate to luxuriate in the sublime artistry his musicality so effortlessly engenders.

Seasons opens with the strident ‘To The Floor’ that finds Sherrod at his jazzy best. With up coming French guitarist U-Nam also providing some groove drenched interventions this is a track that is sure to enliven even the most tired of dancing feet while much the same can be said of ‘East Coast Steppin’. Although not strictly a ‘steppers’ anthem this intoxicating number has the potential to become seriously addictive and when Sherrod turns his attention to a silky smooth interpretation of the Earth Wind & Fire blockbuster ‘That’s The Way Of The World’ he provides what clearly will become one of the best covers of the year.

Underpinned by a tight and hypnotic beat ‘Just Chillin’ features smooth sax superstar Gerald Albright and when guitarist Chuck Loeb steps up for the intricate yet infectious title cut the result is a rhythm and melody filled throwback to old school contemporary jazz. In fact Sherrod steers a capable course between instrumental smooth jazz and more overtly urban elements. A fine example of the latter is ‘You’re The One’ that is bolstered by vocals from former Pieces of a Dream songstress Tracy Hamlin and shimmers with Sherrod’s cool playing. It’s in the good company of ‘Thinking Of You’ which despite mellow beginnings picks up some sassy attitude that is helped in no small part by a hip vocal from Will Downing. Indeed by judicious use of some of the best backing vocals you will hear anywhere Sherrod delivers a sequence of spine chilling gems that sit somewhere between smooth R & B and urban jazz. A case in point is the gospel themed ‘We Fall Down’ where Sherrod’s impassioned playing is off the chain while totally different but just as good is the warmly inviting ‘Sunday Morning’.

Marcus Johnson has long been one of the edgiest keyboard players around and his interplay with Sherrod on the compellingly mid tempo ‘Smooth Groove’ is one of the highlights of the collection. In fact standouts abound and although the sultry ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ has sensuality dripping from every note it is just shaded as Secret Garden top track by the wonderful ‘Anytime’. Featuring vocalist and keyboard player Frank McComb this turned down chiller takes Sherrod, with sensational consequences, deep into quiet storm territory.

Seasons by Art Sherrod Jr is out on the excellent boutique label Pacific Coast Jazz and comes entirely recommended.

For more on Art Sherrod Jr go to www.artsherrodjr.com and for the latest label news go to www.pacificcoastjazz.com

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 3:33 PM

August 28, 2009

Paul Taylor - Burnin

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. With a title that says it all, smooth sax superstar Paul Taylor is back on the scene with his fifth CD on Peak Records, the stunning Burnin. This stellar collection of nine original tunes and one well crafted cover finds Taylor, for the fourth album in a row, enlisting the services of Rex Rideout and Barry J. Eastmond to variously add their legendary writing, production and performing skills to an end product that is as good as anything released this year. Rideout is best known for his collaborations with an A-list of contemporary jazz superstars that include Boney James, Larry Carlton and Will Downing while Eastmond has worked with everyone from Britney Spears to Al Jarreau, Phil Perry to Freddie Jackson and Anita Baker to Jonathan Butler. Taylor was totally blown away by the excitement that each of them brought to his 2003 project Steppin Out and not surprisingly brought them back to play a part on his 2005 Nightlife. Their collective contributions to Taylor’s 2007 blockbuster Ladies Choice ensured it was his most soulful to date and with Burnin they are again demonstrating their innate ability to deliver urban jazz that goes the extra mile.

The album is typified by the Rideout – Taylor composition ‘Side Pocket’ which has that strutting feel good vibe that over recent years Taylor has employed to define how great smooth jazz should sound. This same combination returns for the turned down ‘Remember The Love’ where Taylor’s cool alto sax sends shivers down the spine while completely different, but also from the pen of Rideout and Taylor, is the thumping ‘Revival’. It shimmers with gospel tinged backing vocals and is given depth by input from fellow sax-man Gary Meek and trumpeter Ron King. Rideout is back to handle production on Taylor’s funk drenched rendition of the War classic ‘Me And Baby Brother’ whilst that same funkiness is on display with the first of six Eastmond – Taylor cuts, the grooving mid tempo ‘Groove Shack’.

More of the delectable same comes in the form of the strident ‘Juke Joint’ and when Taylor slips into textbook smooth jazz territory the result is the luscious ‘So Fine’. It’s probably only a matter of time before radio is tempted by the big, infectious and totally ‘in the pocket’ ‘It’s Like That’ but the one already tearing up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio is the sunshine filled title tune. A sensation of rhythm and melody it is sure to monopolize the charts for some time to come but that said the Secret Garden top track is the delightfully retro flavored ‘Back In The Day’. As Taylor’s simmering tenor merges with great vocals from Billy Cliff there is little doubt that this will be one of the songs of the year.

Burnin by Paul Taylor is a revelation from beginning to end. Go out and buy it now. For more go to www.paultaylorsax.com

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 5:45 PM

August 15, 2009

Jimmy Sommers - Time Stands Still

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. First take fourteen timeless tunes. Then marry them up with some of the greatest contemporary jazz performers around today. What do you get? Time Stands Still the surprising yet wonderful new release from urban jazz saxophonist Jimmy Sommers. It’s an album that represents quite a musical departure for Sommers who’s previous CD, Sunset Collective, flirted outrageously around the margins of where contemporary jazz meets R & B, Latin and dance. The sensational outcomes that emanated from this stellar 2007 collection makes the wow factor of Time Stands Still that much more acute and leaves the listener to marvel at the breathtaking versatility which Sommers has now added to his undisputed creativity.

In fact Time Stands Still is a joy from beginning to end and, in the company of Chris Botti, Rick Braun, Paul Jackson Jr., Eric Benet and Bill Cunliffe, Sommers delivers some truly magical moments. Co-produced by Sommers and the legendary Jeff Carruthers Time Stands Still also benefits from the arrangements of the Grammy nominated Cunliffe who as writer and pianist is rapidly making a name for himself in the parallel worlds of jazz and classical music.

Time Stands Still opens with ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ that, thanks to Sommers sublime playing, glistens with sophisticated elegance. However, truth to tell, as with any compilation of classic compositions, it is less about the individual tracks and more about the overall impression that the entire body of work provides. It is also about personal preferences and in this respect the ultra cool ‘The Look Of Love’ and the familiar strains of ‘When I Fall In Love’ are right up there. However another Secret Garden favorite, and a glittering star in a dazzling constellation, is the Kern – Fields, Academy Award winning, song ‘The Way You Look Tonight’.

With romance dripping from every note, and the all pervading aura of a smoky late night jazz club, this extremely tender yet very different rendition sounds every bit as good as that first performed by Fred Astaire in the film ‘Swing Time’.

Released on nuGroove Time Stands Still is a wonderful antidote to the stressful world in which we all live and is worth checking out.

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 6:44 PM

July 31, 2009

Richard Elliot - Rock Steady

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. Richard Elliot regards himself as essentially an R&B instrumentalist with jazz influences. Soul and funk are his foundation and he has used these staples to create the framework for his brand new album Rock Steady. Out now on the Artistry Music label it is a collection for which Elliot has drawn on the input of some of his most valued musical associates including touring band regulars Rob Reinhardt, Dwight Sills and Nate Phillips. Rick Braun co-writes five tracks, co-produces throughout and finds time to make a stellar contribution on trumpet while, if that wasn’t enough, keyboard maestros Jeff Lorber and Philippe Saisse also play a part.

Over a career that now spans almost thirty years Elliot has played with the best and has always produced what is now regarded as the richest saxophone sound on the smooth jazz circuit. Like others after him the experience of performing with the legendary Tower Of Power proved to be a tremendous education for Elliot who was born in Scotland and moved to Los Angeles with his parents at the age of three. In fact Elliot was in the Tower of Power line-up from 1982 to 1987 and it is plausible that with Rock Steady he uses the title of the funky and infectious ‘Retro Boy’ as a commentary on his musical direction to date. It’s a tune which shows off the combined writing prowess of Elliot and Braun that first came to prominence in 2007 with their R n R project. When they again collaborate for ‘Candice Dance’ they jointly deliver a slice of radio ready smooth jazz that takes its name from Elliot’s teenage daughter. Philippe Saisse is superb on keys and is even better for ‘The Preacher’ where his simmering Hammond B3 dovetails to perfection with Elliot’s fulsome tones.

The nostalgic vibe that permeates much of Rock Steady is complemented by several well chosen covers. Elliot’s zesty interpretation of the Eddie Kendricks hit ‘Keep On Truckin’ checks all the right soul boxes, the Aretha Franklin inspired title track is blessed by great backing vocals from the always excellent Lynne Fiddmont but best of all is Elliot’s stunning take on Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’. Already powering its way up the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio it could aptly be described as ‘classic Richard Elliot’ and in this respect is in the good company of ‘Spindrift’. Written by Elliot with Nate Phillips this tight and compelling cut is flavoured with just a hint of a world beat while ‘Restless’ proves to be another intense mid tempo number with bluesy keys from Ron Reinhardt.

‘Straight Up’ is notable for its fabulous horn riff that comes courtesy of Elliot, Braun and Gerald Albright. Co-writer Jeff Lorber is his usual immaculate self on keys and when he returns for the deliciously sensual ‘Licence To Chill’ the groove is just as good. Elliot takes it as an opportunity to demonstrate how effective he can be when turning down the tempo and does so again with the smokily seductive ‘Yaquala’. Featuring Tim Gant on keys this absolute gem resonates with Elliot’s impassioned playing.

Rock Steady is an album of considerable depth and is likely to ensure that Richard Elliot stays on the smooth jazz charts for the foreseeable 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 5:43 PM

July 30, 2009

Jeff Golub - Blues For You

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. Anyone who has been with Jeff Golub for the long haul will regard his latest CD, Blues For You, as a project that has just been waiting to happen. Indeed, functioning as he often does within the confines of contemporary jazz his music, especially in a live setting, can appear to be a paradox. Supercharged with the influences he garners from the best of rock and blues his playing is always totally from the heart and with Blues For You he is grabbing with both hands the opportunity to dig deeper into the blues and R & B roots that he holds so dear.

Blues For You was recorded over four days in New York’s Skyline Recording Studio and the ‘live feel’ that producer John Porter engenders serves to bestow the entire collection with a decidedly organic quality. Notable in this respect is ‘Goin On’ where a splash of hard driving sax provides a delightful counterpoint to Golub’s bluesy playing and his comfortable guitar style fits perfectly with the swaggeringly energetic ‘Shuffleboard’. It’s a track that is further energized by bursts of Hammond B3 and when J. Geils Band legend Peter Wolf lends his considerable vocal prowess to the ‘party ready’ ‘Rooster Blues’ the result is nothing short of sensational.

The use of guest vocalists is something of a departure for Golub but here it turns out to be a masterstroke. Mark Cohn enriches the tender but bluesy ‘I Don’t Worry About A Thing’ with his unmistakable gravelly tones while it is John Waite’s contribution that is the center piece of ‘Lost Mind’. Infectious in the extreme, ‘Everybody Wants You’ is infused with country tinged blues and magnificent vocals from Billy Squier. In fact it was Squier who back in the eighties recognized Golub’s potential by co-opting him into his live band. Golub ultimately played with Squier on three world tours and seven albums before going on to become a key member of Rod Stewart’s touring entourage.

An added facet of Blues For You is the picture perfect and subtle use of horns. The way in which they herald in the foot tapping ‘Nikki’s Walk’ feels like something right out of vintage Memphis and ‘Gone Fishin’ also demonstrates the impact that an understated horn section can have. Coupled with Golub’s wonderful playing it is a combination that serves to blend R & B with the blues in the most engaging of ways and this amalgamation is also to the fore with the even better ‘I’ll Play The Blues For You’. With a horn riff borrowed from Angie Stone’s classic ‘Brotha’ Golub’s wailing guitar drives this atmospheric stunner to a blues drenched conclusion and when he slips in a ‘bonus track’ the mid tempo ‘Ease E’ is taken to a different dimension by another infusion of smoky horns.

Of course one of Golub’s many attributes is the way his music can display genuine sensitivity. ‘Fish Face’ is a case in point where his sublimely tight phrasing offsets the urgency injected by Kenny White on keyboards and Shawn Pelton on drums. The overriding vibe proves to be both relaxed and appealing while this same aura is front, back and center of the superb ‘The Blink Of An Eye’. A real Secret Garden favorite, this turned down gem shimmers with the sheer emotion that is at the core of most things that Golub does.

Blues For You is Golub’s eighth solo album and will hit record stores across the USA on August 25. For more on Jeff Golub go to www.jeffgolub.com

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.

Preorder the CD at Amazon.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:42 PM

June 15, 2009

Marion Meadows - Secrets

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. Sax-man Marion Meadows has been at the cutting edge of contemporary jazz since 1990 and the release of his debut album For Lovers Only. Over the intervening years eight more highly acclaimed collections have followed with the last four being on the consistently outstanding Heads Up label. Now he is all set to strengthen that association with his ninth solo recording, Secrets, which hit record stores across Europe on June 8, 2009.

Indeed, from as far back as his 2002 CD, In Deep, a significant feature of Meadows music has been the input as writer and producer of Michael Broening. With Secrets Broening again sprinkles his groove drenched magic over six of the twelve choice cuts and, in the company of regulars Mel Brown on bass and guitarist Freddie Fox, helps deliver some of the best contemporary jazz you will hear this year or next. With four more original compositions and two sublime covers Meadows ensures that Secrets is an album of the highest quality imaginable.

The mid tempo title track is resplendent with that delightfully familiar Meadows – Broening vibe and this same partnership is responsible for ‘Urban Angels’. As the title suggests, and despite an urgent beat, it possesses a distinctly angelic tone whilst even better is ‘The Child in Me’. Tender yet compelling this textbook example of mellow smooth jazz finds Meadows at his impressive best and has already become a firm Secret Garden favourite.

That said, highlights abound and in this respect there is none more so than the spicy ‘Sand Dancers’. Written by Orly Penate and Roberto Vazquez (who both contribute hugely on keyboards, piano and horns) this tantalizingly inviting number shimmers with electrifying bursts of strings and a blazing injection of horns. Its zesty Latin twist allows the track to really flow and much the same can be said of the Broening – Meadows penned ‘Flirt’. Not for the first time Meadows playing is sumptuously smooth and when for ‘The Shade Tree’ he combines with the highly regarded Impromp2 it proves to be a chilled out masterpiece. Impromp2 is in fact the pairing of Johnny Britt and Sean Thomas who have been playing sophisticated cross-over jazz since the 1995 release of their MoJazz debut You’re Gonna Love It. Here as writers, producers and performers they bestow a distinctly Michael Franks aura to the entire piece while, elsewhere, heartfelt vocals from long time Gerald Veasley band member Will Brock gel perfectly with Meadows’ impassioned playing on the lively ‘Playtime’.

Legendary guitarist and rock singer Charlie Karp is outstanding for the breathtakingly tender ‘You Lift My Heart’ where his husky voice finds the ideal foil in Meadows’ wondrous playing. Co-written and produced by the prolific Brian Keane it’s a tune that exemplifies the eclectic nature of Secrets and, as Meadows returns to smooth jazz territory, the understated but totally in the pocket ‘Let The Top Down’ has Michael Broening’s writing and production skills stamped all over it. The utterly pleasing hook comes courtesy of Jessie McGuire on trumpet and he stays around for Meadows’ cool take on the Bobby McFerrin classic ‘Friends’ for which Brian Chartrand on vocals takes the lead. Chartrand returns for the steamily funky ‘Here To Stay’ that was originally the killer cut from the Pat Metheny CD, We Live Here. Meadows feisty interpretation reveals Rachel Ekroth in dazzling form on Hammond B3, Jay Rowe immense on piano and is, without doubt, one of the album’s outstanding tracks. However, equally good is the Michael Broening composition ‘Soul Sugar’. With yet more of the warm and comforting vibe that Secrets is all about, the almost languid beat lays a foundation for interplay between Meadows and Broening that quickly becomes seriously addictive.

Secrets is a wonderful album and comes highly recommended.

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 6:49 PM

June 7, 2009

Paula Atherton - Groove With Me

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 if from no-where, and courtesy of her brand new project Groove With Me, singer, songwriter and woodwind player Paula Atherton has dramatically emerged as a major player on the contemporary jazz scene. This sensational collection features eleven of Atherton’s original compositions plus one well chosen cover and, with the perfect blend of instrumental and vocal cuts, oozes quality throughout. The production of Lou Gimenez (who also makes significant contributions on acoustic and electric guitars) is never anything short of top-notch and with some fantastic guest musicians to lend a hand the entire recording is a total delight.

New York based Atherton has opened for the likes of Chuck Loeb, Patti Austin, Tito Puente and saxophonist Najee. In 2004 her debut CD Let Me Inside Your Love made its mark on the national contemporary jazz charts while in 2006 a cut from this album, ‘I Long For Your Love’ was included on the compilation Ladies of Jazz that also featured Natalie Cole, Candy Dulfer and Eliane Elias. Her television work includes appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America and, as bandleader, for the Lifetime network show, Girl’s Night Out. In addition, Paula performed at fundraisers during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and in 2002 wrote the score for the independent film ‘The Definition of Insanity’.

She has crammed this musical pedigree into every note of Groove With Me which opens with the zesty ‘Marimba Island’. It’s a track that evokes white crested waves breaking over warm white sand and shimmers with Atherton’s wonderful flute playing. This terrific example of textbook smooth jazz is in the good company of the funky yet melodic ‘Block Party’ which is blessed by Chieli Minucci on guitar and the outstanding Dave Delhomme on keyboards. Atherton on alto sax is tremendous and she stays with alto for ‘There Ain’t Nothing’. Opening with a clear hint of those killer chords from the Boz Scaggs classic ‘Lowdown’ the tune drips with all the rhythm and melody you will ever need and finds Atherton delivering on every conceivable level.

When, later, she reprises the song with her own picture perfect vocals the result is just as good and, given Atherton’s prowess as a vocalist, it’s surprising that she sings on only three other tracks. The first, ‘Whenever You Come Around’, is a breathtaking example of smooth R & B that has the added benefit of Darin Brown on keys whilst the heartfelt ‘Send Down An Angel’ allows Atherton to demonstrate another side of her myriad talents. The equally romantic ‘Falling’ provides more of the pleasing same but when Paula is joined by former Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams for the ultra funky ‘JB’ they together crank up the volume for a high octane tribute to the great James Brown. Baron Raymonde on tenor and baritone sax adds extra horsepower while the whole piece fizzes with a horn driven frenzy. This same energy is a key component of the aptly titled ‘Funk It Up’ for which Atherton calls on noted keyboard player Onaje Allan Gumbs and it is a feature of the CD that she is able to move seamlessly from the up tempo to the tranquil and all points between. For the tender ‘Winds Of Change (Yes We Can)’ she is at her melodic best on soprano sax and whereas ‘Light As Air’ is jazzy, interesting and beautifully performed the album’s only cover, the Ashford & Simpson composition ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’, is big, brassy, and thanks in no small part top more great trumpet from Adams, funky too.

To select a favourite from a collection replete with riches is no easy task but, all things considered, this accolade goes to the edgy mid tempo ‘Say It Baby’. Lionel Cordew on drums and bass-man Schuyler Deale lay down a massive foundation; Brown is again immense on keys and, between blowing up a storm on sax, Atherton still finds time to combine with Naomion for some high calibre backing vocals.

Groove With Me is a real gem and comes highly recommended. For more on Paula Atherton go to www.paulaatherton.com

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 6:45 PM

May 24, 2009

Smooth Jazz Rides The 'L' To Find A New Home At WLFM Chicago

No sooner had WNUA 95.5, Chicago slammed shut its door on smooth jazz than WLFM, which broadcasts from atop the John Hancock Center, activated its 87.7 FM frequency in the Chicago-land area and acquired broadcast rights from the Smooth Jazz Network for the smooth jazz format. The new station will go by the nickname of ‘The L’ and will have the catchy slogan of “Smooth Jazz Rides The L, WLFM 87.7 FM, It’s New Radio Home In Chicago”.

Although initially the output will be nothing more and nothing less than the syndicated programming from Broadcast Architecture that some blame for the demise of the radio we knew and loved, press reports suggest that ‘The L’ plans to reconstitute the cutting-edge community approach to smooth jazz in Chicago that, in its heyday, WNUA demonstrated so well. One of its main goals will be to create a station that has a very strong Chicago identity with a musical mix that represents what Chicagoan’s have been asking for

Over the next few months ‘The L’ will use extensive market research to formulate an increasing amount of locally based programming. However, for now, we should all rejoice that, in Chicago, smooth jazz is back on the dial.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:11 PM

May 22, 2009

KKSF And WNUA Pull The Plug On Smooth Jazz

WNUA 95.5, the once proud voice of smooth jazz in Chicago, is no more. Effective May 22nd, 2009 at 9-55am the station flipped formats and, in so doing, sadly deprived a city that has music pulsing through its veins of an outlet which had served it well for the past 22 years. Although the station will retain an ‘on-line’ smooth jazz presence this is another indication that the days of contemporary jazz radio as we knew it and loved it are now strictly limited. As a frequent visitor to the mid west this hammer blow carries with it a very personal significance and I am saddened that an entire listening community has, in effect, been disenfranchised.

The news from Chicago only made what was already a bad week for contemporary jazz radio even worse. On May 18 KKSF 103.7, which has been providing San Francisco and the Bay Area with smooth jazz for the last twenty years also switched formats, in this case to something it is describing as ‘103.7 The Band’ but which in reality is no more than an oldies station playing hits from 60’s and 70’s.

Both broadcasters have cited economic considerations and a loss of advertising revenue as the main drivers for this change and KKSF even claims the decision was only made following ‘exhaustive market research’.

One is left to ponder on just where does the genre go from here.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:41 PM

May 13, 2009

Dave Koz, Nick Colionne And Brian Simpson At The Pizza Express

April 9, 2009, and only forty eight hours after arriving in London, Brian Simpson, Dave Koz and Nick Colionne had incredibly transformed themselves from being three of the most successful solo contemporary jazz artists of recent times into what might yet prove to be the hottest smooth jazz super-group that the genre has ever produced. In town to play the second of six sell out shows at the legendary Pizza Express Jazz Club, and bolstered by the impressive content of their collective discography, the fact they blew the doors off with a delicious amalgam of energy, sensitivity and outstanding artistry was all the more remarkable for the fact that before flying in from the USA they had never previously shared the same stage.

Months of planning and electronically sharing each others music had clearly brought them to exactly the same creative page and as the show opened with the Koz classic ‘Honey Dipped’ from his Saxophonic collection there was little doubt that the audience was in for a considerable treat. When the spotlight switched to Colionne for the title track of his current CD No Limits the contribution of Koz on sax was nothing short of explosive and as Colionne went to the Keepin It Cool album for the sizzling ‘High Flyin’ it opened up the opportunity for more high energy input from Dave Koz.

In recent years Brian Simpson has added to being the consummate sideman and long time Musical Director for Dave Koz by becoming one of the most impressive soloists on the scene today. His 2005 It’s All Good (his first for fully ten years) was a runaway hit and both the title track and the equally delightful ‘It Could Happen’ had the Pizza Express crowd in raptures. ‘What Cha Gonna Do’ from the current CD Beyond The Clouds engendered a similar reaction but he was perhaps at his extraordinary best with the seductive ‘Let’s Get Close’. Word is that Simpson will have a brand new album ready for the Spring of 2010 which, with an incredible array of guest performers already promised, looks all set to take him ‘three for three’.

Throughout his career Dave Koz has never been slow to identify new ways to spread the message of contemporary jazz. The hugely accessible CD At The Movies is a case in point and at the Pizza Express his wonderful interpretation of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ created an interlude of spellbinding beauty. His 1999 album The Dance remains as one of his best and its massive hit ‘Together Again’ brought back memories of the last visit Koz made to London, in November 1999, with the Guitars and Saxes show. He went all the way back to 1993 for ‘You Make Me Smile’ from his Lucky Man project and in so doing afforded the opportunity for bass player Frank Felix to really shine. The line-up was completed by drummer Tony Mason who is best known for his work with Incognito and when the band returned to ‘The Dance’ for ‘I’ll Be There’ it was Mason who delivered with an exceptionally cool drum solo.

This former Jacksons hit proved to be the perfect encore number but, truth to tell, ‘show-stoppers’ were everywhere. Nick Colionne’s superb rendition of the Stylistics hit ‘Hurry Up This Way’ (with Simpson outstanding on keys) was magical but anyone who had previously seen Colionne play live would have gambled on the performance of the night being his marvellous vocal version of the 1970 Brook Benton hit ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’. From the CD Keepin It Cool it proved to be exactly that and, although sequenced for relatively early in the show, set a benchmark that lesser players would not have been able to maintain. As it was the standard remained astonishingly high throughout and turned this, the latest in a sequence of smooth jazz events promoted by the internet radio network Sky FM, into one of the best live shows imaginable.

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:19 PM

April 28, 2009

Joyce Cooling - Global Cooling

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. There is little doubt that San Francisco based guitarist Joyce Cooling has the monopoly on the kind of tight mid tempo smooth jazz that will always find an audience. Known for both her unique finger picking style and her passion for rhythm and harmony, the collaborations she has long enjoyed with writing partner Jay Wagner have signposted her career and now she is back with her brand new release, the cleverly titled Global Cooling.

Written entirely by Cooling and Wagner, this sumptuous eleven track collection which Wagner also produces is a mouth-watering creation of some of the best smooth jazz cuts you will hear this year and as one delicious number after the other comes rolling by the feeling is one of tremendous warmth. It is music that is special on many fronts, not least of which being the infectious rhythms of many complexions that Wagner expertly weaves into the majority of the songs. In fact at times his touches are nothing short of incredible and a wonderful example of his art is the one minute and twenty four seconds of ‘In The Streets’. This play-out track draws from the title of the earlier (and Jobim-esque) ‘What We Are Waiting For’ (where Cooling excels on vocals) and converts it into a totally rhythm driven chant that evokes a street carnival in Rio or the buzz of an expectant audience at a stadium gig. Equally memorable is the distinctly Middle Eastern beat of ‘Cobra’ that provides an exotic backdrop to Cooling’s urgent yet perfectly smooth playing. Again the rhythm is intoxicating and acts as a prelude to the crazy percussive extravaganza that is ‘We Can’. With Cooling’s quirky spoken word segments and innovative world influences this is indeed a ‘one of a kind’ tune. Cooling keeps the tempo spicy for the Brazilian tinged ‘Delores In Pink’ where drummer Celso Alberti really excels and when Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi takes over for ‘Rhythm Kitchen’ his interplay with bass player Nelson Braxton (of the Braxton Brothers) ensures a groove that shimmers with the country of Nashville and the blues of the Delta.

Despite its nod to the Tango, ‘The Red Rose’ carries with it a distinctly Parisienne flavor which, in no small part, is due to magnificent accordion from Wagner. Cooling’s playing remains smoothly mellow throughout and when she switches to vocals for the quirkily funky ‘Chit Chat’ the fine use of horns overlays the whole piece with a velvety veneer. She stays in top vocal form for the delightfully mid tempo ‘Save This Dance For Me’ and the pent up urgency of the title tune delivers rhythm and melody by the spade full. Its clearly one of the album’s top tracks but just shading it as the Secret Garden favorite cut is the breathtaking ‘Grass Roots’. Wagner is his usual superb self on keys and as more luscious horns combine with Cooling’s tight playing the result is truly memorable.

As with her 2006 CD Revolving Door she is denoting a portion of all sales from Global Cooling to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As she explains, “just by buying a copy of the CD, you've donated!” For all the latest news go to www.joycecooling.com. For information on the National Alliance on Mental Illness check out www.nami.org.

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 9:30 PM

April 5, 2009

Paul Brown + Marc Antoine - Foreign Exchange

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. Foreign Exchange by Paul Brown and Mark Antoine hits record stores across the USA on April 7 and captures the wonderful chemistry of acoustic and electric guitar in a way not seen since 1987 when George Benson and Earl Klugh got together to record the classic Collaboration. Indeed Antoine’s penchant for irresistible melodies coupled with Brown’s propensity for funk enriched smooth jazz has ensured an eclectic collection of the highest order yet the fact the album was ever made owes something to good fortune. Having performed together at Paul Brown’s Guitar Night in 2008, two time Grammy winner Brown, who was in the early stages of producing a follow-up to his 2007 smash White Sand, invited Antoine to play on one of the songs. The initial session sparked a creative flow which developed into a dynamic new partnership and, in turn, the aptly titled Foreign Exchange. With outstanding support from some of the genre’s biggest hitters, plus top rated session men Roberto Vally, Dan Lutz and Lenny Castro, this is a project that cannot fail.

Recorded at Brown’s Funky Joint studio in Sherman Oaks and Antoine’s facility in Madrid, Spain Foreign Exchange is in many ways a contrast between two musical entities. The first hinges on the guitar by-play between these two great players and the second, although still having Brown and Antoine left, right and centre, is given a totally different feeling by input from Brown’s regular horn section. This world class line-up of Bill Richenback on trombone, sax-man Dan Higgins and the legendary Jerry Hey on trumpet makes its presence felt with the decidedly seductive ‘Sweetness’ while at the other side of this musical divide ‘Feel The Love’ finds Antoine and Brown joined by the always excellent Jeff Carruthers on keys. It’s a tune that is blessed with a melodic lilt and subtly Latin aroma whilst when Philippe Saisse takes over on keyboards for ‘Bridges Of Paris’ his distinctly French interventions are complemented by distinctive flute from Jessy J. This compellingly beautiful number sums up much of what Foreign Exchange is all about and in this respect is in the good company of both the Latin tinged ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ and the extremely catchy mid tempo groove of ‘Wine Night’. Each serve to further showcase the wonderful musical fit that Brown and Antoine have found and, in addition, feature more great keyboards from Philippe Saisse. He stays around for the jazzily intense ‘On The Low Down’ for which Brown gets a real Wes Montgomery thing going on and again for ‘What About Bob’ which turns out to be a melodic joy.

In an album that glides seamlessly from one outstanding cut to the next it’s difficult to choose favourites but, suffice to say, the horn infused ‘French Connection’ is right up there. With many of Brown’s typical production touches and a delicious ‘in the pocket’ vibe it is a stunning example of what great smooth jazz should be yet even better and Secret Garden top track is the sensational title tune. Infectious in the extreme, as captivating as they come and with horns that are once more to die for this will, without a shadow of doubt, prove to be one of the top cuts of the entire year.

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 6:36 PM

March 15, 2009

Leela James - Let's Do It Again

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. Let's Do It Again by the wonderful Leela James finds her making music the old school way. With eleven of the greatest tunes ever written she is, in her own words, “taking it back as she moves forward” and paying her respects to some of the artists that have influenced her own musical development. What this means to Leela is turning back time to record live in the studio, drawing her energy from the musicians performing around her and rekindling the same excitement that back in the day characterised the output from studios such as Stax, Motown and Muscle Shoals. The result is a joyous celebration of some of the most soulful sounds of the last forty years and for those who were there it is certain to bring back glorious memories. However, for those who were not, this is a heaven sent opportunity to capture the magic of the music and of Leela James.


Leela James’ debut album A Change Is Gonna Come seemed to arrive from nowhere. With production from luminaries such as Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq and Wyclif Jean it was a striking combination of original songs and well chosen elucidations that included the impressive title cut which Leela used to tip a hat to the timeless Sam Cooke. The momentum the CD provided launched her into three years of intensive touring that twice found her at the Montreux Jazz Festival and also on the road with BB King during his farewell tour. She has soul to burn and this becomes immediately obvious with the opening track of ‘Lets Do It Again’, her sassy yet faithful interpretation of Betty Wright’s seminal ‘Clean Up Woman’. It’s a tune that sets the tone for what is to follow and lays a foundation for infectious grooves such as ‘Nobody Wants You When Your Down And Out’ that Leela fashions entirely in the style of Bobby Womack’s 1973 blockbuster.

Leela had the opportunity to open for James Brown during his tour of Europe so its not surprising that here she finds a place for his ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’. Soul Factor 10 would be a great way to describe her handling of it and this too would be a fitting label for the slinky ‘I’d Rather Be With You’ that was a hit for funkster Bootsy Collins in 1976. Delving further into the vaults Leela reignites the underrated Womack & Womack’ tune ‘Baby I’m Scared Of You’ while equally delightful is her sensitive handling of Angela Bofill’s ‘I Try’. From the 1979 Angel Of The Night it was a tune which at that time helped build Bofill’s reputation as a consummate interpreter of sophisticate soul ballads and Leela stays with that era for Phyllis Hyman’s sensational breakout hit ‘You Know How To Love Me’. Without doubt this is one of the albums standout tracks yet just as good is Leela’s fine version of the Staple Singers ‘Lets Do It Again’.

This moody gem articulates everything that is good about soul music and when she effortlessly steps beyond the genre into musical areas that have inspired her, the result is a heart felt rendition of the Foreigner anthem ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’. That said, she is quickly back in ‘soulsville’ to ensure Al Green’s ‘Simply Beautiful’ remains completely loyal to its title but its her version of the Rolling Stones mega hit ‘Miss You’ that totally steals the show. In fact Leela has been performing the number for some time as part of her live concerts and here in the organic setting of a live studio she delivers what will prove to be one of the best covers of 2009.

Let's Do It Again hits record stores across the USA on March 24 and is for soul lovers 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 4:26 PM

March 5, 2009

Darren Rahn - Talk Of The Town

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. Mega talented songwriter, producer and multi instrumentalist Darren Rahn has come up huge with his latest CD Talk Of The Town. His third solo project after Once In A Lifetime and Soulful its nine original compositions, coupled with three of the best covers you will hear this year, are certain to enable him to seize the spotlight and further enhance the already burgeoning reputation of nuGroove Records.

Darren Rahn hits the ground running with the opening cut, the staggeringly good ‘Tale Of Two Cities’. It confirms, if confirmation is indeed required, that he does groove drenched smooth jazz as well as anyone on the scene today and with ‘Free To Be Me’ there is more of the delectable same. Here the playing of Rahn is nothing short of spine tingling and he is helped in no small part by the always excellent Jeff Lorber who makes telling contributions on acoustic piano and moog synthesizer. Lorber sticks around to lend a hand for Rahn’s urban tinged ‘Tell Me Want You Want’ but perhaps is at his best with the sensuously smoking ‘Secret Crush’ where his solo on acoustic piano is breathtaking.

In part, it was with Wayman Tisdale that Rahn made his name as a ‘go to’ producer for work on the albums Way Up and On The Rebound. His collaborations with Jay Soto, Eric Darius, Dave Koz and Tim Bowman have been equally memorable and both Tisdale and Bowman repay the favor by joining Rahn on ‘Talk Of The Town’. Tisdale is at his unmistakable best for Rahn’s controlled cover of Chaka Khan’s 1981 blockbuster ‘What Cha Gonna Do For Me’ while ‘With You By My Side’ finds Bowman in melodic guitar interplay with Rahn’s sexy sax.

Of course, when not pursuing his increasingly successful solo career, Rahn is very much part of the band De’Nate. He recently joined what previously was the pairing of keyboard player Nate Harasim and vocalist Deborah Connors after playing a part in their debut CD Reminsce. The duo make a memorable appearance on ‘Talk Of The Town’ for Rahn’s outrageously off the chain rendition of Patrice Rushen’s seminal ‘Forget Me Knots’ which appears destined for inclusion in the Secret Garden top ten covers of 2009.

The horn driven title track benefits from Rahn’s own fabulous playing and he is joined for this deliciously in your face number by his brother Jason on trumpet and flugelhorn. Jason Rahn also features on the equally brass infused ‘Duplicity’ whilst in complete contrast is the tender ‘Our Love’. This turned down gem really flows and, although Rahn finds time for a cool cover of the Hall & Oates smash ‘I Can’t Go For That’, perhaps the biggest surprise in an album chocked full of them is the superb ‘Easy Does It’. Warm and comforting it comes complete with an infectious hook, picture perfect playing from Rahn and the wonderful spectre of the legendary Bob James rolling back the smooth jazz years with a truly memorable piano solo.

Talk Of The Town is a magnificent piece of work and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.darrenrahn.com

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 3:45 PM

February 27, 2009

Paul Jackson Jr - Lay It Back

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Almost six years have elapsed since Paul Jackson Jr. released the album Still Small Voice. It included his cover of the Motown classic, ‘It’s A Shame’ that enjoyed an extended spell as most played on contemporary jazz radio and although since then his guitar skills have become an integral part of television shows such as American Idol, America’s Got Talent and the Grammy Awards he is now firmly back in the spotlight with his brand new CD Lay It Back.

For Jackson Jr, the project is a culmination of eighteen months serious work. Not only has he produced or co-produced all fourteen songs but has also written (or co-written) ten of the them, added three superb covers and included the spine tingling ‘Fourteen Til’ that was written by keyboard player (and fellow American Idol band member) Dave Delhomme. With a stellar line-up of supporting performers that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary jazz, the ingredients are all there for something very special. Indeed, from the first note of the opening track, the feisty ‘The Workout’, which he co-produces with Jeff Lorber, this is exactly what Jackson Jr delivers.

Rex Rideout lends a hand in co-writing and producing the sultry ‘Hind’s Feet’ and the title tune, co-produced by Euge Groove’s former bass player Cornelius Mims, proves to be the perfect showcase for Jackson Jr’s jazzy playing. Equally compelling, and with a splash of Latin sunshine, ‘2 For 10,000’ features the excellent Bobby Lyle on acoustic piano and Lyle sticks around to play a part in the delightfully turned down ‘Ballad For Uncle Ronnie’. It’s a number which quite simply is beauty personified and as Jackson Jr notches up the tempo for ‘Bay Shore Drive’ it gives him the chance (if one was indeed needed) to demonstrate he can do wonderfully tight smooth jazz as well as anyone today.

‘Swing It’ is funky in a ‘full-on’ Bootsy Collins kind of a way while in complete contrast, and as a demonstration of his versatility, the tranquil ‘To Be Like Him’ has a genuine Earl Klugh feel to it. Blessed by Patrice Rushen who adds her star quality on piano this magical cut is further enhanced by Alex Al on bass and an ultra-sophisticated horn arrangement from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Ray Brown. Jackson Jr calls upon his son Paul Jackson III for the neat spoken intro to ‘Hit It’ which in turn enables them to serve up a terrific slice of atmospheric urban jazz whilst when he at last looks to the archives, Jackson Jr unearths ‘Can This Be Real’ that was a minor hit for The Natural Four in 1974. With vocals in the capable care of James Reese, and American Idol band members Herman Jackson and Teddy Campbell on keyboards and drums respectively, this welcome re-imagining of a quiet storm classic is in the good company of his take on the Lionel Ritchie blockbuster ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning’. Co-produced by the always outstanding Jeff Carruthers it’s a song that fits Jackson Jr’s playing style to perfection and, in every respect, is a complete gem. Staying with the covers, although Jackson Jr adopts an initially restrained approach to his well crafted version of the Stevie Wonder hit ‘Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing’, it’s the fulsome horn backing that really brings the tune home. In fact Jackson Jr makes generous use of horns throughout and this is particularly so with another Jeff Lorber co-produced track ‘Lucy The Cat’. The powerful yet understated brass section underpins the entire piece and makes it a real Secret Garden favourite

With six albums previously released by Atlantic and Blue Note Records, Jackson Jr. is excited about refocusing on his solo career with his own family-run label Branch Records. The title cut has already been released to radio and is sure to rekindle the smooth jazz stardom that Jackson Jr. has long enjoyed. Due to hit record stores across the USA on March 17 Lay It Back comes highly recommended.

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 12:29 PM

February 15, 2009

Oli Silk - The Limit's The Sky

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. There seems little doubt that writer, producer and keyboard player Oli Silk is fixed firmly on a fast track to contemporary jazz success. He was first noticed at Trippin N Rhythm in 2004 as the producer of the self titled album by British sax player James Vargas and his own 2006 solo debut on the same label, So Many Ways, proved to be an instant success. All the more remarkable for the fact that Silk is UK born and based, it garnered the massive radio hit ‘Easy Does It’ that hung around for more than six months on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio across the USA. Now he is back with his brand new release The Limit’s The Sky and, with stellar backing from sax-men Garry Honor and Jaared, legendary bass player Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith and guitarist Matt Park, he clearly has another winner on his hands.

The funky tight and rhythmic title cut features the excellent Jaared and is replete with Silk’s distinctive production touches. In fact Jaared can be heard on four of the ten choice tunes and is back to lend a hand for ‘S.O.S.O.S!’ With Silk on piano very much in Brian Simpson mode, and Dwayne ‘Smitty’ Smith his usual colossal self; this smoothly jazzy number checks all the right boxes. ‘That Kinda Love’ proves to be a stunning slice of cool urban jazz for which Donnell Spencer on lead vocals is outstanding and wonderfully backed by Shannelle Solomon and Donnell Spencer Jr. Silk retains a decidedly chilled out disposition for the appropriately titled ‘De-Stress Signal’. A tune to calm the most savage of moods it provides another opportunity for Jaared to shine and his final contribution helps lift the melodic yet jazz infused ‘Lime Cordial Soup’ to another place.

The only track not written or co-written by Silk is the sensational Jeff Lorber composition ‘Seventh Heaven’. As catchy as they come, this one is seriously addictive and although ‘Get It Together’ is groovily whimsical it’s the minimalist vocals of Silk and Kathryn Page that add a wow factor to ‘This Was Then, That Is Now’. A track which is funky in an electronica sort of a way it features a rocking guitar solo from Matt Park that is right on the money. Clearly one of the album's standout cuts, the tune is matched every step of the way by ‘Chill Or Be Chilled’ where Silk’s mellifluous playing is front back and centre. With a splash of mellow sax from Gary Honor and more great bass from Smith this is an absolute real gem. However, that said, a real Secret Garden favourite is the wonderful ‘Solarity’. Honor (who originally caught the eye when winning an onboard talent contest as part of the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise) again makes a telling contribution and Silk’s chilled out playing is out of this world.

The Limit’s The Sky is a breathtaking collection and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.olisilk.com

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 12:19 PM

February 8, 2009

Boney James - Send One Your Love

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. A new recording from sax superstar Boney James invariably proves to be a highlight of the musical year and this is clearly destined to be the case with his brand new CD Send One Your Love. Released this week and in good time for that magical date of February 12, Boney, with four of his own compositions plus covers of some of the finest love songs ever written, has compiled what has been described as the ultimate ‘Musical Valentine’. In fact for James the idea of a concept album represents something of a departure. With the vast majority of his previous eleven albums the overall vibe has come after the fact, when all tracks have been laid down. His music has served to virtually define the genre of urban jazz but with Send One Your Love he has set out to create his own ‘make-out’ record, inspired in part by the soul music of the ‘70s.

The melody of the Stevie Wonder written title cut complements to perfection the romantic mood of the entire collection and much the same can be said of Boney’s take on the Barry White classic ‘I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby’. A stunning beat and James’ sensuous playing combine to make this one the natural center piece of any Valentines Night encounter and when Boney looks to one of his own sax heroes, John Klemmer, for the track ‘Touch’ he not surprisingly makes it entirely his own. Tender, sophisticated and heartfelt it is replete with the qualities that have defined James playing for the last seventeen years and the sexy swagger he injects into the seminal Brothers Johnson hit ‘I’ll Be Good to You’ gives the tune an altogether different complexion. Although Boney himself describes it as the Brothers Johnson meets Boz Scaggs, truth to tell the groove is entirely Boney James and this is also true of the timeless James Taylor number ‘I Don’t Want To Be Lonely Tonight’.

Boney envisaged the tune as being infused with a gritty R & B edge and wanted a young singer with star potential to handle the vocal. Enter Quinn who at the time was working as an Atlanta-based session singer. He was recommended to Boney who flew him to Los Angeles where together they cut the track in two takes. The first single to go to radio is ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)’ that was written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed and which was a huge hit for the Stylistics in 1971. It’s already riding high on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio and is a certainty to be amongst the top covers of 2009.

However, despite the magic of these timeless tunes it’s the Boney James originals that really grab the attention. Featuring Stefon Harris on vibraphone, and a beautiful guitar solo from Dean Parks, ‘City Of Light’ has a distinctly Parisian quality about it while ‘Butter’, which Boney co-writes with Mark Stephens is, quite simply, crammed full of the sexy, seductive tenor saxophone that James does so well. Even better is the hypnotically turned down ‘Wanna Show U Sumthin’ that benefits from the sparse yet effective vocals of Sue Ann Carwell but a real Secret Garden favorite is the sumptuous ‘Hold On Tight’. Moody and dappled with a subtle string arrangement this is contemporary jazz how it’s meant to be.

Out on Concord Records, Send One Your Love looks set to cement the reputation of Boney James as one of the most respected and best-selling instrumental artists of our time. It comes highly recommended.

For more go to www.boneyjames.com

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 3:20 PM

January 30, 2009

Roger Smith - Sittin' In

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Just Enough from Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith was one of the best contemporary jazz albums of 2004. It perfectly fulfilled his intention to cross over into a more overtly urban adult-contemporary market and in doing so delivered some memorable tunes. Now after four years, and following his battle to overcome prostate cancer, Smith is back with his 2008 offering Sittin' In.

Smith’s solo career took off in 1999 with the release of the CD Both Sides. One of the album's singles, ‘Off the Hook’, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz singles charts and stayed in the top 10 for seventeen weeks. He was nominated for three Oasis Awards for outstanding achievement in the Smooth Jazz genre for Best Keyboardist, Best New Artist and Song of the Year. In addition he won the ‘breakout artist of the year’ award from the trade publication Radio and Records. The 2001 follow-up, Consider This, hit trouble when Smith’s recording company went bankrupt and, as a result, the album lacked promotion. However, the advent of Just Enough enabled him to make up lost ground and, in turn, increased anticipation for the new release.

The jazzy, self penned title track features edgy sax from Darius Babazadeh. This keyboard driven smoker demonstrates the more jazzy side of Smith’s nature while ‘Bad Sneakers’ is as good a piece of sax driven contemporary jazz as will be found anywhere. Eddie M (who at one time was Acoustic Alchemy’s ‘go to’ sax man) is outstanding and with predictably excellent keys from Smith this one turns out to be an absolute joy. Eddie M returns to lend a hand with the happy vibe of ‘Thinkin Bout You’. With vocals from Bobby G it’s a track that shows off the knack Smith has for matching a voice with a song and for ‘Just Friends’ he does so again. With a knockout vocal chorus from Monet and LB Braggs as its centerpiece this sumptuous mid tempo concoction has just the right blend of rhythm and melody. Of course Smith’s playing is, as ever, right on the money and elsewhere he delivers a picture perfect interpretation of the New Edition hit ‘Can You Stand The Rain’. It is taken to new heights by sensitive vocals from Lynne Fiddmont and Phil Ingram yet in complete contrast is the heavily gospel influenced ‘Jesus Brought Me Out’. As uplifting as it is different the number is a measure of the versatility for which Smith knows no bounds and this is further reinforced by ‘Isn’t It Love’ which is built around a soulful duet from La Jon Walker and Carol J Toca.

When Walker is summoned back to handle lead vocals on the sun soaked ‘Fiesta’, the effusive horns of Adolpho Acosta and Mic Gillette really blow up a tropical storm while equally compelling is the tight and funky ‘D-Man’s Groove’. In the pocket from the get-go, and with just a splash of sax from Babazadeh, it’s a tune built entirely around Smith’s edgy playing and Babazadeh is back yet again to add a silky touch to the ultra smooth ‘Searchin’. From mellow beginnings Smith, who is colossal throughout, picks up the tempo to take it home in glorious style.

That said the albums best cut by some distance is ‘Sweet Lady’. This slinky slice of sumptuous R & B shimmers with the understated vocals of Derek Allen and Connie Law, wonderful sax from the superb Norbert Stachel and an unmistakable sample from Shuggie Otis’s seminal ‘Strawberry Letter 23’. One is left to ponder whether or not, if smooth jazz radio was playing more tracks like this. would it really be in the trouble it is today?

Sittin In is a breathtaking collection and comes highly recommended. For more go to www.rogersmith.net

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 5:39 PM

December 28, 2008

The Secret Garden Top Ten Covers Of 2008

The smooth jazz cover has, in recent years, become something of an art form. Far removed from a straight forward copy of another artists work, these re-imaginings have breathed new life into music that, typically, originated in the classic soul era of the 60’s and 70’s. Even these boundaries have, of late, been frayed so, by way of paying homage to the very best that this sub genre has to offer, here is my very personal choice of Secret Garden Top Ten Covers of 2008.

‘I Stand Accused’ by Gerald Albright from the CD Sax For Stax. Albright takes this spine tingling Isaac Hayes classic and makes it entirely his own. The original, from the Isaac Hayes Movement, was an eleven minute plus odyssey but here Albright condenses it into the sexiest five minutes of instrumental R & B you will hear anywhere.

‘She’s Gone’ by Bradley Leighton from the CD Soul Collective. This Hall and Oates smash finds flautist Leighton in collaboration with sax icon Tom Scott to incredible effect. The fact that the tune generates a luscious horn driven warmth is due in no small part to the excellent trumpet and trombone of former Tower of Power mainstay Mic Gillette.

Read on for the remainder of this year’s top ten covers.

‘September’ by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band from the CD Act Your Age. The band’s spectacular take on Earth Wind and Fire’s seminal ‘September’ features Lee Ritenour on guitar and the wonderful Patti Austin on vocals. Quite simply it has never sounded better.

‘Holding Back The Years’ by Al Williams from the CD Heart Song. This beautiful rendition of the Simply Red worldwide hit ‘Holding Back the Years’ demonstrates to perfection the melody filled finesse of this ultra smooth saxophonist.

‘Let’s Stay Together’ by guitarist Jim Adkins from his CD City Streets. The way Adkins caresses this Al Green anthem into a tranquil delight is totally indicative of his art.

‘Whole Lotta’ by Don Immel from the album Long Way Home. Something of a show stealer, this slow and sultry overhaul of the Led Zeppelin classic is a joy from beginning to end. As the exquisite singing voice of Chandray Moore weaves its special magic the initial trepidation experienced by seeing a Zeppelin number on the track listing is quickly dispelled.

‘Imagine’ by Danny Lerman from his CD Meow Baby. Paul Jackson Jr leads the way on guitar, Bobby Lyle is on keys, Larry Kimpell plays bass and with picture perfect backing vocals by Lynne Fiddmont and Kenya Hathaway this soulful interpretation of John Lennon’s timeless song checks all the right boxes. Howard Hewitt on lead vocals is nothing short of awesome.

‘Mountain Dance’ by David Benoit from his homage to his own musical greats, Heroes. Given how the music of Dave Grusin impacted my own contemporary jazz education and the fact that ‘Mountain Dance’ is the theme tune to one my all time favourite movies (Falling In Love starring Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep), the inclusion of this one was never in doubt.

‘Can You Stand The Rain’ by Roger Smith from the CD Sittin’ In. It’s always elating when Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith releases a solo album and this sensitive song that originates from First Edition’s 1988 release Heartbreak fits his soulful style to perfection.

‘End Of The Road’ by Michael Manson from the album Up Front. Manson turns to sax man (and fellow Chicago cat) Steve Cole for his tender version of this ‘Babyface’ Edmonds tune. It’s a track where Manson proves he can play mellow bass with the best of them and, when the full sounding vocals of the soulful chorus kick in, it is obvious he has created a dazzling example of smooth R & B.

Well, that was my top ten! If you have your own list of favorite covers from 2008 why not e-mail it to me at denis.poole@yahoo.com. Happy New Year!!

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:43 AM

December 21, 2008

Grady Nichols - Take Me With You

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Grady Nichols cites his upbringing in rural Arkansas as the reason why he got into smooth jazz. He fell in love with the instrumental music that he heard played on the Weather Channel and contacted the broadcaster for its play list. Now, a few years and five solo albums later the rest, as they say, is history. Nichols latest offering is the eclectic Take Me With You which looks set to cement his position as one of the best young saxophonists around. It includes notable contributions from Jeff Lorber and is, in every respect, the real contemporary jazz deal.

A case in point is the hugely accessible title track that features vocals from Jenny Labow. It has a catchiness about it that is compelling and when, later in the album, it is reprised as a ‘house mix’ the result is equally good. Take Me With You strikes a nice blend of original music and well crafted covers. Among the latter is the tender interpretation of the Robert Palmer classic ‘Every Kind Of People’ that is built around a picture perfect vocal from Leigh Nash and is, without doubt, a clear contender for ‘best cover version of the year’. Right up there with it is Nichol’s turned down instrumental take on Kylie Minogue’s hypnotic ‘Cant Get You Out Of My Head’ and when Nichols switches to his own compositions he comes up with ‘Nashville’ which has appropriately ‘country’ undertones, a pleasant melody and good smooth jazz credentials.

‘Bad Attitude’ offers up more edgy mid tempo jazz sax that drives to a thumping crescendo while in complete contrast is the thoughtful ‘Slow Motion’. Here Nichols is perhaps closest to discovering a mellow vibe but he does not stay there as with ‘Ascent (Something For The Common Man)’ he delivers a number that is in the best traditions of ‘feel good’ jazz anthems. It’s the sort of tune that is sure to delight legions of festival goers in the coming year and another winner comes in the form of ‘After The Rain’ which is blessed by soulful and uplifting vocals from Tony Mason. One of three collaborations that Nichols enjoys with Jeff Lorber it is, in this regard, in the company of the zesty ‘Runaway’ for which Lorber makes a significant contribution on keyboards and also ‘Give Love’ where down and dirty vocals from Toni Estes sets the scene for a jazzily funky concoction.

‘Bellisimo’ is a wonderful chunk of textbook mid tempo smooth jazz with a nice vibe and a title that describes it to perfection whilst even better, and Secret Garden selection for ‘album’s best track’, is ‘Dove’. This tight and urgent rendition of what was one of the best club classics of 2003 takes contemporary jazz into an area where it might just engender a new generation of listeners.

Grady Nichols has already been described by no less than Jeff Lorber as “the awesome new sax-star for a new millennium”. With Take Me With You he is one step closer to making that a reality.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:26 PM

December 7, 2008

nuGroove Records - Grooves For The Season

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Throughout 2008, and almost unnoticed, the resurgent nuGroove Records has been building a roster of artists that, quite simply, is representative of the hottest up and coming smooth jazz talent around. If anyone is in any doubt about this then look no further than nuGroove’s brand new holiday sampler Grooves For The Season that is available exclusively from Circuit City. Not only does this exciting yuletide offering embrace the natural fit that contemporary jazz has with seasonal music but also shows off the remarkable line-up of ‘A List’ players the label now boasts.

In this respect there is none better than saxophonist Michael Lington and his sophisticated rendition of ‘Silent Night’. It has a vibe that transcends Christmas music and much the same can be said for the funk fortified ‘We Three Kings’ which gives guitar player Jay Soto the chance to provide a welcome reminder of why his radio hit ‘Slammin’ stayed on the chart for no less than 42 weeks. The ultra cool playing of Dee Brown fits his medley of ‘Hark The Herald Angels’ and ‘Sleigh-Ride’ to perfection while when Bob Baldwin segues ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘Behold Him’ into one delicious combination, the result, unsurprisingly, is stunning.

Wonderful guitar from Steve Oliver provides a spine tingling take on the classic ‘Carol Of The Bells’ and Smooth Jazz Therapy favourite Gail Jhonson is at her usual immaculate best with ‘Come All Ye Faithful’. J Dee (he of ‘Trippin On The Edge Of Funk’) makes ‘We Three Kings’ sound appropriately groovy and its more sax, this time from the excellent Andre Delano, that lights up the superb ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’. Bass-man extraordinaire Michael Manson doesn’t disappoint with the beautifully sensitive ‘Angels Serenade’ while ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ is in the funkily capable hands of shooting star Darren Rahn. He has been on of nuGroove’s most significant signings and in this respect he is in the good company of ex Down To The Bone front-man Shilts. In contrast to his usual ‘in your face’ style he handles ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ with great reverence and delivers what in most situations would be the album’s best track. However, just shading it is the ‘Christmas Bells Medley’ from the outstanding DeNate. Of course DeNate has been one of the finds of 2008 and here this fine duo of keyboard player Nate Harasim and vocalist Deborah Connors has never sounded better.

Grooves For The Season is the sort of album that makes you want Christmas to come early. Be good to yourself, buy the CD, light a roaring fire and enjoy.

For more go to www.thenugroove.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:44 PM

November 23, 2008

Jason Miles - 2 Grover With Love

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When in 2006 I reviewed Jason Miles tribute to Grover Washington Jr, To Grover With Love, I referred to it as a piece of music that needed to be taken seriously and not confused with what at first glance might be passed off as a collection of covers. The production skills of Miles, both in the selection of tracks and the choice of musicians, succeeded in re-imagining familiar songs into something new and fresh while retaining the incredible feeling and passion that Washington Jr. routinely possessed. It was never Miles intention to produce a follow up but after he had again listened to Come Morning (Washington’s follow up to Winelight) and then Strawberry Moon he realized that indeed there was another Grover project waiting to be done. The result, 2 Grover With Love, is an understated masterpiece that in terms of quality and sophistication is ‘miles ahead’ of anything else produced in the contemporary jazz genre this year.

Miles turns to Come Morning for the sumptuous ‘Making Love To You’ where Najee is exceptional on sax and stays there for ‘Reaching Out’. Andy Snitzer on soprano sax handles its hypnotic vibe with aplomb and does much the same for the Marcus Miller composition ‘Summer Nights’. Originally from Washington’s excellent 1987 offering Strawberry Moon it is as smooth as smooth can be yet even better is the title cut from that same album which here results in a virtuoso performance from Miles.

The deliciously sultry ‘Reed Seed’ features a mellow Jay Beckenstein on sax. It’s the title track from Washington’s 1977 Motown album and another tune that originated on that label is ‘Bright Moments’ from the 1979 Skylarkin. Chuck Loeb on guitar makes the invitingly tranquil groove his own and when ‘Mister Magic’ makes a welcome return from Miles original Grover recording it is given a sensational makeover courtesy of Maysa’s superbly atmospheric vocal.

‘The Saddest Thing’ is actually from the 1974 release Power of Soul by drummer Idris Muhammad. As well as featuring Washington’s unmistakable playing it also included arrangements and keyboards by Bob James, Randy Brecker on trumpet and the legendary percussion of Ralph MacDonald. Here, with the sax of Kim Waters sending shivers down the spine and segueing delightfully with trumpet from Dominick Farinacci the tune has never been in better hands. Without doubt it is one of the albums standout tracks yet right up there with it is the delectable ‘Moonstream’. From Washington’s 1975 Bob James arranged Feels So Good, and with the trumpet of Farinacci center stage, it rises from turned down beginnings to an urgent end and has all the attributes of timeless contemporary jazz.

A brand new Jason Miles interpretation of ‘Stolen Moments’ from the 1988 project Then and Now is helped in no small part by Snitzer on sax, the guitar of Loeb, some terrific trumpet by Farinacci and Miles own retro tinged keyboards. Evocative of a smoky jazz club from times long gone it checks all the right boxes as does the CD’s one original number, the Jason Miles composition ‘To Grover With Love’. With a luscious chill out groove it’s the perfect antidote to this crazy credit crunched world.

Out on the Koch label, 2 Grover With Love is the perfect device with which to scrape away the bland veneer that overlays much of today’s smooth jazz. It comes hugely recommended. For more information go to www.jasonmilesmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:49 PM

November 11, 2008

Michael Lington - Heat

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Saxophonist Michael Lington has been a force in contemporary jazz since the 1997 release of his eponymous debut on NuGroove Records. Since then his stature has continued to rise, first with the 2002 project (and his only recording on Marcus Johnson’s Three Keys label) Everything Must Change and again during his tenure at Rendezvous with Stay With Me and A Song For You in 2004 and 2006 respectively. Along the way the debut album has been re-released twice, in 2001 on Samson and then again in 2003 on the Copenhagen label. Now Lington has come full circle by reconnecting with David Chackler and the resurgent nuGroove Records for his brand new CD Heat.

A native of Denmark, Michael Lington is the grandson of well-known Danish band leader Otto Lington who was an early proponent of jazz in Scandinavia. Michael began his performing career as a member of the world-renowned Tivoli Boys Guard and, after completing a degree in music, managed his own recording studio. After touring regularly throughout Europe he relocated to Los Angeles in 1990 and with the assistance of producer Mark Schulman quickly became part of the then emerging smooth jazz scene. Lington is and always has been a tremendous live player. Early opportunities in this respect came when he joined Bobby Caldwell’s renowned touring band and most recently he has performed as part of the sold out, coast to coast Barry Manilow tour. As Manilow himself puts it "Michael Lington is one hell of a sax player. He absolutely brought down the house every night on my arena tour."

Heat is right up there with Lington’s best work and totally in sync with the high quality music that nuGroove routinely delivers. It kicks off with the powerful and uplifting ‘You And I’ that is currently making its mark on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio across the USA but quickly relaxes into the melodic ‘Chuva’. In fact the contrast between these two tracks is a metaphor for the entire collection. Up tempo grooves such as the thumping ‘Memphis’ blend delightfully with more turned down numbers of which ‘Ladyland’ is a great example. ‘Ocean Drive’ is another knockout illustration of Lington’s strident playing while ‘Angelina’, with a stunningly beautiful piano intro from Greg Phillinganes, quickly morphs into more of Lington’s compelling virtuosity. His faithful rendition of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ finds American Idol’s Ace Young delivering a more than credible vocal while it’s the unmistakable voice of Aaron Neville that lights up the emotionally charged ‘That’s When You Save Me’.

The expansive ‘Nostalgia’ provides a fittingly grandiose end to a remarkable body of work but a Secret Garden favorite remains ‘Shout About Ya’ that, complete with a pop tinged vocal from Keely Hawkes, is so infectious it hurts.

For more visit Michael’s website at www.michaellington.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:48 PM

October 25, 2008

Jeff Lorber - Heard That

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Perhaps keyboard maestro Jeff Lorber does tight, vibrant, in the pocket smooth jazz better than anyone else on the scene today. In production terms much the same can be said of Rex Rideout so when a project comes along on which they both collaborate then it’s certainly time to sit up and take notice. Enter Lorber’s brand new album Heard That which, as well as being full of all the good stuff that he and Rideout are guaranteed to bring, also features a veritable clutch of breathtaking guest performances.

Of course Lorber has been on the cutting edge of contemporary jazz since the release of the self titled debut album from the Jeff Lorber Fusion in 1977. As a producer he has helped fashion the careers of jazz luminaries such as Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Eric Marienthal while as a solo artist he has delivered a sequence of totally memorable collections of which this latest offering finds him at his fusion soaked best.

Lorber’s hip take on the familiar Amy Winehouse song ‘Rehab’ adds to rather than takes away from the original. It’s already making an impression on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio but genuine Lorber fans will be wowed by the riches that lay elsewhere. A case in point is the groove drenched title tune that is co-written by Lorber and Eric Darius. Driven along by Gerald Albright on alto sax it is a wonderful showcase for Lorber’s keyboard talents whilst when he is joined by Rick Braun on trumpet and the wonderful Alex Al on bass the result is the melodically rhythmic ‘Don’t Hold Back’. The retro buzz of ‘Gamma Rays’ comes courtesy of Gary Meek on flute. In every respect this is a cut that evokes contemporary jazz the way it used to be and is one of several tracks mixed by Paul Brown and his Pro-Tools sidekick DC. This pairing again adds a splash of their special magic to the complex and jazzy ‘The Bomb’ which fizzes in a way that only Lorber’s music can. In fact this and five other songs are written by the Lorber – Rideout combination and, truth to tell, every of them is a gem. An understated vocal from Chelsea Nicole anchors the slinky ‘Don’t Stop’ and the pleasingly mid tempo ‘Take Control’ is also dappled with cool vocals that this time come from Lauren Evans. ‘Night Sky’ is clearly one of the albums very best tracks and in the groove from the ‘get go’ yet just shading it as Secret Garden favourite is ‘You Got Something’. With a lavish veneer of horns from Gary Meek and Ron King, a mid tempo vibe to die for plus the subtlest of vocals from Phillip ‘Taj’ Jackson, this could well be the hottest urban jazz cut of the year so far.

Heard That is Lorber’s debut on Peak Records and was released across the USA on September 30. It comes highly recommended. For more go to www.lorber.com.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:30 PM

October 14, 2008

DeNate - Reminisce

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. As well as being arguably the best contemporary jazz release of the year so far Reminisce by DeNate also heralds the brand new pairing of keyboard player Nate Harasim and vocalist Deborah Connors. Discovered (and encouraged to combine) by nuGroove President and industry veteran David Chackler they have not only delivered a debut of stunning quality but also struck upon a format that, on today’s smooth jazz scene, is refreshingly unique.

With talents that encapsulate performing writing and production DeNate has found a sublime knack of coming up with songs that are sometimes catchy, often hypnotic but invariably memorable. They demonstrate all these attributes and more with the sumptuous title cut where, not for the only time, Connors shows off vocals that have a distinctly Lisa Stansfield feel about them. In fact every note that she vocalizes has a breathy seductiveness to it and, not surprisingly, this is particularly the case with the aptly titled ‘So Sexy’. The mid tempo ‘You are My Everything’ also checks all the right boxes and provides an exquisite platform for the DeNate combination to really flourish while ‘All You Are To Me’ has an atmospheric groove that typifies much of what the duo is all about. ‘Let Your Body Move’ provides a zesty departure from the wonderful mood music that permeates much of the album but DeNate is quickly back ‘on message’, first with ‘I Can Take You There’ (with its vibe to die for) and again for ‘Still Be Strong’ which features outstanding bass from Mel Brown. It’s a tune that finds Connors at her ‘Stansfield-esque’ best and is one of eight tracks written by Harasim and Connors. Just as significant, the two choice covers that complete the collection have been beautifully selected to complement their own incredible work.

Their fresh take on Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams’ is particularly notable with Connors turning in a performance of which Annie Lennox would be more than proud whilst even better is DeNate’s interpretation of the timeless ‘Secret Garden’. The many covers that have followed in the wake of this Quincy Jones blockbuster has proved, that such is the power and structure of this magnificent song, it is almost impossible to do it badly. However, DeNate grab the chance with both hands to add something new and different. The fresh twist afforded by the vocal duet of Connors and Maurice Mahon is nothing short of sensational while Harasim’s subtle production is just right. It allows the tune to build with breathtaking effect and, on most albums, this would undoubtedly be the killer cut. However, just edging it is DeNate’s own ‘Missin’ You’. This incredibly turned down gem finds Connors in typically sultry mode, Harasim picture perfect on keys and Michael Powell making an understated, yet colossal, contribution on guitar. Already it is certain to be one of my top tracks of 2008.

Reminisce by DeNate was released across the USA on August 19 and comes highly recommended.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:01 PM

October 13, 2008

Maysa - Metamorphosis

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Out today across the USA, Metamorphosis is the seventh solo CD from singing sensation Maysa Leak. Variously produced by Rex Rideout, Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis and the Jason MilesDJ Logic pairing of Global Noize it offers twelve sumptuous tracks that ooze sophistication and which feature notable contributions from some of the leading contemporary jazz session players around today.

This is particularly well demonstrated by the opening track ‘Simpatico’ where thumping bass from Melvin Davis and the drums of Michael White provide a rhythmic platform from which Leak proffers her soulful tones. It’s a number on which Rex Rideout, both as producer and keyboard player, really excels and much the same can be said of Chris Davis with ‘Take Me Away’ where Maysa seamlessly blends a cool sample of Jean Carn’s ‘Don’t Let It Go To Your Head’ into this emotional smoker. Of course since the early nineties, when she auditioned for the band by phone, Maysa has been famous for being one of the voices of Incognito. The complex yet compelling ‘Happy Feelings’ evokes her best Incognito moments as does ‘Never Really Ever’ for which Rex Rideout again plays a part. Both tracks contrast nicely with the gentle deconstructed splendour of ‘Love So True’ while also in turned down mode is the silkily soulful ‘I Need A Man’.

Earlier this year producer and keyboard player Jason Miles collaborated with DJ Logic on a project they named Global Noize. Here Leak taps into their hip rhythmic and eclectic style with ‘A Conversation With The Universe’ that she co-writes and performs with them. The tune’s world vibe represents a tasty departure from the Maysa norm and when, with ‘Walk Away’, she finds the ideal R & B ballad it’s a cool arrangement from Ledisi that incorporates a stunning brass infused play out line which comes courtesy of Melvin Jones on trumpet.

Dedicated to her mother and co-written by Leak, Rideout and the excellent Michael Ripoll, ‘Grateful’ is illuminated by Ripoll’s wonderful acoustic guitar and when Maysa turns to Najee on flute for ‘My Destiny’ he strikes the perfect chord with which to complement her picture perfect delivery. Najee is joined by Nick Colionne for ‘Higher Love’ where together they weave some exquisitely jazzy patterns that underpin Leak’s zesty Latin tinged vocal and Colionne returns to lead off what proves to be a staggering three minute ten second guitar introduction to the outstanding ‘Lets Figure It Out’. In the expert hands of producer Chris Davis this superb slice of chill out music evolves both into a feisty dance floor filler and the album’s best track.

Metamorphosis is an impressive collection of all-original material that may well be the album to take Maysa to the next level of appreciation. Check it out.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:55 AM

August 9, 2008

Shilts - Jigsaw Life

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Up until now the music of high octane sax player Shilts has, in the most part, been characterized by the big funky sound of Down To The Bone. His long association with the band has resulted in numerous tours, six DTTB albums and the platform from which to launch his own solo career. His 2001 debut See What Happens and the 2006 follow up Head Boppin were both generously populated with examples of the immensely forceful sound for which DTTB is famous but now things are set to change. His latest CD, Jigsaw Life, that hit record stores across the USA on July 22, is his first for the rapidly emerging nuGroove label and, although traces of his funk roots linger, this choice gathering of ten original compositions shows a new and diverse side to his considerable talents. Shilts produces, writes or co-writes throughout and additionally calls upon some of the best musicians around to collaborate with him. Bill Steinway, Randy Jacobs and Nate Phillips all lend a hand and the fact that Shilts has previously shared the DTTB stage with both Steinway and Jacobs simply adds to the cohesion of the entire collection.

Shilts (aka Paul Weimer) hails from London, England and has been playing saxophone since his early teens. At the age of 15 he was asked to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain and while with them gained experience by supporting such great jazz stars as Nancy Wilson, Buddy Greco, Rosemary Clooney, George Shearing and Mel Torme.

A professional by the age of 16, Paul was soon working in nightclubs and backing the likes of Rose Royce, The Temptations, Four Tops, and The Drifters. Refreshed from a travel spree that saw him work in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean he firmly established himself on the London session scene where he recorded with artists that included David Bowie, Jimmy Paige, Bill Wyman and Lulu. He hooked up with UK pop band Breathe who went on to have a sequence of top 10 hits in the USA but Shilts never lost sight of his love for jazz. He co-formed System X with five other like-minded London session musicians and this different exposure led to him being noticed for his soulful, funky saxophone style. He joined British Acid Jazz group The Brand New Heavies in 1994 and stayed with them for six years. In 1995 he took time out to tour with chart toppers Jamiroquai but it was during his time with the Heavies that Shilts met keyboard player Neil Cowley. That in turn led to an introduction to Chris J Morgans at Internal Bass and Stuart Wade, who was then and is now, the creative force behind Down To The Bone. Chris and Stuart asked Paul to form and front the live incarnation of DTTB and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jigsaw Life opens with the mellow(ish) ‘Piece By Piece’. Shilts originally composed the tune for Rick Braun and Richard Elliot but it was never recorded and here its ‘in the pocket’ smooth jazz vibe immediately shows a different side to the ‘in your face Shilts’ that fans of DTTB will recall. That said Shilts has not entirely dispensed with the funk. The tight, funky yet always in control ‘Back On The Hudson’ is the first single to go radio and glistens with wonderful keys from Bill Steinway and equally memorable ‘slap bass’ from Nate Philips. ‘Ain’t It Marvelous’ also evokes some of Shilts more animated DTTB moments whereas the down and dirty funk driven groove of ‘Outside The Box’ is truly something to savor. ‘A Promise Is A Promise’ is characterized by its lilting rhythms and warm melody whilst Shilts own measured backing vocals serve to embellish the soulfully turned down charm of ‘Smile For Me’.

Shilts drives the jazzy yet sophisticated ‘Too Close To The Edge’ to a catchy horn driven crescendo while ‘Time Gentlemen Please’ finds him weaving more of his intricately jazzy patterns. Sandwiched between Randy Jacobs Latin tinged acoustic opening and his equally memorable electric guitar finale ‘Broken Silence’ is blessed with the haunting tones of a string quartet, outstanding Hammond B3 from Steinway and Shilts own intoxicatingly restful playing. As delightful as its different this one is a real gem yet even better, and Secret Garden selection for best track on the album, is ‘Listen Up’. With a vibe to die for and more great keys from Bill Steinway this is a terrific example of up to the minute smooth jazz.

Jigsaw Life is a superb measure of just how much Shilts has developed as a writer, producer and performer. His growing maturity is breathtaking and his new found diversity is sure to add to his already significant following. No doubt about it, the new look Shilts rocks!

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:30 PM

July 27, 2008

Gerald Albright - Sax For Stax

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Over the last twenty years , and with the possible exceptions of Grover Washington Jr and Kirk Whalum, only Gerald Albright can be credited as having made a genuinely genre framing contribution to sax driven contemporary jazz. In fact Albright has been setting the agenda since the advent of his1987 solo debut Just Between Us. Since then he has released a succession of CD’s the latest of which is Sax For Stax, Albright’s tribute to the legendary record label that defined southern soul from the 1950’s to the mid 1970’s. The release of the album, which consists of eight passionately rendered covers of Stax classics plus three originals written with Memphis in mind, coincides both with the 50th anniversary of Stax and Concord Music Group’s re-launch of the famous label. It’s a collection with all the drive and energy one associates with the golden age of soul that Stax represents and the entire project is enhanced by the stellar array of guest performers who step up to play a part.

The revered reputation as a session musician that Albright still retains was crystallizing long before the launch of Just Between Us. Almost right out of college this native of South Central Los Angeles was working with Patrice Rushen, Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Jr., Atlantic Starr, Olivia Newton-John, The Temptations, Maurice White and many more besides. He played the famed signature tenor solo on Rushen’s smash hit ‘Forget Me Nots’ and in the early eighties struck up an enduring collaboration with Jeff Lorber when, as a young sax man, he replaced the soon to be famous Kenny G in The Jeff Lorber Fusion band. Albright has sold over 1,000,000 solo albums in the U.S. alone. He was one of the ten featured saxophonists who performed at President Clinton’s inauguration and has also featured at several private functions for the Clinton’s. Fact is Albright oozes class and with Sax For Stax he has never sounded better.

The album opens in feisty style with the Isaac Hayes composition ‘Theme From The Men’. Brilliantly evocative of the period it is electrified by violinist Mark Cargill whose string arrangements are excellent throughout. Of course Isaac Hayes was a considerable presence in the Stax stable. Albright takes ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ which appeared on Hayes 1971 release Black Moses and, complete with vocals from Will Downing, turns it into a stunning delight. Later he does much the same with another Hayes classic, the spine tingling ‘I Stand Accused’. The original, from the Isaac Hayes Movement, was an eleven minute plus odyssey but here Albright condenses it into the sexiest five minutes of instrumental R & B you will hear anywhere.

Ledisi is one of the most promising R & B vocalists around today and her contribution to the ultra earthy Staples Singers smash ‘Respect Yourself’ is outstanding. Other notable guest performances include that by Earth Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey on ‘What You See Is What You Get’, which was a hit for The Dramatics back in 1971, and also Kirk Whalum who steps up to add his unmistakable tenor sax to the Albright original composition ‘Walkin Down Beale Street’.

Albright delves into the Stax songbook to pull out two real gems from Johnnie Taylor. First he puts a jazzy spin on Taylor’s 1973 hit ‘Cheaper To Keep Her’ and follows up with an ultra funky take of his 1968 breakthrough ‘Who’s Making Love’. Albright transfers this same funky vibe to his very own retro tinged ‘W. C. Handy’ Hop’ which he infuses with more of the emotion so evident in his version of the familiar Eddie Floyd chartbuster ‘Knock On Wood’. Selected as the first track to be lifted for airplay it is already making an impression on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio. Yet, amid the riches of some of the best music ever made, it’s a Gerald Albright original that steals the show. ‘Memphis Passion’ is a tremendous example of Albright’s soulfully jazzy playing and solidifies his position as one of the most successful saxophonists to have straddled the fence of jazz and R & B.

Co-produced by Albright and Rex Rideout Sax For Stax is, for many, the chance to revisit a magical era in the annals of popular music. For those who did not experience it the first time around there has never been a better moment to start. For more go to www.geraldalbright.com.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:50 PM

July 15, 2008

Mick Hucknall - Tribute To Bobby

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In the main, artists tend to be products of the music that shape them. Certainly this belief is reinforced by the current proliferation of new releases that can be loosely classed as ‘tributes’. However, although Gerald Albright (with his homage to the music of Stax) and Brian Culbertson (who is single handedly ‘bringing back the funk’) are both rekindling the influences of their formative years, Simply Red front man Mick Hucknall has chosen to tread a different route. His Tribute To Bobby doffs a cap to R & B pioneer Bobby Bland who first sprang to musical prominence in the latter part of the fifties, before in fact Hucknall was born. Consequently his is a story of discovery made possible in part by the rare grooves of the sort typically showcased in the clubs of North West England around the time that Hucknall was starting out as a performer. It’s likely that it was in such a setting that he first heard Bland’s 1957 breakthrough hit ‘Farther Down The Road’ which is the first track from Tribute To Bobby to be selected for radio play and, despite its hard driving bluesy feel, is finding favor on smooth jazz radio across the USA.

The album is, for Hucknall, clearly a labor of love and the big brass enriched ‘Ain’t That Lovin’ You’ gives a clear indication of how this brand of music undoubtedly impacted Hucknall's own, now very familiar sound. The rocking introduction to ‘Poverty’ subsides into those same bluesy blue eyed tones that Hucknall delivers from the heart and he does much the same with ‘Yolanda’, a tune that in its original form signposted the way to the funk that followed. ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ is so bluesy that the steamy heat of a Mississippi afternoon is almost tangible while ‘Stormy Monday Blues’, presented by Hucknall in energetic style, is everything the title suggests it should be.

The torrid intensity of ‘I Pity The Fool’ contrasts delightfully with the soulful ‘Lead Me On’ which rekindles memories of days when production techniques were simpler and the music was allowed to speak for itself. In similar vein is ‘I’m Too Far Gone’. With a deliciously languid yet compelling beat it’s a song indicative of that which laid the foundation for mainstream 60’s soul and Hucknall returns to this vibe, first for the soulfully laid back ‘Chains Of Love’ and then again with ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)’. This mid tempo mover, complete with a Memphis Horns thing going on, fits Hucknall to perfection and these same ingredients are again superbly combined for ‘Cry Cry Cry’. Despite an ambience from an earlier time there is a genuine Simply Red feeling about it and perhaps, for Hucknall, there is the rub. Much like an actor from a long running television show Hucknall’s wonderful voice is synonymous with the band he created back in the early eighties. Whether his fans are ready to make the distinction between Hucknall the front man and Hucknall the solo artist remains to be seen but there is no doubt that with Tribute To Bobby he has checked every box imaginable.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:32 PM

May 31, 2008

Frank Felix And The FU Express - Tales From The Funky Underground

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. An assault is about to take place and the assailant is none other than the multi talented Frank Felix. In the company of his FU Express he is all set to challenge the supremacy enjoyed by Down To The Bone as the leading UK exponent of good old fashioned of ‘in your face’ funk. It’s a brand of music that came out of the acid jazz movement which was prevalent in the UK during the early 90’s and, if this debut album from Felix, Tales From The Funky Underground is meant as a tilt at Down To The Bone’s crown, then it promises to be very much a bloodless coup. In fact DTTB keyboard player Neil Cowley plays a significant part throughout and in doing so is joined by a stellar gathering of guest musicians including the UK’s pre-emanate contemporary jazz saxophonist Snake Davis.

Many will know Felix as the long-time bass player with Acoustic Alchemy. He left the band early in 2007 and now, with his own ‘FU Express’, which includes a full and feisty horn section, he has produced an album that is all about the groove. Its mood is perfectly exemplified by the storming ‘FU Express’ for which the FU horns are massive and where ex Acoustic Alchemy band-mate Miles Gilderdale drops in to play guitar. In fact Gilderdale returns often and really rocks on the raucous ‘Mr D’ where Davis on sax also blows up a storm. ‘Move Witcha’ is another high octane funkathon while the hugely intense ‘Los Galacticos Hustle’ is what might be termed ‘mardi gras ready’. Here Snake Davis again looms large with his instantly recognizable sax and when, for ‘Work It’, he returns in the company of Gilderdale and Cowley, they together produce a rhythm drenched steamer.

The raw power of Tales From The Funky Underground is such that when, in relative terms, Felix chooses to turn it down the effect is instantly pleasing. The smooth vibe engendered by ‘A Cosmic Love Song’ is a delight. Blessed by a fine guitar solo from Miles Gilderdale it is an extremely edgy a slice of contemporary jazz while ‘Crazy’ owes its melodic groove to wonderful contributions on guitar, organ, electric piano and clavinet from Jes Platt.

Still, after all that, Tales From The Funky Underground, and Frank Felix, is all about the funk. The tracks ‘Sugarfoot’ and ‘Fatback Avenue’ merge with others such as ‘Waditz’ and ‘’Club 44’ to maintain the intensity at ‘funk factor 6’. With top notch performances from Billy Mclean on trombone, Farris Holder on trumpet and old Acoustic Alchemy pals Eddie M on alto sax, Jeff Kashiwa on tenor sax and Fred White on trumpet, the combination makes Tales From The Funky Underground an album with which to party.

For more on Frank Felix go to www.frank-felix.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:18 PM

April 2, 2008

Michael Manson - Up Front

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When, in 2006, I reviewed Just Feeling It by bass player Michael Manson I described his influence and reputation within the contemporary jazz genre as extending far beyond his home city of Chicago. On the album this was exemplified by the who’s who of smooth jazz superstardom that he enticed to collaborate with him and now, just under two years later, he is back with more of the wonderful same. Of course these are troubled times for smooth jazz and 215 Records, the label with which he recorded Just Feeling It is now defunct. Its demise led to a chronic underexposure of what was a really outstanding CD so it is totally appropriate that the new release, Up Front, provides a welcome opportunity to revisit four of the tracks originally found on this earlier effort. Not only that, Manson reaches all the way back to 2002 and his debut The Bottom Line project for the hit of the time ‘Outer Drive’. In doing so he creates a hybrid collection that is part ‘best of’, part brand new music but all superb contemporary jazz.

Amongst the reprises of what went before, the understated foot-tapping ‘Coming Right at Ya’ serves to create the Manson mood. It affords a stylish platform for his tight playing, a sensational horn section and guest spots from Paul Jackson Jr. and Kirk Whalum. With Jeff Lorber and fellow Chicago native Mike Logan both chipping in on piano, contemporary jazz doesn’t get any better than this. That said, the gentle ‘It’s the Way She Moves’ with Michael Ripoll on guitar, excellent sax from Tom Braxton and more of Mike Logan’s groovy piano also captures the very best of smooth jazz production techniques. Lorber returns for ‘Way Back When’ where he produces, plays both piano and keyboards and generates that trademark jazzy Jeff Lorber sound that here is helped in no small part by top notch trumpet from Rick Braun. Manson ripples nicely through the delightful melody of Bill Withers 1977 hit ‘Lovely Day’ and the track also includes the brother of Kirk Whalum, the under-rated Kevin Whalum. His voice fits the familiar vocal to perfection and the fact that he manages to engender something of a steppin’ beat provides just another reason for liking it.

The laid back and smoky intro of ‘Still Thinking About You’ unfolds into a terrific melody. Here, nice work from Manson is complemented by a guest appearance on guitar by Norman Brown and distinctive piano from Mike Logan. The cut, in common with much of Manson’s music, is built atop a luscious horn driven foundation and another great example of this brass construction comes courtesy of ‘Steppin Out’. With Najee playing flute and rising star Darren Rahn on sax this expansive, jazzy yet ‘in the pocket’ number is a joy while just as good is the equally horn fuelled title track. It allows Manson to turn funky in a controlled kind of a way before becoming remarkably melodic for the smooth jazz gem ‘She’s Always There’. Written for his wife Lana it features Tom Braxton on sax and when Manson needs a sax man for his sensitive rendition of the ‘Babyface’ Edmonds tune ‘End Of The Road’ he turns to none other than fellow Chicago cat Steve Cole. It’s a song where Manson proves he can play mellow bass with the best of them and, when the full sounding vocals of the soulful chorus kick ignite, it is obvious that this may well be one of the year’s best examples of smooth R & B.

Manson’s 2002 hit ‘Outer Drive’ has Logan on keys and a guitar solo from Nick Colionne. It is one of the albums standout tracks and, in every respect, is a slice of pure Chicago smooth jazz yet just as good is the Darren Rahn produced ‘Bring It On’. Rahn also plays sax and is joined by his brother Jason on trumpet for what is a feisty and uplifting chunk of smooth jazz enhanced even further by the contribution of Paul Jackson Jr on guitar and a stunning piano solo from the legendary George Duke.

For a funky bass player Michael Manson sure can ‘do smooth’ and now, under the nurturing wing of NuGroove Records, is set to deliver what, as a solo artist, he has promised for so long.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:46 PM

March 15, 2008

Marcus Miller - Marcus

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Some releases are more special than others and when an artist of Marcus Miller’s stature steps up with a new offering then its time to take notice. Marcus is the Grammy-winning bass supremo’s seventh studio album and is every bit as eclectic as one would expect from someone who has done everything and worked with everybody. Indeed, the varieties and shades that Miller has been able to combine into this diverse thirteen track selection seems to be a perfect culmination of what is now, for him, thirty plus years in almost every aspect of the business.

Performing from an early age and, as a teenager, writing music for Lonnie Liston Smith, Miller has appeared as a bassist on over five hundred albums including discs by such artists as Joe Sample, Wayne Shorter, Donald Fagen, Chaka Khan, McCoy Tyner, Mariah Carey, Bill Withers, Elton John, Bryan Ferry, Frank Sinatra, and LL Cool J. He has toured with Miles Davis and continues to be a ‘first call’ studio musician in his home town of New York.

As a producer Miller was responsible for David Sanborn’s Grammy winning Voyeur, the follow ups Close Up and Upfront plus another Grammy winner, the 2000 Inside. He has also produced for Miles Davies, Al Jarreau, the Crusaders, Wayne Shorter, Take 6, Chaka Khan, Kenny Garrett and Luther Vandross with whom he had a musical relationship that started out when they met in Roberta Flack's band and endured right through to Luther’s untimely death.

Miller stepped center stage in 1993 with the release of his solo album The Sun Don't Lie. Tales followed in 1995 and Live & More was released in 1997. M2, his first release of the new millennium, won the 2001 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and was selected by Jazziz as one of the 10 Best CDs of the Year.

Now, with the soul and R & B inspired Marcus, he has got another winner on his hands. Miller includes seven of his own compositions and each of them encapsulates the funkiness for which his playing is famous. The opening track, ‘Blast!’ is a perfect of example of his art which, despite its distinctly Moroccan vibe, is pure funk throughout. Equally so is the aptly titled ‘Funk Joint’ and when Keb Mo steps up on vocals for the streetwise groove of ‘Milky Way’ the result is an urban gem of great quality. Much the same can be said of ‘Cause I Want You’. This hypnotic chiller features spoken word vocalist Shihan The Poet and incredible backing vocals from Ulisa, Kenya, Tavia and the Ivey Sisters. In fact guest artists abound and Lalah Hathaway, who featured on Miller’s previous CD Silver Rain, contributes both as co-writer and performer for the sassy ‘Ooh’. It’s a tune that is further illuminated by Gregoire Maret on harmonica who returns again and again to both enthrall and delight.

Perhaps the best of Miller’s own compositions is the intoxicating ‘Strum’. Tom Scott is huge on sax, Paul Jackson Jr his usual excellent self on guitar and with more great harmonica from Maret they merge to deliver a song that is seriously infectious. Miller uses another of his own songs, ‘Pluck’ as the funky bridge to what is arguably the albums best track. ‘Lost Without U’ by Robin Thicke proved to be a tremendous urban hit and it says much about Miller’s interpretation that it easily surpasses the original. With more sumptuous backing vocals and additional ad libs from Hathaway it is clearly destined to be one of the best covers of the year yet completely different but just as good is the magical ‘When I Fall In Love’. Maret again weaves some of his special magic and with Miller taking the lead on both clarinet and bass they together create a timeless masterpiece of immense beauty.

Clarinet is again Millers chosen instrument for ‘What Is Hip?’ and this stunning version of Tower of Power’s 1973 success is further enhanced by the sax of David Sanborn. He stays on to add a jazzy vibe to Miller’s exceptional version of the Deniece Williams classic ‘Free’ for which Corinne Bailey Rae’s understated vocal works to perfection. Miller gets back on the funky track for his take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and retraces familiar steps for the Miles Davis composition ‘Jean Pierre’. All the more notable is the fact that the 1981 album We Want Miles, from which this tune originally came, featured a young Marcus Miller on bass.

As contemporary jazz moves into a distinctly urban phase of its evolution Marcus Miller is, not for the first time, showing himself to be right on the cutting edge. Marcus is an album with something in it for everyone and comes highly recommended.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:21 AM

March 2, 2008

Bradley Leighton - Soul Collective

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In the world of innovative contemporary jazz 2008 may well prove to be the year of the flute. Its spine tingling vibe has the ability to take the art form to another place and one protagonist with the potential to do just that is the extraordinary Bradley Leighton. His brand new album, the aptly titled ‘Soul Collective’, is replete with a deliciously soulful vibe and it is testimony to Leighton’s growing stature within the genre that a galaxy of stars have come out to collaborate with him.

There is none more in this respect than the legendary Tom Scott who adds his distinctive sax to the succulent ‘Wake Up Call’. With his hip, brass adorned backdrop creating the ideal canvass for Leighton’s intricate yet rhythmic playing they together create four minutes of magic that is a sensation from beginning to end. When Scott returns to lend a hand with the Hall and Oates classic ‘She’s Gone’ his interplay with Leighton is a pure delight. The fact that the tune generates a luscious horn driven warmth is due in no small part to the excellent trumpet and trombone of Mic Gillette. This Bay Area icon and former Tower of Power mainstay is also called upon to play a part in the two numbers for which Leighton joins forces with Pacific Coast Jazz label-mate Tom Braxton. The first of these, ‘It’s On’ is a tremendously zesty slice of smooth jazz while the Latin infused ‘Café Con Leche’ is a wonderful showcase for Leighton’s talents.

The restrained yet jazzy ‘Undercover’ is one of five tracks composed by Allan Phillips who also arranges, produces and plays keyboards throughout. It features another of Tower of Power’s exclusive alumni, trumpeter Greg Adams, plus guitar from Fattburger stalwart Evan Marks. In fact Marks makes a contribution to seven of the nine cuts. When he gives way to Sherrod Barnes for Leighton’s re-imagining of the Bobbi Gentry hit ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ it’s the keyboard and production touches of Jason Miles that faultlessly complement Leighton’s picture perfect playing. Rhonda Smith also features on bass and, with the addition of Katreese Barnes on vocals, it’s this same Miles, Sherrod Barnes and Smith partnership that holds down the groove for Leighton’s take on Wayne Henderson’s ‘Keep That Same Old Feeling’.

If ever there was a doubt that the flute could be funky then the totally compelling ‘Rock Me Softly’ proves it for all time. The tune is another welcome chance to enjoy the muted trumpet of Greg Adams and when Leighton brings him back one more time the result is the retro tinged ‘That Man’. Written by Paula Prophet, who also provides the distinctly 5th Dimension like vocals, the track is further blessed by more magnificent sax from Tom Scott.

‘Soul Collective’ follows Leighton’s 2006 album ‘Back To The Funk’ and is his fourth in all. It has the red thread of joyous warmth running right through it and is sure to be one of the highlights of 2008.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:09 PM

February 22, 2008

Ragan Whiteside - Class Axe

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The infrequency with which the flute is heard only adds to its magic as a contemporary jazz instrument. Now, in the skilled hands of the wonderfully soulful Ragan Whiteside, its potential knows no bounds. Her 2007 CD Class Axe is an absolute revelation and, given the album features production from both Bob Baldwin and Dennis Johnson, it has all the credentials necessary to provide Whiteside with the mainstream breakthrough that, on the strength of this collection, she so richly deserves.

Even before she had won the 2006 Capital Jazz Challenge, Mount Vernon, NY based flautist, vocalist, and songwriter Ragan Whiteside had already caught the attention of keyboard maestro Bob Baldwin. She played flute on his 2004 project Brazil Chill and a year later Baldwin included her on his follow up, All In A Day’s Work. In fact, for Class Axe Baldwin writes (or co-writes) six of the fourteen tracks and plays keys throughout. Included within this mix are a number of intro’s, interludes and reprises that serve to fuse the entire work together and whereas Whiteside’s collaborations with Baldwin tend to be strictly instrumental, her pairings with Johnson allow for further exploration of her vocal prowess.

The sumptuous Johnson – Whiteside composition ‘So Glad’ is a shimmering example of her combined talents and there is more of the delightful same with ‘How Do You Know’. This soulful chiller features a keyboard solo from Baldwin and has a turned town yet edgy vibe that Whiteside carries over to ‘Options’. Written by Johnson and Baldwin this is but one of several examples of top notch smooth R & B and when ‘Call Me’ draws Whiteside to the urban side of the tracks she calls upon rapper Short Fuze to invoke a streetwise edge.

Baldwin’s interactions invariably illuminate Whiteside’s instrumental abilities and this is particularly so with the mellow ‘Gonna Fly’. It finds Whiteside in outstanding form and with Baldwin contributing on keyboards, drums and strings they together deliver a complete gem. In similar vein is the excellent ‘In Love’ and with ‘3 AM’ they again unite for a tune that, as its title suggests, is a superb example of late night mood music. The Latin infused ‘Meu Amigo, Meu Amante’ really permits Whiteside’s flute to dance and when she switches back to vocals for ‘Break Me Down’ the result is an earthy smoker of the highest order.

In many ways ‘Funktuation’ is at the heart of the album. It’s hypnotic yet zesty neo soul vibe provides Whiteside with the opportunity to demonstrate her stellar playing which here, expertly coupled with understated backing vocals, really stands out from the crowd. Later in the album the song is joyously reprised then pops up yet again as a hidden bonus track. Far from being overkill, it is simply three times the charm.

Class Axe is predominately mellow, always soulful and a great example of Whiteside’s art. It finds the sweet spot where contemporary jazz meets smooth R & B and comes highly recommended.

For more go to www.raganwhiteside.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:36 PM

February 17, 2008

Snake Davis - Talking Bird

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Saxophonist Snake Davis has long been the UK’s leading exponent of contemporary jazz and pop tinged R & B. His recording credits are almost too numerous to mention but include sessions with M-People, Lisa Stansfield, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, Culture Club, Hamish Stuart, George Michael, Tina Turner, Cher, Kylie Minogue, Paul McCartney, Swing Out Sister, Dave Stewart, Paul Young, Pet-Shop Boys and Robert Palmer. Both with his own band and as a solo performer Davis makes hundreds of appearances every year and has also toured with soul legends Edwin Starr, Rose Royce, Sister Sledge, Tavares, Odyssey, The Three Degrees, Mary Wells, Ruby Turner, Martha Reeves and Eddie Holman. A perpetual ‘go to guy’ for recordings by both Acoustic Alchemy and Paul Hardcastle, Davis is now reigniting his own solo career with the brand new CD Talking Bird.

His 2001 debut Snakebites promised much and when Hysteria followed two years later it seemed only a matter of time before Davis would break through into the mainstream. Although five years have since elapsed, it is obvious from the very first notes of the album’s opening title cut that the wait has been worthwhile. This fulsome smooth jazz anthem flows like a river and in similar vein is the soulful, horn driven ‘Harlem Stroll’. Reminiscent of his playing on Acoustic Alchemy’s ‘The Detroit Shuffle’ it is a contender for the album’s best track yet in truth standouts abound. ‘KikBak’, with its funky edge and killer beat, is a wonderful example of sophisticated contemporary jazz while ‘Refuge’ features more of that big trademark Snake Davis sound. When he switches to flute for ‘Cross The Line’ the outcome is intense, complex but always interesting.

‘Day Of The Snake’ finds Davis showing off his jazzier side whereas in complete contrast is the outstanding beauty of the bluesy ‘Dreaming On’. This chilled out smoker includes excellent guitar from Mark Cresswell and when Davis blends a warm soulful groove with zesty world rhythms the result is the captivating ‘Dragonfly’.

The final touches to Talking Bird were applied in late 2007 as Davis toured Japan with Eikiche Yazawa. Consequently it’s no surprise that an oriental feel permeates much of the collection. The stunningly deconstructed ‘Naima’ is a case in point while even better is ‘Fuji-sighting’. This intoxicatingly mellow number is an absolute joy and another Secret Garden favorite is ‘Shiro Sunset’. Here the violins of Veronika Novotna create a melancholy vibe that Davis carries on with his sublimely tender playing.

Recorded during 2007 in Lancashire, Buckinghamshire and Tokyo Talking Bird was released in the UK on February 4, 2008. Complemented by excellent support from Paul Birchall on keys, Bryan Hargreaves on drums, Neil Fairclough on bass guitar and Dave Bowie with double bass, it is Snake’s best album to date and deserves to get him noticed.

For more go to www.snakedavis.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:31 AM

February 10, 2008

WQCD 101.9 New York Shuts Out Smooth Jazz

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. As well as leaving a huge gap in the market, the news effective from 4-00 pm on February 5 that WQCD 101.9 in New York has switched formats from smooth jazz to rock has delivered a damning indictment on the state of smooth jazz radio in the USA. In fact where the genre does manage to survive, especially when buried within the choice deprived play lists served up on radio by Broadcast Architecture, it is as a watered down version of its once glorious self. Worse still, those mainly independent artists who strive to recapture the music’s traditional edginess struggle to find an outlet. Consequently let’s thank heavens for the publicists, websites and streaming radio stations who are prepared to offer a voice to those performers who otherwise would never be heard. Steve Quirk’s Fusion Flavours at Smooth Radio 100.4 is a shining example. Now in its eighteenth year the show streams worldwide every Sunday at midnight UK time when Quirk’s carefully researched blend of music from both established and up-coming performers provides the perfect antidote to syndicated radio.

Meanwhile its likely that those New York listeners who inadvertently tune into rock at WQCD 101.9 may well hear and relate to Bruce Springsteen’s pointed 1992 commentary on television choice, ‘57 Channels (And Nothin On)’. For smooth jazz fans it now fits radio just as well.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? IIf so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:52 AM

January 13, 2008

Greg Adams Plus Lenny Williams Equals East Bay Soul

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The brand new nine piece East Bay Soul is the brainchild of Grammy and Emmy nominated trumpeter Greg Adams and award winning vocalist Lenny Williams. With its tight horn filled rhythms and hugely talented line-up the band promises to ignite an R&B renaissance that has it’s roots firmly grounded in the uniquely soul based genre of San Francisco’s East Bay Area.

EastBaySoul.jpgOf course Adams is a founding member of the wonderful Tower of Power while Williams provided the bands vocals throughout a significant period of its considerable history. Here, as East Bay Soul, the duo is joined by another ex Tower of Power stalwart, trumpeter Lee Thornburg, who more recently has played on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. If that wasn’t enough, either the dynamic Tom Scott or the soulful Eric Marienthal will feature on saxophone. The decision as to who plays where and when will be dependant on scheduling. In fact, although twenty six cities have already been named for the bands extensive 2008 tour, all of East Bay Soul’s appearances will be predicated on each of the artists own solo commitments.

The East Bay Soul line-up is completed by Joey Navarro on keyboards, Evan Stone on drums, Brian Allen on bass, James Wirrick on guitar, Johnny Sandoval on percussion and Johnnie Bamont with flute plus alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. It’s without doubt that the timeless quality of the East Bay Soul sound will captivate audiences throughout the summer. Get your tickets early and for more information go to www.eastbaysoul.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:06 PM

December 25, 2007

Mark Hollingsworth - Chasing The Sun

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In the liner notes for his new CD Chasing The Sun sax-man Mark Hollingsworth offers the view that in recent years a lot of music, including certain kinds of jazz, has become pretty rigid and very predictable. He compares this to the days of his youth when, growing up listening to radio in Chicago, he was able to access a wide variety of styles and genres. Now, as the culmination of a lifetime search to embrace the richness of good music that is unfettered by boundaries or limitations, he has written and produced fourteen of the most diverse tracks found on any single CD this year. In so doing Hollingsworth has delivered a contemporary jazz album that possesses a level of intelligence way above the norm.

The collection opens with ‘Spirit Of Adventure’ which, from its complex intro, smoothes into a passionate slice of ‘on the money’ contemporary jazz. The tune is further enhanced by a terrific organ solo from Curtis Brengle while for ‘Open Throttle’ Hollingsworth allows his full rich sound to take centre stage. Jazzy in an accessible kind of a way it’s a cut that establishes a theme for much of the album and which next emerges with ‘Spice Of Life’. Bill Armstrong on trumpet and Nick Lane on trombone provide the funky backing and in fact Hollingsworth cleverly takes the groove on which the track is built to create ‘Crawfish Pie’ that, unsurprisingly, is replete with influences right out of New Orleans. Later he also harvests the groove from the moody and exotic ‘Darwin’s Voyage’ for the equally atmospheric ‘Stowaway’ which, given adequate imagination, could well evoke reflections of square riggers on warm Pacific waters.

The bluesy introduction to ‘A Higher Plane’ paves the way for a stomping upbeat roller coaster ride while ‘Undercurrents’ is structured around a complex labyrinth of rhythms that at times are soothing and at others invigorating. ‘Doing My Own Thing’ finds Hollingsworth doing just that. In a virtuoso performance he slips effortlessly between tenor, alto and baritone sax and when he switches to flute for ‘Sambarosa’ he weaves a delicious Latin spell that is a joy to behold. The title of ‘Tropic Breeze’ says it all as Hollingsworth’s charming playing suggests the swaying of palm trees and the rushing of surf. It is one of the album’s standouts and another comes with the title track. Latin spiced, and with an intro that would not be out of place on the soundtrack to a ‘Bond’ movie, it evolves into a shimmering melodic delight that is sure to find favour amongst radio audiences. That said the first cut under consideration for airplay is ‘High Velocity’. With Armstrong and Lane again providing a big and brassy foundation the energy is always high and tempered only by Hollingsworth whose tone, on occasions, takes on an intoxicatingly soulful vibe.

Chasing The Sun sets Mark Hollingsworth apart as someone who is daring to be different. Consequently it’s refreshing that the album is catching the attention of traditional jazz stations as well as those of contemporary and smooth jazz persuasion. Given that several have already added three or more tracks to their play-lists, the chances are Hollingsworth is set for quite a 2008. For more go to www.markhollingsworth.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:48 AM

December 15, 2007

Eric Marienthal - Just Around The Corner

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Over the last twenty years the compelling hooks and immodestly rich tones of sax-man Eric Marienthal have ensured his music has remained on the cutting edge of the very best in smooth jazz. Now, with his new CD Just Around The Corner, which hit record stores across the USA on October 16, he is back and better than ever with ten original tunes plus wonderful collaborations in the company of some of the best writers, producers and performers that the genre has to offer.

In fact the scene is set from the very first cut as Marienthal combines with Brian Culbertson for the lusciously mid temp ‘Blue Water’. Co-written and produced by Culbertson, the tune glistens with injections of his distinctive keys and it’s another Marienthal – Culbertson number, the tranquil ‘Lost Without You’, which closes out this excellent album. Sandwiched between is a riotous collection of ‘full on’ smooth jazz that befits the credentials Marienthal earned while with The Rippingtons and ensures that both the title song and the uplifting ‘Times Square’ pass by in an energetic haze. Each of these Stephen Lu produced tracks feature the excellent Michael O’Neill on guitar and the threesome is back, first for the mid tempo ‘Ocean Front’ and again with ‘I Believe In You’ where Marienthal’s playing takes a more tender yet none less attractive path.

Marienthal first worked with Jeff Lorber in 1991 on the Oasis CD and here his contribution on ‘Flower Child’ ensures a smooth masterpiece that is both sultry and catchy. When Lorber returns for ‘Your Move’ his presence on keys is huge and, with Paul Brown featuring on acoustic guitar, the songs understatedly jazzy opening gives no hint of the heights to which Marienthal’s urgent delivery ultimately drives it. ‘Open Road’ is yet another supercharged tour de force that finds Marienthal at his immaculate best. Michael Stever plays trumpet, the inimitable Ray Parker Jr. is on guitar and with Brian Culbertson multi tasking between trombone and keyboards they together blow up quite a storm.

Perhaps the tune that best defines Just Around The Corner, and indeed Marienthal’s own special style, is the edgy ‘Dance With Me’. Co-written by Lu, Culbertson and Marienthal it fizzes with vitality throughout and is right up there with the best tracks of the year. Replete with smooth jazz of the highest order and without a cover in sight Just Around The Corner is well worth trying. For more go to www.ericmarienthal.com.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:09 AM

October 3, 2007

Les Sabler - Sweet Drive

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. If there is a magic formula for making top notch smooth jazz then guitarist Les Sabler has surely found it. His brand new CD release ‘Sweet Drive’ not only features his own picture perfect playing but also includes some of the best contemporary jazz talent around. Rather than marvelling at just how Sabler has managed to assemble so many great performers in the same place at the same time, its more than enough to simply delight in the artistry on show. From the solid foundation provided by the percussion of Alex Acuna, drums from Vinnie Colaiuta and acoustic bass from Brian Bromberg (who also produces), to the soulful heart provided by a horn section to die for, everything about ‘Sweet Drive’ is just right. Those horns, billed here as the Seawind Horns, in fact come courtesy of Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, Bill Reichenbach and Dan Higgins. When the flute of Gary Meek is factored in, plus keyboards from Jeff Lorber and guest performances on sax from Mark Hollingsworth and Eric Marienthal, ‘Sweet Drive’ is an album that just can’t fail.

With four choice covers blending with eight originals, this terrific concoction is quickly up and running with the Stevie Wonder composition ‘You’ve Got It Bad Girl’. The velvety tones of the Seawind Horns merge with stunning vocals from Toni Scruggs and Rahsaan Patterson to create a gorgeous backdrop against which Sabler does his mellow thing. Scruggs and Patterson are delightful and recurring features of the whole album and Scruggs is particularly outstanding when combining with Richard Jackson on Aretha Franklin’s ‘Daydreaming’. As dreamy as the title suggests it ought be this wonderful interpretation is blessed with a subtle string arrangement from Tom Zink and when Zink returns with Scruggs and Jackson for ‘Can You Stop The Rain’ the result is a deliciously fresh take on this haunting Peabo Bryson classic.

The title track is quite simply as fine an example of great smooth jazz as you will hear anywhere. Composed by Allon Sams, it has a cool sax solo by Eric Marienthal at its centre and handsome Hammond B3 from Ricky Peterson while more ‘in the pocket’ contemporary jazz is on the agenda with ‘Club Street’. This is the first cut lifted for radio play and as Gary Meek switches to sax his interplay with Sabler, Lorber and Bromberg makes it really special. ‘Food Chain’ is Sabler’s own composition and, complete with horns and Hammond B3, has all the attributes necessary to recall the golden age of 80’s jazz fusion. Another funky horn arrangement, this time from Mark Hollingsworth, sets up ‘Twenty Two’. It’s a jazzy mover that often threatens to explode but in fact stays tightly in control and when Sabler changes moods for the mellow ‘Who I Am’ he demonstrates a sensitivity in his playing that is perfect for the occasion.

The mid tempo ‘Struttin’ has Sabler laying down his groove amidst more luscious horns and in ‘Could You Be’ he may well have created the kind of sultry stunner that gets in your head and wont go away. Sabler and Marienthal are totally in sync for the familiar David Pack melody ‘Biggest Part Of Me’. Here Patterson and Scruggs again work their vocal magic and when they return for ‘I’m Not The Same’ they contribute to what is arguably the albums stand out track. This soulful smoker has spine tingling guitar from Sabler and a gentle melody that blossoms in the care of Gary Meek on sax.

‘Sweet Drive’ hits record stores across the USA on September 25 and is not to be missed. For more go to www.lessabler.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:47 AM

September 2, 2007

Bob Jamieson Goes Smooth Cruising

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Although, to music fans, the name of Bob Jamieson may not be instantly recognizable he is in fact one of the shrewdest business brains in the industry. He is credited with the high profile turn around of the then ailing RCA Records and his work in this respect resulted in him being made the subject of a Harvard Business School case study.

In the music business most of his working life, Jamieson has been responsible for signing some legendary performers. Now he is using that same business nous and passion for music as the driving force behind the new look (and freshly named) All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise. When I caught up with Bob at his office in New Haven, CT I first asked him about his motivation to get involved with the project.

It was simple, he explained. Although fully aware of the phenomenon that smooth jazz cruising had become he was, himself, a cruise virgin. That was until January 2007 when he was invited to join the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise to find out more of what it was all about. Not only was he immediately captivated by the unique atmosphere that fizzed like electricity between artists and guests, he was also left in awe of the stellar performances that he witnessed there. Later, when he was invited to play an active roll in the 2008 event, he jumped at the chance to build on what was already there and to widen the scope of the musical offering in order to welcome in those guests who draw their reference point of the adult contemporary scene from what they hear on smooth jazz radio.

His first deliberate step has been to drop the word ‘jazz’ from the title and given the difficulty involved in explaining to the uninitiated what the term ‘smooth jazz’ really means the rationale for this change of name is easy to understand. In addition, to further show off the genre in its widest possible sense he has drafted in some overtly R & B acts for the pre-cruise show in San Diego. This all inclusive approach is sure to pay big dividends for those who identify with a smooth groove and who seek the energy and excitement that this avenue of music routinely delivers.

With a line up that is rapidly approaching epic proportions Bob really has combined the best of all worlds. The talent assembled for the pre-cruise entertainment at the Town and Country Resort ranges from Kenny G to The Four Tops and The Spinners to Kool & The Gang. If that isn’t enough, once the ship embarks, the intriguing prospect of ‘new kid on the cruise host block’ Norman Brown rubbing shoulders with the veteran Warren Hill will be breathtaking to say the least. For many, Hill remains as the godfather of smooth jazz cruising and, in actuality, he and Bob Jamieson go way back. Jamieson signed him to RCA in 1993 and they have remained friends ever since.

When I asked Bob what his message would be for those out there who were still contemplating if smooth cruising was for them he recalled that not too long ago he was also new to the scene. He urged them to be like him, to ‘give it a go’, to come along and sample the excitement. He promises that they will find themselves in the magical company of 1100 ‘friends’, all united by the common bond of music, and ready to party.

The All Star Smooth Cruise festivities begin in San Diego on January 19, 2008. For more information on the complete line-up go to www.allstarcruise.com or call 877 529 9729.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:55 AM

August 27, 2007

Tom Braxton - Imagine This

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Tom Braxton’s new CD, Imagine This, hit record stores across the USA on August 21 and is already causing quite a stir. It’s his first on the Pacific Coast Jazz label and follows the outstanding 2004 effort Bounce that was produced by Wayman Tisdale and which featured a plethora of top-notch tracks including the hugely radio friendly title tune. The album proved, if proof was indeed necessary, that sax-man Braxton is a master of smooth, sophisticated contemporary jazz and now with Imagine This his status is boosted even further. This is not only by virtue of the eleven faultless cuts but also through the galaxy of smooth jazz stars, including Kirk Whalum, Kirks brother Kevin Whalum, Tim Bowman and Brian Simpson, who have clamored to collaborate with him.

The album starts out in fine style with Braxton’s cool cover of the Steely Dan hit ‘Peg’. It’s the first track to be selected for radio play and is sure to find instant favor with the smooth jazz networks. That said magnificent tracks abound and with ‘Kaanapali Beach’ Braxton evokes warm sunshine and waves breaking on Hawaiian beaches. The subtle horn section of Don Bozman, Larry Spencer and Pete Branham is particularly effective while backing vocals from Kevin Whalum and Selinza Mitchell really capture the mood. Braxton has a skill for painting pictures with his music and does so again with ‘Evening Drive’ where, helped by Tim Bowman on guitar, he creates a languid ‘driving with the top down’ vibe. Later, he slackens the tempo even further for the atmospheric ‘1 a.m.’. With a sultriness engendered in part by more of those same luscious horns this is a superb example of classy contemporary jazz and when Braxton calls on Brian Simpson’s piano virtuosity for ‘Escape’ they together whip up a jazzy, melodic masterpiece.

The feisty up tempo ‘Good To Go’ really fizzes while completely at the other end of the emotional rainbow is the tender ‘Downtime’. It’s a number to chill by and chilling of a different kind is on offer with the expansive ‘Rest Assured’. At just under seven minutes in length this moody odyssey has jazz credentials that are unquestioned and as Braxton takes his time he is ably assisted by the excellent Arlington Jones on keyboards.

Braxton’s music is often grounded in his faith and he shares this inspiration through his version of ‘Revelation Song’ that is quite simply beauty personified. Kirk Whalum is another artist whose discography contains a sacred element and here, as the two of them combine for the album’s title cut, Braxton’s soprano sax blends delightfully with the tenor of Whalum. This gently exquisite tune is a real stand out and another personal favorite is Braxton’s interpretation of the Patrice Rushen smash ‘Haven’t You Heard’. Originally from her 1980 release Pizzazz, on which the then fledgling session musicians Gerald Albright and Paul Jackson Jr both appeared, it is given a new lease of life by Braxton who in doing so fashions what is likely to remain as one of the best covers of 2007.

Imagine This has certainly got it all going on. Six of Braxton’s own excellent compositions, production from him throughout and smooth jazz sax of the highest order all make the statement that Tom Braxton has arrived. For more go to www.tombraxton.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:54 PM

August 22, 2007

Kenny G Joins The All Star Smooth Cruise

The new look All Star Smooth Cruise from Haven Entertainment has just got a whole lot bigger. None other than contemporary jazz superstar Kenny G has been added to the lineup and is scheduled to play as part of the highly anticipated pre-cruise show in San Diego. He is the latest addition to a roster of artists now approaching epic proportions which, in addition to host Norman Brown, includes Boney James, Paul Taylor, Acoustic Alchemy, Nick Colionne, Marion Meadows, Chieli Minucci, Larry Carlton and Shilts. That’s not all. Both Fourplay and Patti Austin are also new inclusions and when the soul sensations of Kool & The Gang, The Spinners and the Four Tops are factored in, the cliché of ‘something for everyone’ really does become a reality. Multi platinum keyboard player Alan Hewitt will be performing and handling the back stage artist interviews, Steve Oliver will be there to share his unique guitar style and, in an ironic twist, the ‘godfather’ of smooth jazz cruising, Warren Hill, will also guest.

The All Star Smooth Cruise departs San Diego on January 19, 2008. For more information on the complete line-up go to www.allstarcruise.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:30 AM

August 2, 2007

Brian Simpson - Above The Clouds

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When I reviewed Brian Simpson’s breakthrough CD It’s All Good I described it as one of the few genuinely ‘complete’ albums of 2005. The title cut and its follow up ‘Saturday Cool’ produced two massive radio hits and fast-tracked him into the forefront of public awareness. In fact for Simpson, who is in his tenth year as musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, It’s All Good proved to be a tremendous validation of everything he had worked toward for so long. With his brand new release, Above The Clouds, due to hit record stores across the USA on August 28 his consummate skills both as writer and performer are again on display for all to enjoy.

Already selected as the first single for radio play, the tight and catchy ‘What Cha Gonna Do?’ typifies what Simpson’s music is all about and this penchant he has for ‘in the pocket’ smooth jazz is further demonstrated by ‘One More Time’. It has a haunting quality that is breathtaking and which makes it a standout among many yet just as compelling is the feel good ‘Juicy’ where the piano – sax chemistry generated between Simpson and Kirk Whalum is nothing short of precious. Indeed one of the features of Above The Clouds is the quality of the collaborations that Simpson crafts with a veritable ‘who’s who’ of contemporary jazz luminaries. In addition to a unforgettable guitar solo from Chuck Loeb the infectious ‘From The Hip’ is bolstered by the luscious horn section of Darren and Jason Rahn while with the title track it's George Duke who provides the memorable vibe sounds and mini moog solo. This mid tempo smoker is evocative in the extreme and also conjuring up images of places far away is the delightful ‘Bali’. Simpson’s warm yet thoughtful keyboards mesh sensationally with picture perfect guitar from Ramon Stagnaro and he stays in reflective mode for ‘The Last Kiss’ where his jazzy intricate tones create music that is perfect to chill to.

Simpson’s staggering versatility stems in part from traveling the world with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton, and Janet Jackson as well as touring with George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, Gerald Albright and of course Dave Koz. He uses all this and more to blend both classical and blues influences into the deconstructed piano solo ‘Memories Of You’. It serves as a gateway to the hard driving ‘That’s Right’ where Michael Brecker on sax (who sadly died in January of 2007) provides the straight ahead bludgeon for Simpson to counter with his rapier like contemporary keys.

Although Simpson’s outstanding 1995 solo debut Closer Still remains largely as a sumptuous piece of buried treasure it does include the song ‘April’ that he recorded for his oldest daughter. He followed that on It’s All Good by dedicating ‘Blues For Scott’ to his son. Now the tradition continues with ‘Fiona’s Song’. This lovely melodic ballad written for his 11-year-old daughter finds Simpson generously sharing the spotlight with the wonderful sax of Dave Koz and the ultra distinctive bass of Wayman Tisdale yet still making the tune entirely his own. It’s a contender for best track on the album but just edging it is ‘Let's Get Close’. Anchored by a killer bass line from Larry Kimpell and replete with a vibe that oozes sensuality this is mood music of the highest order.

The most important thing for Simpson has always been about connecting with people, especially in the live setting, through the music that he writes. Now with ‘Above The Clouds’ he is making a statement that after so many years behind the scenes Brian Simpson is, as a solo artist, here to stay.

For more go to www.bsimpsonmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:55 PM

July 24, 2007

Rick Braun And Richard Elliot - R n R

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. With the title track from Rick Braun and Richard Elliot’s much awaited duets album already taking the airwaves by storm there seems little doubt that R n R will prove to be one of the smooth jazz events of 2007. Due in record stores across the USA on August 28 R n R is a feisty collection of horn driven grooves that checks all the right boxes and which is enhanced by a stellar line-up of guest musicians that includes Greg Karukas, Jeff Lorber and Chris Standring plus production input from Jeff Lorber, Philippe Saisse and Rex Rideout.

Succulent zesty numbers abound and this is typified both by the title track and with ‘Curve Ball’ where Elliot and Braun give each other the space in which to individually shine while still coming together to generate what is in every respect a veritable horn fest. ‘Down and Dirty’ is a funky swinging number that is right on the money. It evokes, in places, a Tower Of Power kind of a vibe and this essentially retro feel is also evident with the jazzy ‘Q It Up’ and the in the pocket ‘Da JR Funk’. Given that Elliot had such a lengthy tenure with Tower Of Power this is hardly surprising but, that said, R n R is by no means a visit to nostalgia-ville. Examples of up to the minute contemporary jazz are everywhere. ‘Better Times’ has a deliciously sultry groove, ‘The Stranger’ is smoky, jazzy and could well become addictive while the heartfelt ‘Que Paso’ gives Braun and Elliot the chance to take it south of the border. ‘Two Hearts Tango’ with its tight romantic groove and full bodied yet tender playing from Braun and Elliot is seriously good and ‘Sao Paulo’ makes its physical debut after previously only being available as a download from the ARtizen Music Group website. In fact it has become a surprise smash and has enjoyed an extended stay on the top thirty chart of most played on smooth jazz radio.

Personal favourites include the lusciously opaque ‘Sunday Night’ and the stunningly mellow ‘Sweet Somethin’. Anchored by the pulsing bass of Nate Philips and replete with the velvety horn of Braun and Elliot this is smooth jazz how it’s meant to be.

R n R will be released on Braun and Elliot’s own label, the ARtizen Music Group. Place your order now and for more go to www.artizenmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:12 AM

July 13, 2007

Down To The Bone - Supercharged

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Ever since 1997, when they burst onto the scene with the seminal Manhattan To Staten, Down To The Bone has been all about the groove. The brainchild of non musician Stuart Wade, Down To The Bone came out of the acid jazz movement that was prevalent in the UK during the early 90’s. The bands seventh disc, which was released on June 18, is the aptly named Supercharged and is it’s most powerfully funky yet. The forte Wade has for using his production nous to bring alive his musical idea’s through a frequently changing group of ultra-talented performers has again reaped rich dividends. With the addition of a full horn section to complement Paul ‘Shilts’ Weimar’s blistering sax, his desire to arrive at more of a live jam attitude is fulfilled in spades and exemplified by the storming title track.

In fact the entire album is ‘supercharged’. Cuts like ‘Funkin Around’ and ‘Make It Funky’ provide one thumping number after another and throughout evoke something akin to Tower Of Power goes large.

The raw power of Supercharged is such that when, in relative terms, Down To The Bone choose to turn it down the effect is instantly pleasing. For ‘Parkside Shuffle’ Neil Angilley’s jazzy piano blends beautifully with Shilts sax while Corrina Greyson’s soulful vocal on ‘Shake It Up’ is just right. Jon Radford also comes up big on trumpet for this one and, with the Incognito like ‘Smile To Shine’, the vocal of Hil St Soul (aka Hilary Mwelwa) creates a delightfully retro vibe. Wade includes the legendary Roy Ayers on both vibraphone and vocals for ‘Electric Vibes’ and, in so doing, finally gets the chance to work with one of his greatest inspirations. It’s a track that shifts from smouldering to downright explosive and is in every respect an Ayers master-class.

Still, after all that, Supercharged, and Down To The Bone, is all about the funk. The tracks ‘Cosmic Fuzz’ and ‘Greedy Fingers’ merge with others such as ‘Space Dust’ and ‘Hip City’ to maintain the intensity at ‘funk factor 6’. With top notch performances from Julian Crampton on bass, Tony Remy on guitar and Nigel Cowley on keys along the way the combination leaves the listener exhausted yet wanting more and makes Supercharged an album with which to party and then some.

For more on Down To The Bone go to www.downtothebone.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:42 AM

June 30, 2007

J Dee - Tippin On The Edge Of Funk

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Producer, songwriter and musician John Bolden (AKA J. Dee) is best known for his production and arrangement credits that include Grover Washington Jr.’s 1992 album, Next Exit. Now as a solo artist Bolden steps out with the stage name of J. Dee for his debut project entitled Tippin' on the Edge of Funk. Laden with true urban, jazz, funk and soul grooves it’s a hugely accomplished first outing that shows off the multiplicity of his talents. As well as writing ten of the twelve tracks he also produces and plays both sax and keyboards. In doing so he paints a lavish picture of urban jazz which pulses with a light and shade that at times is tender and at others addictively funky.

Tippin' on the Edge of Funk opens up dramatically with ‘Jah Jah Can’. With a clanking reggae style thing going on, a loping rhythm and soprano sax from J. Dee that is full rich and melodic this is a track that is different enough to get noticed. Switching moods for ‘Esta Noche’ J. Dee brings the listener into the world of ‘in your face’ Latin jazz that’s a great example of the genre while ‘Slo Yo Roll’, with its distinctly big band feel and a vibe that’s both repetitive and compelling, is completely on the money. The title track is every bit as funky as its name suggests it should be. Tight and mid tempo, J. Dee never lets it get out of control and he shows that same classy restraint with the first of the albums two covers, the Michael Franks masterpiece ‘Rainy Night In Tokyo’. His mellow and sensitive treatment of it is perfect to chill to and equally soothing is ‘A Black Tie Affair’. This laid back tour de force glistens with the evocative vibes that are released through J. Dee’s magnificently melodic playing.

When J. Dee plays smooth jazz he has all the rhythm and melody necessary to make it sound fresh funky and different. Tracks such as ‘Ya Dah’, which is underpinned by a kicking beat, and the extremely edgy ‘Kickin High’ are set apart from the crowd by the high caliber of his production and are in complete contrast to the big bold and funky ‘Wednesday On The Westside’. This ability to changes moods and tempo’s is a sheer delight and adds hugely to the overall quality of the album. The CD’s one true vocal cut is the controlled and soulful ‘Loves Gonna Getcha’. J. Dee’s sensitive sax and Claude J Woods lead vocals that are backed in fine style by Latesha Thierry, Dionne Knighton and Rich Figueroa make this a wonderful illustration of the best in smooth R & B. Woods is back, this time with backing vocals, for J. Dee’s instrumental interpretation of the Smokey Robinson classic ‘Quiet Storm’. As smooth as velvet, J. Dee makes it completely his own and goes one better with the albums standout track, the breathtakingly beautiful ‘Mellow Nights’. Shimmering with a sumptuous quality that will draw you in and leave you longing for more this is contemporary jazz at its outstanding best.

Tippin' on the Edge of Funk checks virtually every box on how contemporary jazz in 2007 should sound. Look out for it, buy it and enjoy.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:41 AM

June 24, 2007

Paul Taylor - Ladies Choice

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Ladies Choice from smooth sax superstar Paul Taylor is his fourth CD on Peak Records, his seventh in total and without doubt his most soulful ever. Starting with the concept of blending six of the most accessible instrumental smooth jazz cuts you will find anywhere with tracks featuring guest performances from four of the best female R & B singers around, this is a collection that has everything right about it. In addition, for the third album in a row, Taylor has turned to Rex Rideout and Barry J. Eastmond to variously add their legendary writing, production and performing skills for an end product that is almost indescribably good. Rideout is best known for his collaborations with Boney James, Larry Carlton and Will Downing among others while Eastmond has worked with everyone from Britney Spears to Al Jarreau, Phil Perry to Freddie Jackson and Anita Baker to Jonathan Butler. Taylor was so enthused by the excitement that each of them brought to his 2003 project Steppin Out that he brought them back for the 2005 Nightlife and now, with Ladies Choice, the partnership are redefining the boundaries of sumptuous ‘in the pocket’ urban jazz.

Paul Taylor has a penchant for vibrant up-tempo, uplifting contemporary jazz and the Eastmond produced title track is a superb example of it. Melodic and entirely radio ready it’s in the exquisite company of the wonderful ‘Here We Go’ that also has Eastmond’s magic touch all over it. In similar vein and every bit as good is the Taylor Rideout collaboration ‘Point Of View’ and when Taylor again hooks up with Eastmond for ‘Streamline’ they deliver what can only be described as a mid tempo stunner. ‘Overdrive’ is rich, soulful and just as strong while Taylor’s sensitive playing coupled with Barry Eastmond’s inventive production makes the evocative ‘Summers End’ a thing of real beauty.

These instrumentals are good enough to grace any album but when spliced as they are here with five exceptionally smooth R & B duets the overall quality is ratcheted to new heights. The complex ‘Long Distance Relationship’ featuring Terry Dexter is produced by the redoubtable Rex Rideout. He also plays keyboards and with Taylor slipping into a mellow mood the result is a fine example of fresh urban jazz. LaToya London takes the vocal lead on the sultry romantic ballad ‘I Want To Be Loved (By You)’. Her interplay with Taylor is breathtaking yet even better is the outstanding ‘How Did You Know’. This Eastmond produced number blends Taylor’s smoking alto sax with the sensual vocals of Regina Belle and, with a hook that is down right addictive, is without question one of the highlights of the entire album. Belle is back to tug at the heartstrings with the luxuriant ‘Open Your Eyes’ that she co-writes with Eastmond. Guaranteed to send the listener into a soulful haze its difficult to imagine anything better yet Taylor tops it with his picture perfect interpretation of the Average White Bands ‘A Love Of Your Own’. With Rideouts delicious retro keyboards, vocals from Lauren Evans that are at soul factor ten and sax from Taylor that sends shivers down the spine this incredibly soulful smoker is as good as anything you will hear either this year or next.

Ladies Choice from Paul Taylor is an absolute joy. Go out and buy it now.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:06 PM

May 28, 2007

Acoustic Alchemy At The Cinnamon Club

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. May 11, 2007: On route to the USA for the second leg of their 2007 stateside tour, Acoustic Alchemy blew into the Cinnamon Club, Altrincham for their only appearance in the north west of England this year. Here, in the southern suburbs of Manchester and with Smooth Radio 100.4 DJ Steve Quirk at the helm, the band was in tremendous form and provided the packed audience with surprises that they could not have anticipated. With the brand new CD This Way not out in the USA until June 6 the Alchemy played selected tracks from it and also handed their fans the chance to purchase signed copies. Without doubt the album is destined to be one the most significant contemporary jazz releases of 2007 and marks yet another phase in the bands musical evolution. Their gradual metamorphosis from a seriously acoustic unit to today’s mix of melody and funk has been achieved in part by the astute introduction of guest saxophonists yet with ‘This Way’ the band has pushed the envelope one more time. The addition of trumpet, flugelhorn and even trombone, combined at times with sax to form a fully fledged horn section, has added another dimension. Yet fundamental to what Acoustic Alchemy is all about are the enduring performances of Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale. Their hallmark combination of steel and nylon stringed guitars is the platform for everything that follows and additionally allows the flexibility for the band to play with a variety of line-ups. Last year they successfully flirted with the trio format and at the Cinnamon Club, with Julian Crampton on bass, US natives Greg Grainger on drums, Yorkshire boy Fred White on keyboards and without a horn player in sight, the stage was set for a selection of their more acoustic driven gems.

They opened with an expansive take on ‘No Messin’ from the Radio Contact album and quickly followed it with ‘Say Yeah’ from their 2005 release American English. This gave Gilderdale the chance to build his scat singing, which on the album never grew beyond a ‘bit part’, into a master class and they stayed with American English for ‘The ‘Crossing’. Re-imagining the tune to factor out the horn backing, that on the CD was so expertly provided by Snake Davis, they made it a real delight and when they turned the clock back to the 1991 album Back On The Case for the tracks ‘Jamaica Heartbeat’ and ‘When The Lights Go Out’ the outcome was just as good. It whetted the appetite of the audience for some of the bands earlier work and that hunger was fed first with the spectacular ‘Ariane’ from Blue Chip and later with the equally impressive ‘Lazeez’ from the June 1996 Arcan Um.

Of course much of the hype of the night surrounded This Way. The first glimpse of it was by way of the Latin tinged ‘Carlos The King’ and with Gilderdale switching effortlessly from acoustic to electric guitar this moody atmospheric track really hit the spot. The bands homage to Jamaican guitar legend Ernest Ranglin, the aptly titled ‘Ernie’ did just the same and they also found time to include the jazzy ‘Tied Up With String’ before reverting to their back catalogue for ‘Tuff Puzzle’ from AArt. Rounding off a picture perfect performance by one of the circuit’s most charismatic live bands was the enthusiastically demanded encore number, the passionate ‘The Moon And The Sun’ from American English. Readers of the Secret Garden in the Tuscan AZ area who are looking forward to seeing Acoustic Alchemy at the Rialto Theater on June 22 for the first date of their US tour need to know they are in for a real treat.

Check back here soon for a complete review of This Way. For more on Acoustic Alchemy’s tour schedule go to www.acousticalchemy.net

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:09 PM

May 14, 2007

Norman Brown - Stay With Me

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. For all sorts of reasons the brand new CD from Norman Brown, Stay With Me, could not have come at a better time. The previous success Brown had with Urban AC radio when garnering airplay for his 2004 vocal debut ‘I Might’ proved he is no stranger to the urban influences currently permeating the landscape of contemporary jazz. Now, with Stay With Me, he totally embraces urban jazz and nails it with ten incredible tracks that are without a single weak link. In fact he writes or co-writes nine of the songs and, as well as displaying his inventive talent as a guitarist, also expands considerably on his vocal prowess. Additionally, it helps that for three of the tracks he has the cutting edge production skill of Paul Brown on tap.

Norman opens up with ‘Lets Take A Ride’ where he slips effortlessly into a superb example of mid tempo guitar driven smooth jazz. It features Herman Jackson on keyboards with whom Brown has been collaborating since as far back as his 1992 debut Just Between Us. Jackson is also around for the equally smooth ‘Every Little Thing’ on which Browns smoky vocal really shows off a different and exciting side of his talent. Repeating the feat on ‘So In Love’ he produces a mellow, sumptuous winner and although with ‘You Keep Lifting Me Higher’ Brown ratchets the tempo accordingly, Nikkole’s sexy vocal ensures the vibe remains silky smooth. ‘It Ain’t Over BWB’ finds Kirk Whalum on sax and Rick Braun on both trumpet and flugelhorn helping Brown to get funky in a controlled kind of a way while with the title song the album moves ever closer to its urban jazz roots.

That this Brian McKnight composition has serious crossover potential is due in no small measure to the fact that, as well as sharing vocals with Brown, McKnight also uses his considerable production skills to inject the track with all the best qualities of modern R & B. Brown takes the vocal credits all for himself on the sensuous ‘So In Love’ and when he returns to smooth jazz guitar for ‘A Quiet Place’ the result is stunning. Built around a hypnotic yet catchy vibe it would in any other circumstance be the albums killer cut. However some of the real gems of this CD have the production genius of Paul Brown written all over them. His expertise is first felt with ‘Pops Cool Groove’ where, as well as producing, he shares the writing credits with Norman Brown and the always excellent Jeff Carruthers. With keyboards from Carruthers, sultry sax from Anthony Long, the usual standout bass of Alex Al and playing from Norman that is evocative of Paul Brown's own style this smoky chill out number never disappoints.

‘I Need You’ finds Norman in a wonderful collaboration with the acoustic guitar of Kenneth Williams who also provides ideal backing to Norman’s soulful vocals. Of course Paul Brown gets the production just right and does so again with another Secret Garden favorite, ‘Soul Dance’. This Brown Carruthers Brown composition features terrific sax from Sam Riney and is a picture perfect example of in the pocket contemporary jazz. A delicious 55 second ‘hidden track’ rounds off the collection and confirms Stay With Me as a top class example of urban jazz at its very best.

Stay With Me is Browns debut on Peak Records and was released on April 24th. It has much to commend it and is all set to become one of the albums of the year.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:44 AM

April 9, 2007

Jeffery B Suttles - Time To Suttledown

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The explosive style of drummer Jeffery B. Suttles has been the soulful energizer for artists as diverse as Donny Osmond, En Vogue, Chante Moore, Sheena Easton and, most notably, Taylor Dayne. He appeared in the film Coming to America and has worked with everybody from Quincy Jones to Teena Marie. His debut CD, Time to SuttleDown featuring the all-star lineup of Patrice Rushen, Ronnie Garrett, Eddie Miller, Alex Al, Larry Kimpel and Andre Delano was released in 2006 but, inexplicably, slipped through the Secret Garden net. However this wonderful collection that includes nine of Suttles original compositions plus one excellent cover deserves some belated attention. It’s quite simply one of the best contemporary jazz CD’s of recent times.

The opening cut, the sensational horn driven ‘A Run In The Park’, has an infectious melody and leaves no doubt that Suttles knows his smooth jazz. In fact Suttles repeatedly proves this throughout. The mellow ‘Ride Above The Clouds’ is wonderfully constructed around the synthesizer and keys of Monty Seward while ‘From The Other Side Of The Canyon’ is a slice of ‘in the pocket’ mid tempo contemporary jazz that features cool sax from Alexander. The albums only cover, the Taylor Dayne hit ‘I’ll Always Love You’ is replete with the rhythm and melody that categorizes the best in smooth jazz and another fine example of the genre comes courtesy of ‘The Sunrise’. This time its Bill Steinway on keys that grabs the attention and his contribution is also significant on one of the albums standout tracks, the seductive ‘Sweet Pleasures’. Moody in the extreme and anchored by Alex Al on bass it has haunting flute from Donald Hayes at its centre, an outstanding solo from Steinway and some serious percussion from Rafael Padilla.

Andre Delano steps up on sax for the rhythmic ‘In A Short Time’ and, injecting a smoky vibe that is reminiscent of Tom Scott, also features on ‘The Cheetah’. This is a track that shows off Suttles funkier side yet whatever the mood ‘Time to SuttleDown’ is all about the rhythm. The title cut is a case in point where, driven relentlessly on by the guitars of Wali Ali and Torrie Ruffin and held down by Suttles on drums, the tune is liberated first by an incredible vibe solo from Ndugu Chancler then by the sultry jazz piano of Patrice Rushen. It’s another of the albums many standouts but even better is ‘Springtime Breeze’. With Suttles and Padilla again generating some massively urgent percussion and an outstanding Rhodes solo from Rushen the result is almost indescribably good.

Time to SuttleDown is a must for any lover of the contemporary jazz scene. With every track Suttles makes a great statement on the drums and shows that as well as being one of the best sidemen around he can shine just as brightly as a leader, arranger and composer.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:25 PM

March 25, 2007

Incognito - Bees + Things + Flowers

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Jean Paul 'Bluey' Maunick has been the heart life and soul of jazz funksters Incognito from as far back as 1980. It was then that the band put out its first demo single, ‘Parisienne Girl’ which, thanks to strong radio and club support, peaked at #73 in the UK charts. Subsequently, and with a panache that has developed through time for including a variety of guest singers, Incognito has continued to push the envelope of its own brand of jazz tinged soul. Its music, often sophisticated, sometimes complex, but always compelling, has helped establish the band as one of the UK’s finest exports. In addition, the reputation of Maunick has also transcended continents and led him to produce for Ray Simpson, Chaka Khan and George Benson. Although it took ten full years from the 1981 release of their debut Jazz Funk for the ‘follow up’, Inside Life, to come along, the momentum since then has been such that their new release Bees + Things + Flowers is the bands seventeenth in all. Featuring the largest number of guest singing stars from the Incognito stable ever to appear on one album it is a collection of re-imaged classics, choice covers and original music that finds Bluey turning down the tempo in favor of sumptuous arrangements and poetic lyrics.

A case in point is the sensitive handling of ‘Always There’ featuring Jocelyn Brown. Singing in falsetto tones and deconstructing the tune to its basic elements she quite simply turns this club classic into a thing of beauty. As expected Maunick’s mark is everywhere. As well as providing stellar production he variously writes or co-writes four new songs and one of them, ‘Crave’, helps position the CD’s overall sound. Bluey’s original intention had been to create Bees + Things + Flowers as a totally acoustic project. However, the warmth of the sound he engendered by use of a Fender Rhodes gave the track a rich tone and became the framework for the whole album. Another brand new song, ‘Raise’, again finds Jocelyn Brown in restrained mode while Tony Momrelle is in charge for Maunick’s gentle ‘You Are Golden’.

Maysa is another Incognito regular and in keeping with the mood of the entire CD she takes a gentle approach to her vocals on the reworking of two of the bands songs from the past, ‘Still A Friend Of Mine’ and the wonderfully sparse ‘Deep Waters’. She also shares vocal credits with Carleen Anderson on the nine minute odyssey of Earth Wind and Fires ‘That’s The Way Of The World’ and its Anderson who is up front for two more imaginative covers. Her smoky take on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer In The City’ is exceptional while her performance on the bands polished interpretation of the America 1974 hit ‘Tin Man’ makes it one of the albums standout tracks.

Bluey reaches back to 1995 and turns to the vocals of Imaani for the jazzily mellow ‘Everyday’ while it’s a line from the albums opening cut, the Roy Ayers classic ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’, that provides Bees + Things + Flowers with its title. With Joy Rose on vocals, distinctive keys from Matt Cooper and understated strings from the Millennia Ensemble this is jazz fusion as it’s meant to be.

Recorded in just six consecutive days during the summer of 2006 Bees + Things + Flowers is sure to find a fit with Incognito stalwarts and those new to the band who prefer their jazz with a melodic and soulful twist.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:23 PM

March 11, 2007

Victor Fields - Thinking Of You

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Thinking Of You is the brand new CD from soulful vocalist Victor Fields and it is testimony to his talent and professionalism that some of the biggest stars in smooth jazz have hurried in to perform on it with him. This is Fields fourth solo release and represents a further step on the journey to discovering his true musical identity. It has been an adventure that began in 1998 with his debut album Promise and which passed a significant milestone in 2002 when he forged a partnership with producer Chris Camozzi. This collaboration led to the release of 52nd Street, a recording which found a place on the Billboard’s jazz album chart and featured guest performances from Chris Botti, Jeff Lorber and Gerald Albright. Three years later Fields and Camozzi returned with an expansive collection of love songs. Simply titled Victor it ran the gamut of traditional and contemporary jazz, through R&B to theatrical Broadway like themes. Now, with smooth vocals shimmering over funky tracks, Thinking Of You takes Fields through a further evolution and moves him from being a jazz vocalist with overt urban tendencies to the real smooth jazz deal.

For the most part Fields uses Thinking Of You as a vehicle to re-imagine some the coolest R & B cuts of the last thirty years. However, the depth to which he delves for some really rare and diverse examples means that this is far from simply being a collection of covers. The mellow ‘Butterflies’ that was made famous by Michael Jackson is a case in point and very much in the same mold is Fields exceptional take on ‘For The Cool In You’. Originally from the acclaimed Babyface album of the same name it’s a wonderful example of what might be termed urban smooth jazz. In fact a smooth jazz vibe is never too far away and the featured guitar of Chris Camozzi for the Marvin Gaye classic ‘What’s Going On’ really gets the job done. The excellent Blackbyrds hit ‘Walking In Rhythm’, with Fields gentle tones gelling faultlessly with soulful sax from Richard Elliot, is equally compelling and Elliot’s ARTizen stable-mate Rick Braun maintains the contemporary jazz mood with his atmospheric flugelhorn on the Stevie Wonder composition ‘Creepin’. Fields makes this former Luther Vandross hit feel as smooth as smooth can be but ratchets up the soul factor for his version of the Gap Band's ‘Yearning For Your Love’. With wonderful sax from Vince Lars and picture perfect backing vocals from Nicolas Bearde and Sandi Griffith this is one of the albums standout songs while just as good is ‘When Somebody Loves You Back’. Taken from ‘Life Is A Song Worth Singing’, the 1978 breakthrough album by Teddy Pendergrass that moved him to true solo stardom, this new rendition glistens with a sumptuous and understated horn arrangement plus more great backing from Bearde and Griffith.

Fields restrained handling of the Bill Withers classic ‘Lovely Day’ benefits from the cool Fender Rhodes of Jeff Lorber and it's Lorber who also contributes two original songs to this smoothly soulful collection. The mid tempo ‘Its In Your Vibe’ is in the pocket from the get go and generates, as the title would suggest, a hugely hypnotic vibe. It’s a contender for best track on the album but just shading it is the title track for which Lorber also provides a writing input. With Lars again massive on sax and a haunting chorus that gets in your head and won’t go away this sensuous chunk of chilled out mood music is a modern day quiet storm classic in the making.

As smooth jazz continues to evolve and adapt there is every chance that the vocal component will play an ever more significant part. That being the case Victor Fields is well placed to take the genre to a new and exciting level.

For more on Victor Fields go to www.victorfields.com.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:11 AM

March 3, 2007

Jackiem Joyner - Baby Soul

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Jackiem Joyner is now just 27 years old yet it’s a sign of his amazing maturity that he has been catching the eye with his live performances since 2001. He has opened for India Arie, Boney James, Spyro Gyra and George Benson but was first noticed by Marcus Johnson who hired him as his touring sax-man. Since then this native of Norfolk Virginia has gone on to work extensively with Bobby Lyle, Jean Carne, Angela Bofill and the great Ronnie Laws. Those who saw him perform at the recent 2007 Smooth Jazz Cruise will have marveled equally at his distinctive soulfully urban sound and the way in which he connected with his audience in both the large and small venue settings that this event threw his way. Relocated to LA, and after taking a year out to create his own new music, he is now fashioning an exciting solo career with his debut release for ARTizen Music Group, Baby Soul.

joynerphoto.jpgProduced by Joyner, who also writes ten of the eleven choice cuts, the CD is further improved by ARTizen’s own Rick Braun who executive produces, mixes and variously plays trumpet and flugelhorn on three of the tracks. Together they achieve commendable balance and, with an array of moods and emotions that range from funky dance elements to a more romantic vibe, Joyner always remains soulfully smooth and in control. That said the most up-tempo track on the album is the tight groove driven title cut. It has a compelling thread running right through it and the luscious full sounding ‘Just Groove’ starts out that way too. Helped in no small part by excellent trumpet from Rick Braun, Joyner flatters to deceive by at first toning it down with his cool melodic playing before really blossoming into a funky finale.

Rick Braun is also there for ‘This Time Around’. It has all the rhythm and melody necessary to place it up there with the best examples of good contemporary jazz and these staple elements are also well to the fore with the album’s first radio single, ‘Stay With Me Tonight’. The instantly recognizable Peter White, who has an exemplary record of contributing to the success of many up-coming artists, gets this one moving and his interplay with Joyner is terrific throughout. ‘In Love Again’ is underpinned by a smoky vibe that provides a tasty platform for Joyner’s mellow playing while with ‘Share My Tears’ he turns it down one more notch for a lusciously romantic groove that he gets just right.

The horn driven ‘Lola’ is dappled with Latin influence and skips pleasantly between Joyner’s heartfelt playing and the big brassy chorus. With a freshness that is invigorating this is a track that shows off his versatility and he switches moods yet again for the warmly gentle yet still soulful ‘Innocence’. Joyner stays predictably tight as he ratchets up the tempo for the compelling ‘Elevation’ then deftly changes gears for the album’s one cover, his sultry rendition of ‘Say Yes’. This erotic slow jam was written by Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart (aka Floetry) and appeared on their 2002 CD Floetic. It’s a candidate for best track on the album and another personal favorite is the mellow ‘Unforgiven’. Right in the pocket from the get-go this slice of retro tinged late night jazz features wonderful flugelhorn from Braun and excellent electric guitar courtesy of Iouri Ionidi.

Due out in May 2007 Baby Soul is an extremely accomplished collection and signals an association between Joyner and ARTizen that could well be a partnership made in heaven. With the nurturing qualities of the label gelling with the obvious talent and sizzling potential of the artist the name of Jackiem Joyner is bound to be around for a long time to come.

For more on the great music available from ARTizen and latest news on Jackiem Joyner go to www.artizenmusic.com.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:18 AM

February 26, 2007

Paul Brown - White Sand

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Paul Brown has an approach that is always innovative, different and fresh. His prowess as a producer is unrivalled and the extension of his talents to that of solo performer has been seamless. His debut album, the 2004 Up Front proved to be an instant radio favourite and his follow up, The City, did just as well. Not only that, as an artist, it demonstrated his growing maturity. This increased self assurance, which capitalized on the skill he has in exploring new areas for sounds previously unheard in contemporary jazz, spilled out into the creation of what fast became his own distinctive sound. It made the statement that it was suddenly OK to blend smooth jazz with guitar driven rock and he has built on this platform for his latest project. In doing so he has further refined that special ‘Paul Brown sound’ into a delicious blend that lays somewhere between rock, smooth jazz and chill. The result, White Sand, hits record stores across the USA on February 27.

In fact, by bringing together artists that Brown has worked with over the years he has, for the most part, created a duets album. However, despite the awesome contribution made by each of these guest performers, the unique nature of the sound that Brown has created labels White Sand as very much all his own work. A case in point is ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’. Made popular by Cannonball Adderley, and covered by everyone, Brown’s inspired use of Bobby Caldwell on vocals, his own bluesy guitar and a big sounding horn section makes this feel brand new. He does it again with ‘For What’s Its Worth’ where he is joined by Jeff Caruthers on keys. This Stephen Stills composition was a hit for Buffalo Springfield back in 1967 and here, deconstructed into a chunk of chilled out rock; Brown’s own vocals fit the mood perfectly. Brown calls on up-coming female sax star Jessy J for the mellow and atmospheric title track. Her playing intertwines delightfully with his own picture perfect guitar and another top notch guitar sax duet comes in the form of ‘Ol’ Skoolin’. This time Brown’s collaborator is none other than Boney James and the empathy that so clearly pulses between them adds to the ultra tight feel of this foot tapping track.

‘R n B Bump’ is co-written by Brown, Bobby English and Johnny Brit. It starts out with Latin tinged piano from David Benoit and, in sync with its title, rapidly moves to a more earthy place. This, in no small part, is due to the sax of English and sumptuous horns from Brit’s own band, the excellent Impromp2. Brown’s writing partners for the cool and jazzy ‘Makes Me Feel So Good’ are Gerald McCauley, Joe Wolf and Al Jarreau. Each impact the recording in their own special way with keyboardist, composer and producer McCauley singing backing vocals and sharing keys with Wolf while the ultra distinctive voice of Jarreau adds all the star quality anyone could ever need.

The albums third and final cover, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ is hugely different but no less special. The vocals of Hidden Beach recording artist Lina gives this Dionne Warwick classic a shimmering quality and sets it up as a radio hit of the future. Of course, having been released as the advance single, ‘The Rhythm Method’ is already on radio and is now tearing up the chart of thirty most played. With Jeff Caruthers contributing hugely on both strings and moog this sparse edgy piece has a chill factor that is off the scale. Its clearly one of the standout tracks of the entire collection and another personal favourite is the cleverly titled ‘More or Les Paul’. Browns cool guitar is again firmly in chill territory, his production weaves that special PB magic and Euge Groove on sax tops it off flawlessly with the melodic groovy chorus.

The onomatopoeic ‘Mr Cool’ could be the signature track of the whole CD. With production from Brown that is right in the pocket, and restrained trumpet from Rick Braun, its tranquil yet compelling vibe is a comforting constant. It reinforces the fact that with White Sand Paul Brown has created what will undoubtedly be one of the standout albums of 2007.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:28 PM

February 11, 2007

Brian Simpson At The 2007 Smooth Jazz Cruise

artists_brian-simpson.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Throughout the week of the 2007 Smooth Jazz Cruise the contribution of Brian Simpson was nothing short of immense. Shifting roles effortlessly from Musical Director to sideman to headline artist he consistently hit all the right buttons and in doing so showed himself to be an engaging, amusing and downright entertaining performer. Indeed Simpson demonstrated these talents perfectly during the late evening show he played in the intimate jazz club atmosphere of the Queens Lounge. Here, only minutes after stepping from the main concert stage where he had directed music and played keyboards for Jonathan Butler, he kicked off a really outstanding solo set with ‘It Could Happen’ from his 2005 run-away success It’s All Good. Fittingly, Simpson’s co-writer of this one, bass player Andre Berry, was there with him as was Randy Jacobs on guitar and Dave Hooper on drums. This well practised trio was joined from time to time by the excellent Jimmy Roberts on sax and the predictably tight combination provided the perfect backdrop to Simpson’s virtuoso playing. As well as delivering a ton of funk, Roberts, a long time member of Rod Stewart's touring band, also brought with him a huge slice of blues and this was an attribute he employed to particularly good effect while playing his part on the bands rendition of the old Jimmy Smith number ‘The Chicken Shack’ which, purely for cruise purposes, Simpson jokingly dubbed the ‘Zuiderdam Blues’.

It’s All Good was one of the few genuinely ‘complete’ albums of 2005 and as such the packed house would have been delighted had he simply played every number from it. Although he did enthral them with the seductive ‘Waiting’ and the albums two radio hits, the hip ‘Saturday Cool’ and the chart topping title track, he also provided a reminder of his first album, Closer Still. Released in 1995, a full ten years before It’s All Good, this sumptuous piece of buried treasure is an almost definitive example of what smooth jazz should be. In fact, after tempting his audience with ‘Brazilia’, which he composed during his first tour in Brazil with George Duke, and his sensational cover of the Janet Jackson hit ‘Because Of Love’, the copies of the album on sale in the ships record store sold out within hours. Fortunately Brian Simpson’s rapidly growing fan base will not have to wait ten more years for his next offering. His new CD is now eighty percent complete and is expected out in early summer. He used the tune ‘One More Time’ as a sneak preview of what is to come and if it is anything to go by then Brian Simpson is set for quite a 2007.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 1:54 PM

February 3, 2007

The Arrangements Of Greg Adams

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. With his excellent Cool To The Touch now on release it’s as a recording artist that trumpeter Greg Adams has featured here of late. In a solo discography that stretches back to 1995, and includes the critically acclaimed Hidden Agenda and Firefly, he has constantly delivered sophisticated contemporary jazz with an edge. His second solo album, the 2002 Midnight Morning, evoked memories of the legendary arrangements he fashioned during his many years with Tower Of Power and it’s this ability that betrays a side of his musical genius that many may not be aware of. In fact since 1971 he has been creating musical arrangements for a galaxy of stars that include Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond and Elton John. This extended discography, which takes in Santana’s ‘Everybody’s Everything’ and ‘Fools Paradise’ from Rufus, is overwhelming testimony to the calibre of artists he has routinely been invited to work with. Indeed everyone from the Rolling Stones to Paul Schaffer to Madonna has called on him to contribute to their projects and, in addition, Greg’s hallmark ensemble sound has made the concept of the horn section an American treasure.

GregAdams2.jpgThe Secret Garden has chosen a very personal way to process his arranging achievements so, without further ado; here is our take on the all time top ten arrangements of Greg Adams. Record companies watch out: this would be one of the best compilation albums ever.

1974 - Tower Of Power and ‘So Very Hard To Go’ from the bands self titled album

1980 - Heart and ‘Tell It Like It Is’ from their album Greatest Hits – Live.

1986 - Huey Lewis and ‘Doing It All For My Baby’ from the album Fore.

1989 - Linda Ronstadt and ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’ from Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind.

1992 - Michael Bolton and ‘Knock On Wood’ from the CD Timeless – The Classics

1994 - B.B. King's ‘Woman’s Got Soul’ from A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield.

1994 - Luther Vandross and ‘Going In Circles’ from the CD Songs.

1999 - Sammy Hagar and ‘Don’t Fight It’ from the CD Red Voodoo.

2000 - Raphael Saadiq and ‘Blind Man’ from the CD Instant Vintage.

2004 - Santana and ‘Brown Skin Girl’ from their CD All That I Am.

Check some of them out if you can. It’s a musical catalog that will blow you away. For more on Greg Adams go to www.gregadamsmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:55 AM

January 28, 2007

Greg Chambers - City Lights

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Greg Chambers is a young man in a hurry. This former student of classical saxophone at San Jose State University has attended UCLA on a scholarship awarded by the American Youth Symphony and has been one of the winners of the Atwater-Kent All-Star Concerto Competition. In the process he has studied with some of the countries premier classical saxophonists, recorded at Capitol Records, participated in the Idyllwild Arts Summer Festival and taught music in Compton with the Music Partnership Program. If that wasn’t enough he has just received his B.A. in Saxophone Performance from UCLA and is currently working towards his Masters in Music Performance. Despite these classical leanings he cites David Sanborn, Dave Koz, Michael Lington, Steve Cole, Warren Hill, and Gerald Albright as some of his major influences. It’s therefore not surprising that his debut release, City Lights is a rarified blend of the classical and the contemporary.

Truth to tell Greg Chambers ‘doesn’t do funky’, he simply doesn’t need to. With City Lights he has created an album that is so different it breaks new ground into a sub genre perhaps best summed up as ‘smooth classical jazz’. The opening track, ‘This Friday’, the first of ten original compositions, is a great example of the panache Chambers has for music that, in the main, is both melodic and tranquil. In similar vein are ‘Midnight Rendezvous’ and ‘I Burn for You’ while with ‘Chelsea’s Song’ he shifts emotions into something altogether more moody and atmospheric. The tune ripples with the classical vibe that Chambers calls his own and this special sound he seeks to produce also manifests itself in his selection of backing musicians. Isaac Melamed on cello is a case in point. This, the most melancholy of instruments, is rarely found in contemporary jazz yet here in Melamed’s skilled hands it takes the music to another dimension. His playing has a huge impact on the relatively up tempo title track and is a good illustration of how prepared Chambers often is to hand the spotlight to his fellow performers.

Hide Mercury takes center stage for the albums raunchiest track, the full on ‘Full Throttle’. His electric guitar is evocative of Jeff Golub at his wildest yet, in complete contrast, Chambers turns to the classically pure vocals of Karen Vuong for ‘I’ve Let You Down’. Her haunting tones gel delightfully with Chambers stunning sax and another delicious, although this time instrumental, blend is created with ‘Promenade’. This Gaelic tinged mid tempo melody is blessed with more sensational cello from Isaac Melamed and excellent guitar from Hide Mercury. It’s one of the albums better tracks and equally good is ‘Coming Home’. Melamed and Mercury again make outstanding contributions and Chambers turns this luscious mid tempo tune into a real ensemble piece by the subtle addition of Elizabeth Morgan on keyboards. In fact the CD’s best track also features Morgan. Her playing on ‘In Springtime’ is nothing short of beauty personified.

City Lights by Greg Chambers is an album different enough to get him noticed. For more on Greg and for details on how to buy the CD go to www.gregchambersmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:39 PM

January 7, 2007

Bill McGee - Chase The Sunset

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Bill McGee is a special kind of guy with a biography just waiting to be written. It’s an account that starts in the late 1960’s with a group of young African Americans who, despite all the odds, believed they could be anything they wanted to be. It goes on to chronicle the evolution of black music over the last forty plus years and, in addition, reveals the remarkable story of a man who, for twenty years, gave up the music industry in order to teach in the public school system. In fact Bill is currently a school administrator with Richmond Public Schools, Richmond, VA. However, since 2002, and the release of his first solo CD This Ones 4U, this talented trumpet and flugelhorn player who at one time was musical director for Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and has recorded with the likes of McFadden and Whitehead, The O’Jays, The Stylistics and Leon Huff has again been making his mark. With his very own project 804 Jazz Records he is harnessing the talents of some of the best musicians and singers that Virginia has to offer. He calls these special friends the 804 Jazz All-Stars and they are very much to the fore on his latest CD, the brand new for 2007, Chase The Sunset.

The album is a choice blend of five cool originals and seven classic covers that without exception are played with a quality and finesse that sets them apart. This is immediately evident with the slick production and execution of The Stylistics 1971 smash ‘Stop Look And Listen’. McGee’s mellow and reflective playing gels delightfully with the sax of James Holden while the vocal chorus that comes courtesy of Wanda McGee, Thomasine Johnson and Joshua Hodari is quite sublime. The picture perfect vocals of Hodari are again put to good use on the Marvin Gaye standout ‘What’s Going On’. McGee finds a vibe that is just right and partners with the great sax of James Gates to serve up as good a cover as you will hear all year. Gates is back, this time combining with McGee and Hannon Lane, to co-write and perform ‘The Groove’. The mellow product of this rarified mixture of sax, trumpet and guitar is an outstanding piece of contemporary jazz that, from the get go, is right in the pocket while in the same smooth jazz vein is ‘Chill’. With McGee joined on the track by guitarist Jim Adkins, the wonderful fabric that is woven by piano, flute and guitar makes this one very special indeed.

McGee builds a real masterpiece with his interpretation of Earth Wind and Fire’s 1973 hit ‘Keep Your Head To The Sky’. He turns to his long time horn section partners Hannon Lane and Lynwood Jones to set the mood, has Brandon Lane holding it down on bass and brings in the classy vocal of Shawn Chappelle to complete the picture. It’s a super track but perhaps even better is McGee’s six plus minute take on ‘Go Outside In The Rain’. Originally from the Dramatics 1972 LP Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, this quiet storm version is blessed by soulful vocals from Chyp Greene.

Retro jazz fusion that is both tight and funky would be an apt way to describe ‘Gold Baby’. It’s McGee’s tribute to his father Bill McGee Sr. who was given the nickname of Gold Baby at birth by virtue of the gold coins with which his mother paid the hospital bill. The gold actually came from her husband, Bishop F W McGee, who was a noted pioneer of gospel music in Chicago and beyond. The title track, also penned by McGee, features nice interplay with guitarist Tom Reaves and engenders a mellow late night vibe while another McGee composition, ‘Kickin And Screamin’ finds co-writer Debo Dabney in fine form on jazzy piano. That said McGee’s playing is even jazzier and the whole piece is topped off with a horn riff reminiscent of Tower of Power. Also big and brassy is Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’ and although it is played out primarily as an instrumental, ex Trussel vocalist Mike Spratley pops up for the final chorus.

The familiar tones of ‘Sway’, the Latin tune given a new lease of life when it was featured in the movie ‘Shall We Dance’, provides another platform from which McGee shows off his multi instrumental talents. With the exception of flute from Joe Taylor McGee handles everything else and he is at it again, providing all the rhythm tracks and brass work on his classy controlled cover of the Outkast song ‘I Like The Way’. Here Gates is again huge on sax, Tom Reaves contributes on guitar and the familiar chorus is delivered in terrific style by Virginia based vocal group Bak N Da Day.

The life of Bill McGee is about achievement and dedication. It’s also about wonderful music and Chase The Sunset is a great example of his art. Currently there is a vast and under served audience out there who enjoy contemporary jazz but not so secretly hark back to the soul music of the seventies. They need smooth jazz with soulful attitude and Bill McGee might be just the guy to provide it.

For more on Bill McGee go to www.billmcgeemusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:36 AM

December 24, 2006

Ken Navarro - Christmas Cheer

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Writing this on an English Christmas Eve makes it worth reflecting on how seasonal songs are such a huge part of the holiday experience. Whether it be pop and folk, rock and country or soul and funk there is a Christmas tune to whet every musical appetite. But sometimes, when the partying is over, when the embers of the fire are burning low in the grate and that last glass of Christmas cheer has engendered warm feelings of friends, family and celebrations gone by, something special is called for. In this context there can be none better than Ken Navarro’s 1996 album Christmas Cheer. It’s an exquisite collection of Christmas music played with a contemporary jazz twist that nevertheless remains grounded in the magic of this special season. Released immediately before his seminal CD Smooth Sensation, Navarro demonstrates huge focus and respect for his subject by simply yet stunning use of acoustic guitar supported only but significantly by consistently excellent acoustic piano from regular contributor Jay Rowe.

There is something deliciously comforting about the sparklingly traditional way in which Navarro delivers timeless classics such as ‘Silent Night’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, ‘We Three Kings’ and ‘Hark The Herald Angels’. Each, in its own way, evokes images of flickering fireside flames and crisp white snow while more contemporary but equally delightful is ‘Skating On Central Park’. Originally from John Lewis’s score of the hard hitting 1959 ‘film noir’, Odds Against Tomorrow, it quite simply has Christmas dripping from every note. Navarro’s stellar version of the Mel Torme modern day classic ‘The Christmas Song’ provides a master class in how less can undoubtedly be more and also memorable is the reflective, mellow way in which he approaches the David Sanborn track ‘Rain On Christmas’.

Despite Navarro’s lovely interpretations of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ and his subtly jazzy ‘O Christmas Tree’ the best track on the album is ‘Skating On The C & O Canal’, (Chesapeake and Ohio). The tune is wonderful not only for the fact that it is a Navarro original but also because it is an outstanding example of contemporary jazz for anytime of the year.

If you are tired of the frenzy that Christmas has come to represent then why not take some time out to chill to Christmas Cheer by Ken Navarro. If this year it’s too late to do so, go to www.kennavarro.com for more information on how to purchase the CD ready for Christmas 2007!

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:49 PM

December 11, 2006

Ken Navarro - The Meeting Place

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The Meeting Place is guitarist and composer Ken Navarro's brand new CD and his seventeenth in a solo career that dates back to 1990. His discography is generously scattered with gems of contemporary jazz and there is none more so in this respect than his 1997 release Smooth Sensation. More recently Love Coloured Soul, the 2005 CD that included his stunning take on the Laura Nyro classic ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’, climbed to #6 on the national charts. Now based in Baltimore Ken began his recording career in Los Angeles as a premier session guitarist, performer and composer. After performing and recording with artists as diverse as Doc Severinsen and Dave Koz he established his own musical identity with the formation of Positive Music Records and the release of his debut album, The River Flows. Through the label, Ken has been responsible for launching the recording careers of saxophonist Brandon Fields, guitarist Grant Geissman and keyboardists Gregg Karukas and Marcus Johnson. In 2002 he briefly switched to Shanachie where he released Slow Dance and stayed on through 2003 for the follow up, All The Way. In 2004 he picked up the production reins for youthful sax sensation Eric Darius and his highly acclaimed Narada debut, Night On The Town. Now back in his own Positive Music stable, and at the very top of his game, he brings us The Meeting Place, a tight, accessible 11 song collection that includes 10 of his own new compositions plus a superb version of the Pat Metheny classic ‘Lakes’.

KenNavarro_TheMeetingPlace.jpgThe Meeting Place is replete with the melody and rhythm that helps define what contemporary jazz should be. The cool sax that Rob Holmes provides throughout is kept in scale by Navarro’s silky production and this is perfectly exemplified by the mid tempo and pleasing ‘Lucky’. Equally melodic and in a every respect a piece of smooth jazz that hits the spot is ‘Just Like That’ while even better is ‘Did Your Hear That?’ With a melody out of this world and Navarro’s usual tight groove this is sunshine filled jazz and then some. The ‘Language Of Peace’ has a Caribbean thing going on and is totally evocative of the milky white beaches and mountainous green vistas that are at the heart of those wonderful islands. Conjuring up different emotions is ‘I Wish I Knew’. A little more reflect and a lot more Latin, this really is top notch smooth jazz.

The sophisticated and groovy way in which Ken carries off his version of the Pat Metheny tune ‘Lakes’ is indicative of why he considers Metheny to be one of his major influences. Here the generous contribution of Jay Rowe on piano adds value and he is also right in the pocket on ‘No Other Way’ where a moody and soulful intro paves the way to an earthy smoker. Navarro shows just how eclectic contemporary jazz can be by using the title track to flirt sensationally with something akin to 80’s jazz fusion and then by taking a big and expansive route to the complex yet melodic ‘The Challenge’. Staying tightly in the groove for over six minutes of high octane playing Ken tops it off with a guitar solo where he really cuts loose. The title track is also strident and funky. It’s a mid tempo foot tapper that checks all the right boxes and also funky but always controlled is ‘That Time Of Evening’. A contender for best track on the album it has more excellent sax from Rob Holmes and a great vibe that reaches back to the days when contemporary jazz was always played with an edge.

However, just shading it as Secret Garden killer cut is ‘My Beautiful Girls’. Kicked off by a tight and uplifting intro, it morphs into the delicious melody that is the hallmark of Navarro’s playing.

The Meeting Place is an intoxicating collection that is way above the average. Ahead of its national retail release date of January 23, 2007 it is currently and exclusively available at www.kennavarro.com. Check it out if you can and also read Ken’s blog that can be found there. It is one of the most entertaining, interesting and insightful journals on the web.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:47 PM

December 8, 2006

Brian Culbertson - A Soulful Christmas

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Smooth jazz fans are well blessed with Christmas albums that stay on the right side of cool and this year have another seasonal gem to add to their festive collection. A Soulful Christmas is Brian Culbertson’s first ‘holiday’ project and although, overall, it is his ninth release the concept is one he has carried with him since day one. Maybe that is why once the project was given the green light the arrangements and music came both quickly and spontaneously. From April 2006 the CD was completed in a very intensive three months period. In this respect the process benefited from the fact that much of the work was done in Culbertson’s state of the art home studio, BCM Studios, and as collaborations with good friends. The result is an album that is brim full of Culbertson’s special musical magic.

Brian Culbertson is an artist and producer always in search of the ‘wow factor’ and he immediately finds it with the multi layered ‘Joy To The World’. The thirty second intro played by a brass quintet of trumpet, piccolo trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba has that delicious feeling of Christmas’s gone by and gives no hint of the soulful take on the song that is to follow. Complete with a gospel choir, great use of horns and BC’s tight piano its Christmas music at its uplifting best. Keeping the tempo high is the mega funky version of ‘Jingle Bells’. A Christmas favorite like you have never heard it before it finds Culbertson veering between swing and funk and underpinning it all with a full blown big band vibe that he engineers from only his own trombone, the sax of Eric Marienthal and the trumpet of Wayne Bergeron. ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’ also has that same big sound but, courtesy of Jorge Evans on guitar, a trombone solo from BC and Jeff Lorber’s Wurlitzer electric piano, is raucous as well while in complete contrast is ‘The First Noel’. Poignant and orchestrally charged it finds Culbertson’s versatility and production genius both in over drive.

‘Deck The Halls’ was arranged by Culbertson with Dave Koz and is played on the album as a vintage piano and sax duet with Warren Hill. It retains the beauty of the original melody but has a subtle contemporary twist. Equally faithful is ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. With all the magic of the traditional tune it features sensational interplay between Culbertson and Peter White whose guitar sounds as unmistakable as ever. Two memorable Culbertson moments are delivered back to back. Although Brian’s wife Michelle has previously appeared on his CD’s as a backing singer she takes the lead for ‘Some Children See Him’. Her classically trained soprano tones are made in heaven for this haunting tune and equally stunning is Culbertson’s simple yet evocative interpretation of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ that features significant percussion from Brian Bromberg, Lennie Castro and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Contender for Secret Garden killer cut is ‘This Christmas’ where BC uses wonderful horns and his own distinctive keys for a hip take on Donny Hathaway’s composition from 1971. However, just shading it is the albums one original composition ‘All Through The Christmas Night’. Oozing with Culbertson’s unique vibe and with a wonderful vocal track from the legendary Michael McDonald this is a modern day Christmas classic in the making.

What is sure to evolve into one of the stand out Christmas albums of all time comes to a fitting and spine tingling conclusion with ‘Silent Night’. The delicate vocals of regular Culbertson contributor Marc Nelson plus the multi tracking sophistication of BC’s production makes this very special indeed. Culbertson sums up ‘A Soulful Christmas’ by reflecting that that the songs included “are about the music that got you excited when you were a kid with your family. Everything you hear on this CD I either played a lot or heard a lot when I was growing up. It’s all things Christmas...wrapped up in one album.”

Now, more than just an album, Brian Culbertson is taking his A Soulful Christmas on the road for a December concert tour. Featuring special guests Bobby Caldwell, Ray Parker Jr. Warren Hill and Eric Darius it will be mixture of Christmas music, some of the artist’s greatest hits and much jamming in the Christmas spirit. For more on the schedule go to www.brianculbertson.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:55 PM

November 11, 2006

Jack Prybylski - Window Shopping

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Window Shopping is the latest CD release from Buffalo, New York sax man Jack Prybylski (purr-bill-ski). It was his 2002 effort Soho Strut that started to get him noticed and which garnered the Internet radio single ‘Mandalay Bay’ but now, with excellent support from none other than Ken Navarro, Window Shopping has the potential to move Prybylski to the centre of where it’s at in the world of contemporary jazz. Prybylski first came to Navarro’s attention when a mutual friend suggested that he should contact Jack for ideas on Internet radio resources. The two hit it off and when Jack asked if Navarro would play a part with the new CD he was delighted to accept. This involvement has extended to production, mixing, performing and, in addition, writing the tune ‘Bright Spot’ that has been selected as the first from the album to be lifted for radio play.

The influences that came Prybylski’s way as he grew up listening to bands with big horn sections and to players like Tom Scott permeate his current work and the opening track, the up beat ‘Night Flyer’, has Scott written all over it. However Prybylski can do mellow with the best of them and the restrained ‘I Need You’, where Navarro’s guitar adds hugely, checks all the right boxes of romantic smooth jazz. In similar vein is the title track. Its beauty comes courtesy of Navarro and its full sound is delivered on the wave of a pleasing sax riff and cool Hammond B3 from Jay Rowe. The one vocal track on the album, ‘Don’t Say No’, has JJ Moscato doing the honours and engendering something of an Ambrosia feel while the smoky ‘3 Cats’, bound together with a tight beat, is both laid back yet melodic.

Prybylski provides a jazzy twist to his generally regulation cover of the Stevie Wonder staple ‘I Wish’ and drifts a little off message with the experimental rendition of ‘Space Lion’ from the Japanese anime concept Cowboy Bebop. Bringing it closer to home Ken Navarro kicks open the door on ‘Santa Faustina’ with his urgent Latin playing before handing off to Prybylski who, with his own full sound, keeps the vibe very much south of the border. All that said the killer cut remains ‘Bright Spot’. This text book example of mid tempo contemporary jazz stands out as one of the best tunes of 2006.

For more on Jack Prybylski and to buy Window Shopping go to www.jackprybylski.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:33 PM

September 23, 2006

Greg Adams - Cool To The Touch

The musical arrangements that trumpeter Greg Adams has created for Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Linda Ronstadt to name only a few has made him one of the ultimate musicians’ musicians. Indeed everyone from the Rolling Stones to Paul Schaffer to Madonna has called on him to contribute to their projects and, in addition, Greg’s hallmark ensemble sound has made the concept of the horn section an American treasure. Despite all that, and the huge credentials gained as founding member of the evergreen Tower of Power (ToP), it took until 1995 and his solo debut album Hidden Agenda for him to be become as well recognized outside the recording studio as he was within it. The album rocketed to number one on the smooth jazz charts and his second CD, Midnight Morning, evoked memories of the legendary arrangements he created during his many years with Tower Of Power. The critically acclaimed Firefly followed in 2004. Now he is back with a brand new release Cool To The Touch.

gregadams.jpgMore evidence of those Adams hallmark arrangements is there as early as the very first track, the foot tapping ‘Felix The Cat’. With a horn section from heaven that comprises ToP old boy Richard Elliot, Boney James, Eric Marienthal, Johnnie Bamont and Mindi Abair it’s just not possible to have too much of a good thing. The sound brings thoughts of Tower Of Power flooding back and the way the horns combine with the icy sophistication of Adams playing makes this is top notch contemporary jazz and then some. ‘One Night In Rio’ barely needs an introduction as, doing exactly what its title says, Adams flowing trumpet conjures up images of busy neon lit streets and steamy dark alleys. Equally Latin infused is ‘Bongo Baby’. Co-written by Adams and former Tower of Power guitar player Carmen Grillo it’s simply laden with Latin percussion. The ‘A Team’ horn section on duty for ‘Felix The Cat’ is back; this time joined by Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar, for the smoky crawler of a title track that Adams makes both hot (and cool) to the touch and another typically edgy Adams melody can be found on ‘Hermosa’, co-written with Joey Navarro.

Greg gets seriously funky with ‘Life In The Key Of Blue’. Johnny Sandoval’s percussion lights this one up, Paul Jackson Jr. plays a part, ex ToP regular Nick Milo is on keyboards and the great Tom Scott on sax produces interplay with Adams that is out of this world. Much more melodic yet tight and pleasing is the handsome mid tempo ‘It’s Only Love, Love’ while tight is again the operative word for ‘Hi-Fi’. This little mover is a joy to the ears and ideal therapy for a slow and difficult commute home. Adams pays his respects to Sting with his smoky interpretation of the hit ‘If I Ever Lose My Faith In You’ and, in an album as groove driven as this, ‘When The Party’s Over’ is the calm oasis in a sea of funk. Spellbinding and beautiful it is an absolutely wonderful track.

Greg Adams has the ability to bring together everything that is good in contemporary jazz. Cool To The Touch is a great example of his art and a CD well worth looking out for. Go to www.gregadamsmusic.com for more on the man and his music.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:24 PM

August 19, 2006

Lynne Fiddmont - Flow

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. There was a time when melodic accessible soul music was the order of the day. Artists such as Angela Bofill, Anita Baker, Phyllis Hyman and Patti Austin were recording songs with sumptuous arrangements that often were complemented by huge yet subtle orchestras. Many of these tunes became cult classics but that was then and this is now. With this style of music no longer welcome at its traditional outlet of urban R & B radio it has become marginalized into a sub genre of adult contemporary or smooth jazz. Consequently it’s extra special when an album of the quality of Flow by Lynne Fiddmont comes along. Full of the shimmering soul sophistication that was the hallmark of those hits of the eighties it’s a wonderful collection of jazz infused soul songs for grown ups. That said there is not one thing about it that is dated. Very much in the mold of what is popularly termed urban jazz but which I prefer to brand as smooth R & B, the production and arrangement expertise brought to it by Tim Carmon, Freddie Washington, but mostly by Lynne Fiddmont herself, makes this very much a piece of 2006.

For Lynne Fiddmont this move from the shadows to center stage is long overdue. Born in St Louis Missouri her career, now spanning in excess of twenty years, made an auspicious start when she got the gig to back the Crusaders on tour, performing live versions of such staples as ‘Street Life’ and ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’. Similar assignments followed, first with Bill Withers on his 1985 ‘Watching Me Watching You’ tour, then with Lou Rawls and subsequently with Stevie Wonder where she was background vocalist in his recording / touring group Wonderlove. Now, a long a time resident of Los Angeles, she sings and plays percussion with Norman Brown's live band and has recently worked with Phil Collins as part of his ‘First Final Farewell’ tour. As for Flow its depth and quality is incredible. Right from the opening track, the light but infectious samba infused ‘Holiday’, the anticipation of what’s to follow becomes huge.

The soulfully romantic ‘Cupid’ is simply mesmerizing while the Latin tinged ‘Something That I Can Feel’ is complex yet catchy. It features Fiddmont’s bother Keith on soprano sax as well as her children Courtney and Alana as part of the children’s chorus. The gentle but heartfelt ballad ‘Never Really’ shows off Fiddmont's known ability to carry a song and the title track, doing what its names suggests, allows her vocals to flow atop a compelling languid beat.

Fiddmont originally recorded U R Loved in 1991 with her former husband Wayne Linsey while part of the duo Linsey. Taken from their album Perfect Love it proved to be a quiet storm classic and this acoustic version, with awesome guitar from Michael Ripoll and Paul Jackson Jr., is spine chillingly beautiful. Talking of quiet storm classics, another one in the making is the sexy and adulterous ‘Feels So Right’ that Fiddmont admits to reminding her of something from the Isley Brothers.

There are no weak links. Fiddmont composes eight of the nine tracks herself and the one exception, ‘No Regrets’, a sub three minute postscript, is a tune that she first discovered in 1976 on an album from Phoebe Snow. A personal favorite is the deliciously sultry ‘Say’. With stellar acoustic piano from Mark Stephens, keyboards from Freddie Washington and soulful vocals from Fiddmont that are off the scale this is one that gets in your head and wont go away.

Make no bones about it; this belated but sensational debut release from Lynne Fiddmont is one of the gems of 2006 so far. Released on her own Midlife Records label it is certainly one to watch.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:02 AM

July 27, 2006

Shilts - In Conversation

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It was Sting who sung about an Englishman in New York but it would seem that, in smooth jazz terms, there are also quite a few in Los Angeles. Paul ‘Shilts’ Weimar is the latest to follow in the footsteps of Peter White and Chris Standring who, among others, have journeyed from England to California to seek and ultimately find smooth jazz stardom. Although he has only been resident in the LA area since 2004 Shilts is by no means new to the scene. He is in fact the face of the live incarnation of the band Down To The Bone (DTTB), an association that now extends back nine years and when I recently caught up with him at his home studio he took a break from working on new material to talk about the exciting turns that his career has recently taken.

Of course Shilts now has a major hit on his hands. ‘Look What's Happened’ is the first radio single from his CD HeadBoppin and currently 26th most played on smooth jazz radio in the USA. I asked him how the single came to be chosen from a selection that includes nine tracks that are either written or co-written by him. “When you are that close to a project”, he explained, “it can be difficult. Some of those tunes have been with me for as long as five years and not unnaturally I feel that all of them are great. That’s the cool thing about the new relationship I have with ARTizen Music Group. They have huge expertise in this genre. Sure they asked me my opinion and there is no doubt that other tracks on the album will in time make it to radio but I am very comfortable with the calls that ARTizen are making and its paid off with a hit.”

HeadBoppin is Shilts debut album on ARTizen although he previously released ‘See What Happens’ on Higher Octave in 2001. I wondered what, for him, the differences were this time around. “My first solo recording was made as a tie in to the work I was doing with DTTB” he told me. “The title says it all as in part we put it out there to gauge the reaction. It was an experiment but at the time I was still living in England and not around to promote it. This time everything is different. I was on the road playing with Jeff Lorber's band when out of the blue I got a call. It was from Rick Braun at ARTizen. Our paths had crossed on the tour circuit and he explained to me that my name had come up as someone who would fit very well with the focused way in which ARTizen was seeking to selectively extend its roster of artists.”

The project developed from there and the result is not only HeadBoppin but a working relationship with Braun that has seen them co-produce the album, for Rick Braun to appear on six of the tracks and for the two of them to tour together throughout this summer. In fact the tour schedule, made up of solo gigs, DTTB commitments and appearances with Rick Braun, looks quite hectic. I asked Shilts how he was managing to find the right balance and if he anticipated leveraging the interest of his long time DTTB fans for his solo performances. “Really, its all working out great” he explained. “Dates have fallen into place and I’m looking forward to testing out audience reaction when I get to the east coast in August. What I really hope is that the smooth jazz fans who have found my music through the new single will combine with DTTB regulars. That should produce quite an atmosphere.”

In the immediate future Shilts intends to continue to develop his live shows and has a new band that he has brought together for the purpose. Although he does admit to missing English beer and fish and chips he has no regrets about the switch that he and his family have made. “It’s about opportunities,” he confirmed. “Back home there are world class musicians who struggle to find work and to pay their bills. Here the market is opening up. It’s a place where if you work hard and pursue your dreams then the rewards will follow.”

Living the dream Shilts certainly is. In those sun drenched environs of L.A., and by coupling his enormous talent with the real feeling that he has for his music, he is sure to do well.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:17 PM

July 15, 2006

To Grover With Love - In Jason Miles' Own Words

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Albums that can stand the test of time don’t come along every day but one recording that already carries the hallmarks of classic status will be re-released on July 18. The Jason Miles tribute to Grover Washington To Grover With Love first came out in April 2001, sixteen months after Washington’s untimely death and when I recently talked to Miles I first asked him about the knack he has for turning what at first sight appears to be ‘the tribute concept’ into an art form. He was quick to stress that “these records should not be viewed as collections of covers” and anyone who has heard his Grammy winning A Love Affair : The Music Of Ivan Lins, the nod he makes to Celebrating The Music Of Weather Report or, more recently, his What’s Going On? - Songs Of Marvin Gaye will wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments. “It’s all about taking the music to another place” he explains. “What I do, one of the gifts I have, is to gather together just the right group of musicians to create the collaborations that re-imagine familiar songs into something new and fresh but with the feeling and passion of the original artist.” This approach is well demonstrated with his 2005 project Miles To Miles – In The Spirit Of Miles Davis where, with original compositions, he brings to life the spirit and creative vibe of the legendary trumpeter, expanding musical ideas into a realm that was unheard of during the halcyon days of Davis.

With To Grover With Love the thinking was just the same. In 1996 Grover Washington Jr. had featured on the Jason Miles solo album Mr X where he played on the track ‘Chicken And Waffles’. Consequently the bond Miles had with him transcended a mere love for his music. Shortly after the news of Grover’s death had been announced, and in LA to finish up the Ivan Lins project, Miles realized he had to do something. He proceeded to map out what he wanted to achieve and, limited only by the reluctance of some labels to release their artists, pulled together a veritable who’s who of contemporary jazz musicians. The roster included ten different sax players but when it came to getting the record made he first had to experience several rejections before finding a home for the project at the then division of the QVC shopping network, Q Records. He also went on to release the 2002 Brazilian Nights with Q but this was the last CD the label put out before it folded. There was a real risk that Brazilian Nights and To Grover With Love would be lost forever but, showing the same passion and determination that he has displayed throughout his career, Jason Miles stepped in to buy back the masters of both disks.

Now, at its new home of Artizen Records, the To Grover With Love adventure is set to begin again. Miles is thrilled that at long last the record is in the hands of a group of people who ‘get it’ and who have the ability to provide much needed visibility. It’s a wonderful collection that, true to type, includes a version of ‘Mr Magic’ like you have never heard it before and a funky, organic interpretation of ‘Winelight’ featuring the sax of Gerald Albright that will banish recent covers of this classic track into distant memory.

As for Jason Miles, he will be on the road this summer with Candy Dulfer to promote the What’s Going On? CD and also has projects in the pipeline that include a collection of Motown tunes done with a chill vibe and a collaboration with vocalist Mike Mattison.

For more on Jason Miles go to www.jasonmilesmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:16 PM

July 9, 2006

Jill Jenson

JillJenson_bw.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Jill Jenson released her first and self titled CD earlier this year. In doing so she took her first steps into the world of adult contemporary music, a genre that, with only a few exceptions, has done few favors for the majority of female vocalists who have dabbled in it. Yet, in this interesting collection, there is enough to suggest that Jenson could well have a successful career ahead of her. A graduate of University of Miami where she majored in ‘Jazz Vocal’ she returned to her home of Portland Oregon and worked variously as a DJ at KMHD radio, a professional jingle singer and voiceover artist, and as a senior executive and consultant with both AT&T Wireless and Microsoft. This very untypical grounding for a fledgling singing star led to a fortunate turn when, in 2002, she hooked up with her old college friend Tim Cashion who has written and produced for the likes of Bob Seger, Robert Palmer and Grand Funk Railroad. She quit her job and starting working toward what has culminated in the release of her debut CD. Produced by Cashion, and with twelve of the fourteen tracks written or co-written by him, the album also benefits both from the executive production expertise of Matt Pierson and contributions from a stellar line up of backing musicians.

Pierson has been around and, having worked with Bob James, Joshua Redman and Michael Franks, knows what good contemporary jazz should be. This savvy is evident as early as the opening track, the Cashion composition ‘Sunshine Away’. It is tight and pleasing with Jenson’s warm vocals shining through. Earth Wind and Fires ‘That’s The Way Of The World’ is the first of the albums two notable covers and Jenson carries it off in fine style. In this she is helped, in no small part, by the excellent Marc Henderson and Dave Quackenbush on sax and trumpet respectively.

JillJenson_cover.jpgAlthough from time to time Jenson flirts with ballads, both she and the band are clearly at their best when seeking out a quicker tempo R & B groove. Jenson has the depth of voice to inject a little soul and does so nicely with the Swing Out Sister (ish) ‘Little World’. ‘If You Don’t Love Me’ has a catchy chorus and well-blended horns while ‘Find My Way’ has an infectious Latin vibe, tight production qualities and more great sax from Henderson. As said, Jill Jenson can cover quite a range of feeling and style. With the contemporary ‘100 Percent’ she is deliciously jazzy yet, on the gentle ballad ‘A Place In His Heart’, almost evokes the sound of Karen Carpenter.

Best track is the Gray, James, Vale composition, ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’. This mid tempo cover of the old Tommy James and the Shondells hit features the guitar of Chuck Loeb. It has a 5th Dimension thing going on and is definitely one to watch out for.

A two-year project in the making, the CD was recorded at Cashion's Cottage Lake Studio in North Carolina, with some additional sessions in New York City. The wait has been worth it and now offers Jill Jenson the chance to step into the adult contemporary limelight.

For more on Jill Jenson and for details of how to buy the CD go to www.jilljenson.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:04 AM

June 26, 2006

Westbound - Miles Away

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Christian Rocco and Enrico Catena are the smooth jazz duo Westbound. Being based in Italy they are a considerable distance from their natural market of the west coast of the USA, in fact they are ‘miles away’ from it. Yet despite this they have come up with a wonderful collection of contemporary jazz all bundled together into the appropriately titled CD Miles Away. Nine of the ten tracks have been written and produced by them and with the picture perfect blend of Catena’s drums and percussion fused with Rocco’s mix of guitars and keyboards they can take considerable credit for an album that oozes melodic and gentle sophistication. The scene is set early with the track ‘Smooth’. The title says everything about this tune that has a delightful guitar melody running right through it and, when it is reprised later, the ‘radio edit’ sounds just as good.

westboundmusic.jpgOther tracks such as ‘Spring Break’, with its complex arrangements, and ‘St Peters Farm’ that allows itself to get nice and jazzy also burst with the same gentle melody but when the guys turn tight and funky for ‘From NY To LA’ they still retain the same luscious yet minimalist Westbound sound. From the catchily Latin ‘Corona Del Mar’ to the Acoustic Alchemy overtones of ‘The Wrong Place’ the band keep coming up with lovely surprises and there is none more so than ‘Back Bay’. Here, with a quicker tempo and an altogether bigger beat, they almost engender a rock vibe but are right back on message with ‘Ivan’, a really wonderful song that lifts the spirits. The one track not written by Rocco is ‘Estate’. This Martino – Brighetti composition has a moody intro and a compelling bass line. It drips with the melody that is a hallmark of the entire collection.

Miles Away deserves to make a real impact but unless the CD gets the radio exposure that it richly deserves then it is unlikely to do so.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:36 AM

June 18, 2006

Wilton Felder - Let's Spend Some Time

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When I heard that Wilton Felder was back on the scene with his new release Let's Spend Some Time I just had to go to the archives and remind myself of the great music he has been producing since as far back as the early sixties. As well as checking out and loving his stellar sax playing with the Crusaders I was also captivated second time around by his wonderful 1985 long player Secrets that featured Bobby Womack. That said, listening to Let's Spend Some Time, it becomes immediately obvious that the years have done nothing to diminish his immense talent and his ability to play jazz saxophone with an edge. In fact the new CD is an impressive collaboration between Felder and trumpeter / flugelhorn player George Shaw who co-produces with Felder and co-writes eleven of the thirteen tracks.

Wilton Felder, Joe Sample and Stix Hooper met in Houston while still at high school. They moved to Los Angeles in the late fifties and there became the nucleus of The Jazz Crusaders, the band who pioneered jazz fusion for an entire listening generation. In a golden age that spanned 1971 through to 1990 they recorded, both as a group and as individuals, more than seventy five top selling albums and will perhaps be best remembered for the classic ‘Street Life’ that featured Randy Crawford. Throughout this time Felder continued to work as a sideman, most notably as a member of the Love Unlimited Orchestra and he also played with Steely Dan, Michael Franks, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell. In addition he enjoyed considerable solo success. His 1980 album Inherit The Wind went to #4 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and the aforementioned Secrets peaked at #8. He continued to make his presence felt through the nineties with the Nocturnal Moods and Forever Always albums. Now, with Let's Spend Some Time, it’s just like he has never been gone.

The CD opens in impressive style with the mid tempo and funky ‘Smoke House’. Felder instantly finds an urban groove and George Shaw chips in nicely on flugelhorn for what is an essential slice of jazz funk. Talking of jazz funk there is no better example on the album than ‘Ooh Whop Doo Whop’. Deconstructed and funky this foot tapper is a real winner. The title track is urban jazz with a distinctly moody feel and when Felder and Shaw switch to mellow smooth R & B for the haunting ‘As Long As I’m With You’ they weave in nice vocals from the excellent AJ Luke. When, later in the album, the tune is reprised in instrumental form, Felder’s sax takes on the texture of velvet to create yet another of the CD’s many magic moments. Felder keeps it mellow with ‘The Love I Need’ but surpasses even what has gone before with ‘No One’. Laid back yet funky, romantic yet edgy, the vocals of AJ Luke blend perfectly with Felder’s picture perfect sax for a track that is sure to be a Secret Garden notable of 2006.

‘Information’ is big funky and urgent with a rap running through it while the very catchy ‘High Water’ stays tight and builds throughout. In fact tunes like these show off the ultra funky side of Felder’s nature but, in part, his real skill is to balance this with his more romantic but still soulful tendencies. Full of this latter quality comes ‘In The Moment’. With a romantic duet from Felder and Shaw as its centre piece, and underpinned by a rhythm that is reminiscent of Dave Grusin's best work, this is a song that never for one second becomes bland. ‘Where Love Comes From’ provides a suitably gentle end to the collection and ‘I Remember Chet Baker’ is ultra smoky and laid back. It starts out moody and atmospheric and stays right there. Probably the best track on the album is ‘Cruzin’. Like its title, this warm and mellow tune is brim full of feel good sunshine.

Let's Spend Some Time is a wonderful album and one of the contemporary jazz surprises of the year. If tracks like ‘No One’ can find a niche on smooth jazz radio then Wilton Felder could well be in for a major resurgence.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:45 PM

May 29, 2006

Janita - Seasons Of Life

Janita.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It’s a long way from Finland to the streets of downtown Manhattan but this incredible journey has brought Janita to the verge of international singing stardom. With May 16, 2006 slated as the date for the release of her new CD Seasons Of Life and the advance single from it, ‘Enjoy The Silence’, already racing up the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio this is a year that promises much for an artist who has been favorably compared to the likes of Sade and Norah Jones. Although Seasons Of Life will be Janita’s first non-independent release in the USA, her 2001 debut I’ll Be Fine made it into the top forty of the smooth jazz chart. In addition she is no stranger to success in her home country of Finland. Here, as a teen singing sensation, she enjoyed multiple hits and Grammy awards as well as being voted “the most sensuous woman in Finland”. Now, signed to the Lightyear Entertainment label, she has written and executive produced all eleven tracks of the excellent Seasons Of Life.

The CD opens in sensational style with the warmly Latin ‘No Words’ where Janitas’s luscious and often sexy vocals flood through the tune like rays of Californian sunshine while just as good yet very different is ‘I Only Want You’. Possibly the most soulful cut on the album it is interspersed with delicious horns, sultry vocals and a standout bass line. Janita revisits the Latin theme throughout and notable in this respect are the soulful and romantic ‘I Miss You’, ‘Let Me Love You’ and ‘More Than Fantasy’, a sensuous slow burner with a laid back Latin sway and an injection of warm strings that considerably ups the emotional anti.

Indeed a notable production masterstroke is the shunning of synthesized strings in favor of a real sixteen-piece section. This proves to be a key component and is well demonstrated with ‘That’s How Life Goes’ where their subtle use and a compelling chorus adds to the smoky soul tinged quality of the track.

On Seasons Of Life Janita is supported by a glittering array of musicians. These include drummer Antonia Sanchez, who has played with Pat Metheny, and Daniel Sadownick on percussion who has appeared on recordings by Angie Stone, Incognito and Steely Dan. Keyboard player, guitarist and producer of the album is Tomi Sachary while sharing duties with Sanchez on drums is Scooter Warner. Founder of the Groove Collective Jonathon Maron plays bass and Jacques Schwartz-Bart provides sax and flute. Each in their own way contribute to the overall product and their ultra tight playing combined with good use of backing vocals are inherent features of ‘I Cant Get Enough Of You’, providing, as they do, a perfect back drop to a tune that contains elements of both pop and jazz but which Janita is able to make soulful too.

Janita proves, both with the title track and the bosso-nova charged ‘Too Late’, that she can handle romantic ballads with the best of them while ‘Bear With Me’ gives her the chance to take a leaf from Norah Jones book with a sparse yet warm love song to which she lends the considerable emotion of her vocals. Among the best on the album is the radio single ‘Enjoy The Silence’. Laid back yet compelling this is a number with a sound filled by understated strings and Janita’s sophisticated tones.

Seasons Of Life is a subtle and intelligent collection where less is always more. Its mix of Latin, jazz and gentle soul is music for grown ups and Janita’s voice has a quality that should ensure that she is around for a considerable time to come.

For more on Janita go to www.janita.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:11 PM

May 15, 2006

Konstantin Klashtorni - Led By You

Led By You is the latest project from Konstantin Klashtorni. It follows on the heels of his critically acclaimed debut solo release Downtown and promises to make a major mark in the ultra competitive world of smooth jazz saxophone. This is very much a virtuoso project for Konstantin. As well as writing, programming and producing all ten tracks he variously plays saxophones, flute, keys and additional guitars but still finds space to include some excellent backing musicians. Yerman Aponte plays bass, Udo Demandt is on drums, the guitar of Roy Lewis features on four of the cuts and, in addition, Klashtorni blends in some significant guest performances.

klashtorni2.jpgThe music of Konstantin Klashtorni is seriously catchy with none more so than the title cut. The phrasing of the uplifting intro is revisited throughout the track to frame the simple melody and produce a chunk of top-notch feel good smooth jazz. Another one that stays in the head and won’t go away is ‘So Lovely’. Both gentle and infectious it evokes thoughts of summer sun glinting on rippling water.

Feel good and uplifting could be the theme of the entire album and this is typified by the opening track, the mid tempo and lightly funky foot tapper ‘Back It Up’ where the trumpet of Michael Simon and trombone of Santiago Cananda Valvere add to the full, rich sound. Simon and Valvere also feature on ‘To Feel Free’. It’s a piece of smooth jazz for any occasion that seems straight from the west coast. This same sun drenched ‘driving with the top down’ vibe is apparent with ‘Ocean Of Joy’, on which Ibernice McBean flirts with atmospheric subliminal vocals, and on ‘Stay Romantic’ where Klashtorni succeeds in producing a big sound that is at the same time mellow and sweet.

The backing vocals of Ibernice McBean are also used on the romantic ‘Close’ where they blend to sensational effect with Klashtorni’s ultra smooth sax and on ‘Haven’t Got The Heart’, a quality slice of smooth melodic R & B with Mitchell Brunings taking the lead on vocals and Klashtorni maintaining the lightest of touches.

‘It Dews’ is late night smooth jazz for lovers through which Klashtorni weaves a catchy hook and he is again in turned down mode with the melodic chill of ‘Look Around’, a tune further enriched by the trumpet of Michael Simon.

Led By You will be released on May 22. It is an outstanding collection of commercially attractive smooth jazz that, in many ways, represents a coming of age for Klashtorni. He perfectly meshes production skills to rival Paul Brown and Brian Culbertson with his own individual musical talents and captures the twin peaks of melody and rhythm that are at the heart of everything good in smooth jazz.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:10 PM

April 23, 2006

Gerald Albright - New Beginnings

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It’s fitting that Gerald Albright's new CD is titled New Beginnings because a fresh start is what Albright is currently all about. Not only is he breathing the creative fresh air that stems from his relocation to Castle Rock Colorado he is also basking in the freedom afforded to him by his new label Peak Records. This liberation has allowed him to write and produce music that he describes as ‘genuine Gerald’ and, for this latest project, to gather together an awesome array of smooth jazz and R & B greats. In addition, his decision to make this recording the first to feature his regular touring band of bassist Melvin Davis, drummer Tony Moore and the bands newest member, keyboardist (and Musical Director) Tracy Carter, has given him the luxury of working with artists who instinctively know what he wants. In fact long term collaborations are very much a feature of New Beginnings. Albright first worked with Jeff Lorber in the early eighties when as a young sax man he replaced the soon to be famous Kenny G in The Jeff Lorber Fusion Band. Lorber plays a part on four of the tracks and Patrice Rushen, for whom Albright played the now signature tenor solo on the smash hit ‘Forget Me Nots’, is there too. Truth to tell the entire collection is brim full of wonderful surprises.

The opening track, ‘We Got The Groove’, is boppy and highly energetic with an infectious hook. Featuring Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar it is produced by Jeff Lorber, who also co-writes (with Albright) and plays keyboards. Selected as the first single to be released to radio, it is currently tearing up the chart of the thirty most played. This same Lorber Albright combination is in evidence with ‘Take Your Time’. This is an edgy slice of smooth jazz that starts out in laid back mode with snippets of flute from Albright rippling through the tune like sunshine splashing on water. However, with Albright’s playing on sax getting bigger and bolder by the second it soon evolves into something altogether funkier. Albright and Lorber also combine on the aptly named ‘Deep Into My Soul’ where Gerald turns it down a little for a genuinely soulful vibe that just flows.

‘Georgia On My Mind’ has been a staple of Albright’s live shows since the early nineties and here, with plaintiff sax that is complemented by subtle backing, he plays it straight to evoke thoughts of smoky jazz clubs in the late night hours. When he reprises the tune as the final track of the album he adds a swing and big band feel that puts a delicious spin on the original. The title track is a lovely piece of smooth jazz with the emphasis decidedly on the jazz. The sultry introduction paves the way for Albright’s funky yet romantic sax and a jazz infused solo on acoustic piano by the wonderful Patrice Rushen.

The Jeff Lorber produced ‘Big Shoes’ features a trumpet solo from the ubiquitous Chris Botti. Sure to please the purists, it is jazzy in a straight ahead sort of a way yet funky in a way that is pure Gerald Albright. Positioned more toward the smooth jazz end of the rainbow is the luscious rhythmic funk of ‘Last But Not Least’. One of several tracks on the CD with the potential to go to radio it epitomises the attitude that Albright routinely imparts into his music. This quality again brims over with ‘I Want Somebody’. The first of two Chuckii Booker Gerald Albright collaborations it is a song that builds through the intro before transitioning it into a wonderful foot tapping groove. Booker, long time Musical Director for Lionel Richie, produces, co-writes (with Albright) and plays keyboards. On the second track that he performs with Albright, ‘I Need You’, he goes one better by adding his own backing vocals. Consequently, what is essentially a slice of mid tempo smooth R & B is made to feel very special by the delicious interplay between these Bookers vocals and Albright’s soulful sax.

Another stellar example of romantic and smooth R & B is ‘You Are My Love’. Produced by Luther Hanes, who also helps out with keyboards and vocals, it has a genuinely haunting chorus and is yet another standout track on an album that is stacked with them. Albright’s version of the 1980 hit by The Whispers ‘And The Beat Goes On’ is, for several reasons, an absolute triumph. Firstly Albright remains faithful to the original by the inspirational use on background vocals of Whispers founder members Walter and Wallace Scott. Just as important he uses the production genius of Rex Rideout and his own exceptionally funky playing to keep it sounding very fresh indeed. This may be one the CD’s only two covers but its one that really shines.

With New Beginnings Albright takes the very best of the creativity and associations to have impacted his career to date and channels them into what is quite simply the best new smooth jazz release of 2006 thus far.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:13 AM

March 31, 2006

Nick Colionne - Keepin It Cool

NickColionne2.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Keepin It Cool is the brand new release from guitar man Nick Colionne. Although his fifth CD in all its his first on Narada Jazz and, in a career that has seen more than its fair share of false starts, looks set to propel him into the upper echelons of smooth jazz stardom. Like Colionne himself Keepin It Cool is very much a product of Chicago. With twelve of the thirteen tracks written or co-written by him, and the CD recorded in or around town, Colionne has captured the Windy City’s knack of producing smooth jazz with an edge. This is an album that is never boring, carries a few surprises along the way and, given that many of the musicians assembled for the project are happy to call Chicago home, further accentuates the city’s natural groove.

That said there is nothing surprising about the opening cut, the ridiculously catchy ‘Can You Feel It’. A candidate for best track on the album it exemplifies the vibrant playing that Colionne’s unique style is all about. Always seemingly brim full of influences yet distinctly all his own he carries the entire collection with a soulful sophistication that oozes class. The title track is exactly what it suggests, ultra cool but re-enforced by Colionne’s hallmark sound while on ‘Always Thinking Of You’ the keyboards of co-writer John Blasucci provide a smoky earthiness that Nick overlays with laid back yet groovy guitar. This is the first single from the album and is already racing up the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio.

A chance encounter that Nick had with Peter White in Chicago has led to a firm musical friendship and this interaction has spilled over into the excellent ‘If You Ask Me’ that is co-written by Colionne, White and Chicago-land native Steve Cole. Cole also produces and arranges this catchy yet romantic foot tapper and romance is again on the agenda for ‘You Were There For Me’. It has a dreamy quality about it and if you ever thought that time could stand still while with a loved one then ‘A Moment With You’ would be the tune to confirm it. With a vibe not too far removed from Acoustic Alchemy it is a number with which Colionne demonstrates his versatility and he does it again on the top notch slice of smooth jazz ‘John L’. Despite its Chicago origins this one has a real west coast feel and in the same copper plated smooth jazz vein is ‘Catch Me’ for which ‘radio ready’ would be an apt description.

This collection, that spans a whole range of musical emotions, moves comfortably from the lusciously romantic ‘From Me To You’, a track with the ability to grow on you, to the mid tempo and uplifting ‘This Is The Song’ but comes right back to Chicago with the ultra funky ‘Liquid’. Co-written by Colionne and Steve Cole with Cole on keyboards sax and flute this edgy piece of mid west smooth jazz features locals Mike Logan on Hammond B3 and Richard Patterson on bass for one of the highlights of the entire album.

Colionne makes full use of his touring band on several of the tracks. Most notably Chris Miskel on drums and Dave Hiltebrand on bass join with co-writer and keyboard player John Blasucci for the catchy, infectious ‘High Flyin’ and are together again for one of the albums real magic moments. The Colionne cover of Brook Benton’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ is the only vocal track on the CD and at first seems to be a surprising choice. However it quickly develops to show off another dimension of Colionne’s considerable talents. Quite simply it is a stunning interpretation of a classic tune.

Keepin It Cool is sure to be one of the standout releases of 2006. His 1996 CD was titled Arrival but now he is really here. For Nick Colionne his time has come.

For more on Nick and for his tour schedule go to www.nickcolionne.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:01 PM

March 10, 2006

Eric Darius - Just Getting Started

EricDarius2.jpgEric Darius has always been a man in a hurry. In 2001, at age 17, he independently released his debut CD Cruisin, a project for which he had been writing music over the previous four years. 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 and moved this incredibly mature saxophonist from playing at local clubs and hotspots in his native Tampa to wowing the crowds at some major smooth events. Significantly, following an impromptu meeting in Los Angeles, he got the chance to join Brian Culbertson’s touring band and has also shared the stage with some of the genre’s biggest stars. Now he is back with the March 8 release on Narada Jazz of Just Getting Started. It is a high quality piece of work and the number of smooth jazz performers who have gathered round to collaborate with Darius bear testimony to the esteem in which they hold him.

These collaborations reach deep into the albums production with Brian Culbertson, Paul Brown and Darren Rahn all playing a significant part. The big and funky ‘Steppin Up’ is brimming with Eric’s full playing and the Fender Rhodes of Jeff Lorber. It was released to radio ahead of time and has raced into the chart of the top thirty most played. Radio ready is a label that can be applied to many of the eleven excellent tracks and ‘Secret Soul’ is one of them. This Culbertson composition has his keyboard and production skills all over it and Darius, joined by Paul Jackson Jr, latches onto the vibe to produce a slice of sensual instrumental quiet storm of the highest order.

In fact the composition credits for Just Getting Started are shared around liberally. In this respect ‘Back At Cha’, written and produced by fellow Narada Jazz recording artist Euge Groove is a little gem. It has that Groove like stepping beat, the distinctive Fender Rhodes of Michael Egizi and Eric’s vibrant sound that is full to overflowing. Paul Brown produces two tracks on the album. The first, ‘Right Here Right Now’, that Brown co-writes with Chuck Cymone, has a real Boney James thing going on and gives Darius the chance to prove he can play mid tempo smooth jazz and still make it sound funky. Brown also lends his production skills to the only cover on the album; Darius’s version of the Alicia Keys hit ‘If I Ain’t Got You’. Here the rippling keys of Mitch Forman herald in Eric’s wailing sax for a tune that rapidly becomes a sumptuous and bluesy tearjerker.

From early in his career one thing that set Eric Darius apart was his ability to write great music and with Just Getting Started this skill is again obvious. ‘Its Alright With Me’, that he co-writes with Jason Atkins, fills the now common slot reserved for the kind of smooth R & B vocal number intended for late night lovers. These vocals come courtesy of Atkins and although the tune is to a formula, when done this well, it doesn’t seem to matter. More original is the Darius composition ‘Can’t Let Go’. It has a Latin feel about it and sax playing across an incredible range while ‘That’s What I’m Sayin’ is boppy, tight and a great tune to dance along to. Also from the pen of Darius is ‘Groove On’ where, with help from Jeff Lorber on Fender Rhodes, he succeeds in getting even funkier than usual and with ‘Lovers Paradise’, co-written by Darius, Jeff Caruthers and Darren Rahn, he comes up with one of the albums standout tracks. This mid tempo smoker with big production from Rahn, a catchy riff and a top-notch piano solo from Ron Reinhardt is a blueprint for what smooth jazz should always be.

The collection closes with another Brian Culbertson written and produced track, ‘Slick’ that, true to its title, flows along on a spring tide of understated funk. It’s a tune that should play well in a live setting and for fans of Eric Darius that setting should not be hard to find. He continues to play with Brian Culbertson and his own tour schedule for 2006 is already filling up with gigs to promote Just Getting Started. His energy, his enthusiasm and the sheer quality of his music are sure to make him a hit wherever he goes.

For more on Eric Darius go to www.ericdarius.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:41 PM

February 23, 2006

Kenny G - The Essential Kenny G

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The debt that smooth jazz owes to Kenny G is immense. Throughout a career that is now in its thirtieth year he has provided stimulus and direction to make possible the many achievements of those who followed. Above all he made the music accessible. He gave smooth jazz a reference point. He took it to television and made instrumentals fashionable again. Not only that he did it for a worldwide audience and in so doing influenced musical taste like no other since the Beatles. Suddenly it was OK to be smooth and although some might argue that G always lacked the edginess, the funkiness, of some of his successors this view blatantly trivializes a body of work that overall is as varied as it is engaging. His live performances still bear testimony to this and now, if further proof were needed, comes the release on Arista of The Essential Kenny G.

This, as the title suggests, really is the ultimate collection. Laying bare the many facets of Kenny G’s musical journey it charts his progress from the landmark Duotones album right though to his most recent duet projects and forays into the standards. The album is enhanced by the brief liner notes G himself makes against each track reflecting the personal nature of this thirty-one track double CD selection. As well as a welter of wonderful music the album also provides a reminder of how Kenny G influenced the evolution of smooth jazz music. One case in point is the Christmas Album. Although it is now the norm for smooth jazz artists to issue Christmas collections, G released his first in 1994 and now has four to his name.

When it comes to duets, everyone from Chris Botti to Herbie Hancock seems to be doing them. However, one has only to return to the 1986 Duotones and the track ‘What Does It Take’ to realize that Kenny G was dabbling with the idea twenty years ago. Happily this tune, with Ellis Hall on vocals, is included as part of The Essential Kenny G and, in this respect, is in the excellent company of songs featuring Chaka Khan, Smokey Robinson, Aaron Neville, Michael Bolton, Peabo Bryson and Lenny Williams. All demonstrate the way in which he has developed the now fashionable trend of including guest vocalists on one or two tracks of otherwise instrumental albums. Yet his ultimate statement that finally turned the concept into an art form came with the At Last…The Duets CD. Appropriately, tracks from it featuring Earth Wind and Fire and David Sanborn are included on The Essential Kenny G.

More than just years separate Kenny G from 1975, the year that the then Kenny Gorelick played with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and later the Jeff Lorber Fusion. When he performed ‘Songbird’ on the Ed Sullivan show he captured the imagination of a nation and in so doing found the road to international stardom. His contribution to the adult contemporary genre can never be overstated. Consequently there should be space in the record collection of every smooth jazz lover for the music of Kenny G. For those who have not yet realized this The Essential Kenny G is a great place to start.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:09 PM

February 6, 2006

Post Modern Jazz - Love Not Truth

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Co founder of the Brand New Heavies Jim Wellman has gathered together some of the bands former line up and combined them with numerous other accomplished soloists, including Roy Ayers, for the project Post Modern Jazz. The end product is the CD Love Not Truth and although described by the publicity blurb as big band Jazz funk it is in fact much more interesting and diverse than that.

The Brand New Heavies were pioneers of the London acid jazz scene and translated their love for the funk grooves of the 1970s into a sophisticated sound that evoked memories of classic soul in an era dominated by hip-hop. Originally an instrumental unit inspired by The Meters they were formed in 1985 by Jan Kincaid, Simon Bartholomew and Andrew Levy who had become friends while at school in the London suburb of Ealing. Eventually adding a brass section and Jay Ella Ruth as vocalist, the Brand New Heavies built a cult following throughout the London club circuit and, with various changes in line up along the way, continued to record and perform right through the nineties.

Although none of the original trio feature in Post Modern Jazz, guitar player Lascelles Gordon, sax man Mike Smith, keyboardist Robert Carter, trumpeter Gerard Presencer and Jim Wellman, all of whom figured with the Heavies at one time or the other, are around to play a part. The result is an ultra tight collection of ten tracks that, much like the music of The Brand New Heavies themselves is unapologetically retro and always compelling. This tone is set as early as the intro track, ‘Sun Theme’, a simple keyboards and vibes techno rhythm that paves the way for the title track where the vocals of Roy Ayers combine with luscious yet understated horns for a sumptuous slice of up tempo jazz funk that threatens to be a real dance floor filler.

On the subject of dance floor fillers the late Mel Nixon who is known for his Northern Soul classic ‘Something Old Something New’ is featured twice. ‘Crazy Love Song’ is Latin funk that develops an infectious vibe along the way while one of the CD’s standouts is ‘Love Once More’. It starts off tight and funky, blends in the vocals of Nixon then knocks your socks off with backing from Jim Wellman and Judy La Rose. That backing just keeps on going as first Keith More on guitar then Robert Carter on keyboards deliver choice solo’s to engender something akin to dance frenzy.

The vocals of Judy La Rose are a major feature of the album. She demonstrates her range in applying the lightest of touches to the mid tempo retro feeling ‘Darkness Into Light’ and again takes the lead on the complex and sophisticated ‘Everything’ that, in addition, is blessed by a Roy Ayers solo. However her most significant contribution comes on ‘Lucy’ where first a tight rhythm and then a catchy horn riff precede Judy’s soulful vocals on a tune that has all the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.

Yet another highlight is the instrumental ‘Undecided’. While still charged with funk it is the most melodic track by far and is helped in this respect by a sweet vibes solo from Ayers. Another vibes solo, this time complemented by Ayers own vocal lead, is the centerpiece of the foot tapping ‘Good Vibrations’, (no, not The Beach Boys track), and he is back again for ‘Another Kind Of Culture’. It’s a number that might best be described as chill funk with Ayers vocalizing the chorus and Judy La Rose making a welcome return to sing the verses.

Love Not Truth by Post Modern Jazz is a delight not only for those of us who hark back to the funky and non synthesized days of past decades but for everyone who has even just an ounce of soul in them. For more go to www.postmodernjazz.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:28 AM

January 19, 2006

Gail Jhonson - Keep The Music Playing

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Writer, producer and keyboard player Gail Jhonson is someone for whom the accolades of multi talented and multi faceted hardly seem adequate. Currently dividing her time between her staff position at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood, CA, and her role as musical director and touring keyboard playing for smooth jazz superstar Norman Brown, Jhonson also has her very own CD, Keep the Music Playing, on release. This follow up to her debut album It’s About Time came out in 2004 and is a wonderful collection of edgy smooth jazz tunes that deserves to make her stand out from the crowd.

jhonson.jpgBorn and raised in the city of Philadelphia, Gail Denise Johnson, who now records under the name of Gail Jhonson, began playing piano at the age of ten. By age fourteen she had played her first gig and went on to study at Berklee College of Music where she received a BA in composition. In 1985 she left her Germantown PA home and headed west to audition for Morris Day and the Time. Johnson got the gig and made her home in L.A. where she now remains. She has toured, performed and recorded with many soul and smooth jazz greats, a list that includes Vanessa Williams, Mindy Abair, Jermaine Jackson, Bobby Womack, Ray Parker jr., Howard Hewitt, Bobby Lyle, Brian Culbertson, OC Smith, Paul Jackson jr., Pamela Williams, Phil Perry and, believe it or not, Milli Vanilli. Her various television performances include: BET on Jazz, MTV, Soul Train, The Arsenio Hall Show and The Tonight Show. If that wasn’t enough she has also written two books, "Funk Keyboards - The Complete Method: A Contemporary Guide to Chords, Rhythms and Licks" and "Dictionary of Keyboard Grooves: The Complete Source for Loops, Patterns & Sequences in All Popular Styles."

Gail also has a love for theatre, particularly, Gospel Musicals. Her first professional experience was as a piano substitute in the stage play ‘Eubie’ at the Ivar Theatre, Hollywood and she went on to play for the Langston Hughes play, ‘Tambourines To Glory’ at the Bradley Theatre in Los Angeles. She was also the director music for the gospel performances ‘Saving Grace’ and ‘Reason For The Season’ which were both written by Dennis Rowe.

Now, with Keep the Music Playing, she is stepping up front and center to embrace the spotlight with a performance the quality of which suggests she is on the way to becoming a major player in the ultra competitive world of smooth jazz keyboard. Following a twenty one second intro with the message of practice will make perfect, the tone of the album is immediately set with the first track, ‘Just For Kicks’. It is super tight, has just a hint of a Latin vibe and is a fine example of smooth jazz piano at its very smoothest. Smooth with attitude would be a nice way of describing the entire CD and this is again demonstrated on the tune ‘Soleh’. One of three tracks featuring guitarist Norman Brown, Jhonson is able to make it sound melodic, mellow and funky all at the same time.

Sensitivity is never neglected and Gail’s playing on the timeless and evocative Legrand – Bergman composition ‘How Do You Keep The Music Playing’ is simply awesome. Equally beautiful is ‘Goodnight’, a piece of romantic smooth jazz at its very best to which Jhonson applies the lightest of touches. The first cut from the album to be identified for radio play is ‘Heaven’ where excellent smooth jazz piano from Jhonson is infused with urgent backing vocals courtesy of Charlia Boyer, Michael Thompson and Calvin Perry. Boyer also steps up, this time on both lead and backing vocals, for ‘I Wanna Luv U’, an infectious chunk of smooth R & B that is afforded a sparkling backdrop by Jhonson’s tight playing.

The Norman Whitfield composition ‘Sunrise’, from the soundtrack of the movie ‘Car Wash’, is included as a tribute to the late Brandi Wells. Jhonson played her first tour with Wells and this rendition, blessed by the vocals of Vidais Lovette and the saxophone of fellow Philly native Pamela Williams, is a track that feels as good as a warm summer day. Also from the vaults comes the Detroit Spinners classic ‘I’ll Be Around’. This ultra tight production proves the point that when done this well ‘covers’ can be a distinctly good thing. Pamela Williams also features on the superb smooth jazz tune ‘Tropical Island’ while the big groove driven ‘Take What You Need’ is a number with excellent melodic playing from Jhonson and a great beat. It has ‘radio ready’ written all over it.

Arguably the best track on the album is the mega funky ‘Gimme Your Groove’. With more superb sax from Pamela Williams and a rock solid beat this is a blockbuster of the highest order.

For me the music of Gail Jhonson was one of the finds of 2005. For more information go to www.gailjhonson.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:36 AM

January 8, 2006

Bob Baldwin - All In A Days Work

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The new CD from versatile keyboard player Bob Baldwin is All In A Days Work. It is his first on 215 Records and his tenth overall. Released this fall, and following on from his work as Executive Director of the hugely successful Croton Point Park Music Fest in Croton NY, it comes at a busy time for Baldwin as he juggles performing and recording with his duties as DJ on the morning show at KJAZ 98.1 in Bermuda. The album is a fresh mix of Latin, R & B and smooth jazz rhythms all enhanced by Baldwin’s stylish production and the collaboration of top notch guest performers.

Bob Baldwin was born in Mount Vernon, NY and grew up in Westchester County. He learned to play piano from his father, the accomplished jazz pianist Robert Baldwin Sr. who shared the stage with the likes of Max Roach and Stevie Wonder. During his development Baldwin Jr. studied both classical and jazz standards. Bob worked at MCI and Sprint Communications and while with them attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA where he earned a degree in Business Administration.

In 1986 he formed the The Bob Baldwin/Al Orlo Project and it was their performances at the legendary Bottom Line in New York City that led to his first production with trumpeter Tom Browne. This opportunity was also the route to his first album, The Dream Featuring Bob Baldwin. It was released on Malaco Jazz Records in 1988. In 1989 Roberta Flack selected Baldwin as the winner of a Sony Innovators award for that album and during the ceremony in Beverly Hills he got the chance to meet Herbie Hancock who had been one of his major influences in his formative years.

Securing a two-album deal with Atlantic Jazz Records Baldwin released Rejoice in 1990. Reflections of Love followed in 1992 and climbed to #7 on the contemporary jazz chart but the association came to an abrupt end when the label folded in 1994.

As Bobs career progressed he did not let his business training go to waste. He independently produced his 2000 creation Bob Baldwin.com that was subsequently distributed through the Virgin/EMI Network. It sold an impressive 60,000 copies and made #17 on the Billboard contemporary chart. He also used his business skills to develop and negotiate his recording deal with Narada Jazz where he released the CD Standing Tall in 2002. He later negotiated a deal with the now defunct A440 label to release Brazil Chill in 2004. Prior to the cessation of that labels trading he had to again rely on his business acumen by purchasing the masters of Brazil Chill. This proved to be a shrewd move as subsequently the majority of A440’s material was auctioned off in an Illinois bankruptcy court.

The Latin rhythms that were a center piece of Brazil Chill are again in evidence on All In A Days Work. This is apparent as early as the first track, the sophisticated, Latin laced ‘New York Minute’ where rippling keyboards from Baldwin and excellent flute from Ragan Whiteside makes this smooth as smooth can be. A similar vibe permeates ‘The Very Last Night In Rio’. Big, brassy and funky too, if ever there was a last night in Rio this is surely how it would feel. Also Latin tinged is the wonderfully laid back ‘Day-O’ with an intro inspired by the Earth Wind and Fire classic ‘Sun Goddess’ and Mo White style backing vocals from Zolea.

Zolea moves center stage on ‘Sunrise’ and makes a nice job of this gentle piece of smooth R & B whereas with the second vocal track on the album, ‘Can You Feel It’, Tonni Smith makes this urban soulful roller sound like a modern day dance classic in the making. In fact it’s so memorable that Baldwin takes a one minute snippet of the same number and uses it as the CD’s play out track.

The album is of a consistently high standard throughout and Baldwin’s production skills in developing the full sound of Dave Mann on sax and Barry Danielian on trumpet is a major feature of the recording. These excellent horns combined with a memorable smooth jazz melody from Baldwin really light up the slightly retro sounding ‘Steamy’. It’s a track that could well be defined as mid tempo chill and when later in the album Bob chooses to reprise it as a cool 51 second interlude the chill factor is even more pronounced. Chill is also on the agenda with ‘Don’t Get Twisted’. Penned by Baldwin ten years ago this slice of top notch late night smooth jazz is moody, jazzy, subtle and a full seven minutes and forty four seconds long.

The first track to be identified for radio play is the title cut where infectious backing vocals and the horns of Mann and Danielian provide ‘smooth jazz with body’ while at the other end of the spectrum is the dreamy and delightful ‘Quality Time’. Cool flute from Ragan Whiteside and the tinkling keys of Baldwin blend to evoke the sounds of a gently running mountain stream.

‘Quirky’ could be better titled as ‘bouncy’ as this, combined with tight and funky, is what it is. Phil Hamilton’s guitar work is notable as is the way Bob glides his keyboard melodies in and out to make this a real foot tapper. A genuine piece of quality smooth jazz and perhaps the best track on the album is the hugely catchy ‘Third Time’s The Charm’. The horns, again great but this time understated so that less is definitely more, should help this one finds its way to radio.

I have previously summed up the music of Bob Baldwin as being simply great to listen to and All In A Days Work continues to re-enforce that opinion. His move to 215 Records will mean that both Bob Baldwin.com and Brazil Chill will be re-issued early in 2006 but, for now, with All In A Days Work, smooth jazz fans everywhere have a listening delight in store.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:49 PM

December 30, 2005

Cafe Soul All-Stars - Love Pages

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. What began at the New Orleans-based Essence Music Festival of 2000 as a cool idea by Clarence O Smith to charter a cruise ship for a trip from New Orleans to Mexico has ended as Love Pages, a superior musical project featuring some of the best artists in the genres of R & B and jazz. Clarence enlisted the help of musician, producer and friend, Duke Jones to recruit a band from the festival to play on the ship and The Cafe Soul All-Stars, a gathering of seasoned session musicians, were born.

With Duke Jones on trumpet, Chris Albert also on trumpet, Bobby Lyle on keyboards, Kaspar Galli on guitar and keyboards, Steve Williams on drums, Rene McLean with sax and Alex Blake on bass the combination was an instant success and after listening back to the nightly sessions that they recorded while on board it was obvious to both Clarence and Duke that this music just had to be heard by a wider audience. Duke, the man behind many classic R&B bands from the 70's onwards, was then asked to put together a line up that would make the band's name and the concept of the album a reality.

Duke exceeded all expectations in bringing together heavy weights such as George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Glenn Jones, Vesta, Christopher Williams, Jon Lucien and Maysa, not to mention Boney James, Roy Ayers, Kenny Garrett, Kim Waters and the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section. By blending these guest performers with the core of the Cafe Soul All-Stars the stage was set for a very special recording and so it proved as Duke summoned up his long time friend Norman Connors to collaborate on production for a finished work that checks all the right boxes

The big, tight and jazzy sound that the collective engender is most obvious on the instrumental tracks that are scattered throughout the album. ‘Urban Jungle’, with guest performances from Kenny Garrett on sax and Roy Ayers on vibes, is a thumping tune with a feel that is indicative of its title and Roy Ayers re-appears on the cool and breezy ‘Pier 69’ where his vibes stand out like stars in the night. Best of the instrumentals is ‘Brazilian Heat’. It’s a genuine foot tapper that turns out to be a real Bobby Lyle smooth jazz master class.

Maysa features twice. First up for her is ‘I’m Changing’, a chunk of smooth R & B, where her vocals blend well with Bob Baldwin on keyboards and Kim Waters on sax. Her distinctive tones also bless the complex ‘Stay In My Heart’. It starts out as a romantic ballad then, first with wailing guitar and then a kicking brass section, turns into something altogether more powerful. Also big and urgent is the atmospheric ‘U And I’ with Denise Stewart on vocals and the magnificent Earth Wind and Fire horn section in support.

With a title like Love Pages its not surprising that romance permeates the collection The legendary George Benson features on both vocals and guitar with the romantic ‘Pages’, a track on which Nils also plays guitar and where production is shared between Gerald McCauley and Paul Brown. Just as romantic is ‘To Be With You’ where the vocals of Jon Lucien are the perfect choice for a number that is dreamy and evocative of warm Caribbean seas. ‘One More Bridge To Cross’ featuring Vesta is a slow jam that just oozes soul and builds to a strong climax while the Patti Austin composition ‘You Don’t Have To Say Your Sorry’ with heartfelt vocals by Debi Gilchrist has a sparse beauty that is all its own. It was performed and recorded during the last night of the 2000 cruise.

‘Sheba’ is hypnotic and different with vocals by Ida Onyanango, backing vocals by Denise Stewart and the spoken word by Nichelle Holiday. It’s up there as one of the best tracks on the album and right there with it is ‘Used To Be’ where Christopher Williams combines with Shirley D for a mid tempo dance floor filler. Just as good is ‘Don’t Make Me Cry’. It’s another romantic ballad where contributions from Boney James, Paul Jackson Jr. and Bobby Lyle give it the wow factor and the vocals of Peabo Bryson give it the soul.

Arguably the best track on the CD by some distance is ‘What You Gonna Do’. This is infectious R & B and then some with lead vocals by Glen Jones and backup from the excellent Terrell Carter. It has already been identified as the first single to be lifted for radio play.

Love Pages is executive produced by Clarence O. Smith. It is an eclectic mix of soul and jazz that flourishes through the musical freedom that has been afforded to the entire project. Consequently there is something in it to enjoy for virtually everyone that declares a liking for that vast expanse of music between jazz and R & B.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:46 PM

December 16, 2005

Brian Simpson - Its All Good

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole's Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that's good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It might have slipped in almost unnoticed and unmentioned but It's All Good, the debut CD on Rendezvous from keyboard player Brian Simpson, is one of the best of 2005. With the title track on the top thirty chart of most played on smooth jazz radio people are beginning to ask who Brian Simpson really is yet this longtime studio musician, who until recently did not even have his own website, is no stranger to those who follow live smooth jazz. For the past 8 years Brian has been the musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, arranging and playing keys on Dave's year-round domestic and international tours. Fact is, if you listen to contemporary jazz, chances are, you've heard Brian Simpson.

A jazzman from an early age, Simpson grew up in Gurnee, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago and was playing the piano at the age of 10. Brian went on to study at Northern Illinois University where he majored in piano and starred in the school's big band, an ensemble that won numerous awards and allowed him the chance to perform all over the world.

In 1985 he moved to Los Angeles and, immersing himself in the local jazz scene, soon found himself jamming in the after-hours with the likes of future stars Everette Harp, Boney James, and Norman Brown. He quickly forged a reputation as a touring keyboardist and again got to travel the world, this time with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton, and Janet Jackson. In January 1991 he co-wrote the #1 Pop hit 'The First Time' by Surface that figured on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.

Aside from this pop success Brian Simpson has always been a working jazz musician. As well as his work with Dave Koz he has toured with some of the best including George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, and Gerald Albright. Koz has been a major influence to Simpson both on and off the stage so its not surprising that the opening tune on the album, the title cut and the one selected for radio play features Dave Koz on sax. It's a mid tempo number that has the ubiquitous Tony Maiden on guitar and, overall, a deliciously retro feel.

In fact, top-notch collaborations abound right through the album. The romantic 'Waiting' is given a Latin flavor by the guitar of Marc Antoine yet here, as elsewhere, it's the stellar playing of Simpson that lives in the memory. The full sax sound of Everette Harp permeates 'I Remember When' and combines with a hallmark melody from Simpson to produce a simply delightful smooth jazz experience.

Brian Simpson has produced, arranged and recorded It's All Good and in addition has written or co-written nine of the ten tracks. He teams up with Koz's touring bass player Andre Berry for the composition 'It Could Happen' that also features Berry's regular sidekick Randy Jacobs on guitar. It's a piece of heavyweight commercial smooth jazz that must surly be lined up as the next cut for radio play.

With It's All Good Simpson brings to the listening public a jazz album in every sense of the term. On 'Blues For Scott' he compiles the classic jazz ensemble, a trio of piano, drums and acoustic bass, for a straight ahead (ish) jazz number that will please purists and others alike. The trio becomes a quartet by the addition of guitarist Perry Hughes on 'Au Contraire', an extremely boppy piece of timeless jazz.

Simpson's arrangement and production makes good use of Ron King's subtle flugel horn on 'Here With You', a tune that drips will late night smooth jazz atmosphere and King is also in evidence, this time on trumpet, with 'Twighlight' where Simpson takes a simple melody and proceeds to weave a sensuous vibe around it. The track is further enhanced by understated but killer guitar from Allen Hinds.

'Saturday Cool' is smooth jazz piano of the highest order with standout playing from Simpson and a hook that you will not be able to forget. Best track on the album is arguably 'And So The Story Goes'. A combination of a perky beat, nice sax from Michael Lington and Simpson's melodic piano with a funky edge makes this one really special.

It's All Good has enough in it to delight jazz lovers of all persuasions yet it achieves something else besides. With his consummate all round skills Simpson has been able to create, from a standing start, what will certainly mature to become his own unique sound. The lush velvety quality of every track, the subtle yet significant use of both trumpet and flugel horn and what is quite simply awesome production deserves to set Brian Simpson apart from the rest and elevate him to true smooth jazz superstardom.

For more on Brian Simpson check out his brand new website at www.bsimpsonmusic.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:34 PM

December 5, 2005

Marcin Nowakowski - Smooth Night

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Smooth Night is the new CD from saxophonist Marcin Nowakowski and is notable for the way in which it combines the ‘light’ of commercially attractive mellow smooth jazz with the ‘shade’ of up tempo funk. It is a collection of twelve high quality tunes that blends original compositions with two quality covers and is enhanced throughout by the contribution of outstanding supporting musicians, a line up that includes the guest appearance of Paul Jackson Jr.

okladka2.jpgNowakowski is a well known performer in his native Poland. He studied music at F. Chopin’s Jazz Music Academy and it was there that he got the chance to work with and be influenced by Eric Marienthal. His first big breaks came in 1996 when Polish bass player Wojtek Pilichowski asked him to join his band for an appearance at Yamaha Days Festivas and then, a year later, when he was noticed by leading producer Wojtek Olszak who offered him a place in the band Woobie Doobie. Since that time, as well as cultivating his ongoing relationship with Woobie Doobie, he has become one of Poland’s most sought after sidemen. In 2002 he performed with Jose Carreras playing Cole Porter’s jazz standard ‘Night and Day’ but now, with the release of Smooth Night, he is staking a claim to be considered as a serious solo artist.

Smooth Night opens with the Marcin Nowakowski composition ‘You Are The Sun’, a picture perfect piece of mellow smooth jazz with attractive backing vocals and a guitar solo from Jackson Jr. In addition the track features Nowakowski’s long time mentor Wojtek Olszak on keyboards who also produced the album and writes or co-writes seven of the tracks. The commercially funky ‘1981’, co-written by Nowakowski and Olszak, has ‘radio ready’ written all over it and is a number that really skips along. Another big and funky tune is ‘Road No.1’ with more great keyboards from Olszak and an exceptional bass solo from Wojtek Pilichowski.

Amongst the funk Nowakowski finds time to turn it down with tunes such as ‘Body Talk’, ‘First Time’ on which Paul Jackson Jr. again guests and ‘With You Again’ that is pleasingly infused with strings and acoustic guitar. Of the covers, an ultra laid back version of Madonna’s ‘Live To Tell’ is flavored with backing vocals and lifted by Nowakowski’s assured playing while the Paula Abdul hit ‘Opposites Attract’ is big and groovy. The vocals are powerful and the beat drives on to the very end.

The Wojtek Olszak composition ‘Please Stay’ has a nice vibe going on and more quality vocals. What makes it a little different is the jazzy backing that gives the number a real edge. The title track is an up tempo uplifting number. It feels good and sounds good with Wojtek Olszak again in evidence with a high class electric piano solo. ‘Evening Sky’ is a mid-tempo tune with the lightest of touches from Nowakowski and is, for all the world, the theme music to a television show just waiting to happen. The best track on the CD is the hugely catchy ‘Morning Dance’. It has a shuffling up tempo beat and an absolutely classic smooth jazz feel.

With the release of Smooth Night Marcin Nowakowski is proving the point that top notch smooth jazz can come from Eastern Europe. Indeed Smooth Night is an album that is great to listen to and a worthy addition to this year’s crop of quality new releases.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:22 AM

November 13, 2005

Rick Braun - Yours Truly

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Rick Braun describes his latest CD Yours Truly as ‘a musical letter’, as ‘songs of my life that for various reasons have made up a special part of my musical landscape.’ It takes just one listen or a glimpse at the liner notes to appreciate how personal Yours Truly is and it’s this that sets the project apart from being just another collection of covers. From tunes that evoke great memories to others that Rick simply loves, here is a musical tapestry of his life, the classic story of the promising sideman who went on to become the pre-eminent smooth jazz trumpeter of his time.

With every number deconstructed to the very minimum and backing that is both subtle and of the highest quality throughout, Braun looks right back to his boyhood days in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and of falling in love for the first time to the strains of the classic Michel Legrand song ‘What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life’. His rendition, embellished here by the silky piano skills of David Benoit, is magical. He recalls Lou Reed's ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ as like nothing he had ever heard before and has some fun with his memories from 1977 and the move he made from Rochester NY to Los Angeles in what he describes as a rusted out Chevy Nova. It was the soul of Barry White's ‘Love Theme’, and of Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Shining Star’ that consumed him then and this latter track is the first from the album to be selected for radio play. Not surprisingly it is already tearing up the ‘Top Thirty Most Played’ chart.

Once in LA Braun became the ‘go to guy’ whenever a top notch trumpet player was needed to tour and this led him to work with such diverse talents as War, Rickie Lee Jones, Tina Turner, Glenn Frey, Natalie Cole, Tom Petty, Crowded House and Phoebe Snow. He uses the Dee Lite tune ‘Groove Is In My Heart’ to remember his return to LA in 1990 following a Rod Stewart tour and then chooses ‘Kiss Of Life’ as his very own tribute to Sade with whom he spent 1992 as her trumpet player on the Love Deluxe tour.

With an eye on all time personal favourites he includes two tracks from English artists, Simply Red's ‘Holding Back The Years’ and the Lisa Stansfield hit ‘All Around The World’. He handles both with huge sensitivity and makes them highlights of the entire collection.

Of course Rick Braun the fast living touring musician of the eighties is now Rick Braun smooth jazz superstar and family man. To reflect this he includes the John Mayer tune ‘Daughters’. It works well. It’s been a long road from the jazz-fusion outfit Auracle that Braun formed while a student at the prestigious Eastman School of Music to his solo debut with Intimate Secrets in 1993 and the chart topping success he routinely enjoys today. Be that as it may Rick is here to tell the story and, with Yours Truly, to share with his fans the memory of it all.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:51 PM

November 2, 2005

Chris Botti - To Love Again

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Will the real Chris Botti please stand up? The multiple musical facets of this quality smooth jazz trumpeter must at times leave him with a serious headache. In recent times he has juggled his frequent television spots with live performances for Hilary Clinton and has played ‘God Bless America’ at the 2005 World Series. He has combined a hectic tour schedule with his new role as smooth jazz radio’s voice of chill yet among all of that here he is with his new CD To Love Again offering up 13 newly recorded pop and jazz standards that feature nine vocal performances of varying appeal.

To Love Again is the successor to Botti's gold album When I Fall In Love which turned out to be one of the biggest sellers of 2004. It has sold more than 500,000 copies to-date, tapping into the record-buying public's desire for classic romantic jazz sounds and their seemingly insatiable hunger for morsels from the ‘Great American Songbook.’

Among the vocal duets that feature on nine of the thirteen songs, Botti weaves in four trumpet solo’s that are of the highest order. To Love Again is a nice barometer for the dreamy mood of the entire collection, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ is ultra cool and Botti does a nice job on that classic tune ‘What’s New’ Best of the four solo’s and a contender for best track on the album is Botti’s sublime version of the timeless Gershwin classic ‘Embraceable You’. It is quite simply stunning.

As said, as far as the vocal duets are concerned, the results are variable. Botti played with Sting for two years from 2000 as part of the Brand New Day tour so it’s not surprising that he was able to get the English vocalist to guest on To Love Again. The result, ‘What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life’, is by no means a stand out although there is no doubt that the mass audience appeal and ‘street cred’ that Sting offers to any project makes it worth having him around.

Much better in fact is the number Botti performs with Paula Cole who also featured on When I Fall In Love. The track, ‘My One And Only Love’, is so beautiful and so warm that the listener is sure to realize that irrespective of age or taste there is a point in everyone’s music listening life where a tune like this seems just perfect.

As on his last album, Chris Botti is joined by the London Session Orchestra, who add lush tones to the album's arrangements throughout and their presence is in evidence on another classic, ‘Let There Be Love’ featuring Michael Buble on vocals. I have a problem with Buble in that he appears to be not much more than a credible Frank Sinatra wannabe. That would be OK if it was not for the fact that the talented Harry Connick Jr. is still around and doing the same thing. One person should be adequate to fill the shoes of Sinatra, if indeed they ever can be filled, so there seems hardly room for another. That said ‘Let There Be Love’ has a feeling all its own and Buble does it well.

Both ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ and ‘Smile’ featuring Rosa Passos and Steven Tyler respectively are a little dreary while ‘Pennies From Heaven’ featuring Renee Olstead is nothing more than a nice version of this much loved standard. Paul Buchanan’s distinctive vocals turn out not to be a marriage made in heaven with the song ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ but Gladys Knight, in late night cabaret mode, is predictably wonderful with ‘Lover Man’. Its one of the albums true stand outs as is ‘Good Morning Heartache’ featuring Jill Scott. This melodic and subtly funky number, with the introduction of Scott’s vocals so delayed that when they do arrive it comes as a delightful surprise, is the first track from the album to be identified for radio play and is already being predicated to do well on smooth jazz radio. The tune is further enriched by the arrangement and keyboard playing of Greg Phillinganes, who can also be found in collaboration with Herbie Hancock on his current project Possibilities.

As with When I Fall In Love which was devoted to once and future classic love songs, the collection that is To Love Again invites the listener to romantically chill, perhaps not with the contemporary vibe that Botti engenders on his weekly syndicated radio show but more in the way that lovers have chilled over the last seven decades. As they say, what goes around comes around and as it does Chris Botti is proving, in all his guises, to be the king of chill that can transcend the years.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:19 AM

October 17, 2005

Wayman Tisdale At Oceanside Auditorium

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Everyone who has seen Wayman Tisdale perform live more than once knows that he always does the same show. With some artists that might be a problem but in the case of Tisdale that one show is so dynamic, so full of energy and so enjoyable that fans would gladly pay to see him every day of the week. Consequently on October 9 2005, when he opened for Norman Brown at the KIFM 98.1 Jazz On The Beach show at Oceanside CA, a packed audience was there to see him.

WaymanTisdale_live.jpgNo man better spans the divide or better makes the connection between ‘Old School’ soul and Smooth Jazz than bass supremo and former NBA star Wayman Tisdale. His current release Hang Time is testimony to that and for an audience of a certain age, energized by the warm sunshine that flooded the Oceanside Auditorium and all ready to party, Wayman Tisdale was, as they say, just what the doctor ordered.

As he opened with the aptly titled ‘Ready To Hang’ from the CD Hang Time, the crowd was immediately where he wanted them to be, right in the groove. He tested out their old school credentials by sending out the opening of ‘Joy and Pain’ only to have them holler back ‘Like Sunshine And Rain’ with no encouragement all. He started them off with the chant from the Gap Bands ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ and it came reverberating back with passion. Having got the assembled throng all checked out and warmed up he kicked right into the Smokey Robinson classic ‘Cruisin’, also from Hang Time, and audience participation was guaranteed.

With guitarist Mark Harper leading the line and the Rendezvous recording artist Tom Braxton on saxophones the backing was as tight as could be. Braxton has been Tisdale's right hand man both live and in the studio from the beginning and he has his own CD Bounce just out. Tisdale took a back seat while he played the title track and it proved to be one of the high spots of the entire afternoon. On this showing Braxton is clearly destined for major solo success.

Another highlight of the show was ‘Gabrielle’ a number from Tisdale's 1995 release Power Forward and named after his daughter. She was a baby when he composed the tune and when Tisdale brought the now ten-year-old Gabrielle to the front of the stage the audience loved it.

He also revisited his back catalog to reinforce the old school vibe with the Isley Brothers ‘Summer Breeze’, taken from his 1996 release In The Zone. He made a simply awesome job of it and in what was rapidly becoming an out and out soul fest there was no better track to end on than the McFadden and Whitehead classic, also from Hang Time, ‘Ain't No Stoppin Us Now’. Of course Tisdale being Tisdale he again involved the audience with a segway into a Bob Marley tribute and in so doing confirmed himself as the consummate entertainer.

Check his up coming tour schedule at www.waymantisdale.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:17 PM

October 14, 2005

Dyann Woody - My Softer Side

DianneWoody.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Readers of these pages may not instantly recognize the name of Dyann Woody but lovers of country music most certainly will. Dyann, with her husband Michael, is part of the Country Music group The Woodys, a band that enjoyed early success when their debut album on Rounder Records climbed to first place on the Americana Charts. They followed this up with a number of other critically acclaimed releases but now Dyann has a solo CD, My Softer Side. It represents a considerable shift for her both in genre and in style.

Inspired by the emergence of Norah Jones, Dyann began to compose a set of tracks that formed the basis for My Softer Side. In fact she writes or co-writes eleven of the tunes that make up this collection and complements her own work by the selection of two choice covers.

dyannwoody.jpgAll this said My Softer Side is not a smooth jazz recording as such. It reaches across many genres and includes snippets of jazz, pop and blues. With the consistent thread of carefully crafted lyrics she never fail to tell a story and in so doing confirms her true country origins.

With My Softer Side, Dyann covers the whole musical spectrum. Spanning romantic tunes like ‘That’s When I Saw Stars’, ‘Broken Hearts Make Beautiful Songs’ and ‘Crazy Round Here’ (where Barry Walsh contributes delightful piano) through to out ands out cabaret numbers such as ‘My Softer Side’ she makes every track a surprise. As one would expect, on the memorable ‘All That Love Can Do’ Dyann proves she is a great country rocker and she reprises these country vibes with ‘All You Gotta Say’.

One of the albums notables is ‘Will You Ever Come Home’ with a bluesy backing and a Van Morrison ‘Moondance’ kind of thing going on. It shows a more soulful side of Dyann but just as good is ‘On The Horizon’, held together with a good chorus and strong backing it is reminiscent of 70’s Joni Mitchell but with Woodys hallmark crystal clear sound. Best track on the CD is ‘To Get Over Me’, a romantic mid temp tune that benefits from a cool Hammond organ solo.

Dyann Woody has a voice with a tone and a resonance that is as clear as a bell and perfect for the live stage. With My Softer Side she has created a vehicle capable of taking in her in whatever direction she chooses to go.

For more on The Woodys, and where to see them perform check out www.thewoodysmusic.com.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:04 PM

October 10, 2005

Najee - My Point Of View

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. My Point Of View is the new release from smooth jazz veteran Najee and, as one would expect from this consistently excellent performer, he has again hit all the right buttons with his special blend of edgy smooth jazz and soul. Najee, a native of New York City, was one of the best-selling instrumentalists from the late '80s through to the mid-'90s and in every respect a true pioneer of smooth jazz.

He enjoyed his first big break in 1983 when, with his brother Fareed, he toured with Chaka Khan. This in turn brought him to the attention of producer Charles Huggins and it was through Huggins production company HUSH that Najee cut his debut long player for EMI, Najees Theme, in 1986. The album went platinum and two years later this success was repeated with the follow up Day By Day. Since then Najee has added six more releases, four of them going ‘gold’, plus one ‘best of’ collection in a career that with My Point Of View shows no signs of slowing down.

My Point Of View is smooth jazz very much in the mid tempo laid back style that Najee has made his own. It’s a collection for grown ups that is controlled, never off the chain but always soulful sensuous and moving. The ten-track set exudes quality throughout and features a number of notable collaborations especially those in which Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Davies plays a part. His influence is on show right from the first track ‘Sidewayz’ where he writes, produces and plays keyboards. The tune is a sophisticated slice of smooth jazz with the pleasant surprise of Najee featuring on flute.

In fact Chris Davies features four more times. Both of the Davies compositions ‘How Lovely You Are’ and the title track of the CD are reflective melodic tunes that Najee handles with great feeling while ‘Fallin In Love With You’, showcasing the vocals of the up and coming Lomon, is smoky urban soul given a romantic feel by the keyboards of Davies and the lightest of touches by Najee. Contender for best track on the CD is the Chris Davies composition ‘3 AM’. With the silky smooth vocals of Will Downing, the soprano sax of Najee and stellar production by Davies this is where quiet storm meets smooth jazz and wins.

The cut slated for radio play and currently active just below the thirty most played is ‘2nd 2 None’. Tight and funky, this mid tempo tune written by keyboard player James Lloyd is spiced with horns and is one to nod your head to while stuck in the morning traffic.

‘Back In The Day’ finds Najee partnering with the smooth jazz savvy of composer, producer and keyboard player Rex Rideout for a track that evokes images of a glittering New York skyline at midnight. Atmospheric in the extreme Najee makes the most of the moment with the sweetest of playing. Even better is the second Najee Rideout composition ‘Charmed’ which is quite simply one of the best tracks on the album and stand out smooth jazz of the highest order.

Not content with introducing the listening public to the vocal skills of Lomon, Najee does it again on ‘Emotional’ where he includes new female vocalist Sisaundra. On this showing she should do well. Handling the complexities of the composition with some style she generates both soul and feeling before giving way to Najee who threatens to cut loose with some soulful playing. The final track on the CD, ‘Miyuki’, has an aura all its own with an atmospheric yet infectious rhythm and playing from Najee that is typical of what has made him a smooth jazz superstar over two decades.

Go out and buy My Point Of View. You will not be disappointed. Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:43 PM

September 27, 2005

Vail Johnson - Underground

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Since the 1980's bass Player Vail Johnson has been the groove behind many of the very best jazz and R&B artists. He has toured with Herbie Hancock, Gerald Albright, Jeff Lorber and George Benson among others but perhaps his most significant contribution has been as Kenny G's right hand man, both on tour and in the studio. He remains an integral part Of KG’s show and, in addition, he has just released his latest solo CD, Underground.

VailJohnsonUnderground.jpgFollowing on from 1995’s The Terminator and Says Who from 1997, Underground provides thirteen eclectic and technically excellent tunes that demonstrates the full range of Johnson’s capabilities. In addition he has surrounded himself with outstanding musicians and this is evident from the moment that the first track, the tight and funky ‘Blue Steel’, kicks in with strident playing from Johnson and excellent keyboards from Hans Z. Z in fact features on all but three of the tracks and is outstanding throughout. This is especially so on the melodic title tune, a first rate slice of smooth jazz that has already been identified for radio play and on ‘Strut’ a mid tempo number on which Johnson plays bass with a real twang.

Where Johnson gets the chance to turn down the funk he is just as good. The sweet melodic ‘Solo Bossa’ finds him at his very best and ‘Alone Again’ has a simple but beautiful melody running through it that he has no difficulty in touching with his own brand of soul. Melody, this time laced with subliminal vocals, also permeates ‘Monteiro’ while ‘Reflection’ gives Johnson the opportunity to share another reflective golden moment.

The CD also proves that Johnson is not afraid to mix things up. Fellow Kenny G collaborator Ron Powell, here on djembe, steps up to duet with Johnson for the rhythm driven groove ‘The Duel Mk II’, he is technically top notch on ‘Bass Solo 3’ and his quick and nimble playing turns distinctly jazzy on ‘Accelerated Development’.

‘Restless’ starts easy and soulful before getting onto an up tempo roll but the best track on the album is ‘Break It Down’, a cool deconstructed piece of laid back funk with Hans Z again prominent on keyboards.

All in all Underground is a welcome addition to this year’s crop of releases from smooth jazz bass players. Vail Johnson has pushed out the boundaries and in so doing guaranteed that his music will be noticed.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.


Posted by Denis Poole at 10:37 AM

September 12, 2005

Euge Groove - Just Feels Right

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Just Feels Right, the brand new release from Euge Groove, is a concept album. That concept is 1976, the year that Euge himself describes as his ultimate in ‘Feel Good’ and innocence. To him that year was epitomised by the music that was playing and the fact that so many of his all time favourite tunes were around during, what for him was, a golden twelve month period. With this in mind he has put together a retrospective that does not rely on covers from the era but instead offers up eight great tracks, seven of them his original compositions, that conform to three self imposed rules consistent with the period. First, he would include songs that can be played on sax with only piano or guitar backing. Second, all songs would be arranged using only real instruments with no samples or computers allowed and finally the album would be recorded using only equipment that was made no later than 1976.

598705.jpgThe end product, which in the final analysis turned out to be 90% true to the made before 76 rule, is stunning. With EG together again with production genius Paul Brown the attention to detail is obvious and this is demonstrated in no small way by the selection of the backing musicians for four of the tracks, artists who EG collectively describes as the section of sections. This ‘A list’ of Ray Parker Jr. and David T. Walker on guitars, James Gadson on drums, Lenny Castro (percussion), Freddie Washington on bass, and Clarence McDonald (keyboards) were all playing sessions together thirty years ago and reuniting them here has added a extra dimension to EG’s hallmark sound. In addition Groove and Brown have taken advantage of these guys session chemistry to add a neat 33 second intro plus two engaging interludes that combine to glue the collection together.

It is a testament to the depth of this CD that the other four tracks have qualities all of their own. In fact ‘Get Em Goin’, that finds EG with long time collaborators Tony Maiden, Michael White, Roberto Vally and Michael Egizi, plus the percussion of Castro, has caught sufficient attention to be the first cut from the album singled out for radio play. Here EG is off the chain and ‘larging’ it in the way that only he can. Its tight (of course) it’s funky and it’s going to be around on the play lists for some time to come. ‘Chillaxin’, one of the high points of the entire album, has a big beat that underpins some typical Groove / Brown wizardry and mid tempo soprano sax that makes this a foot tapper of the highest order. It has the bonus of a Paul Brown guitar solo, complete with the subliminal vocals that he is rapidly making his own and a sound very much in the style he produced for his own current CD The City.

Groove does allow himself one cover, and what a cover it is. Although somewhat mysteriously not from 1976 he takes the Temptations hit from their 1971 LP The Sky’s The Limit, ‘Just My Imagination’, turns it down just a little and in this new relaxed mode manages to make it sound very fresh indeed.

The big studio presence that McDonald, Parker Jr, Walker, Gadson, Washington and Castro engender first hits the listener between the eyes when they rip into ‘Straight Up’, a very together mid tempo tune with trademark EG on alto sax. With ‘This Must Be For Real’ Euge takes a romantic turn with the lightest of touches on tenor sax and, by applying the ‘1976 rules’, adds a rare quality with the use of ‘real strings’. With Clarence McDonald, who arranged the strings on the 1977 Bill Withers LP Menagerie, already on board here was a little piece of magic waiting to happen. The string arrangement comes shining through and the track is further enhanced by a guitar solo from the instantly recognizable Peter White.

‘12-08 AM’ is big yet subtle, moody and evocatively nocturnal. It features understated piano from Clarence McDonald, a hint of strings and is everything that EG does best. The album closes out with ‘Ballerina Girl’. Here we find more sumptuous McDonald arranged strings plus gentle and reflective playing from EG on both soprano sax and piano. The whole, balanced with a nylon string guitar solo from Paul Brown, makes for a truly beautiful tune.

That said, best track on the CD is the title number, ‘Just Feels Right’, and it sure does with Parker, Walker, McDonald etc holding it down, a typical EG hook, a string arrangement that washes over you like a warm summer breeze and a feel good factor that will leave you glowing inside.

Just Feels Right is Euge Grooves fourth CD release and confirms him as one of the modern day superstars of smooth jazz.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:18 AM

September 5, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Dayve Stewart

Readers of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. Some artists have to pay their dues on the road and in the studio before finally getting the chance to cut their debut CD but Florida based saxophonist Dayve Stewart has taken the fast track and come up with a winner. Feel Me is an astonishingly well constructed release from someone still only 21 year of age. The soulful thirty eight second introduction and a kicking closing number both in vocal and instrumental form sandwich seven more classy tracks all but two of which have been composed by Stewart himself.

DayveStewart.jpgDayve is involved in every aspect of Feel Me. As well as playing virtuoso sax throughout he produces, mixes and variously performs on keyboards, percussion, bass and strings. The result is so polished that the entire piece of work stands out like a shiny new apple.

The whole album is generously endowed with top notch playing, most notable in the groove driven mid tempo chunk of smooth sax that is ‘Love @ First Sight’ and the equally silky smooth ‘Lay Back And Chill’ where Stewart achieves a vibe that makes the sentiment of the title a given. ‘Do The Dayve Clap’ is an up tempo tune that is sure to play well in a live setting but perhaps he is found at his best with ‘Give Thanks’ where given the chance to turn it down and get romantic he does it so very well. That said another real stand out is ‘Oprah’, held down by a strong and solid beat, it has an infectious hook and is brim full of melody.

A former student of the Howard W Blake High School for The Performing Arts in Tampa, Dayve is a current member of both the FSU Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz Combo and is working toward a Commercial Music degree with a minor in Business at Florida State. With a style that has already been compared to both Grover Washington Jr and Kirk Whalum, and a record of the caliber of Feel Me under his belt, with or without his education he is on an express route to stardom.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:16 PM

August 22, 2005

Kenny Carr - Friday At Five

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It’s difficult to categorize someone who has been on the scene for the past twenty years as a new comer but guitarist Kenny Carr is really making an impression with his debut solo release Friday At Five. It’s a really excellent piece of work but something else that marks it out is the length of time the recording has been ‘in the can’. The album was recorded in a small Manhattan studio in 1997 and, to create more of a live feel, no sound barriers were used to separate the musicians, much like recording sessions of years gone by. The venture, originally intended to be a demo project, as well as an opportunity to reunite with some old friends who were now professional musicians in New York City, was finished in two days but somehow ended up in storage.

Those ‘old friends‘ were guys that he had grown up with in Santa Cruz and it was the inspiring natural beauty of that location which set the stage for Kenny’s musical career. He found himself surrounded by talented and aspiring musicians who became his closest friends. By his early teens he was studying jazz theory with vibraphonist Rob Lautz as well as renowned trumpeter Ray Brown. By age sixteen he was performing at local venues where he met drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Anders Swanson, as well as 2004 Grammy nominated saxophonist Donny McCaslin. In 1981, Kenny and his fellow Santa Cruz musicians were invited to open up for Carmen McCrea and Freddie Hubbard at the Mount Tamalpais jazz festival. After high school, Kenny attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and during his final year in 1986, he received the call to audition for Ray Charles. He toured worldwide with Charles as his guitarist for over ten years.

Then came the Friday At Five session and eight years on the music remains as fresh as the day it was recorded. The first track, ‘New York Shuffle’ is pure Steely Dan with both a fine organ solo and Becker-esque guitar from Carr while ‘Rays Riff’ is big band bluesy where both John Bailey on trumpet and Don McCaslin on sax excel. In fact McCaslin’s contributions are significant throughout. His solo on ‘Movin On’ where a laid back groovy beginning gives way to Carr’s wailing guitar backed by understated horns is exceptional and McCaslin is also to the fore on ‘Exit 16’, a huge and brassy number that finds the band flirting with a classy straight ahead style.

Three of the tracks do not feature horns. On the primarily acoustic ‘Fly Away’ Carr flies solo for this gentle melody with acoustic guitar, acoustic piano and electric guitar while his haunting evocative playing on ‘Santa Cruzin’ is complemented by a sophisticated keyboard solo from John Dryden. One of the albums standouts is ‘Gramercy Groove’. This little gem starts out with a hugely catchy riff, evolves into an edgy piece of smooth jazz and ends up really rocking. The best track of the CD is ‘Coast To Coast’ where Carr turns it down for a tight piece of smooth jazz played over a killer bass line from Andy Hess and more great work from the brass section of McCaslin and Bailey.

Friday At Five is a quality collection of music that falls somewhere between smooth jazz and adult contemporary. I encourage you to check it out.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:34 PM

August 15, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Nils Headlines At Newport Pacific Festival

Nils-1.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. Lisa Cook of Denver, via Wisconsin, has written to ask just when will that smooth jazz chart topper Nils be touring.

Well, I have news for Lisa. Nils will be headlining at the first annual Newport Pacific Jazz Festival, to be held at the Dragon Ridge Country Club, Henderson, Nevada over the weekend of August 27-28. He will be performing as part of the Saturday show from which proceeds will be donated to the Sharon Osborne Colon Cancer Program. Among many others lined up to appear are original Earth Wind and Fire members Morris Pleasure, Larry Dunn and Sheldon Reynolds performing as their new creation Devoted Spirits and opening the Saturday evening show will be the excellent Larry White Band. Many of you will remember Larry’s 2004 sensational Unsolicited Material and he is also the driving force behind Newport Pacific Records. Newport Pacific recording star Shelley Taylor is also on the bill for the Sunday slot in the company of guitarist Doug MacDonald and the multi talented David Van Such.

If you can, make your way to Nevada for a great weekend of jazz and the chance to support some very deserving charities. For more go to www.newportpacificjazzfestival.com

Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:44 PM

August 11, 2005

Jason Weber - Can U Feel Me Now?

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When, back in 2002, I reviewed Jason Weber’s album Something Blue I described it as “a far above average example of good smooth jazz with quality sax playing throughout and a consistently compelling beat that holds the listener firmly in place over each of the thirteen self penned tracks”.

Now he has built on all of that for his fifth solo release, the most confident and powerful to date, Can U Feel Me Now? Written and produced by Weber this is a high octane chunk of funk that is off the chain from the get go and stays that way.

jasonweber4.jpgWeber gained a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin before relocating to Southern California where he is now firmly part of the music landscape. Indeed since moving to the San Diego area his reputation has grown and his playing is now much in demand. When not fronting his own band he is often called upon as a sideman for some of the major stars of the genre. This has, in recent years, given Jason the opportunity to open for or perform with the likes of Boney James, Dave Koz, Richard Elliott, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine, David Benoit and Arturo Sandoval.

As said Can U Feel Me Now? is an album that pulls no punches and opens with a bang courtesy of the big and funky title track. It features Morris Pleasure on Rhodes, who has played with, among others, Earth Wind and Fire, Janet Jackson and Boney James, and is a cut that really rocks from start to finish.

Amid an ocean of funk there are several tracks that really catch the attention. ‘House Is A Home’ is perhaps the CD’s most radio ready tune. With a nice hook it starts out mid tempo but really gets on a roll with an excellent guitar break from Mike DeRose and notable drumming throughout from Rodney Zinnen. Equally good is ‘(Just Another) Urban Legend’ which again is funky but where Weber gets a Euge Groove sound going and Michael Leroy Peel, who has played with Richard Elliot, Stanley Clarke and Ronnie Laws, contributes great keyboards.

‘Brainfreez’, more up tempo funk with Weber blowing up a melodic storm, is arguably the best track on the album while ‘Spirit Unbroken’ has that big Jason Weber sound with a melody running through it and wailing guitar from Patrick Yandall. Also featured is drummer Steve Ferrone who can be found on six tracks in all. Ferone has played with the Average White Band, Eric Clapton and also Patti Austin with whom he contributed to what I consider to be one of the best fusion numbers of all time, ‘Hurry Home’ from her 1994 release on GRP That Secret Place.

With Can U Feel Me Now? Jason Weber is making a statement that it’s OK for smooth jazz to be loud and funky. What he has to offer plays well on record and promises to be exceptional in a live setting. He can be found playing solo every Monday at Crivello Ristorante Italiano, Wildomar CA and every Friday at the Ritz Carlton – Laguna Niguel, Dana Point CA. However in order to register the total impact of Can U Feel Me Now? check him out with his full band on August 25 at the Promenade Mall Jazz Series in Temecula CA, on August 28 at Humphries By The Bay in San Diego CA where he will be part of the KIFM Lites Out Night and on September 3 at Romano’s in Riverside CA.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:40 PM

August 6, 2005

Def Jazz

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 1 was released in 2001 as the brainchild of DJ/Producer Tony Joseph and Musician/ Producer Daryl Ross. It put together some of today’s most accomplished instrumental soloists to reverse the process followed by hip hop producers and offer up infectious renditions of such rap standards as LL Cool J's ‘Lounging’, Biggie's ‘One More Chance’, and OutKast's ‘Ms. Jackson.’. An outstanding track listing plus great performances from, among others, Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jr, Everett Harp and Mike Phillips ensured that the project was an absolute winner. Indeed, such was the success of the album that volumes two and three followed in 2002 and 2004 respectively. Now Tony Joseph is back with his next project, Def Jazz, a collection of smooth jazz interpretations of rap, hip hop and R & B classics this time all drawn from the house of Def Jam Records.

In the '80s, Def Jam Records was the leading rap and hip-hop label in America. Not only that but those two words, ‘Def Jam’, became synonymous with a culture, a style and music. In the beginning Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin started out wanting to make hip hop music. Russell had a brother who had a group called Run DMC. Then there was LL Cool J and Slick Rick. Def meant cool, hip stylish and Def Jam made the music that went with that. By the late eighties the label was releasing many of the most innovative and groundbreaking records of the era and readers who are lucky enough to have checked out the four-CD box Ten Year Anniversary will know that the music has lost none of its impact over the years. The label boasted a roster that included artists such as Onyx, Cru, Method Man, Redman, Ludacris, Ja Rule, Jay Z, Cam'ron, Ashanti, Shyne, Kanye Wes, and Beanie Sigel. Def Jam continues to be a trend setter and it is to the back catalog of some of their greatest performers that Tony Joseph now turns to bring us Def Jazz.

The collection starts in fine style with the Hammond organ of Joey DeFrancesco and the trumpet of Roy Hargrove for their take on Method Man's instantly recognizable ‘All I Need’. Method Man had started out by making numerous guest appearances on other artists' records and got his break in the summer of 1995 through his one-off single with Mary J. Blige, ‘I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need to Get By’. It soared into the pop top five, giving him his first major hit. He quickly repeated the feat with ‘How High’, another duet, this time with Def Jam label mate Redman.

The currently ubiquitous Gerald Albright is featured twice and on both occasions the result is stunning. First time up it’s on the Slick Rick tune ‘Hey Young World’ where he duets with Kevin Toney on vibes and Wurlitzer, and really makes his sax bounce to the catchy rhythm. His second appearance is on ‘Get You Home’ originally done on Def Jam by Don Wuan Esquire who in turn heavily sampled it from Eugene Wilde’s 1984 R & B hit. Here Albright, assisted by Ach on vocals succeeds in preserving the best from the original while injecting a whole new jazz vibe. Kevin Toney’s second appearance comes with Hubert Laws on flute for another Method Man number, the outstandingly catchy ‘Bring The Pain’.

Jeff Lorber and guitarist Dwight Sills combine twice, first ably supported by a standout horn section for the Jay Z with Ja Rule classic ‘Can I Get A…’ and again on LL Cool J’s addictive ‘Back Seat’. Dwight Sills is in fact featured twice more. He picks up on another LL Cool J tune, the funky ‘Doin It’, where his smooth playing blends perfectly with Audrey Bryant’s understated and soulful vocals, and on the hypnotic ‘Ghetto Jam’, recorded on Def Jam by Domino, with Rick Braun taking the lead on trumpet.

Undoubtedly the track that will catch all the radio play and much of the interest is the Oran "Juice" Jones hit from 1986, ‘The Rain’. Jones had been one of the first artists to sign to Def Jam subsidiary OBR, a label that was to be devoted to vintage soul and R&B acts, but was never able to emulate the success he had with ‘The Rain’. When he found out, through a random connection, that the track was going to be part of Def Jazz he was interested in getting involved. Tony Joseph worked out an interesting vocal rap for him that puts a new spin on the original. In it Jones now has a daughter who catches her man with another man. In the role of the daughter is the emerging soul singer Ledisi who was recently featured on Brian Culbertson’s new release Its On Tonight. The combination makes this a very special track indeed.

Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond B-3 who makes such a great job of getting the album up and running is back on the final track, this time partnering with the saxophone of Scott Mayo for the Public Enemy hit ‘Give It Up’. It’s a huge raucous and funky production that makes a fitting end to what is a sensational CD. For those of us who crave something different from our smooth jazz, Def Jazz is like gold dust. It will be released on GRP on August 9 and advice from The Secret Garden is to make plans to get it.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:50 PM

August 2, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Jason Parra - Two Reasons

Two reasons.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. When, earlier this year, I visited Boise, Idaho for the first time I was immediately surprised and delighted by its vibrant downtown and sophisticated atmosphere. There and then I marked it down as a city I should return to someday and now I have found another reason for doing so. Two Reasons, the debut CD from smooth jazz trumpeter Jason Parra and his band the X Factor is one of the freshest new releases you will hear this year and its Boise that they call home and where they often perform.

A talented studio musician and songwriter, Jason has also found time to tour with Natalie Cole, Ray Charles, Arturo Sandoval, Lionel Hampton, The James Brown Band and Gene Harris. In addition his profile has been enhanced by appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and NBC’s Today Show.

Two Reasons contains eleven, all original, compositions and from the first note of the first and title track it is clear that this is a piece of top notch smooth jazz. The second cut, the tight and funky ‘Agumala’ with Parra’s classy muted trumpet to the fore, is just as good and ‘Wish You Were Here’ is quite simply the best track on the album. It has the full brassy sound that the band generates by, at times, using X Factor member Darin Stubbs to double up on trumpet. As well as contributing to Parra’s distinctive sound this has the added advantage of making their live performances just as vibrant as their studio recordings.

In fact the composition of the X Factor is all about getting that full, ‘Tower of Power’, thing going with Kent Parsons on both sax and flute and outstanding keyboards from accomplished songwriter, arranger and producer Wayne Levy. This same signature sound is again in evidence on both ‘Twisted’, where they whip up a real frenzy and on ‘I Got To Be Myself’, a tune with a horn driven swing and the thread of a smooth melody running right through it. However, with ‘Mellow Traumatic’ Jason switches effortlessly to flugel horn and proves that he is quite capable of turning it down and in so doing producing a haunting melody that makes this track a little gem.

Jason Parra and the X Factor have been picking up some rave reviews for their recent live performances. Check them out if you can and be on the look out for Two Reasons which is a comprehensive showcase for their considerable talents.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:12 PM

July 30, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Anders Holst - Five

andersholst2.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. One of the more unusual recent releases is the CD Five from Swedish born vocalist Anders Holst. Its unusual for the fact that with only five tracks it is essentially the equivalent of a 1960’s ‘EP’ and its unusual because Holst’s voice has none of the usual R & B influence that tends to permeate the bulk of smooth jazz vocal recordings. There is something of Michael Franks in his voice, something reminiscent of Peter Skellern and, hidden in there somewhere perhaps, the wistfulness of Leonard Cohen. Anders Holst, who is now based in New York, has co-composed four of the five tracks and the entire album is characterized by consistently excellent production.

‘Never Look Back’ is a rolling number with the injection of excellent strings that serves to set the track apart while ‘Love Me Like A River’ is a dreamy tune with understated sax and lyrics that fit well with Holst’s vocal style. ‘Anfield Road’, being the home stadium of European Champions Liverpool Football Club, is a tenuous link to that clubs famous ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ anthem although here used in a strictly non soccer context. It’s likely the majority of listeners in the USA will completely miss the point but it’s a nice tune nevertheless. The hugely Skellern like ‘Verrazano Bridge’ does what good ballads do best in inviting the listener to be absorbed by the story the song is telling and the feel good ‘Until The End Of Time’ is a nice uplifting love song that benefits from guest appearances by Gerald Albright and Paul Jackson Jr. on saxophone and guitar respectively.

Nice and uplifting is an apt description for the entire collection. Holst never gets remotely close to being soulful yet his voice is at times compelling and both the musical arrangements and supporting artists is top notch throughout.

The fact that Five is, for many reasons, out of the ordinary may yet present Anders Holst and his management with their biggest challenge. Ultimate success will hinge on finding appropriate routes to market in order to match what Holst has created to an appreciative listening public. Only time will tell if they can pull it off yet there deserves to be a place for an album like Five that dares to be different.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:50 PM

July 23, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Mark Hollingsworth

Readers of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. A CD well worth looking out for is the debut release from sax player Mark Hollingsworth. With On The Mark he has teamed up with veteran writer and producer James Wirrick to deliver nine sparkling originals and one quality cover that is sure to move this long time session and sideman to center stage.

A graduate of Berklee, firmly centered in Los Angeles but with his roots in his home town of Chicago, Hollingsworth has worked with top notch artists from Stevie Wonder to Santana and Ray Charles to Quincy Jones. For the last three years he has been a featured member of the Greg Adams band and it was while touring that people began asking if he had his own solo album. Consequently the idea for On The Mark was born.

The title cut, dedicated to his childhood hero Tom Scott, is all about the thrusting sax that one would associate with Scott himself while ‘Catch This’, another dedication, this time to Cannonball Adderley, is less smooth and more funky but none the worse for that. The CD is full of nice surprises from the Latin rhythm and superior guitar work of James Wirrick on ‘Bahia Moonlight’ to the big brassy sound of ‘Hot Nights’. Other standouts include the delightfully R & B tinged cover of the Jeffrey Osborne recording ‘Back In Love Again’, featuring excellent backing vocals from Kelly Moneymaker and Bernadette Barlow, and ‘Sunset Rose’, catchy yet mellow and a superb example of classic west coast smooth jazz. Two personal favorites are the haunting, Boney James like ‘Prairie Rains’ and the catchy feel good ‘Steppin Up’.

All in all On The Mark is a well crafted collection that deserves to hold its own in the ultra competitive market of smooth jazz saxophone. Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:02 PM

July 18, 2005

Brian Culbertson - It's On Tonight.

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. That delicious space somewhere between smooth jazz and R & B where rhythm and melody blends with a soulful groove is where many smooth jazz artists aspire to be. Some achieve it fleetingly, others never at all, yet Brian Culbertson has managed it consistently over a career that is just about to reach even greater heights with the July 26 release of his debut album on GRP, Its On Tonight.

That Culbertson left his listening public on such a high with his 2003 Come On Up has made the wait seem even longer but now, with what is being promoted as a ‘12-song seduction suite’, his eighth album in all, he is back with a sensuous collection full of the vibe that we have come to associate with him. The song writing collaboration he struck up on Come On Up with Stephen Lu is again in evidence as the partnership contribute some of the strongest numbers in a collection that has no weak links.

From the first note of the first track, ‘BFO’, which has a vocal contribution from Ledisi and is pure Culbertson throughout, the listener knows a treat is in store. ‘Hookin Up’ has already been identified as the first number to be lifted for radio play and is more classic Culbertson. In fact Culbertson classics abound. ‘Forbidden Love’, ‘Secret Affair’ with Chris Botti providing some standout trumpet and ‘Touch Me’ are all examples of the artist at the very top of his game.

The word infectious is perhaps overused in music reviews but it’s a word that sums up this hallmark sound that gets in your head and wont go away: with tracks like ‘Dreaming Of You’ you will never want it to. This lean, semi acoustic number with haunting violin from Culbertson’s wife, Michelle, is simple in its construction yet stunning. The title track, which will inevitably be seen by many as the centerpiece to the CD, has lyrics penned by Marc Nelson and is blessed by the luscious vocals of Will Downing. It marks the point in the album to really turn the lights down low.

Even though this is unashamedly a ‘make out’ album Brian has recorded only original songs and opted not to include any covers of bedroom classics. His thinking here is that if people are buying the record for the purpose for which he intended, he didn't want to do any remakes. Culbertson reasons that cover songs will evoke memories and he doesn’t want to put any memories into listeners’ heads other than the new ones they are creating themselves while in the moment.

Talking of ‘in the moment’, the track ‘Sensuality’, complete with the subtle horns that are a Culbertson trademark, puts you right there while ‘The Way You Feel’, enriched by Boney James on sax, has a simple melody that is hard to forget.

The ultra sexy and seductive ‘Wear It Out’, that features Az Yet vocalist and Babyface protégé Marc Nelson is in the late night R & B groove while the killer cut from the entire collection comes courtesy of ‘Love Will Never Let You Down’. With vocals from Patti Austin, an incredible contribution from Kirk Whalum on sax and some wonderful Culbertson playing it’s a number brimming with soul and is so far off the feel good scale its out of sight.

As Culbertson basks in the afterglow of the final track ‘Reflections’ he can consider that his aim to create a concept album has been well and truly successful. In laying down grooves designed to accompany every stage of romance he has not only provided a backdrop for people to chill out, relax and do what they need to do he has, into the bargain, come up with what will undoubtedly be one of the smooth jazz sensations of 2005.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:21 PM

July 10, 2005

The Danny Federici Interview

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Having recently heard a track that I consider to be a contender for best smooth jazz cover version of the year, the Jagger Richards, Rolling Stones smash ‘Miss You’, by Danny Federici from his up coming album, Out Of A Dream, I jumped at the chance to talk to him about his music and his arrival on the smooth jazz scene.

For those of you not up to speed with life on the ‘other side’ of the Hudson River, Danny Federici is one of the founding members of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band having now performed with them for over thirty years. His keyboards have been the backdrop to some of their greatest songs and its his organ you can hear on the classic anthem ‘Born To Run’, his piano playing on the blockbuster ‘Born in the USA’ and his accordion that sounds like a carousel on the sleepy beach serenade ‘4th of July Asbury Park’.

He explained to me that working with Springsteen afforded him unique flexibility in finding the time to develop his own projects. It’s not uncommon for there to be a two year break between tours or studio recordings and, in addition, Springsteen’s iconic status allows him the space to occasionally pursue his own solo projects. So it was both before and throughout his tenure in the E Street Band that Federici composed many instrumental pieces but never got around to recording them. This all changed when work that he had started in LA, while writing short instrumental pieces aimed at film and television, was expanded and used, in part, for his 1997 debut album Flemington, a project that was later reissued with one additional track and renamed as Danny Federici.

DannyFedericiOutOfADream.jpgNow, with Out Of A Dream, due out on V2 Records on July 26, Federici, in collaboration with musical director and producer Mike Cates, looks set to consolidate his initial success. Cates has recording credits that includes playing sax for Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Al Green, Barry White and the Rolling Stones so it’s no surprise to find that it was Cates who talked Federici into covering The Stones number ‘Miss You’. It is also his saxophone that laces the track with standout playing. ‘Miss You’ has already been identified as the first track to be lifted for radio and is being picked up by stations across the country at a rapid rate.

That said Out Of A Dream is not a CD built entirely around ‘Miss You’. His intrigue with art, dreams, cinema and the newness of the day, combined with the love he has for his wife and children, provides the foundation for ten tracks that stand and can be judged on their own considerable merits. Indeed Out Of A Dream comes straight from the heart of Danny Federici and, when I asked him how it was that someone who the fans see as totally rock orientated should turn to smooth jazz, he made it clear that this is music that has always been with him. He is refreshingly detached from the current smooth jazz scene and, although he admits to being a long time admirer of David Sanborn and to being enthused by the work of Brian Culbertson, he is very much his own man and Out Of A Dream is testimony to that. The recording is further enriched by the quality of the collaborating musicians who collectively sport an impressive array of credits. Percussionist Daniel de Los Reyes (James Taylor, Sting and Ricky Martin), Jon Johnson on guitar (Earth Wind and Fire), Juan Van Dunk on bass (The Police, KC and The Sunshine Band) all play a part while Todd Parsnow (Bootsy Collins) adds his chugging guitar on ‘Miss You’. The combination makes Out Of A Dream something way above the average.

As well as ‘Miss You’ Danny adds a second cover with his version of the much recorded Bob Dylan composition ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’, another track clearly destined for radio play. It’s the last tune on the album and in common with the best of ‘last track’ selections the production manages to engender a nice build quality that makes this the perfect choice as a live gig play out number.

It’s when the album taps into his own compositions that perhaps the true Danny Federici emerges. ‘Light Is Calling’ is a super laid back tune with an irresistible and hypnotic hook and when I asked him about ‘Two Oceans’, a quality ultra smooth example of top class smooth jazz piano playing, he told me it was all about the emotions of east coast and west coast living. Moving to LA he had slipped effortlessly into the calm west coast lifestyle yet a visit back to New York City led him to rediscover the energy of the place and made him realize that it was the place to be. Now, with a home in the West Village, that curiously European feeling district of the city with green spaces and people eating in small cafes, he feels he is right in touch with the heartbeat of the city and an atmosphere that fuels his creative engines. In fact that West Village vibe was responsible for another stand out track, ‘Fragments Of An Afternoon’, a tune that conjures an image of the city late in the day, heat rising from the sidewalk and people going about their business, all observed from, perhaps, the window of a Starbucks coffee shop.

Other notable tracks include ‘Maya’, where Federici brings a Grusin like orchestral quality to this love song written for and named after his wife and, ‘Venus’s Pearl’, with a nice full sound, a catchy rhythm and wailing sax that all combine to provide a lovely feel. ‘Green Apples’, written by Danny for his kids, is a deconstructed piece of work where simplicity is a virtue while the title track finds more superior Mike Cates sax playing and a number that is without question classic late night smooth jazz in the making.

Now, after all those years playing in the background to huge stadium audiences, Danny is revelling in being center stage and performing in small intimate venues where he can really connect with the crowd. Connecting he certainly is and with Out Of A Dream he might just have one of the sensations of the smooth jazz year.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:01 PM

June 29, 2005

The Theo Ross Interview

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It’s one of the curiosities of smooth jazz that so few artists make use of that most sensuous and smooth of instruments, the flute. With the notable exceptions of Dave Valentin, Alexander Zonjic and, to an extent, Nelson Rangell the sound of the flute remains a relative rarity in the genre.

theo_ross.jpgSomeone trying to change all that is UK based flautist and voice artist Theo Ross who’s new release Cut The Chord is available now. However, it is not only with his choice of instrument that Ross is setting out to be different. By producing four outstanding tracks on what is essentially the equivalent of a 1960’s ‘EP’ he is making a statement that quality is always more important than quantity. Recently I got together with Theo Ross to talk about the man and his music and we began by discussing why he had gone with the EP concept. ‘Originally’, he said, ‘I was going to add a cover version to the CD but’, he added, ‘I reserved that idea for the next album. This time around I felt it was important for me to provide a “snapshot” of who I am through my own compositions’.

Ross grew up listening to such diverse talents as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Mark Murphy, Dave Valentine, Hubert & Ronnie Laws, Weather Report, Santana and the majority of the output of the time from the Stax and Motown stables.

He has crammed these influences and more into Cut The Chord, a succinct showcase for Ross’s talents with four very different but always excellent tunes. When I asked him about the writing and recording process he explained that ‘all of the tracks are based on slightly unconventional chord progressions that are simple and direct. The melodic lines are all derived from the harmony, and the lyrics were added once the harmonic structure was set. Much of the sound colour was developed prior to recording. Then the vibe, tempo and texture was integrated during the production stage, which added vitality and an objective dimension to the concepts’.

What he means becomes immediately obvious at the first listening. ‘Lovestruck’ is breezy and warm with a lush mid tempo beat that flows along to provide a platform for his skilful playing and a vibe that threatens to make this one seriously catchy.

Following on from ‘Lovestruck’, ‘Nightfalls’ comes as quite a surprise. Ross regales the listener with his cool yet fulsome vocals on a tune with a simple but memorable chord structure that makes it reminiscent of a romantic interlude from a Broadway musical. Theo then gets funky with ‘Without You’, a track that contains an infectious hook that he replicates with more of his mellow vocals and intricate flute playing woven around the compelling beat. It’s a number that is sure to play well in a concert setting and it is live performing that really excites Ross. ‘Performing live really captures the spontaneous moment’ he commented. ‘It allows me to convey the expression and emotion of an idea; and hopefully connect with fellow performers and the audience’. Ross has played at some of the leading contemporary jazz venues in the UK and cites the Pizza Express in Dean Street, The 606 Club, The Albert Inn and the Lichfield Jazz Festival all as places where the music connection moved into another dimension and became magical.

The final track of Cut The Chord, ‘Could Be’ is laid back, atmospheric and dreamy with Ross’s melodic playing again to the fore and a guitar solo by Tim Cansfield that is a real bonus. Its perfect chill out music for the end of a hard day.

Being an artist in a genre that he defines as ‘Electro/Acoustic Smooth or New Jazz’ he is only too aware of the limitations of performing solely within the UK market. The way he sees it the few UK radio stations that are dedicated to Smooth Jazz are doing a great service to the listening audience and have helped launch the careers of some excellent artists. However, the opportunities for live performances are few, and when he sees artists such as Peter White and Acoustic Alchemy playing and recording in the USA he comes to the realization that to succeed it is beneficial to be positioned where the core audience is. That’s why, when he looks forward two years, he would hope to be established in the USA, signed to a major smooth jazz label and reaching as wide an audience as possible both through his CD sales and his live performances. A breakthrough into writing for film and the use of voice as another area of exploration are both facets of his ambition that he is looking to cultivate.

With Cut The Chord Theo Ross has the way forward. With its essence of simplicity and variety it demonstrates in only a few tracks a taste of the quality that we can look forward to on albums to come.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:09 PM

June 24, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - The Neurons

FCoverNEURONS.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. I receive all manner of CD’s for review but one item that recently dropped into my mailbox has completely blown my mind. It’s the CD titled Dance by ex Ray Charles tour band trumpeter / flugelhorn player David Hoffman and Paul Adams. They are both from Peoria Illinois and, as well as pursuing solo careers, record and perform as The Neurons.

Dance is an album that almost defies description comprising as it does afro influenced percussion, jungle beats and off the wall vocal snippets but, buried within it, are several standout dance tracks. Its been written many times that to really hit the mark in soul, dance, R & B or smooth jazz the music must have two components, rhythm and melody. Not surprising then it’s the more melodic tunes that come to the fore in this eleven track selection that is packed with rhythm. ‘Luminosity’ is tremendous with real Hardcastlesque qualities while the flamenco flavored ‘Spanish Horizon’ gets the job done too. The flute on ‘Shuffle and Suspense’ is a surprising but pleasing choice and ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ is a tight tune woven together with unobtrusive vocals and a great beat. Finally ‘Island Girl’, with delicious Spanish language female vocals, is further confirmation of the eclectic nature of the recording.

To find out more, check David and Paul’s websites at www.pauladams.org and www.davidhoffmanjazz.com. Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:54 PM

June 10, 2005

Culbertson At Kimballs East

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Brian Culbertson is and always has been all about his music. Whether it be his early individually produced and recorded offerings or his later more collaborative releases, it has been his music that has set him apart. Suffice to say that, of late, Brian has had his ups and downs. Yet, an enforced change of label plus problems with his previously state of the art website has not detracted from the constantly high standard that Brian brings to his live performances. This time, courtesy of Culbertson fan extraordinaire Lisa Taylor, we are able to provide a snapshot of his performance at Kimball’s East in Emeryville, CA, May 6 to May 8 and, in addition, an insight into his incredible fan base.

Brian is not alone in having a loyal and sometimes fanatic band of followers but, over the last eighteen months, Lisa, who came late to Culbertson’s music, has traveled far and wide to hear him play. Enraptured by his contribution to the 2003 Dave Koz Xmas Tour, she was inspired to follow him through 2004 to venues as far apart as Chicago and Oakland with several other places in between. Not only that, she has assumed a pivotal role in the excellent, but currently off line ‘fans forum’ that will be up and running again just as soon as BC gets the new website together this summer.

The connections made through this ‘fans forum’ have afforded opportunities to meet up with other Culbertson fanatics and to collaborate with them in showing support for Brian. A great example of this togetherness was demonstrated when BC fans, Lisa, Carole Lynn, Phyllis, Mitch, Janine and Wayne, representing different cities throughout the United States, came together earlier this year to create a fan based t-shirt. They wanted something they could wear to show solidarity and that would display BC’s unique smoothness on the keyboard and funkiness with his trombone. More than 30 of Brian’s closest most dedicated fans purchased this exclusive fan t-shirt to wear at Brian’s performances.

2005 has seen Lisa’s tour itinerary ramp up even more as she travels the country with other fans and family members alike, taking every opportunity to see Culbertson perform.

Culbertson_LongBeach04.jpgConsequently, when Culbertson kicked off his stint at Kimballs, Lisa was there to see both him and his band which this year has the additions of 22 year old sax sensation Eric Darius, Brian’s dad Jim Culbertson on trumpet and former ‘Az Yet’ lead vocalist Marc Nelson. As well as performing the best from his back catalog, Culbertson was also providing a pre-release peak of his new recording, It’s On Tonight that is due out on July 26th. On the romantic title track, it will be Nelson handling the vocals along with Will Downing in a combination that promises to be a highlight of the smooth jazz year.

In fact, on that first night, Darius was out of town in Bakersfield, CA opening for David Benoit, so his sax slot went to the ubiquitous Jeff Kashiwa who did a great job as stand in. It’s On Tonight, in its pre-release billing, has been described as one of Culbertson’s most sensuous releases to date and when he performed the track, ‘On My Mind,’ this hype was confirmed. Brian always plays well to the female members of his audience and with ‘On My Mind,’ one of the sexiest songs that he has ever composed; he was again wooing the women in the house. His sensual moves just made them holler and from the chatter in the audience it was clear that they liked what they saw and heard. With Culbertson connecting with his material like never before, he turned up the sex appeal a few notches from the more reserved demeanor he displayed throughout his 2004 touring season.

No Culbertson gig would be complete without his trademark horn sessions where Brian switches keyboard for trombone and plays along with trumpet and sax. Predictably, both with Kashiwa Friday and Darius for the remainder of the shows, the horn section brought down the house. The Culbertson band with Jorge Evans on guitar and Felix D Kat on drums provided awesome support throughout and, in the intro to the horn session, Eddie Miller on the keyboards and the legendary Mike Logan on Hammond organ cooked up a storm with their unique funk combination. It sounded like someone had just let James Brown’s house band in the door.

Turning to several of his previous releases, Culbertson peppered the set with old favorites. ‘Get It On’ from Nice & Slow, ‘Say What?’ from Come On Up plus ‘The Secret Garden,’ ‘Back In The Day’ and ‘Something Bout Love’ all from the Somethin’ Bout Love CD were included to great effect and unanimous audience approval.

The show closed with Brian’s wedding song, ‘Our Love,’ also from the Come On Up CD. At both the Saturday and Sunday shows, Eric Darius took this already beautiful song to another level with his sensational sax playing and on stage presence. Darius is certainly going places quickly and his current CD, Night On The Town, is one to watch.

Some folks might wonder why there are fans that go to multiple concerts. Who better to answer that question than Lisa Taylor who was at Kimballs for all three days, and all six shows of the Culbertson visit. The way she explains it, she takes something different from each and every performance. Each skit may be similar but the musical parts are quite different. Brian may play one song a certain way then change it around for the next performance. She now sees and hears more than Culbertson simply playing. She has attained a new level of listening and enjoyment of the music. With fans like Lisa, live music is indeed in safe hands and with a new release like It’s On Tonight, Brian Culbertson is set to reconfirm his iconic status in the smooth jazz market.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:29 AM

May 25, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - BK Diaz - The Pursuit Of Happiness

Readers of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. Hot news from LA is that the 3rd most added record on New Music Weekly's Hot AC/ Mainstream Radio is the single ‘Magdalena’ by B.K. Diaz from his new The Pursuit of Happiness CD. Stations across the country have been putting this song in heavy test rotations with add ins coming in at a rapid pace.

The Pursuit of Happiness CD will be released on May 31, 2005 and contains a total of 12 songs. With several previous hits B.K. Diaz is no stranger to this format. However, with this CD he is producing his best work to date. A summer tour is in the planning.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:51 AM

Secret Garden Snippet - Mark Carter - Party On The Pier

MarkCarterWestCoastGroove.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. Back in February we reported that Mark Carter's new CD West Coast Groove was a one to watch for 2005. Now, the track lifted for radio play, ‘Party On The Pier’ is airing on KSBR 88.5 FM in Mission Viejo, CA.

If you are getting hooked on Mark’s music, and here we certainly are, you can catch him with his band, The Mark Carter Project, playing live at Spaghetti Jazz Club in Seal Beach on Wednesday June 8. Show starts at 7-00 PM.

For more check out Marks website at www.markcarterproductions.com

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:33 AM

May 17, 2005

Acoustic Alchemy - American English

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. American English is the brand new release from the UK based Acoustic Alchemy and when I recently talked to founder member Greg Carmichael about the album and the up coming tour, the conversion inevitably came around to how something as American as smooth jazz has benefited so immeasurably by something as English as Acoustic Alchemy.

That many fans in the USA are surprised when they first discover the band is in fact English is an indication of the place they have cemented for themselves within the smooth jazz culture of that country yet it was pure chance and an advertisement in the London Evening Standard that first took the band across the Atlantic and into the musical adventure that continues to this day. What started out as simply providing in flight music for Virgins trans-Atlantic journeys quickly led to Nashville just when the record companies there were looking to diversify their output and shake off their image of being exclusively ‘Country’. With their music identified first as ‘new age’ and then later as ‘adult contemporary’ (the term smooth jazz not having been thought of at the time) they signed for MCA and recorded their debut album with them, Red Dust And Spanish Lace, in 1987.

The hallmark steel string nylon string guitar combination of AA has been around now for fifteen albums and eighteen years yet, over this time, although that signature sound has remained, the music has continued to evolve in different, sometimes unexpected, but always delightful directions. This has been due, in part, to changes in personnel, the most significant of which resulted from the sad death of co-founder Nick Webb in 1998, but also through the writing partnership that Carmichael has struck up with steel string player Miles Gilderdale.

All fourteen of the tracks on American English are Carmichael Gilderdale collaborations, a process that Carmichael explains as each of them developing ideas alone before coming together to select the best from what they have and then combining to hone each one into a finished product. If the collection that is American English is anything to go by this is a winning formula as the standard is incredibly high throughout without even a hint of a weak or ‘filler’ track.

The record company has already selected ‘Say Yeah’, a tune with obvious dance and R & B origins, as the first single for radio play. At its end Gilderdale provides some scat singing of which George Benson would be proud but, perhaps, even more infectious is ‘The Crossing’. This simply constructed sax and flute hook, overlaid with a beautiful Carmichael melody, is a tune that is hard to get out of your head. Talking about tunes that are hard to forget ‘So Kylie’ is also right up there. For readers outside of the UK and Australia, Kylie Minogue was, and possibly still is, the hottest property to come out of the renowned UK based pop-dance music production ‘hit factory’ Stock, Aitkin and Waterman. The sound generated here in tribute to her is pure Kylie. Great fun and great to listen to.

Twelve of the fourteen tracks that comprise American English were recorded in London, England with production provided by Richard Bull. Significantly, ‘The 14 Carrot Café’ and ‘Cherry Hill’ were recorded and produced in Bonn, Germany in the same studio where many of AA’s earlier offerings were made. True aficionados of the steel and nylon sound that, to many, defines Acoustic Alchemy will agree with Carmichael when he explains it as no coincidence that these two tunes, epitomizing as they do the pure melodic AA vibe, should have originated from this particular studio. He sums it up nicely when he simply says, ‘its just something about the place’.

When the band hit the road later this month, for what will be a thirty-four city forty six night tour, only five of those dates will be played outside of the USA. Carmichael accepts that smooth jazz in the UK will always be on the fringe, a place where a glimpse of a billboard advertising an up and coming AA gig remains a novelty. Yet he finds the passion and knowledge of the audiences to whom the band play, whether in the UK or the USA, to be constantly high wherever they go. For him, the experience of live performing continues to thrill and, although his opinion is that the best place to hear Acoustic Alchemy is in a theater where sound quality is good, he enjoys live performances everywhere and cites a particular appeal for those Californian summer festivals where warm sunshine, fine wine and excellent food combine with the music to make every event a special occasion.

Wherever their fans are able to see the band perform this year they will find that the depth that American English has added to Acoustic Alchemy’s catalogue of music is sure to enthrall. Whether it be the reggae flavored ‘Trinity’, the downright funky ‘Get Up’ or the ‘Moon And The Sun’ which somehow combines the feeling of Ibiza with the sea breeze of the Californian Coast Highway, the variety, linked by the common thread of quality, is unsurpassed. Carmichael and Gilderdale even find time to pay their own homage to Motown with a tune the idea for which was hatched on the tour bus while watching a documentary about the session band The Funk Brothers. ‘The Detroit Shuffle’ captures the mood perfectly and is enhanced by a superb tenor sax solo from none other than Paul Hardcastle sideman Snake Davies; back performing on an Acoustic Album CD for the first time since the 2001 AArt.

American English is sure to be up there as one of the smooth jazz albums of 2005. Go out and buy it, see the band perform but, above all, enjoy.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:25 AM

April 29, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Michael Brandeburg - Midnight

brandeburg.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time its news of the recent release from the Santa Rosa CA based keyboard player Michael Brandeburg.

Written, arranged and produced by Brandeburg, Midnight is a collection of nine tight chill out tracks designed, it would seem, to be played specifically at the bewitching hour. Part of the magic comes from the collection of outstanding musicians that Michael has assembled to support him on the project. Windham Hill recording artist Ray Obiedo makes more than one significant contribution on guitar while Norbert Stachel on sax and flute is outstanding throughout. With Jess Petty variously on trumpet and flugel horn complementing Mark Van Wageningen on bass and Billy Johnson on drums the winning formula is complete.

Particularly notable is ‘Moonlight’ with Stachel to the fore on sax, the hypnotic ‘Caribbean Dream’ that gives Petty the chance to shine on trumpet and the title track where Sachel serves up more cool sax laced with Brandeburg’s excellent piano.

When Brandeburg indulges himself with the albums only cover, Bert Bacharach’s ‘The Look Of Love’, it proves to be a sensation with Jess Petty, this time on flugel horn, sending shivers down the spine. Obiedo excels on the Latin flavoured tribute to ‘Jobim’ and on the haunting ‘Velvet Lady’. The album is already enjoying good airplay and that’s hardly surprising as there is barely a weak track on the entire collection.

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelbrandeburg.com where sample tracks from the CD can also be heard.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:38 AM

April 7, 2005

Quintin Gerard W - Fonky Or Not?

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. This time we look at a new and exciting CD release that promises to make saxophonist Quintin Gerard W one of the sensations of 2005.

Fnkysax is, for Gerard, more than an album. It is a new expression of music terminology, an abbreviation of ‘fonkysax’ that carries with it his trademarked tag line of ‘So you like a little fonk with your Jazz uh? He also provides his own pseudo dictionary definition of the word ‘Fnkysax’ as “the method of playing saxophone characterized by incorporating elements of Funk, R & B, Gospel, Blues and Jazz supported by the underlying foundation of the urban culture and experience.” It’s a catchy marketing trick but it’s backed up by the substance of his music, an urban slant that Boney James would be proud of and a sensuality that makes more than a nod in the direction of Kenny G. The result is a powerful combination that instantly grabs the listener.

QuintinGerard_bw.jpgQuintin Gerard W grew up in Norco, Louisiana and attended Destrehan High School. His early days with the District VI Honor Jazz and Concert Bands of New Orleans found him performing with, now local legend, Harry Connick Jr. When he was awarded a scholarship in music at Loyola University in New Orleans it offered the opportunity to study under noted jazz master Ellis Marsalis. It was when Quinton relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1989 that he began to meet and play with many of the top names in Smooth Jazz.

He has performed live with the likes of Jeff Lorber (on the Worth Waiting For tour), Kenny Garrett, Najee, Dave Koz, Ron Brown, and Hollis Gentry III. Quintin Gerard W.'s other saxophone friends include Jay Beckenstein from Spyro Gyra, Jeff Kashiwa of The Rippingtons and Kirk Whalum. Also, as a member of the San Diego based fusion jazz group Under The Lake, he has opened for Joe Sample at the Maui Cultural and Performing Arts Center in Hawaii, and Stanley Jordan at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, California.

Quintin’s recording credits include work with Charlie Wilson, the late Rick James and a long list of major commercial recording sessions. These include the opening theme for B.E.T.'s Comic View plus MCI, Levi Strauss, Estee Lauder, and Sears Kenmore television commercials.

quintingerardw.jpgNow, with his debut CD, Quentin has taken all of those experiences and influences and added to them his own undeniable talents as writer performer and producer. The result is sensational. Right from the first track the album is up and running with ‘Smooth Jazz Flavor’, a sweet smooth urban tune with great sax playing and a compelling catchy vocal hook. It is already lined up for radio exposure and the radio edit is included as a bonus track. With a title like ‘Fnkysax’, fonky sax, the listener is expecting a fair measure of funk and it is first found on the title track that delivers just what its name promises with subliminal urban vocals and stand out playing from Gerard. ‘Opportunity’ offers a cool rap introduction over a terrific underlying beat, excellent sax playing and haunting background vocals. It’s a track that, as they say, has got the lot and when Gerard reprises it in radio edit format its different but just as good.

‘The Weekend’s Here’, with its very effective use of backing vocals, keeps the funky urban vibe going but, despite Quintin Gerard W’s obvious flair for the urban groove, he is perhaps at his best with smooth sensuous tunes like ‘Elnora’, the sexy late night smooth jazz tune ‘Now and Forever’ and ‘Days We Remembered’ with its delightful interplay between sax and keyboards that just longs to be part of a movie score.

Fnkysax is an album crammed full of stand outs. On ‘Hipnotized’ Gerard manages to generate a real Euge Groove feel while ‘Flute Fnk’ is just that, a breezy funky flute number played over a beat that simply rolls along. It’s inconceivable that a collection of the quality of Fnkysax will not make Quintin Gerard W an overnight smooth jazz sensation.

Check out more on Quintin via his website at www.quintingerardw.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:43 PM

Secret Garden Snippet - Gwen Laster

GwenLaster_bw.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time more about jazz violinist Gwen Laster.

Her current CD, I Hear You Smiling was featured in these pages in October 2004. At the time it was commented that “right from the first track, ‘Rasputins Running’, the hypnotic grove is established and it just keeps on going. The music draws you in and takes you to another world. It’s compelling, fresh and totally original. A real stand out track is the soulful ‘Send Love To The Equation’ with vocals by Bitte Strauchn and haunting violin from Laster.”

Well, her fans in the New York area can catch Gwen in concert at 8-00 PM on Saturday, April 9, 2005, at The Howland Center, 477 Main St. Beacon, New York where she will be accompanied by Joe Scott on piano, Tony Lewis on drums and Damon Banks on bass. Call 845 831 4988 for reservations.

Also she can be heard on Thursday, April 7 at 1:00pm on WHVM 950 AM where John Nelson, editor of Pulse Magazine, will be interviewing Gwen to promote the concert and playing tracks from I Hear You Smiling.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:26 AM

March 5, 2005

The Colors Of Brown, White and Braun

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In this final look back at the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 (WHSJC) the Secret Garden gathers together snippets and impressions of what was a truly memorable experience for all concerned.

RickBraun_live.jpgIronically, the person billed to head up The All Star Cruise out of Galveston Texas in November 2005, Rick Braun, was the one who perhaps suffered most from the sea sickness that afflicted both artists and fans during the Warren Hill event. Prevented from performing earlier in the week he came back triumphantly on the final evening with an exquisite set laced with standouts. Not least among these were ‘Kisses In The Rain’, the title track from his 2001 CD, where he was joined on stage by Peter White, and ‘Notorious’ from his 1997 Body and Soul, played as a duet with Kirk Whalum. The collaborations kept on coming with ‘Use Me’, also from Kisses In The Rain, for which he was joined by Euge Groove, and his big hit ‘Green Tomatoes’, from his CD Esperanto that he played, as on the original recording, with Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown. The performance simply re-enforced Braun’s standing as the preeminent smooth jazz trumpeter of today.

PeterWhite_live.jpgMajor artists playing together with a house backing band and all with limited opportunity for preparation practice or rehearsal may be a fact of smooth jazz cruising life but it also has the potential to cause some problems. It certainly seemed that way for Peter White who started off his Sunday evening late show appearance with his usual energy and a selection from his current CD Confidential. Although held down tightly by Michael Manson on bass, the excellent Michael Logan on keyboards and Sean McCurley on drums, Whites complex arrangements were clearly too much for the house horn section, The Harris Brothers. They messed up the introduction to ‘Talkin Bout Love’, causing White to restart the number and, overall, threatened to give the set an under par feel. Fortunately when there is a ship stacked brim full with musical talent this does not have to be a big deal as up stepped Euge Groove to play two fantastic duets with White and, in the process, lift the entire show. Warren Hill also played along with White to good effect but, not for the only time during the WHSJC, the real stars were the fans. When Peter did ‘That Lady’ from his 2001 CD Glow and threatened a diversion that at first sounded like it was going to be ‘The Theme From Shaft’ but ended up as ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ the audience picked up on it immediately and sang along with no prompting whatsoever.

NormanBrown_live.jpgWhen, later in the same show, Norman Brown followed White, his melodic soulful and controlled guitar was faultless. With Manson, Logan and McCurley again holding it down, and no need in his arrangements for a horn section, Brown glided through his set showcasing the best from his considerable discography. For the second time in the same evening smooth jazz gave a nod to the Isley Brothers as Brown covered ‘For The Love Of You’ and well and truly kept the old school connection firmly in place.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:50 PM

February 24, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Steve Cole Back On Track

SteveCole_live.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. A welcome visitor to WNUA 95.5 Chicago last week was local boy Steve Cole.

He was in the studio to talk about his latest CD release, Spin that is due in the record stores on the third Tuesday of April 2005. It will be his first recording since NYLA in March 2003, a fact due, in part, to the discontinued interest by his previous label, Warner, in its jazz output. Now signed to Narada Jazz he is set to resume a recording career that started with a bang in 1998 with his debut Stay Awhile on Atlantic. His follow up, Between Us, two years later, was good but over reliant on Brian Culbertson’s production techniques. In the end it lacked the depth that could have really stamped him as a major player on the smooth jazz scene.

Steve Cole has remained a constant presence on the smooth jazz tour circuit and his many fans will now look to Spin to put him right back in the spotlight. If the track that is rumored to be the first single, ‘Thursday’, is anything to go by he might just get there.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:49 PM

February 19, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Mark Carter - West Coast Groove

MarkCarterWestCoastGroove.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. A CD well worth looking out for is the latest from Mark Carter. West Coast Groove is the second release from this Southern California based guitarist and follows his 2001 debut, About Time.

In over twenty five years of performing Mark has worked with Dave Koz, Eric Marienthal, Al Jarreau, Rogers Williams, The Drifters, The Coasters, and Engelbert Humperdink to name only a few. He has played countless venues and worked numerous studio sessions yet now, as a full fledged recording artist, he is really moving to center stage. West Coast Groove is a tightly produced set of tracks with a distinctly R & B feel. He is joined on ‘Party On The Pier’ and ‘Walk The Walk’ by Rippingtons sax man Eric Marienthal but it says a lot for the overall quality of the album that the real standouts are elsewhere. Track #6, ‘Santa Monica Sunset’ is, as the title would suggest, relaxed, dreamy and something to savor. Track #9, ‘Night N2 Day’, starts off gently then, with the help of Tim Redfield’s haunting keyboards, hits a loping hypnotic beat into which Carter weaves a smooth rhythm. Finally, on track #10, Carter produces a beautiful cover of the song that made Norah Jones, ‘Don’t Know Why.’ All in all it’s a well crafted collection that deserves to add to Mark Carters quickly growing stature.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:55 AM

February 16, 2005

Warren Hill - Pop Jazz

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Organizing a Smooth Jazz cruise on the one hand, and playing bass as part of the Dave Koz Christmas tour on the other, may not sound like ideal circumstances in which to pull together Warrens Hills tenth CD, and his first since 2002, but that was exactly the situations that Warren Hill and producer Andre Berry found themselves in through December of 2004 and early January 2005.

They had got the majority of the tracks down before Berry left to honor his commitment to Dave Koz and the Christmas tour but much of the final production was done by Berry, in the back of the tour bus, on Apple laptop and mini keyboard, as the Koz show hopped from city to city. Back home in Los Angeles during the first week in January, and with a deadline to have a pre release version ready for the time the cruise sailed, Berry worked with Hill to add the final touches.

The result is the twelve tracks of the new CD, ‘Pop Jazz’, the majority of which remain un-named. The collection was presented as a pre release gift to each and every one of the 1800 fans that traveled with the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 (WHSJC).

When ‘Pop Jazz’ finally hits the record stores later this year, listeners will be treated to a tight and eclectic smooth jazz collection that promises to re-establish Warren Hill as a major player in the genre. Hill’s powerful style is always in evidence and Berry’s production adds the expected funky edge that prevents the recording from ever becoming bland.

Sought after bass player and Warren Hill touring band regular Andre Berry originates from the funk capital of the universe, Ohio. His playing and producing credits include work with such artists as Rick Braun, Chris Standring, Jeff Golub and Tom Scott. As a kid growing up in Cleveland he started writing and producing music with a school friend in a space above his parent’s garage. Of the funk roots that run deep right throughout the state of Ohio, and through him too, he recalls being in a record store and picking up an LP by the legendary funkster Bootsy Collins. On it Collins was depicted astride a motor cycle with a guitar slung behind his back. One look at that picture convinced Andre that he just had to be in the music business. During the week of the WHSJC he shared duties as backing band bass player with Michael Manson and his contribution, especially as part of the set played by Dave Koz in St Thomas, was outstanding.

As many know, Warren Hill grew up in Toronto, Canada and started to play sax at the age of eleven. A summer in New York studying jazz at the Eastman School of Music brought him into contact with the music of David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Grover Washington Jr., Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane and from there he was hooked. He did have a brief departure from music when, after high school, he studied physics at the University of Toronto but after only a year there Hill enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Following his graduation performance, Hill was approached backstage by producer Russ Titleman with an offer to play on Chaka Khan's record, ‘Baby Me’, a project that also included Stevie Wonder, Prince, Miles Davis, and Dave Grusin. Hill moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and within six months the president of Atlantic Records had signed him to a record deal. He caught the attention of Natalie Cole and, as a result, was invited to open as part of her ‘Unforgettable’ tour. Getting his solo career on track, Hill played ‘The Passion Theme’ on the 1993 Body of Evidence soundtrack. It reached #1 in the NAC chart and earned him appearances on The Tonight Show and The Arsenio Hall Show. Throughout the subsequent decade he has continued to perform and record and now, with the establishment of smooth jazz cruising in the musical calendar, is carving out a whole new niche for himself.

Warren Hill played both the early and late shows of the WHSJC last night finale and included a good sampling of the tracks from ‘Pop Jazz’ in the set. Among the as yet un-named selections were the excellent provisionally titled ‘Toronto’ and ‘Still In Love’, a tune dedicated to his wife Tamara. Full of Andre Berry production influences and Warren Hills powerful playing was the raucous cover of ‘Play That Funky Music’, originally a smash in 1976 for those one hit wonders Wild Cherry.

The end of Hill’s show signaled the end of an incredible week of music. It was appropriate that the eleven principle artists still on board, together with all the backing musicians, joined him on stage to play out with a moving version of ‘Hey Jude.’ Even the ocean, rough at times through the week, seemed to fall calm as the M/S Zuiderdam sailed steadily through the dark night toward Fort Lauderdale. The audience, who had been singing the whole week, raised their voices one more time.

Read more about the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 right here in the coming days and weeks.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite ‘Smooth Soul Survivor’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:21 PM

February 10, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Roger Smith Recovering From Cancer

Readers of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another snapshot from the adult contemporary scene. The Secret Garden was alarmed to hear that Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith, a run away success in 2004 with his solo CD Just Enough, underwent surgery for Prostate Cancer in early January.

Good news is that everything went well and Roger is enjoying rest and recovery. Although not touring with the band right now he does plan to return in mid-April. In the interim, and starting with a series of gigs that the band is scheduled to play in Japan, Mike Finnegan will be filling in for him.

Roger should therefore be back well before June 16 when Tower of Power take to the stage in Victoria BC, the first date of a big venue, 22 city tour with Tom Jones.

Check out the Secret Garden archives for the feature on Roger Smith that appeared in September 2004. Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:38 PM

February 5, 2005

Wayman Tisdale - Bringing Back The Old School

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

No man better spans the divide or better makes the connection between ‘Old School’ soul and Smooth Jazz than bass supremo and former NBA star Wayman Tisdale. His latest release Hang Time is testimony to that and nowhere was it better demonstrated than the opening night late show of the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 (WHSJC). For an audience of a certain age, revved up with the anticipation of seven days wall to wall music and all ready to party, Wayman Tisdale was, as they say, just what the doctor ordered.

WaymanTisdale_live.jpgAs he opened with track #1 from his latest release Hang Time, the aptly titled ‘Ready To Hang’, the audience were immediately where he wanted them to be, right in the groove. He tested out their old school credentials by sending out the opening of ‘Joy and Pain’ only to have them holler back ‘Like Sunshine And Rain’ with only the slightest encouragement. He started them off with the chant from the Gap Bands ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ and it came reverberating back with passion. Having got the crowd all checked out and warmed up he kicked right in to the Smokey Robinson classic ‘Cruisin’, also from Hang Time, and audience participation was guaranteed.

Tisdale was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he still lives with his wife Regina and their four children. Like his life, his music is based on his faith, having discovered the bass guitar while watching the bass players in his hometown church where his father, the late Rev. Louis Tisdale, was a minister. Subsequently his father bought him a kids guitar with which he began to teach himself to play and he hasn’t stopped playing since.

WaymanTisdale_sports.jpgAs many will know, Tisdale was a big star on the basketball court well before he was a star in Smooth Jazz and R & B. He played for the University of Oklahoma Sooners from 1983 to 1985 and was part of the gold medal winning US Olympic Team in 1984. OU handed him the ultimate accolade when he became the first basketball player to have his jersey, number 23, retired. On leaving college the Indiana Pacers selected Tisdale as the No. 2 pick in the draft, behind Patrick Ewing. That was in 1986 and for the next 12 years Tisdale graced the NBA with the Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. In his twelve year professional career he scored over 12,800 points and pulled down more than 5,000 rebounds. Wayman Tisdale still has links to the University of Oklahoma with the commentary he provides for the men’s team during the basketball season.

He retired from basketball in 1997 but well before that he had already started to make the transition toward a career in music. In 1995 he released his debut CD, the aptly named Power Forward. It went to #4 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts and made a successful crossover into the R&B charts.

It was a track from that first release, ‘Gabrielle’, a tune named after his daughter that was one of the high points of Tisdale’s performance on the WHSJC. He also dipped into his back catalog to reinforce the old school vibe with the Isley Brothers ‘Summer Breeze’, taken from his 1996 release In The Zone. When he reprised this number as part of his Thursday matinee show, Jeff Golub joined him on stage to play guitar.

Unexpected collaborations between the artists created many memorable moments during the WHSJC and none more so than during Tisdale's final number of the show, the McFadden and Whitehead classic, and track #4 from Hang Time, ‘Ain't No Stoppin Us Now’. 60 minutes into the show, and with the audience in a near frenzy, it was just perfect for the occasion. When it seemed it just couldn’t get any better up stepped Jonathan Butler to add vocals in what turned out to be an exhilarating guest appearance. Just at that moment, with the cream of today’s smooth jazz artists on board, and 1800 passionate fans there to groove with them, ‘Ain't No Stoppin Us Now’ became the anthem for the entire week, a vibe, an expression that typified not just what the WHSJC was all about but what the fans were about too. Seven days that exuded a passion for the music so tangible it sent shivers down the spine.

Read more about the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 right here in the coming days and weeks.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:27 PM

February 3, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Signs Of Rain

TheSecretTomorrowSignsOfRai.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet delivers another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. In the Secret Garden CD player this week is the latest release from the band Signs Of Rain, described as an ‘original smooth jazz outfit that boasts the ambient and cinematic sound of New Age’. Be that as it may, the eleven tracks that make up The Secret Sorrow is essential relaxation music for the busy world in which we live.

Guitarists, long time friends and now brothers in law Glenn Dagrossa and Ronald Porcelli founded Signs Of Rain in 1999 and released their first CD August Night Autumn Sky in 2001. One track from the CD, ‘Song Corazon de Leon’ became the official theme song to WKRQ's Miami Latin Jazz show and the single, ‘Il Mare Chiara’ enjoyed extensive airplay. After a break the band reformed in 2002 and immediately set to work on a follow up release, a project that became The Secret Sorrow. It was released in April 2004 to a packed house at New York Central Park's Tavern on the Green. Since that time the Westchester County based band have been promoting their music right across the USA and are currently mid way through a North East tour of Borders Books.

Next time you feel the need to escape the rigors of the working week, put on some coffee, spread the Sunday papers over the floor and slip The Secret Sorrow into the player. You will be transported.

For more on Signs Of Rain and updated tour dates go to www.signsofrain.com. Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:01 PM

January 28, 2005

Euge In The Groove

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Some artists in the field of pop are strictly studio creations. They ramp up the record sales but when it comes to performing live they just can’t cut it. Smooth jazz performers tend not to be like that. Their backgrounds typically mean that they were performing to audiences well before their first record deals were ever thought of. Consequently live performances tend to add to their stature rather than detract from it. Pre-eminate in this is ex Tower of Power horn player Euge Groove who was an absolute sensation throughout the week of the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise (WHSJC) 2005.

Euge just seems to have it all. A radio ready sound from the production genius of Paul Brown, three successful albums to date, another one on the way, high profile touring engagements with some of the icons of modern pop and a unique ability to connect with his audience.

EugeGroove_cruise04.jpgIt didn’t take long on board the MS Zuiderdam for Euge Groove to make his mark. Mid way through Peter White's set, during the second evening late show, he joined White to play along on ‘Turn It Out’, the track on which he also appears on Whites 2001 CD Glow. His appearance was sensational. As those who have seen him live before will know, Euge doesn’t just walk on stage, he is welcomed like a gladiator by his fans who yell out his hallmark ‘Euuuuuuuuge’ at first sight. Euge starts to play, waves one arm in the air and immediately the entire audience are waving their arms in the air. He simply sets the place alight and that was exactly what he did playing in front of WHSJC enthusiasts who were really up for a party.

So, how did all this happen? Steven Eugene Grove, aka Euge Groove, began playing piano in the second grade and turned to the saxophone at the age of nine or ten. His teacher gave him a classical education on the instrument, which he followed at the University of Miami’s School of Music. It was at this time that he cultivated an interest in jazz. After graduation, he initially remained in Miami where he did session work and played in bands such as Expose. He can be heard on the group’s #1 1987 single ‘Seasons Change’.

He then moved to Los Angeles. A roommate during his early time there was James Slater and together they co-wrote a song, ‘Hearts On Fire’ that caught the attention of Richard Elliot who included it on his release Power Of Suggestion. When Elliot moved on from his spell with Tower of Power he recommended Grove as his replacement. He remained with them for about four years while continuing to tour with various major acts.

Following this experience, he freelanced, reverting to session work and providing backing for such artists as Joe Cocker, The Eurythmics, The Gap Band, Huey Lewis and the News, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt and Aaron Neville. In 1991 he appeared on Richard Marx’s top 20 pop and #1 adult contemporary hit ‘Keep Coming Back’. It is interesting to note that Grove succeeded Dave Koz as the saxophonist in Marx’s touring band.

EugeGroove_cruise04_2.jpgIt was at the end of the nineties that Grove developed the persona of Euge Groove. He had struck up a writing and producing partnership with Mike Egizi and together they compiled a set of tracks. At first they experienced real difficulty generating any interest from record companies and sought the help of Paul Brown. He was interested but fully committed to other projects. In the interim period Euge Groove decided to go for it and launch his music via mp3.com. This approach took off in a major way and, as he peeked at 2000 hits a day, climbed to number one in the site’s jazz chart and number six in the entire site, Paul Brown finally became available.

Brown mixed eight tracks and offered them up to the industry. Warner Jazz quickly picked up on the project and a deal was signed. His debut album on Warner Bros. Records, in May 2000, was Euge Groove. When Euge stepped out for the WHSJC Tuesday show, with the ship anchored in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, partly as a scheduled stop and partly to facilitate the arrival and departure of Dave Koz who flew in to play the show, it was a track from that first album that he played, ‘Another Sad Love Song’, the Babyface / Simmons composition that was a huge hit for Toni Braxton in 1993. Predictably it got the crowd all singing along. The year 2000 also found Euge touring with Tina Turner’s backing band. His second album, Playdate, followed in 2002.

Euge Grooves main slot on the WHSJC was the late show on the Monday and the early show on the Thursday where he majored on selections from Playdate and his latest album to date, the 2004 Livin Large. This latter release was a standout of the year with a faultless line up of tracks. Still he was not done and when Rick Braun finally made it off his sickbed to play the Friday night late show there was Euge Groove once more to duet with him on the Bill Withers classic ‘Use Me’. As they had been throughout the week, whenever Euge walked on stage, the audience were singing all over again.

To make the WHSJC, Euge Groove had actually taken a break from touring with Joe Cocker. That break was a short one as only two days after arrival back in Fort Lauderdale he was on the road again, this time in Tallahassee, FL, with the Joe Cocker Heart & Soul Tour where he opens the show and performs with Cocker. That tour will play thirty more dates between then and March 19 when it concludes at the Orleans, in Las Vegas NV. With the stage presence that Euge Groove possesses he will always be in demand on the live stage.

Read more about the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 right here in the coming days and weeks.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite ‘Smooth Soul Survivor’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Read more about the cruise at smooth-jazz.de.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:57 PM

January 24, 2005

Paul Brown's Deep Sea Rescue

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Imagine the scene. It’s Wednesday January 19 and the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 (WHSJC) has just left Tortola, British Virgin Islands on the next leg of its journey to Nassau, Bahamas. Norman Brown and Peter White are already sharing the billing on the early evening show and Oleta Adams and Rick Braun are lined up to appear later. But there’s a problem. Rick Braun is laid low in his cabin, struck down with the sea sickness that has haunted him all week. He wants to perform but simply can’t.

PaulBrown.jpgThis was the scenario that was playing out when the event organizers turned to a performer who was about to get them out of trouble yet again. The first time had been a few weeks earlier when Marc Antoine, home in Spain and afflicted by a neck injury, found he would be unable to travel and take his place with the other twelve confirmed artists for the WHSJC. They called Paul Brown, the man with a veritable string of production credits that includes Boney James, Euge Groove, Peter White among many others and who is perhaps most responsible for the way that smooth jazz sounds today. But they didn’t call on him as a producer. They needed the new look Paul Brown who, with his run away debut release Up Front, was one of the smooth jazz success stories of 2004. He joined the ship and then, with Rick Braun indisposed, responded to the call and, at extremely short notice, played his set that had originally been scheduled for Friday.

Brown followed Oleta Adams who, by this time, was turning out to be one of the major delights of the entire week with her incredible vocals, sparky personality and huge stage presence. It was a hard act to follow and when he started out with ‘West Coast Swing’ it seemed the occasion might be too much and, as a result, he seemed just a little ragged around the edges. Thankfully he quickly found his stride and his groove as he regaled the audience with a selection from the Up Front CD. Memorable among these was ‘My Funny Valentine’ with a spine chilling solo on muted trumpet from Don Harris who, by this stage of the week, was growing in stature and confidence. Don, together with his brother Bill are the Harris Brothers who worked as the house horn section for the nine principal shows that formed the center piece of the cruise. They got better and better as the week went on.

The audience warmed to Brown a little more slowly than had been the case with some of his fellow performers but warm to him they did as they began to enjoy his between tune banter and his dry sense of humor.

Warren Hill, on the day on which he renewed his wedding vows of ten years to his wife Tamara, came out to duet with Brown then Euge Groove entered to his usual tumultuous audience acclaim to do the same. Euge also took time out to pay tribute to Brown and the contribution he has made to his success, landing him his first record deal and producing what will soon be all four of his CD’s to date.

Paul continued with two, as yet not fully named, selections from his up coming second CD. One track, provisionally titled ‘Las Vegas’, brim full with many Paul Brown production hallmarks, promised much. Another, with no title, but described by Brown himself as a ‘kind of Jefferson Airplane / San Francisco kind of a groove’, might just turn out to be one of the big hits of smooth jazz in 2005. Perhaps under the circumstances he could do worse than to name the song ‘Deep Sea Rescue’.

Overall he was excellent and the glimpses he gave of what is in the pipeline made a conclusive statement that Paul Brown will be no smooth jazz one CD wonder.

As a footnote it should be said that Rick Braun did finally recover and was able to play his set to the late audience as part of the Friday show.

Read more about the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 right here in the coming days and weeks.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite ‘Smooth Soul Survivor’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:44 PM

January 12, 2005

Secret Garden Snippet - Dave Koz All At Sea

Readers of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet brings another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. Dropping into the Secret Garden mailbox this week was news that Dave Koz will be smooth jazz cruising this year. His Dave Koz & Friends At Sea show will depart from San Diego on November 5 2005 on the Holland America Lines cruise ship Oosterdam for seven days sailing to the Mexican ports of Mazatlan, Cabo San Luca and Puerto Vallarta. His line up of special guest artists will be announced shortly on his website www.davekozcruise.com

In fact Dave is warming up for the cruise in the near future. He has been booked as an additional special guest for the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale this very week. He will play two back to back gigs on the evening of January 18 aboard the Holland America Lines cruise ship the Zuiderdam while in port at St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. This show was originally scheduled as an outdoor event on the island for the same night but was moved onto the ship as part of a last minute change.

Dave joins a host of smooth jazz stars in St Thomas including Peter White, Euge Groove, Kim Waters, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Jeff Golub, Jonathan Butler, Wayman Tisdale, Warren Hill and Oleta Adams.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:39 PM

January 10, 2005

Just MichauX

MichauX.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

White soul doesn’t come by everyday and when it does it tends to disappoint. However this is not the case with the latest project from Texas based MichauX (pronounced Mi-show). His soulful, funky, R&B sound that has been compared in vocal style to Maxwell, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and The Isley Brothers delivers a mixture of modern R&B and funky 70’s soul on his interesting eleven track release, Just MichauX.

Backed by fourteen musicians from the Austin area the multi-talented MichauX produced, arranged, performed, recorded and mixed this debut album in his own professional project recording studio in Bastrop, TX. He also wrote most of the music. It was mastered by Tom Coyne at Sterling Studios New York, NY.

The album opens with the smooth soul ‘All I Need’. It has the same laid back yet compelling groove running through it that proves to be the hallmark of the entire collection and vocal inflections that immediately evoke the sound of Ronald Isley. Track #2, ‘Hey Girl / Hey Playa’ flirts with urban hip hop, has a rap intro and an anxious beat yet still manages to incorporate MichauX’s smooth vocals. The same relaxed yet infectious urban grooves are evident on track #3, ‘Anything’, and when we reach the next track we gather a true insight into the theme and the message of the entire recording.

MichauXJustMichauX.jpgFour of the eleven tracks, starting with ‘Toni’ and following on with ‘He Paid It All’, ‘Love You The Right Way’ and ‘Necessary Truth’ are all overtly religious songs and it will remain to be seen if this aspect of MichauX’s music alienates him to the extent that he is prevented from making the true commercial breakthrough that his sound deserves. His own promotional material makes a solid stand on this describing him as ‘taking a very honest approach to songwriting and tackling tough issues that face our generation.’ It goes on to say that ‘the music carries a positive message in a language that anyone can relate to. He connects with today’s generation in a very personal way, sharing his own life experience and how he overcame many obstacles. He boldly presses forward unafraid to disturb the ‘sacred cows’ of mixing traditionally spiritual messages with a decidedly ‘secular’ medium, claiming the necessity to reach those who would otherwise not hear this message.’

When asked where his inspiration comes from he says, ‘what motivates me is working with ‘at risk’ youth. I want to bring them a positive message of hope that will help keep them in school, away from drugs and a life of crime. Knowing their lives are being affected by the message in the music is the highest achievement. In this post 9/11 age, we are focusing more on spiritual growth, an introspective look at our lifestyle, and what is truly important. The record stimulates this kind of thinking. We need much more than the shallowness of ‘booty shaking’ R&B but we still want to feel the rhythm, to love, move, and be stirred by the soul of great music. You can also sing about love without being obscene or trashy. It is a beautiful thing between married couples who love each other unconditionally.’

MichauX was the Director of Sound at Bastrop Christian Outreach Center, the largest church in Bastrop County, and served as a worship leader for Sunday morning services and special events. Since the beginning of 2002 he has been a volunteer Chaplain for the Texas Youth Commission, a State Juvenile Corrections Agency. He has used this position to set up a powerful halfway house ministry for teenage young men through weekly bible studies and monthly musical concerts with various Christian artists. He also gives the youth a chance to show their skills by hosting freestyle rap contests.

Potential listeners should not be turned off by the religious positioning of much of the recording. After all it worked for the Staple Singers. The vibe is compelling throughout and with track #8 ‘Resti 2 tion’ he works in a great piece of funk and R & B. In fact MichauX reprises this with track #10, ‘Payment’, that revisits the riff threaded through ‘Resti 2 tion’ and, with the exception of a cool background vocal, turns it into a nice play out instrumental.

MichauX states his ultimate goal is to work full time with youth in halfway houses and prisons all over the world. He cites the quantity of negative music and images that bombards our youth today as a driver for him to provide an alternative positive message. This being the case he may well have some tough decisions coming up. He has already caught the eye of promoter, Malika Smith, of Club Praize Magazine who sent him to perform for ‘Showtime at the Apollo’ in New York City. This in turn led to the chance to open for award wining Gospel group, Trin-i-tee 5:7. If, the beat, pace, and rhythm of the music that MichauX has created with Just MichauX begins to take off then his career could well be moving in a whole new direction.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 9:45 AM

December 26, 2004

Jamie Bonk - My World

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

New on The Secret Garden’s horizons this time around is a thoroughly enjoyable new release from Toronto based guitarist / composer Jamie Bonk.

jamiebonk3.jpgMy World is his third release, has been three years in the making and is a piece of work that he considers to be his most collaborative to date. His recording history started back in 1997 when his self-tiled debut album was released in Canada and the following year in the USA. It was voted the New Age Voice (NAV) Radio Album Of The Year in 1999 and remains as NAV’s Airwaves Top 100 longest charting CD. Its eighteen-month stay on the charts was almost seven months longer than the previous record holder Loreena McKennitt with her Book Of Secrets release.

Frequent travelers in Canada and North America may be more familiar with Jamie’s music than they think. Both Jamie Bonk and his second release, A Perfect Tomorrow, have been played as part of many in flight audio programs with participating airlines including Asiana, TWA, US Airways, America West, American and Canadian. Air Canada used Jamie Bonk in its entirety as boarding music through out 1998.

All this is a far cry from Queens University, which Jamie entered as a music composition student back in 1983. Perhaps Jamie’s most influential teacher at Queens was composition professor Bruce Pennycook who enabled him to experiment with first generation MIDI sequencers, samplers and synthesizers. It was in 1986, while still at Queens that Bonk won the silver medal in the electro acoustic category of the CAPAC competition. After graduation he started his musical career in Toronto where he played for local bands, played studio guitar, programmed for a multitude of album projects and even composed film scores for Heart Of The Forest for Lindrian Films and Brenda Longfellow’s Our Marilyn.

Throughout the 90’s Jamie was Associate Guitar Instructor at the Toronto Guitar Institute and combined this with the composition and production of corporate video soundtracks for companies such as Manulife and Cadillac Fairview.

Since 1997, and the formation, with his father, of Bonk Productions he has been producing, promoting and distributing his own special style of music. My World carries this journey on with eleven interesting tracks that are certain to find a place on the adult contemporary scene. The listener is immediately engaged by the extremely bright start that the title track makes. It’s a Latin flavored piece that displays a tight beat throughout and settles into an excellent melody. Track #2, ‘This Is It’ is of slower tempo, incorporates production of a quality that prevents the strong back beat from becoming overpowering and really builds to a climax. The first vocal contribution is heard on track #4 with Ron Scott doing the honors on ‘If This Is Love’, a rock ballad with good lyrics and nice overall feel that deserves to make it a winner.

‘Looking In’ (#5), and ‘What I Never Said’ (#9) are what can be classed as routine pieces of smooth jazz guitar but are none the worse for it. ‘Wiggle’ is at #6 and that’s just what Bonk does with deft playing on what is an out and out feel good number while the lower key ‘Third Time’ has nostalgia running right through it, an evocation of something lost, or perhaps something rediscovered.

Ron Scott features again on track #8 with a cover of ‘Nights On Broadway’, which is fine, but then again there will only ever one Bee Gees. ‘Centre Tone’, an up temp jazz flavored tune, features another vocal, this time by Shelley Hamilton, while the album closes out with ‘Waiting For Winter’, a sleepy sitting by the fire side piece that leaves a warm feeling inside.

In 2003 Jamie became a contributing editor for NewAgeReporter.com. His artist-to-artist conversation series has featured many top name artists in the contemporary instrumental genre. It’s a long hard climb in the ultra competitive environment of smooth jazz guitar to get up there with those leading stars. With My World Jamie Bonk is staking a claim to his very own place in the top flight.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this latest edition of Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:10 PM

December 22, 2004

Secret Garden Snippet - Andre Ward Lending A Hand At Christmas

AndreWard_bw.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet brings another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time we have news from New York, NY that smooth jazz man Andre Ward, who was The Secret Garden featured artist in August this year, will take part in the ‘closing day’ that has been an annual charity tradition in Boston, MA since 1956.

Globe Santa is local newspaper The Boston Globe's annual appeal for needy children in Greater Boston. The Globe Santa Fund collects donations from readers and advertisers to purchase holiday gifts for underprivileged children. The Globe pays administrative costs, and provides space in the newspaper during the holiday season, for stories to be written about family needs and to publish the names of people who donate. In recent years Globe Santa has received more than $1 million dollars in annual contributions. The program helps brighten the holiday season for more than 27,000 families and 57,000 children in 130 communities.

Andre will appear at the Globe Santa Sleigh at Faneuil Hall at noon on December 23. ‘I look forward to being a Globe Santa Helper, so to speak, and meeting and greeting those who are giving to the children as well as meeting some of the children themselves,’ says Andre whose current album, Steppin' Up, rose to #6 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Charts. ‘Boston is my home and whatever I can do to help our community, I will do.’

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:36 AM

December 16, 2004

Freddie Jackson - Back On The Block

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Latest news out of New York is that R&B legend Freddie Jackson has reunited with the management team who were responsible for launching his career. Charles and Beau Huggins established Freddie amongst the R&B elite of the '80's, a position from which he dominated the airwaves with the most #1 Urban chart singles of that era.

FreddieJackson.jpgThe forte of Freddie Jackson was sophisticated, romantic soul ballads aimed at adult audiences, but he was also capable of tackling urban contemporary dance numbers and even the occasional jazz tune. Yet, unlike many of his peers, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and Peabo Bryson included, Jackson never managed to cross over to the pop charts where none of his R&B smashes even breached the Top Ten. During the 90’s, as new trends like hip-hop impacted the urban contemporary landscape, Jackson gradually faded from view.

Jackson was born October 2, 1956, in Harlem. He was trained as a gospel singer and, from an early age, sang at the White Rock Baptist Church. There he met Paul Laurence who later became his producer and songwriting partner. After completing school, Jackson joined Laurence's group, LJE, (Laurence Jones Ensemble), and, in addition, played the New York club scene. By the early '80s, Jackson had moved to the West Coast and, for a time, was lead singer with the R&B band Mystic Merlin. However, he returned to New York to work with Laurence at the Hush Productions company where he sang on demo recordings of Laurence’s compositions. Melba Moore happened to see his nightclub act and promptly recruited him as a backup singer.

Freddie had eleven #1 singles on the Billboard charts, a chain of events that started in 1985 when he landed a record deal with Capitol and issued the debut album, Rock Me Tonight. It sold four million copies, garnered the Laurence composed single of the same name and stayed at #1 for six weeks. Significantly it also set him up for a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

Freddie was quickly back to #1 with the follow up single, ‘You Are My Lady’ a recording that proved to be his highest-charting single on the pop charts, peaking at number 13. Jackson wasted no time in following up on his new found success. ‘Just Like The First Time’ appeared in 1986 hot on the heels of ‘A Little Bit More’, a number one R&B duet with Melba Moore that was taken from her album A Lot Of Love. ‘Tasty Love’, ‘Have You Ever Loved Somebody’, and ‘Jam Tonight’ all hit number one, while ‘I Don't Want to Lose Your Love’ went to number two.

The title track of 1990's Do Me Again took him back to the top of the R & B charts, and ‘Main Course’ just missed, topping out at number two. Even so, Jackson's early placings in the lower reaches of the pop Top 40 had long since disappeared and some critics commented that his albums were becoming too similar. Perhaps it was this lack of distinctiveness in his material that hurt Jackson's chances for that all-important pop breakthrough. His 1992 release Time For Love, that included the hit cover of the Billy Paul classic ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’, still failed to duplicate the crossover success that Luther Vandross was belatedly enjoying.

Jackson went on to have 30 charted singles, winning an American Music Award in 1988 for ‘Nice and Slow’, a track lifted from his platinum selling album, Don't Let Love Slip Away.

Seeking a new beginning, Jackson left Capitol in late 1993, and signed with RCA. His label debut, Here It Is, appeared the following year, with diminished commercial returns. This, in part, was possibly due to the fact that his straightforwardly romantic ballad style was increasingly out of step with the sexually explicit new breed of R&B. Following a Christmas album, Jackson split with RCA and, in 1995, recorded Private Party for the much smaller Street Life label. Several years of silence ensued, until Orpheus issued Life After 30 in late 1999. The equally low-key release Live in Concert followed in 2000.

Now at the end of 2004, with a resurgence in the market for smooth romantic soul, the timely reuniting of Freddie Jackson with the Huggins will lead him to a new album in 2005. Not only that, he will team up with long term mentor Melba Moore when the two of them take the stage to perform a duet at the Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York on December 22. Tony Award winning Moore has always been proud of her protégé and the duet with Freddie, as part of her Fisher Hall concert, promises to be memorable on all sorts of levels. Renewed success could be just around the corner.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 1:06 PM

December 2, 2004

Secret Garden Snippet - Larry White

Readers of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this Secret Garden Snippet carries another sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. Breaking news has it that Larry White's album Unsolicited Material, featured in an August 2004 offering of The Secret Garden, has been nominated for a Grammy Award.

This is just recognition for a recording that was described in these pages as one of the best of 2004, right up there with Peter White's Confidential, Freeman Benoit Project 2 and Pure from Boney James. Check out Larry at www.larrywhite.com and don’t forget you heard it first from The Secret Garden.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:40 AM

November 30, 2004

Jennifer Johns - Redefining A Genre

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Innovative, driven, compassionate, and powerful are all words that have been used by publicists and critics alike to describe Oakland, CA born singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist Jennifer Johns. Now, with the release of her album Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop, the listening public is getting the chance to have an opinion too. That might in fact be the problem as those people, who tend to buy records not only on commendation but also on impulse and instinct, may dismiss this CD on the basis of the title alone. Yet those who choose to do so will really be missing a musical experience from an artist who knows where she is going but has yet to signpost that direction through effective marketing.

JenniferJohns.jpgSince birth, Jennifer has been making this world, in her words, ‘just a little bit more melodic’ with her some times boisterous, some times soft, but always powerful voice. If you were to ask her when she started singing she would say, ‘I don't remember a day that I didn't.’ Her first experience on stage was at church at the tender age of 3 and she hasn't really stopped performing since then. Growing up she gained her influences from Earth, Wind and Fire, Phoebe Snow, and Sade, through to Paul Simon and Whitney Houston. All these and more plus distinctive West Indian rhythms filled her home as a youngster. And then there was hip-hop.....

Jennifer says it was somewhere between Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh's ‘The Show’, Rakim's ‘Know What's on Your Mind’, and Queen Latifah's ‘Ladies First’ that she first fell in love with hip-hop music. She sums this up when she says ‘just as I am music, I am hip hop’. At 13 Jennifer pursued her love of music by joining the award winning Oakland Youth Chorus where she studied music in numerous languages under the tutelage of nationally revered conductors Trente Morante, Elizabeth Seja Minn, and Grammy nominee Melonie DeMore. Performing with the OYC's professional a capella ensemble, Vocal Motion, Jennifer got the chance to work and perform with such musical luminaries as Nancy Wilson, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Melissa Manchester, and James Ingram.

At 17, Jennifer began to look deeper into a professional career in music and began performing locally in Oakland. Three years later she decided it was time to move to Los Angeles where she quickly built a name for herself and began recording with Goodvibe Recordings artists The Anonymous and BIG DRO.

During her time in Los Angeles, Jennifer became a member of both SAG and AFTRA, securing voiceover work for commercials with the LA Weekly, Macy's, and Pacific Bell. She also stayed busy building the entertainment and media company Pure Love that she founded in 2001. It produced live music and spoken word events that quickly became a staple in the rapidly growing Los Angeles spoken-soul community. In 2003, having built her fan base through Pure Love, Jennifer made the decision to isolate herself in Seattle to record songs for the upcoming project, Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop.

Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop is co-produced by Grammy nominee Spontaneous and on her own label, Nayo Movement Music. Her publicity suggests that Jennifer is set to give the world a taste of her ‘Electric Soul.’, stating that ‘listeners can expect some of what you love about Sade, a lot of what we needed from Lauryn, the warmth and conversational energy of Jill and the mystery of Dido.’ That’s quite a build up but how does it play out in reality?

JenniferJohns2.jpgFirst impressions confirm preconceptions formulated through the title with ‘Heavy’ a track stripped down to the basics of drum and bass with an underlining beat that seems to come all the way from Marakesh but then comes track #2 and everything changes. Rap, or spoken word music using a telephone conversation as its centrepiece is not new. One only needs to go back to Judie Clay and William Bell's ‘Private Number’ or the smooth sax version of the outstanding ‘What Becomes Of A Broken Heart’ by RJ’s Latest Arrival to confirm this. However with ‘Do You Believe In Love’ we find an exquisitely poetic rap from Johns that really tells a story and lives in the memory.

Track #3 is different again and really begins to confirm that Jennifer Johns has the ability to transcend traditional genre definitions. The haunting ‘Beautiful’ is reminiscent of an old Miracles number with ‘Swept By You’ from the 1966 Away We a Go-Go album seemingly in there somewhere. This haunting quality is retained in the next track ‘Fallen’ but this time with the injection of a background with a real jungle feel. This jungle flavor reoccurs on track #6 ‘The Truth’ where Johns is found at her melodic best and track #9 ‘Fire’, a number that suffers through over production.

Two gems are ‘Never Give Up’, a truly outstanding piece of mid temp R & B and ‘Cherish The Day’ a competent cover of the cut from Sade’s album Love Deluxe.

Finally on the album is that strangest of modern music phenomena, the ‘hidden track’. Buried deep within the recording, and identified as track #24, ‘Afraid Of Me’, features Ayinde Howell and is a fantastic example of deep R & B. Its sexy, sensuous rap and minimalistic production, all held together with a solid bass line is quite simply too good to be hidden away.

Heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop is an interesting showcase for the talents of Jennifer Johns. What is now crucial to her success will be the musical direction she opts to take. There might well be an opening for a new Sade or for a fresh voice on the contemporary soul scene. Whatever route Jennifer Johns chooses to take she is an artist who is likely to be with us for some time to come.

Recently, Jennifer has performed around the USA with artists such as Common, KRS-1, De La Soul, John Legend, Medusa, Gift of Gab, Souls of Mischief, and Mystic. In addition Ms. Johns just spent her summer on a 6 week tour through Europe with Blackalicious.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:33 PM

November 15, 2004

Secret Garden Snippet - Fernanda Cunha

fernandacunha_doiscoracoes.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this latest Secret Garden Snippet brings another current sound bite from the adult contemporary scene. This time we have news of a new release from Brazilian vocalist Fernanda Cunha (www.fernandacunha.com.br).

A tribute album to the compositions of Sueli Costa and Johnny Alf, Dois Coracoes (‘Two Hearts’) is a late night moody collection for lovers that sees Cunha weave her vocal magic. She is right up there as a worthy contemporary of Brazilian music notables Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto and if we needed further proof, post Gilberto, that music is an international language then this is the confirmation that we seek. It’s the sounds of the words, not their meaning in Portuguese, that holds the listener and makes this a very atmospheric piece of work.

This is the second album for Fernanda Cunha, the niece of Sueli Costa and daughter of singer Telma Costa. Her first release, O Tempo E O Lugar, was recorded June 2002 in Cleveland Ohio. She is now based in Rio De Janerio where she is busy performing with her quartet and promoting the album. Catch her in Belo Horizonte on November 12 and in Rio on November 19. Come January 2005 she can be found at Mistura Fina in Rio (www.misturafina.com.br), and in March 2005 she goes on the road for her first tour in Canada. See her at the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton on the 4th (www.yardbirdsuite.com).

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:38 PM

November 7, 2004

Allon Sams With Peter White In London

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Peter White No.1.jpgWhen the leaves start to fall in the parks of London and the days become ever shorter, when the waters of the Thames are swollen with autumn rain it can mean only one thing, that Peter White is back in town for his now regular October appearance at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho. This time he played five nights and seven shows at this most intimate and rare of venues and although ostensibly he was there to promote his latest CD release Confidential he brought so much more besides.

The Secret Garden caught the Thursday night show, the third of his run there and, as Peter explained, the set had already been changed somewhat by requests from the early audiences to play more of the ‘old stuff’ and not treat the event entirely as a showcase for the new album. He duly obliged and, in a performance that lasted in excess of two hours, presented us with the equivalent of the Peter White anthology, reaching back through the years for awesome musical memories while mixing it up with the best from Confidential. The quality was truly outstanding and bursting with energy throughout. Perhaps given the caliber of musicians assembled to play with him this was not surprising. With Acoustic Alchemy’s Frank Felix on bass and Ami Rothenberg on drums the foundation was brilliantly established. With DC based Jaared on sax and Florida’s own Allon Sams on keyboards the combination was truly outstanding.

coverConfidential is perhaps the smooth jazz CD of 2004. It has already produced incredible sales and radio play in the USA and as such has received acclaim from reviewers both on this site and elsewhere. Consequently the purpose here is not to critique Confidential one more time. Suffice to say, tracks from this most groove driven of releases gave White an excellent core of material with which to perform live and, as they say, really rock the joint. Memorable in this respect was track #2 ‘Talking Bout Love’ that was co-written by White, his producer Paul Brown and long time Boney James collaborator Rex Rideout. Just as good was #5 from the CD, ‘Are You Mine’, which on the recording features Mindi Abair. Here Jaared covered Abair’s part on sax with great style. Indeed Jaared played a considerable part in the proceedings throughout. When White played track #4 from the album, the Brenda Russell number ‘She’s In Love’, Jareed stepped up with the vocals sang on the recording by Christopher Cross and made a wonderful job of it. Jaared also contributed with his own ‘C’est La Vie’ from the recent compilation, Maximum Grooves Coast To Coast. Look out for a Secret Garden Snippet on Jaared soon.

When White widened the scope of his offerings beyond tracks from Confidential, Perfect Moment, ‘Midnight In Manhattan’ (with Jaared excelling on saxophone), ‘Who’s That Lady’ and ‘Caravan Of Dreams’ were all standouts on this most special of nights. This latter track was taken from White’s 1996 album of the same name, a recording that includes the cut ‘Together Again’, lifted from it as a single’ and co-written by Peter and Allon Sams. It marked a collaboration that would transcend their time together on tour. Indeed one of the highlights of this evening in London, in front of a packed Pizza Express audience, was the White – Sams composition ‘Time Alone’ from Allon's 2001 release A Place In Time.

Allon_Sams.jpgAllon Sams is little known to British audiences, yet A Place In Time is quite simply a fantastic record. Sams started life in the world of music playing the trumpet and french horn in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. He began to concentrate on keyboards and learned his craft traveling throughout the USA, the Caribbean, Jamaica and Mexico with cover bands as well as 3 months of solo performances on the very receptive Japanese circuit.

A graduate of Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts he moved to Los Angeles to take up an internship with Joe Zawinul that provided invaluable experience as a studio technician. He polished up his technical expertise as an engineer at studios such as Westlake Audio where he worked with Vanessa Williams, Michael Jackson, and Richard Marx among others. His urge to perform saw him start playing with local bands in the Los Angeles area. These included his own band as well as The Boxing Ghandis and a band comprised of former members of Tower of Power.

Once the music started, Allon found success recording jingles for radio, television and film trailers and album projects from record companies such as Def Jam where Allon played keyboards for Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It.

Perhaps his smooth jazz breakthrough came while working as an assistant engineer on an HBO film project. Allon met producer/engineer Paul Brown. It wasn’t long before Paul called on Allon to collaborate with artists such as, Boney James, David Sanborn, Doug Cameron, John Klemmer, Gabriela Anders and, of course Peter White. The desire to both start a family and create his own music led Allon to move back to his hometown of Tampa Bay where he continues to be based.

In 1998, and following rave reviews of his music from his loyal fans, he undertook to write, produce and release his debut album Bayshore. This he did without the assistance of an agent, a manager or a record company. It was released only in the Tampa area yet sold over 3000 copies in this small demographic. His next album A Place In Time began its marketing campaign in the summer of 2001 and moved Sams to a higher level. He wanted to share his music with a larger audience than had been exposed to Bayshore so lifted and remixed two of the tracks from it for the new album, ‘Dusk To Dawn’ and ‘Distant Rain’. These are two of many standouts. As well as the incredible ‘Time Alone’, which, by the way, can be found on the 2002 CD Sampler Vol. 5 from WSJT 94.1, he also collaborates with Peter White on the track ‘Feelin It’. Perhaps the real show stopper is ‘The Sun Will Shine’, voted by the much lamented ex Jazz FM presenter Steve Quirk as his number one pick for 2001. Quirk also added to the exposure this track got in the United Kingdom by including it on the Jazz FM smooth jazz compilation Dreamin’.

As well as fronting his own band and touring regularly with Peter White he has performed as an opening act for many artists including George Benson, Boney James, Rick Braun, Peter White, Regina Belle, Special EFX, Paul Taylor, Richard Elliot, Patti Austin and Najee. Now he is back with his new CD Music and Laughter which releases in mid November. Sams describes it as containing ‘some very funky new originals with only one slow jam on it’. He has added two new horn players, Mic Smith on trumpet and Bob Chisholm on trombone to his live band in order to compliment Gene Cannon on sax and give full justice to live renditions of tracks from the album.

His thriving Tampa studio, Studio A, specializes in producing original talent, background music tracks for live performers, talent competitions, music on hold and commercial jingles. In the pipeline are CD releases by Gene Cannon and TFOXX and an Artist Compilation CD project which features Peter White, Mike Scaglione, Les Sabler, Joe Ruiz and Allon Sams himself. Local Tampa songwriter Munir Doumet has written all of the songs on this project.

One way or another there is a lot going on for Allon Sams. He is already planning a UK tour for early in 2005 and the glimpse that the Pizza Express audience saw of him will make them hungry for more. Special thanks to Peter White for putting him there and for providing such a memorable Pizza Express experience.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 10:41 PM

November 1, 2004

Secret Garden Snippet - Vlad Hits The Charts

Vlad.jpgReaders of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, will know it’s the place to go for a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In order to bring you more of the news more of the time this new Secret Garden Snippet feature brings sound bites from the adult contemporary scene as they happen. This time news of Vlad.

Reported this week from New York, NY, Vlad's first single from his Vladosphere CD, ‘Little Star’, made its debut at #32 on the New Music Weekly Charts. It climbed in above other debut songs by such artists as Amy Grant, John Mayer and Ryan Cabbera. According to Masika Swain, associate editor at New Music Weekly Magazine: ‘Vlad has made quite an impact with 'Little Star.' A lot of people are talking about it and listening to it.’

His debut also coincides with his presence this week in Sound & Vision Magazine and Billboard Monitor. Look out for an in depth review of Vladosphere in an up coming edition of The Secret Garden.

Want to know more? Want to add a snippet of your own? E-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:05 PM

October 31, 2004

Gwen Laster - I Hear You Smiling

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

When one associates instruments with smooth and contemporary jazz, the normal starting point is the saxophone, both the guitar and keyboards loom large, the trumpet tends to make a cameo appearance and then that’s just about it. Well, that was then and this is now with an up and coming artist on the scene who is about to change all of that. Her name is Gwen Laster and she plays, of all things, the violin.

GwenLaster_bw.jpgThe violin is, of course, not completely new to jazz, hip-hop and R & B. For example Karen Briggs has featured on some outstanding pieces of work but with Gwen Laster, and her CD I Hear You Smiling, we now have a spectacular success in using the violin coupled with Laster’s own soulful vocals to capture the essence of smooth and sensuous rhythms.

In fact it could be said that Gwen Laster has led a double life. First the stunning contemporary jazz electric violinist who’s own group won the Cognac Hennessy Best of Detroit Jazz Search and the other, more sedate, Gwen Laster, who holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, and played the acoustic violin in the Dearborn and Warren Symphonies and has performed with the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. Gwen began her Classical training on violin in the public schools of Detroit and was surrounded by her mother’s love for blues, jazz and R&B. She was inspired through a progressive high school teacher who introduced her to the electric violin, improvisation, and recording sessions for artists’ whose music represented the Motown Sound.

Her relocation from Detroit to New York in 1993 expanded greatly to her performance experience. Credits from Broadway Shows have included Miss Saigon, Carousel, Beauty and the Beast and her opportunities have continued to flourish through television performances for Brian McKnight, Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Her discography has built impressively and includes appearances with Angie Stone on the track ‘Bottles and Cans’ from her Mahogany Soul release, Toni Braxton on the tracks ‘Ghost Trance’ and ‘Shala’, Patti LaBelle on ‘Crazy Love’ and Kyle Eastwood on his ‘Eastwood After Hours’.

Commenting on her work with Shaggy on the track ‘It Wasn’t Me’ from his album Hot Shot, she says, ‘recording with Shaggy and his co-producer Sting was spontaneous, refreshing yet specific and detail oriented about the melodic figures and lines they hear for the violin parts. I always felt free and relaxed when we were in the studio’.

She has also worked with Alicia Keys on The Diary of Alicia Keys and ‘Fallin’ from the soundtrack of the highly acclaimed movie Ali. ‘Alicia Keys is stunning in her interpretation of communicating how she wants the sound and timbre of the violin to be recorded’, says Laster, ‘she is centered, grounded and grateful for all the artists who contribute their music to her recordings’.

Gwen also finds time to teach privately at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights. Her string ensemble music Jazz and Pop Arrangements for Strings was released in June 2002. These arrangements were inspired through her work as former Director of Jazz Strings at the Harlem School of the Arts.

Her first CD, Sneak Preview, was a great piece of work comprising six very tight tracks. It was released in January 2000 and features Laster as violinist and vocalist. Produced by Damon Banks, musicians on the project include vocalist Karen Bernod plus instrumentalists Damon Banks, Carlton Holmes, Tony Lewis, Joe Scott, David Gilmore, Felix Sanabria and Abdou Mboup.

GwenLaster_HearYouSmiling.jpgHer latest release, I Hear You Smiling, again features Gwen on violin and vocals and is again produced by Damon Banks. Musicians from the project include vocalist Bitte Strauchn whose credits include work with Tears for Fears, instrumentalists Carlton Holmes (Regina Bell and Freddie Hubbard), Joe Scott (the Lauryn Hill Band), Herbie Maitlandt (Chico DeBarge), Wali Muhammad (Stanley Turrentine and Peter Tosh), Tony Lewis, Aubrey Dayle and Neil Clarke. It’s a stunning high-class ensemble with a pedigree that is evident on each one of the nine superbly crafted tracks.

Right from track #1, ‘Rasputins Running’, the hypnotic groove is established and it just keeps on running. The music draws you in and takes you to another world. It’s compelling, fresh and totally original. A real standout is the soulful track #5 ‘Send Love To The Equation’ with vocals by Bitte Strauchn and haunting violin from Laster.

Perhaps only track #8, where Gwen moves us into semi classical mode, fails to live up to the standard that she herself has created by all that has gone on before but, come track #9 and the reprise of ‘Before The Summer’, the listener is left in no doubt that this is a refreshingly different and exciting album that lives in the memory. Because it is so different it’s almost impossible to do justice to in a few short and inadequate words. Yet The Secret Garden cannot recommend this piece of work highly enough and whatever it takes, steps should be taken to check it out.

Gwen Laster has also another exciting project in the making. Just a few weeks ago she recorded a piece entitled ‘The Darkest Child’ in midtown Manhattan with a seventeen piece string ensemble and an array of top class musicians including Billy Pierce on soprano saxophone and the composer of the piece, Cecilia Smith, on vibraphone.

This musical work traces the life of an African American Senior citizen who has led an unusual life of service. The work can best be compared to a piece called A Lincoln Portrait written by American composer Aaron Copeland that used orchestration and narration to highlight Lincoln's life. The work that Cecilia Smith has composed, utilizes both jazz and classical composing devices as well as some sampling. Gwen refers to it as ‘ a very unusual and exciting piece’. News is still awaited on the release date for ‘The Darkest Child’.

One way or another the eclectic Gwen Laster looks to have lots to offer. Fortunately the world of adult contemporary smooth jazz seems particularly well served by her abundant talents.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:59 PM

October 17, 2004

Bryan Lubeck - Acoustic Vineyard

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

This time around The Secret Garden brings news of an artist who is putting his own particular take on the place where smooth jazz, Latin and pop styles merge. Described by former editor of Billboard, JR Reynolds, as a player whose music has an alluring hook, the performer is Chicago based Bryan Lubeck and the CD is Acoustic Vineyard.

lg1.jpgLubeck has become recognized as an artist of mass appeal with a hefty dose of talent and charisma. Although the newspaper and radio recognition he receives labels him as a ‘Smooth Jazz guitarist’ he considers that he is more than that. He calls himself a Smooth Jazz/Flamenco Guitarist because as a child he began a lifelong love affair with finger-style Latin (Flamenco) guitar yet, during frequent trips to Chicago, he came to identify strongly with the newly popular Smooth Jazz genre. He recognizes that over the last couple of years these styles have started to merge, a fact that has enhanced his popularity with Latin and Jazz enthusiasts alike as well as pop and adult contemporary fans.

His more distant past has seen him perform with Red Skelton, be part of the the University Singers who were voted Americas number one collegiate entertainment group and perform for both Nancy Regan and Barbara Bush. He was ‘Best Guitarist’ at the 1985 Elmhurst Jazz Festival and for a time was a performer and Assistant Director/Choreographer for Six Flags Show Productions.

Lubeck can normally to be found performing in the mid west through north eastern Illinois, northern Indiana and Michigan. He is a regular on Chicago’s Navy Pier, has appeared as part of WNUA 95.5 promotional events and has been featured artist on COSY 101.3 and WSJM News Talk radio. However he is now branching out in his quest to promote Acoustic Vineyard. He opened for Richard Elliot at a sell out concert in July and also opened the bill this year for 13 time Grammy Award nominee songwriter and guitarist Craig Chaquico.

BryanLubeckAcousticVineyard.jpgWith Acoustic Vineyard, Lubeck is an artist who is writing and performing his own material and shunning the seemingly obligatory covers that are too often used to engender radio play and pad out track listings. Track #1, ‘Harlequin’, already identified as the primary single cut from the CD, is really what the album is all about, mellow, restful and melodic but with a nice groove and top notch arrangement. The sax playing of Tim King adds depth and texture to Lubeck’s smooth guitar. Next up ‘Take Me’ is a cool number with a Latin beat enhanced by nice Hammond organ from Dave Maki while track #3, ‘My Desire’ is a smooth mover that is just full of California sunshine.

‘Port Adventura’ is more of the same yet seems faintly reminiscent of a soundtrack to a sixties movie while the groove based ‘Flamenco Island’, the only track not written by Lubeck, has also been identified as a possibility for a single. The collection goes on with smooth Latin rhythms and a smattering of single options. ‘Rhetts Island’ with a real flamenco feel is one such number as is ‘You’ve Got This Way’ a very warm, feel good number that is probably the album stand out. That said, all eleven tracks of Acoustic Vineyard fit together beautifully into a tapestry of smooth jazz and Latin music that will enhance the majority of record collections.

An interesting facet of the album is its title. The cover photographs have been shot at the Tabor Hill Winery and the title is obviously inspired by it. The executive producer on the project is Paul Landreck, also of the Tabor Hill Winery and The Secret Garden was interested to find that the winery is not located in the smooth jazz and wine haven of southern California but in the town of Buchanan, tucked away in the corner of south west Michigan. The winters certainly get cold there but apparently this does not effect the production of the wine that is reputed to be as smooth as Bryan Lubeck's music.

Check him out at www.bryanlubeck.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 1:43 PM

September 30, 2004

Roger Smith Is Here There And Everywhere

RogerSmith.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Sometimes everything just come right and that is exactly what we find with the latest release from key board player Roger Smith, a veteran of a 30-year career, that has seen him play for such diverse artists as Jeff Beck, Gladys Knight and Willie Nelson. Now a solo artist for just eight years, he continues to write, produce and play on albums for other artists, and, most notably continues a grueling schedule on tour with R&B legends Tower of Power.

The 14-track Just Enough, places Roger squarely back on the Billboard charts and it’s the link with Tower Of Power, an array of guest artists and an infectious groove that defines this album as something special.

That incredible horn-driven band Tower of Power has been serving up their special brand of music since the early '70s and has been a launching pad for more than one of today’s smooth jazz superstars.

The group's engine room since the beginning, tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo, was born in Detroit, but opted to pursue his musical adventure in Oakland, CA. It was in Oakland that Castillo put together a group called the Motowns. It was a band that specialized in '60s-era soul and even today the band never miss a chance to put their own stamp on soulful sounds that could easily be sampled from that golden era of thirty years ago.

TOP_vintage.jpgCastillo teamed up with a baritone sax player, and Motowns fan, Doc Kupka, and soon the Motowns had transformed into Tower of Power. Remarkably one of the first tunes that Castillo and Kupka penned together was ‘You're Still a Young Man’, a track that would evolve as one of the bands signature compositions. Tower of Power played regularly in the Bay Area throughout the late '60s, its line-up often changing both by name and by number. They included such mainstays as Greg Adams on trumpet and vocals and Rocco Prestia on bass.

By 1970, they had cut a recording contract with San Francisco Records that led, in the same year, to the group's debut album East Bay Grease. It failed to make an impression on the charts and Tower of Power was left very much trying to find their own sound. Their difficulties grew into a crisis when, in 1972, then lead singer Rick Stevens was convicted of murder. The band needed a replacement and fast. They turned to Lenny Williams who had previously been signed to Atlantic and had the misfortune to record ‘People Make The World Go Round’ only for the Stylistics version to be released first.

Tower of Power definitely saw Williams as the man for the job and his three years with them turned out to be a great success for all concerned.

As well as establishing Williams as a big name in R&B and funk, the collaboration also touched off a string of classic hit releases for the band. These included the 1972 Bump City and the 1973 self-titled release that included another one of the group's most enduring tunes, ‘What Is Hip’. 1974 brought Back To Oakland with the following year giving up Urban Renewal and In The Slot. Tower of Power has always been regarded as a must-see live act but in the late seventies their record releases became erratic in quality. Despite this they still came up with gems in Aint Nothin Stoppin Us Now and Live and in Living Color.

Tower of Power has always been in high demand as a backing group for some of rock music’s biggest names. A proverbial who’s who’ of stars they have supported include Rod Stewart, Elton John, Santana, Michael Bolton, Billy Preston, Huey Lewis, Bonnie Raitt and Paula Abdul. All these and more have benefited from the bands musical mastery. So has David Sanborn, a name that is not the only link between Tower of Power and the smooth jazz world.

Although called a smooth jazz artist, saxophonist Richard Elliot is equally at home with most rock & roll and the kind of classic R&B performed by Tower of Power. This is not surprising as for five years, in the 1980s, he was a big part of the classic R&B band's horn-based sound.

Another ex Tower of Power horn player is now on the A list of smooth jazz artists. Steven Eugene Grove, aka Euge Groove, had moved to Los Angeles where he co-wrote a song, ‘Hearts On Fire’, that caught the attention of Richard Elliot. When Elliot moved on from his spell with the band he recommended Grove as his replacement. He remained with them for about four years while continuing to tour with various major acts.

As well as serving as the proving ground for some of today’s smooth jazz talents Tower of Power remain very active in their own right. Their CD Oakland Zone is the band’s first to feature Roger Smith on keyboards and has sold briskly since its release in April 2003.

In addition to the Tower of Power CD, Roger is working with fellow Tower Of Power rhythm section artists Rocco Prestia on bass, Jeff Tamelier on guitar and David Garibaldi on drums for their own album, which Roger is co-writing and co-producing. Roger is also producing a new CD for Tower of Power’s high-energy lead vocalist, Larry Braggs.

Smith, 54, has the pedigree to manage his many projects. He started playing jazz at the age of 12, and by the time he was 18 he was playing in his hometown of Sacramento's club scene. By the early 1970s, Smith was a sideman on the road and in the studio with a range of notable musicians that included Joe Cocker but it was not until the late 90’s Smith landed the keyboard slot in Tower of Power.

His solo career took off in 1999 with the release of his album Both Sides. One of the album's singles, ‘Off the Hook’, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz singles charts and stayed in the top 10 for seventeen weeks. He was nominated for three Oasis Awards for outstanding achievement in the Smooth Jazz genre for Best Keyboardist, Best New Artist and Song of the Year and won the ‘breakout artist of the year’ award from the trade publication Radio and Records. In addition his single was No. 7 on Radio & Records top 100 songs of the year.

His follow-up album in 2001 Consider This hit trouble when his record company went bankrupt. As a result the album lacked promotion and is now out of print.

Now he is back with Just Enough and, in Smiths own words, ‘this one has more of an urban feel. We were trying to give more of a groove via the drums. I still want that smooth edge, but I also wanted to cross over into the urban adult-contemporary market’ he says. Smith worked on the album sporadically for about a year and a half in his home studio and was aided in songwriting and production by Derek Allen who has previously worked with Janet Jackson.

Although there is barely a weak link in the entire collection there are nevertheless four real standouts. Tower of Power's horn section sends shivers down the spine as it lends its brass to the excellent ‘Friday’ and, when Smith reprises the tune in ‘unplugged’ style with the last track on the album, the voice of featured artist Terrell Carter does very much the same. It could be said that if you want the best you should get the best and that is exactly what Smith has done on the track ‘I'll Always Love You’, with the Temptations on vocals and Dave Koz, on sax. Perhaps best of all is the Peter White showcase ‘Workin' It’ which is good beyond belief.

On top of all that the opening track, an instrumental titled ‘Rough Cut’, is anything but rough, featuring an infectious yet funky melody. On ‘Just Enough’ Roger has explored several jazz styles and come up with a really outstanding piece of work.

But that’s still not enough. Roger is currently developing projects with gospel music giant John P. Kee, and, in addition, was the featured artist on the recent No. 1 smooth jazz hit, ‘Cruise Control’, from the Special EFX CD Butterfly. He was even part of the musical writing team on several songs for the NBC soap opera, Passions.

These projects follow his appearance as featured artist on two tracks of the contemporary jazz tribute to Steely Dan, No Static At All and on three tracks on jazz guitarist Thom Rotella’s CD, Day In the Life.

jazzrosco.jpgMeanwhile, Smith’s pure jazz organ project, Jazz Rosco, gives him the flexibility to play with a blissful, earthy touch. Unlike the carefully constructed compositions of his solo work, Jazz Rosco is a celebration of all that's off the cuff. Rosco’s Place, the album that comes from it, features guitarist Ray Obiedo and Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi. Smith wrote the tunes on the spot. The album was recorded in a whirlwind two days, and is now available at Tower of Power shows and online at www.strokeland.com and CDBaby.com. ‘Jazz Rosco is my alter ego’, says Smith. ‘I just needed to vent and get together and play. It's not too heady, and that's the whole idea. We just wanted to let it rip. I like the record, and it's been a lot of fun’.

Just Enough is the fourth studio CD for Roger despite the fact that his crammed calendar doesn't leave much room for solo pursuits. ‘The touring schedule with Tower of Power is pretty arduous’ he explains ‘and doesn't leave me much time to promote, produce or write CDs on my own’. But a gig with Tower of Power, for a musician to play in a band like that, it's great. I'm grateful for the work and to be that busy’.

Possibly the biggest challenge surrounding Just Enough lies in how much Smith will be able to promote it. His contract allows him to take time out from Tower of Power to support his solo career yet Smith is waiting to see how radio embraces the album, which in turn will dictate the demand for his solo gigs.

‘I have a great relationship with Emilio Castillo’, he says, ‘and if I need to take six months off, the job is still mine when I come back’. One thing is for sure. If Roger Smith keeps producing music of the quality of Just Enough he will be asked to come back over and over.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 7:16 PM

September 23, 2004

Andre Ward - A Contemporary Classic

AndreWard_bw.jpgWelcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Driving through New York City on a steamy Sunday afternoon with 107.5 pumping out some classic soul tunes, a surprising interloper that quickly caught the attention was a smooth jazz cover by the up and coming Andre Ward. It was a track that would normally not have the vintage to be a classed as a smooth soul survivor but which is sure to get there some time soon. It takes someone of the statue of R Kelly to record a track that can become a classic in its own lifetime and that is what he has done with ‘Step In The Name Of Love’ a cut that is already proving to be fertile ground in the field of smooth jazz covers. Here we have a story of Chicago, the highs and lows of the music industry and a whole dance style that, in the windy city, goes by the name of Steppin.

Smooth jazz saxophonist Andre Ward was born and raised in Chicago. His first instrument, which he took up at age eight, was the snare drum. He later moved to trumpet and tenor saxophone before settling on alto saxophone and becoming sufficiently proficient to earn a music-performing scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. His session credentials includes work for Freddie Jackson. He was signed to Orpheus Music and released his debut solo album, Feelin You in October 2001. It reached number four on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. His second album, Steppin Up, released in March 2004, is proving to be just as successful.

It’s a fact of smooth jazz life that for a record to succeed it needs radio airplay and its clearly a challenge for any new and young smooth jazz saxman to stay true to his influences while blending the tracks with the sort of covers that can catch the listening ear of radio station musical directors. The question is, on this second release, has Andre Ward made a solid enough case for being different and inventive or has he given in to the allure of the cover version. Certainly, ‘Every Time I Open My Eyes’, the easy-grooving first single from the album, the cool hip-hop-oriented ‘Warm Passion’ and the harder-edged funk of ‘City Vibe’ are all checks marks in the right box for Ward. He balances this sort of pocket grooving with the sweet soprano ballad ‘Heaven in My Life’.

Now to the covers and it can be argued that three of them are way too many. We have the Simply Red classic ‘Holding Back the Years’ with Maurice Jacobs' on vocals. Its fine, but one of those tracks where the origin really cannot be surpassed. The cover of Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is unmemorable and that leaves us with the one that Ward probably should have stuck with had he limited the CD to just one cover, his energetic take on R Kelly’s ‘Step in the Name of Love’. It could be said that 2004 is not the greatest of years to cover this particular track as it can be found on recent releases from both Kim Waters and Bobby Lyle but Andre Ward gives it a buzz and a drive that makes it worthy of inclusion.

‘Step in the Name of Love’ is a treasure, an R Kelly classic. It’s his take on a whole musical subset of the soul genre, the music that comes after the dance. Its what can be heard late in the evening when the mood becomes more languorous, more intimate. The DJ reaches for that special crate of old favorites, those mid tempo grooves that everyone loves. They are not the slowest of ballads; they are not the fastest of jams. These are the tunes that keep you moving in a mellow swing. Never alone, always with a partner. They have a variety of names depending upon where they are played. In Detroit they will be hailed as ballroom tunes. On the west coast they are Cha-Cha but in Chicago these mid tempo R & B hits are known as Steppers. Typically from the eighties notable examples are ‘Risin To The Top’ by Keni Burke and ‘Gotta Get You Home Tonight’ by Eugene Wild and with ‘Step In The Name Of Love’ R Kelly recreated the genre for a new fan base right there in 2003.

R_Kelly.jpgR Kelly, born in Chicago in 1969, and his supporting band Public Announcement began recording in 1992 leveraging off the tail end of the new jack swing era. His smooth, professional mixture of hip-hop beats, soul and funk has always been inters pursed with what critics have branded as ‘explicit carnality’. Hits like ‘Sex Me’, ‘Bump n' Grind’, ‘Your Body's Callin', and ‘Feelin' on Yo Booty’ had production that was seductive enough to sell such blatant come-ons. Kelly also developed a flair for pop ballads that cemented his status as one of the biggest-selling male artists of the '90s.

Seduction on the edge has been both a career move and a curse for Kelly and has attracted unwanted publicity regarding is private life, a facet that showed up as early as 1994.

Kelly and Public Announcement had an instant R & B smash with their debut album Born Into The 90’s. Both’ ‘Honey Love’ and ‘Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)’ were number one R&B hits, while ‘Dedicated’ made it to number 31 in the pop charts. 12 Play, released in the fall of 1993, established Kelly as an R&B superstar. It eventually sold over five million copies. The second single from the album, ‘Bump n' Grind’, hit number one on both the pop and R&B charts in 1994. Also in 1994, he produced Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, the hit debut album for then 15-year-old Detroit R&B singer Aaliyah. Late in the year, it was revealed that Kelly and Aaliyah had wed in August only to get an annulment shortly thereafter. The news sparked a small storm of controversy in the media, yet it didn't hurt the careers of either singer.

Kelly next wrote and co-produced ‘You Are Not Alone’, the second single from Michael Jackson’s History album. It was released in the summer of 1995.

Kelly consolidated his crossover success with the 1996 single ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, recorded for the Michael Jordan movie Space Jam. Setting to one side Kelly's prior sexed-up image, the song reached number two on the pop charts and won Grammy Awards for Best Male R & B Vocal Performance, Best R & B Song, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television. Kelly remained in the public eye in 1997 with another Top Ten soundtrack tune, Batman & Robin's ‘Gotham City’. When he released his ambitious two-disc R in 1998, it went platinum seven times over and its first single, a duet with Celine Dion, ‘I'm Your Angel’, became Kelly's second number one pop hit with a six-week run on top. Even though subsequent singles ‘When a Woman's Fed Up’ and ‘If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time’ were more successful on the R&B charts, Kelly was well on his way to landing more Top 40 hits in the '90s than any other male solo artist.

The intrusions into his private life that had first surfaced back in 1994 re-emerged in February 2002, when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that it had been given a videotape showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. When the scandal broke, other reports surfaced that Kelly had settled a civil suit in 1998 involving a sexual relationship with a then-underage girl, and that he was in the process of settling another suit brought by an Epic Records intern making similar allegations. Copies of the tape in question were sold as bootlegs and on the Internet, and while there was some question as to whether the man was really Kelly, and whether the girl really was underage, Kelly's past history seemed to lend credence to the charge. Some radio stations dropped him from their play lists, and anti-Kelly protests were staged in Chicago.

Following the initial sex-tape scandal, numerous civil suits dogged Kelly, and in June, Chicago police officially charged Kelly with 21 counts of child pornography-related offenses, all related to the original tape. Kelly pleaded not guilty and released a new song, ‘Heaven, I Need a Hug’, which got extensive airplay for a brief period.

If all this were not enough Kelly was plagued by his music being copied or bootlegged and work on his next album, Loveland, came to a halt amid more pirating of the tracks. Kelly eventually scrapped some of the most abused tracks, recorded some new songs, and reassembled the album as Chocolate Factory It is on this great album that ‘Step In The Name Of Love’ appears and now Andre Ward among others is making his own contribution in making this track a genuine and enduring Smooth Soul Survivor.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:14 PM

August 24, 2004

Larry White - Unsolicited Material

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

As the year rolls along its natural for followers of the format to identify releases that each of them define as their ‘best of the year’. Some are easy to spot. For example Peter White's Confidential, Freeman Benoit Project 2 or perhaps the latest from Boney James, Pure. It's usually the established artists who make such listings but this time around The Secret Garden is showcasing a really outstanding piece of work from a performer who is not as yet in the smooth jazz superstar category but who has just released a CD that we consider to be easily one of the top five albums so far of 2004. The album is Unsolicited Material and the artist is Larry White.

Singer-songwriter Larry White’s promotional material describes him as being long recognized as one of the top talents in the music business and indeed his pedigree of arranging conducting and performing for film, television, Broadway and the recording industry certainly re-enforces that view. Larry has been round awhile. As a child he performed on TV variety shows as well as acting in over 300 dramatic shows. For a time he was also contracted to Paramount Films. He attended the famous High School of Performing Arts in New York City and attended college at U.C.L.A. From there he toured worldwide, performing with the vocal group ‘The Sandpipers’ who scored a hit with ‘Guantanamera’ in 1966.

After a few years on the road Larry, looking for an opportunity to use more of his musical skills, began a long and successful career in musical direction, first in television, and then arranging and conducting for some of the biggest stars in the industry. The names he worked with included Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, The Carpenters, Johnny Mathis, Randy Travis, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink. He also struck up a special and long-time relationship with Dusty Springfield as her musical director. Among the songs he orchestrated for her were ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ and ‘Wishing And Hoping’.

Looking for new challenges, Larry returned to his first love in 1998, singing and playing his own special brand of contemporary jazz. His appearances at some of the top jazz venues in Las Vegas led jazz great Buddy Grecco to refer to him on a live radio broadcast as ‘the best musician in Las Vegas’ and in 1999 he took time out to perform at San Francisco's famous Fairmont Hotel. Larry returned to Las Vegas for 2000 with a string of highly successful engagements. He performed at the prestigious grand opening engagements for the jazz rooms at both the Venetian and Paris Hotels, as well as being the first jazz artist to open at the Four Seasons Hotel. Other ongoing engagements include the House of Blues and the Blue Note. It’s also worth noting that Larry has conducted almost every major symphony orchestra throughout the United States and Canada.

Now, after relocating to Newport Beach, California and having just finished his 2nd CD, the all-instrumental Unsolicited Material, Larry is set to perform at various jazz festivals and corporate events throughout 2004.

Larry shared some of his earlier vocal cuts with The Secret Garden and indeed he has been compared vocally to Al Jarreau, Kenny Rankin and Michael Franks, although his style is uniquely his own. However it is the titles he has gathered together for Unsolicited Material that surely gives a glimpse of where his musical destiny might lay. The songs he writes along with his wife Margaret White are a unique blend of Jazz and R&B, with wonderful chord changes and interesting melodies. Their catalogue of original material has grown to over 200 songs. Despite that it was with no expectations whatsoever that The Secret Garden settled back to listen to Unsolicited Material, a state of mind that was destined to change after only the first few bars of track #1 ‘Morro Bay’, a lovely laid back track with a simple yet haunting hook and playing reminiscent of Joe McBride.

One could have been excused for thinking best track first but when track #2 kicked in with increased tempo, a nice groove and the infusion of horns that rolls right through ‘Joyride’ it was obvious this album was above the average. With the laid back ‘A Quarter To Two’ up at #3 the listener is immediately transported to deserted city streets, damp sidewalks and the flickering neon of a distant diner. It’s like being invited into the inner thoughts of an Edward Hopper painting.

Track #4 is the mellow and easy listening ‘Kickin Back’ and in the same vein comes #5 with the tongue in cheek title of ‘Can’t Get Past The Fifth Number’. Is this to be the case? Is this it for the stand out tracks of ‘Unsolicited Material’. The answer is thankfully not as track #6, ‘She’s A Mystery To Me’, brings a haunting evocative rhythm for lovers walking hand in hand down quiet summer streets.

And so it goes on. One classy track after another all the way to the eleventh and final number, ‘Cooling It’, that leaves a warm feeling deep inside.
Unsolicited Material is an excellent piece of work that deserves to bring Larry White increased success and increased airplay. Check him out at the Huntingdon Beach Hyatt Regency every Saturday night and visit www.larrywhite.com for news of upcoming performances elsewhere. It really will be worth the effort.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 8:10 PM

August 9, 2004

Paul Jackson Jr. - Rocking Steady

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

This time The Secret Garden is combining not one but two Smooth Jazz Survivors with notes on a smooth jazz artist who doesn’t always catch the headlines but who came to town and stole a show away from three major names of the genre. The classic tracks are ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ and the artist is Paul Jackson Jr.

The event to which we refer was the WIFM 98.1 promoted Sax Pack event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Diego that starred Kim Waters, Jeff Kashawa and Steve Cole. In addition, and most fortunately, it also had smooth jazz guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. opening the show.

PaulJackson.jpgIn case new readers are unsure what it takes for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor, lets just say it must be a smooth jazz interpreted track that has its origins deep in soul music. The intention is to encourage you to get out there and search the racks of your favorite record store for these items of buried treasure.

But first back to the Hyatt Regency to get one thing straight. Waters, Kashiwa and Cole were not bad. In fact they were far from it and we will take more time in upcoming issues of The Secret Garden to explain more of what these three were all about. Its just that on June 27 2004, in the warmth of the San Diego sunshine, Jackson proved that he can play and entertain without resorting to some of the antics that certain current players tend to employ. He simply came, put on a show, and enabled the audience to have a party. They did just that.

Paul Milton Jackson Jr. was born December 30 1959 in Los Angeles CA and has become a musician sought after by many of the greats of soul and smooth jazz. His credits as side man and session player are numerous yet when in 1998 he released his solo recording Never Alone / Duets, an album that found him collaborating with Kirk Whalum, Joe Sample, Jeff Lorber and Gerald Albright, his smooth jazz career was not propelled forward in the way that had been expected. It took three years of touring with artists like Whitney Houston and the Backstreet Boys, and the time that afforded, to rethink his career and to come up with his next release, The Power Of The String, in 2001. When he looked around for a catchy radio ready cut for the album he did not have to go further than the Whispers classic of 1987 ‘Rock Steady’ and he promptly set about making this Smooth Soul Survivor one of the more memorable single releases of 2001.

It’s therefore surprising, given their status as a veteran R&B quintet with an impressive 23-year legacy of R&B hits, that in over three years of research, this is the first time The Whispers have been included as a provider of an original Smooth Soul Survivor.

Whispers.jpgThe Whispers were formed in Los Angeles by twins Walter and Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutton and Gordy Harmon, although by 1973 Harmon had already left the band. The Whispers first appeared as far back as 1964 on the Dore label with ‘I Was Born When You Kissed Me’. In 1969, they climbed the soul charts for the first time with ‘The Time Has Come’, this time on Soul Clock, and they made it into the R&B top ten the following year with ‘Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong’. Ever since then, and variously on the Janus, Soul Train, and Solar label’s they have been making hit records. They struck big in 1980 with ‘And the Beat Goes On’ and it was in 1987 that they had yet another number one urban contemporary hit with ‘Rock Steady’. In 1993 founding members Walter and Wallace Scott took some time out to pursue solo work but remained with the band.

Jackson’s smooth yet funky guitar work brought out the very best that the rhythms of ‘Rock Steady’ had to offer so it was no surprise when working on his next (and latest) release Still Small Voices he again looked back into the archives for something radio stations could latch on to.

Spinners.jpgHe found it in the Spinners classic ‘It’s A Shame’ that was originally included on their 1970 release Second Time Around. The Spinners were the greatest soul group of the early '70s, creating a body of work that defined the seductive sound of Philly soul. Ironically, the band's roots lay in Detroit, where they were originally, called the Domingoes. They formed in 1957 when the quintet were high school students in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. At the time, the group featured Bobbie Smith, Pervis Jackson, George W Dixon, Billy Henderson and Henry Fambrough. Four years later, they came to the attention of producer Harvey Fuqua, who began recording the group, by this time renamed as The Spinners, for his Tri-Phi Records. The band's first single, ‘That's What Girls Are Made For’, became a top ten R&B hit in 1961 and featured Smith on vocals but following its release, Dixon was replaced by Edgar ‘Chico’ Edwards. Over the next few years, the group released a series of failed singles, and when, in the mid sixties, Motown bought out Tri-Phi the Spinners became part of the larger company's roster. By this time G C Cameron had replaced Edwards but Motown never gave the group much consideration. ‘It's a Shame’ became a hit in 1970, but the label continued to ignore the group, and dropped them two years later’. It is the voice of G C Cameron that can be heard on ‘It’s a Shame’, which was at the time their first top ten R & B song since 1965. Cameron left the band when they signed to Atlantic preferring to stay in Detroit with the Motown stable. Phillipe Wynne stepped in and shortly after made everyone forget that Cameron had ever been around.

It was with Atlantic between 1972 and 1977, that they enjoyed their most productive period with a string of hits that included ‘I’ll Be Around’, ‘Mighty Love’, ‘Then Came You’, ‘The Rubberband Man’ and ’Could It Be I’m Falling In Love’

‘It’s A Shame’ is quite simply a classic. Opening with a nimble, intoxicating solo guitar hook and due, in no small part, to the Spinners gorgeous harmonies, this performance is effortlessly elegant, soaring from chorus to verse and back with ease. It’s perhaps because their performance on the record is so sublime that only a handful of artists have attempted to cover the song. Co-written by Stevie Wonder and Lee Garrett, the track doesn't really sound like a Wonder song, despite the fact that the melody is every bit as graceful as his best work. Wonder created the ideal pairing of song and production for the Spinners who, prior to the records release, had been struggling on Motown. The song changed the direction of the Spinners career, providing the foundation for the Gamble Huff productions to come. It was also important to Wonder. It revealed that ‘Little Stevie’, still only 20 when ‘It’s a Shame’ was released, had vision and talent that reached far beyond the Motown formula he had been using.

With ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ Jackson has made two classic soul tracks his very own and made them accessible to a whole new audience. But Paul Jackson Jr. is about much more than that. Look out for future issues of the Secret Garden that will explore more of his work and the special smooth jazz heritage that he is creating.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 5:26 PM

July 24, 2004

Rhian Benson - Going Places

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

RhianBenson1.jpgThis time around we feature the work and the comments of a real up and comer on the music scene. Which scene is more difficult to define as the music of Rhian Benson has variously been described as ‘neo soul’ ‘the next big thing in soul’ and ‘a mélange of R & B, soul, jazz, reggae, hip hop and world beat’.

The Secret Garden was in San Diego to check Rhian out at a KIFM supported promotion she was doing at Borders Books and Music. A few weeks later, when she visited England to perform at Ronnie Scott’s and the Jazz Café, and also to open for Macy Gray, we caught up with her to talk about her music and her career so far. We started by asking Rhian why it is so important to her to break into the UK market. After all she is based in the USA where a huge market awaits for her radio ready music, she tours there, and has had her debut album on release there for almost eight months.

‘In a lot of ways’ she explains, ‘its about personal reasons. It’s where this whole love affair with music began. I started out by doing open microphone sessions in London and then, quite implausibly, I was approached by the people setting up what was then a brand new label, DKG. We were all in at the ground floor of the venture together and although for a British based artist it would have been the norm to attempt to become established at home before turning to the USA market, for me all that happened in reverse. I was invited to move to LA where one thing just led to another. I also like playing to UK audiences’, she continues. ‘They connect with an artist and demonstrate amazing depths of loyalty’.

When we asked Rhian about the wide range of musical styles and genres she touches on over the 13 tracks that make up her album she was very clear in her views.

‘I want my fans to take from the music whatever they find’ she says. ‘People have come up to me after a show and compared me to Phyllis Hyman. Others have likened me to Stevie Nicks. That’s all OK. I don’t particularly want to categorize. I enjoy embracing a mixture of styles. Probably the defining factor of all the tracks on the album’, she adds, ‘is that they are very groove based tracks’. The collection of musicians that played with me on the album guaranteed that. Ultimately that’s what audiences are looking for, the opportunity to groove with the music’.

coverGold Coast is her debut album that features the vocalist interpreting 13 songs that she wrote and co-produced with James Poyser (Lauryn Hill, the Roots, Jill Scott) and Bob Power (D'Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu). Her warm, jazz-influenced vocals are a natural result of her strong musical heritage and by being nourished and encouraged by the profusion of music and musicians that surrounded her during her upbringing in Africa, India, and England. Gold Coast opens with ‘Words Hurt Too’, a sad ballad about the insensitive remarks that can cause a great relationship to go wrong. Benson's sensitive interpretation truly captures the essence of heartbreak. On ‘The One,’ you can feel the sincerity in her voice. Benson also makes her listeners aware of her exceptional songwriting skills. Her creative use of metaphors makes her songs extremely simpatico especially on such songs as ‘Stealing My Peace of Mind’, ‘Invincible’, and ‘Gold Sky’. Benson closes the set with ‘Spirit’, a peaceful Ashanti ballad that delivers a sense of serenity, encouragement, and assurance to those seeking their way in life. Her voice is calm and assuring as she sings in the Ghanaian language over soft guitar chords and emotional string arrangements. Joined by world-class musicians including Roy Hargrove on horns, Ndugu Chancler on drums, Alphonso Johnson on acoustic bass, and many others, Benson has brought an uncomplicated innocence to her music.

That this diversity knows no bounds is well demonstrated by the hip-hop remix of her US top ten urban a/c hit ‘Say How You Feel’. It was decided to use the success of the single to widen appeal to other audiences. Rhian got together with another up comer in the world of soul, Dwele, who added a verse. It happened that Dwele and Slum Village shared the same management and the project developed from there with all three artists collaborating. The outcome is impressive and can be checked out at Rhian’s own excellent website www.rhianbenson.com.

Rhian went on to talk about her involvement with the BET channel on US television and her role of hosting their lifestyle and music show titled Gold Coast.

‘It all came about’ she explains ‘with my connections with BET Jazz. They asked me to perform in my home country of Ghana as part of the Ghana Jazz Festival. From there and from my connections in that country the idea for the program developed and as well as using it as a showcase for new music performers it has also proved useful in helping dispel some of the myths about Africa and its image as being a loose connection of war torn states littered with starving children. This is not how I remember Africa’, she recalls ‘and I think its important to provide that balance to show people that the country is, in the main, a well organized and well functioning economy’.

The show airs to a worldwide audience in excess of 70 million and a new series is being planned for the end of 2004.

The Secret Garden asked Rhian about her appearance at the JVC Jazz Festival in Miami where she played on the same bill as Kenny G. How was it, we wondered, to meet the smooth jazz legend and did she perceive any differences in how smooth jazz audiences enjoy their live music.

RhianBenson2.jpg‘Kenny was awesome’ she reflects. ‘I found him very attentive and complementary about my music. He took time to check out my set and even gave me a big shout during his session on stage. Its very unusual for a headliner to do that’. On the vibe generated by the audience she comments that ‘the one thing smooth jazz audiences are looking for is high quality music. Outside of that they welcome variations in styles’. She cites the ability of Chris Botti, who she has worked with, to mix smooth jazz with eastern influences and straight ahead pieces all to the rapture of his live fans.

‘All in all’ Rhian says ‘I look forward to the opportunity of reaching out to more smooth jazz audiences’.

Rhian continued by talking about some of her musical icons past and present and what the next couple of months have in store for her.

‘People like Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Bob Marley have been huge factors in my musical heritage’ she says. ‘The way his fans felt the spirit of Marley was amazing and his influence, as well as that of others, always inspires me to be more courageous with my music’. Of the current crop of superstars she singles out Sade as someone she would love to emulate. ‘To go away for eight years and return with a new album to find all her fans are still out there waiting for her is truly incredible. She is just always in control of the process’ she observes. ‘Every step of the way and without ever the need to compromise’.

For someone who started out in Ghana, moved to India, back to Ghana then The London School Of Economics, Harvard, London and now LA, one would think there would be no one place in the world that would hold any special attraction. However the date she is scheduled to play in Cardiff on August 1 2004, as part of the Big Weekend Festival, promises to be very special indeed. Her mother is Welsh and Rhian will be appearing on the same bill as a band she has been a big fan of over the years, The Brand New Heavies. ‘Its going to be really thrilling’ she says ‘and I am sure to be a little star struck too’.

After that, and an appearance at the Jazz Café the following week, the next big event will be the UK release of Gold Coast in September. The album has already enjoyed pre release airplay on Jazz FM 102.2 as their featured album of the week. It is no surprise that the first UK single from the album will the album version of ‘Say How I Feel’.

For someone who’s life and career is on so much of an up curve The Secret Garden just had to find out one thing about Rhian Benson that was not perfect. The answer came in the gastronomic delights of LA. Hard as she tries she has been unable to find a really great Indian restaurant in the city, a further reason for making her frequent visits to the UK that much more enjoyable. Californian restaurateurs please take note.

Rhian Benson is clearly a performer with a future. Gold Coast is a tapestry of differing flavors and moods all rooted in the groove and mounted upon a soulful jazz foundation. She thanks and is grateful to those who have already allowed Gold Coast into their lives and looks forward to reaching out to smooth jazz fans wherever she is able to connect with them.

Mark September in your diary and check out Gold Coast.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 3:23 PM

July 12, 2004

Benoit Freeman At Thornton Winery

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

BenoitFreeman2.jpgThere can no more atmospheric open air venue for smooth jazz than the Thornton Winery in Temecula CA. Deep in the California wine country, forty miles north east of San Diego on I-15, this working winery combines the production of fine wines with a high quality restaurant and a large open space that, when the crème de la crème of smooth jazz artists come to town, converts perfectly to a concert venue. For several years now the Thornton Winery has played host to smooth jazz greats, usually performing on lazy Sunday afternoons under the heat of the California sunshine.

On June 26 it was the turn of the Benoit Freeman Project to play there in what was, for Thornton’s, one of the less frequent Saturday evening events and what an evening it turned out to be. It has to be said that a night out at the Winery is no cheap ticket. As well as the price of admission the audience is encouraged to purchase wine, strictly by the bottle, to enjoy with the music and to eat from the lavish buffet tables. In a way, this sets the tone for the affluent middle class clientele to enjoy every sensation of the evening, the wine, the food, the sunshine and of course the music.

On tour to promote their latest album release The Benoit Freeman Project 2, the music that these sophisticates of smooth jazz provided was perfect for the occasion. Resplendent in black, and complete with obligatory shades, never have two guys looked more like smooth jazz musicians than did Benoit and Freeman on that evening. Their tight backing consisted of Jamie Tate on drums and Melvyn Davis on bass with the excellent David Pack, a long time associate of Benoit, providing the vocals. Pack also handles the vocals on track #3 of the CD, a tune named ‘Montecito’.

benoitfreeman2.jpgThe Benoit Freeman Project 2 is a high quality piece of work and comes ten years after the first collaboration between these two. However that’s not quite true to say. Although The Benoit Freeman Project CD was released in 1994, the two of them were founding members of the Rippingtons. Guitarist Russ Freeman originally planned the Rippingtons as a changing lineup of strong contemporary jazz musicians and assembled the first version of the band for the album Moonlighting in 1986 which featured David Benoit on piano and Brandon Fields, Dave Koz and Kenny G on saxophones. Kilimanjaro, their first album to break into the pop charts followed in 1988. The group were signed to GRP in 1989 with classic albums such as Tourist In Paradise, Welcome To The St James Club and 1991's Curves Ahead all following. By 1993 the Rippingtons had solidified into a steady six-piece group including Russ Freeman, Dave Kochanski on keyboards, Jeff Kashiwa on saxophone, Kim Stone on bass, Tony Morales on drums, and Steve Reid on percussion. Then, in 1994, Freeman hooked up with old partner David Benoit for the The Benoit Freeman Project. Later that year came Sahara which altered the band's billing from ‘The Rippingtons Featuring Russ Freeman’ to ‘Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons’.

Accused by some of having recorded more than his share of forgettable smooth jazz albums in a career that has had more than a few ups and downs, David Benoit can still boast a considerable catalogue of quality work. A GRP recording artist since 1986 his recordings on this label encompass a wide range of jazz styles, from contemporary pop to straight ahead bebop, orchestral, and hip hop. Among the highlights of his discography are 1988's Every Step of the Way, nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Jazz Fusion’ category; 1989's Waiting for Spring, which for eight weeks topped Billboard's traditional jazz chart; and 1992's Letter to Evan, a heartfelt tribute to the late jazz piano giant, ‘Bill Evans’.

He has never been afraid to mix things up either. In 2002 Benoit developed an entire live musical tribute to Charles Schulz's beloved comic strip, Peanuts. The show featured a full orchestra, arranged and conducted by Benoit, performing a variety of music, including the melodies composed by the late Vince Guaraldi for the classic ‘Peanuts’ TV specials. Benoit also composed and performed a classical piece for piano and orchestra, The Peanuts Gallery, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and he has since brought the show to various parts of the United States.

He then did a complete turn around with his next release on GRP, Fuzzy Logic, that he describes as 'retro,' a return to what he calls the real boogaloo, grooving, old-style stuff. With a production team on the record that included Rick Braun, and Stuart Wade of Down To The Bone, Benoit, looked to emulate some of his favorite bands such as Tower Of Power and Chicago with a big horn section and by playing a lot of Hammond organ. It worked well.

Back to 2004 and Benoit Freeman Project 2 has already been described as ‘smooth jazz with a brain’. It certainly is not straight ahead acoustic jazz but it isn't an album of mindless ‘elevator music’ either. Most of the tracks, in fact the best of the tracks, are instrumental and often times the rhythms are enriched with an infectious Latin flavor.

The album opens with the excellent ‘Palmetto Park’ probably the best, certainly the most radio worthy track on the record, with a catchy tune and beautiful interchanging between guitar and piano. It’s a pure delight. Track #2 ‘Via Nueve’ incorporates a haunting melody and evokes a sentimentality that can, for those so inclined, make hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Its David Pack's turn to step up to the microphone on track #3 as he provides the vocals on the Freeman composition ‘Montecito’, which he does in a subtle low key and very effective way.

In the live performance more was made of Packs vocals and the audience loved him.

The unlikely appearance on the CD by country heavy weight Vince Gill with the vocals on track #5 ‘Two Survivors’ has been highly acclaimed but didn’t really cut it for the Secret Garden. Much better yet was the guest trumpet playing by Chris Botti on ‘Club Havana’ and ‘Struttin’. This latter tune was particularly well performed live at Thornton’s, albeit without the trumpet solo, and really got the place jumping. A little gem is reserved for the tenth and final track on the album, ‘Waiting For The Stars To Fall’. Its another Freeman solo composition that’s a beautiful, slow and evocative melody, tinged with sentimentality and designed to melt the coldest heart. Its music for lovers.

Benoit Freeman Project 2 is released on Freeman’s own Peak label and Benoit announced in Temecula that as of June 6 2004 he too had signed for the label. In doing so he becomes stable mate to The Rippingtons, Eric Marienthal, Braxton Brothers, Gato Barbieri, Paul Taylor, David Pack, Regina Belle and more. Benoit Freeman Project 2 has already been described by Art Good as one of the smooth jazz albums of the year. It’s beyond dispute that either live, or in the recording studio, Freeman Benoit have the creativity and skill to trigger a special kind of enjoyment and a whole range of emotions. Check this one out soon.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:08 PM

July 4, 2004

Secret Garden From The Darkness To The Light

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

Its been a while since The Secret Garden hit the pages of Smooth Jazz Vibes and perhaps that is the most damning indictment of all of the smooth jazz scene in the United Kingdom. In fact to come up with acceptable copy and to climb back onto the smooth jazz train this groove starved aficionado has had to travel 8000 miles to the sunshine of California in order to reaffirm belief that smooth jazz is still alive and well.

Many Secret Garden readers in the UK will already be familiar with the demise of smooth jazz radio in that country. The once flag ship Jazz FM 102.2 is now a shadow of its former self with the play lists cluttered with the likes of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Simply Red. That of course is not to say that these artists are not great in their own right and their own genre but smooth jazz is definitely not what that genre is all about. Even in Manchester, where the stations northern outlet plays the airwaves on 100.4, the station has undergone a make over that has seen it re-emerge as Smooth FM with a collection of soft soul choices.

This all leaves the smooth jazz market starved of exposure and limits the means for true fans to keep up or connect with the sounds that they love. Thank heavens for Smooth Jazz Vibes and for streaming radio that at least gives the chance for the good stuff to be heard outside of the USA. The Secret Garden would be really interested to find out more about how UK based smooth jazz fans are taking this turning off of the smooth jazz scene and where they are going instead for their music.

As for the Secret Garden, in June 2004 it went to the USA and to start the trip we caught up with two artists now polarized at what we would suggest are two extremes of the smooth jazz spectrum, each with their own very defined followings.

Both events were by the water. The first on Navy Pier Chicago on June 19, promoted by WNUA 95.5, and under an awning to keep out the chill wind from the lake. The second at Humphries By The Bay in San Diego on June 23, courtesy of of KIFM 98.1 and without the benefit of cover to keep out what turned out to be a cool Pacific breeze. Both events featured pre-emanate smooth jazz sax players but it wasn’t just 2000 miles that separated these two gigs, it was a difference in style that offered unique insight into where the music comes from and where it can ultimately go. It was about those two titans of smooth jazz Boney James and Kenny G.

kennyg2.jpgNow the Secret Garden has hinted on more than one occasion that Kenny G may well have lost a little of the R & B edge that was undoubtedly there in his early recordings. Indeed the 1984 and 1985 platinum albums G-Force and Gravity helped build a foundation for Kenny among R&B audiences as well as those who were just discovering smooth jazz. This new audience, who ultimately would made him the biggest selling instrumental artist of all time, caught on fast and in 1986 made Duotones a five million selling album and gave him his breakthrough into mainstream acceptance. The album was lifted by two R&B hit singles, a revival of Junior Walker's ‘What Does It Take’ and ‘Don't Make Me Wait For Love’ that featured Lenny Williams but it was ‘Songbird,’ a Top 5 pop smash, that really put Kenny on the map.

Despite eleven subsequent album releases, all of them huge sellers, it could be argued that the raw power and groove established at that 1986 pinnacle was never surpassed. In some quarters, and perhaps unfairly, he has been bracketed as bland and that image is reflected in his fan base that often seems to be drawn exclusively from the middle class majority.

If Kenny G has moved from soulful edgy groove to more mainstream ultra smooth jazz then Boney James started out seeped in soul and just went on getting edgier. Right from the time he signed with Warner Bros in 1994 a sequence of successful album releases has moved him further towards what is commonly regarded as urban territory. This culminated in the 2002 release Ride that opened up airplay on urban radio stations for him as well as keeping him in the spotlight of those stations with a predominately smooth jazz play list.

boneyjames04.jpgHow then did the live performances of these two smooth jazz heavyweights compare? In Chicago Boney James rolled into town to promote what will be his ninth album on Warner Bros, Pure which is out on August 3rd. Speaking about the new album James says, ‘the great joy of Pure is that I made all the decisions about everything. I was always confident in making music, but I was curious too, and a lot of times in the past I couldn't address that. I used to like to work with other producers because I felt I had too many ideas, as if I was undisciplined. But on this record I allowed myself to explore even some of my crazier ideas. A lot of them turned out to reflect more of my true musical sensibility than anything else I'd ever done.’

He says, ‘when I wrote ‘Thinkin' 'Bout Me’, an instrumental performance that also appears as a bonus vocal track featuring Ledisi, with my friend Rex Rideout we thought of it as a straight-up R&B tune. But then I started to imagine that it could sound like something that Sly & the Family Stone would do. I broke it down, took the drum machines out, got a Hammond B-3 player and a horn section, and built it up from scratch as a live track’.

As he has done on earlier albums, James invited singers to make guest appearances. He wrote ‘Appreciate’ with Jon B. as a male vocal, but when, in Boney’s imagination, it evolved into a fiery Latin dance vibe, he knew it would be perfect for new Warner Bros. artist Debi Nova.

Boney’s 2002 Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album for Ride led to another fortunate twist of fate when, at a post-Grammy jam session at B. B. King's Blues Club, he found himself onstage with singer Bilal at the microphone. ‘When Bilal got up to sing, he just blew everyone away’, James remembers, ‘I knew he would be perfect for 'Better With Time’.

For ‘Break of Dawn’, his collaboration with Dwele, whom Entertainment Weekly has targeted as one of ten artists on the brink, Boney took the initiative to fly to Dwele’s home in Detroit. ‘As soon as I heard him on the radio I knew he would be great,’ Boney says.

Whether working with outstanding singers or world-class musicians such as Joe Sample, whose solo on ‘Stone Groove’ is an album highlight, this piece of work by James keeps him ahead of the crowd.

In Chicago the crowd liked what they heard as Boney also treated them to many of his standouts from previous releases. He carried the audience along with him, made them part of the show, romanced them a little and ended up blowing them away His encore piece, the title track from Ride made up for the lack of acoustics in the semi open venue with more raw energy than you can shake a stick at.

kennyg.jpgLeaving Illinois for Southern California for the Kenny G gig it was hard to see how middle of the road Kenny could surpass what Boney James had served up but not surprisingly for an artist of G’s pedigree he did not disappoint. While James was in town to showcase his new release G was in San Diego on the first leg of a two-week tour that would take him to LA, Oregon and finally Japan. This was not about new music but it was about a glorious celebration of Kenny’s finest pieces of work played out to the highest standards of professionalism to an almost capacity crowd who came along ready to enjoy and did just that. It proved that the music that Kenny G has offered up over the past twenty years has effectively enabled everything that followed. It promoted the genre, carved out the audience and encouraged musicians to follow along.

With Boney James on the scene the future of smooth jazz is in very safe hands but on June 23 2004 in San Diego CA let it be known that Kenny G rocked.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:24 AM

March 8, 2004

Unwrapped From Hidden Beach

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

As regular readers to The Secret Garden will testify the page is always on the look out for themes and recordings that bridge the gap between the smooth jazz of today and the soul music of both yesterday and today. This cross-fertilization of influences is, of course, not confined to smooth jazz. Most notably the crop of modern day hip hop and rap artists and producers routinely reach back to borrow jazz, funk and R & B hooks and riffs to adorn their tracks. A significant variation on this considerable theme has come from the project from Hidden Beach Records titled Unwrapped.

coverHidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 1 came out in 2001 and stemmed from what was originally intended as a jam session between seasoned musicians for their own amusement. The album was billed as an exciting project that took conventional thinking and turned it upside down. It involved some of today’s most accomplished instrumental soloists who flipped the process followed by hip hop producers and returned the flavour into the bargain by offering infectious renditions of such rap standards as LL Cool J's ‘Lounging,’ Biggie's ‘One More Chance,’ Common's ‘The Light,’ and OutKast's ‘Ms. Jackson,’ among many others. However, it was not only the selection of the tracks that made this album a standout. The sheer quality of the artists involved was breath taking with such jazz and R&B luminaries as Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jnr, Everett Harp and Mike Phillips all taking part.

The initial thinking at Hidden Beach was to keep this material in-house for use as fun music at various Hidden Beach events.

However, once some DJ heard what was being produced they demanded vinyl copies and as a result of this development, turned their music loving faithfuls on to the Unwrapped concept.

As DJ Frank Ski comments, ‘I remember the first time I heard Unwrapped. I almost screamed! I came on the radio station the next day on the morning show and played the whole album. I’m like, finally someone got it! Jazz, hip-hop and R&B on the same track. But isn’t it strange how we have separated our own music? Lets take the encyclopaedia and look up the word Jazz. A form of music that grew out of the southern US black culture, rhythmically complex with a strong emphasis on syncopation. Often times very improvisional. So when you think about it jazz, hip hop, R&B, its all the same music so why keep separating and putting prejudice into our own music?’

coverFrom this new awareness and resultant success followed Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2 again guided and directed by DJ/Producer Tony Joseph and Musician/ Producer Daryl Ross.

This latest set again found musicians of the highest order collaborating, with Patrice Rushen and Mike Phillips being joined by Jeff Lorber, Jeff Bradshaw, Karen Briggs, and Dennis Nelson to name but a few. Consequently, this time around The Secret Garden considers it high time to comment on just a few of the stand out tracks from Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2.

Leading on from the opening monologue the album starts sensationally with ‘Always On Time’. This track took New York rapper Ja Rule to new heights when he teamed up with Ashanti to combine Ashanti’s airy chorus with his own sing song growl and the records subtle pulsating rhythm, all of which ensured a number one hit in the pop charts. On the Unwrapped version world-renowned Cuban percussionist Melena sets the pace and flutist Lou Taylor enhances the melody while accompanied by Patrice Rushen on piano, and steel drums keyboard. Its absolutely hypnotic and a track you will want to play over and over.

The next Secret Garden pick among a selection that spoils the listener for choice is track number 4 and a silky smooth rendition of ‘Electric Relaxation’, the original of which appeared on the album Midnight Marauders by Tribe, laid heavy with jazz orientated samples from Ronnie Fosters ‘Mystic Brew’ and Ramsey Lewis’s ‘Dreams’. On this version the excellent Jeff Lorber adds a smoothed out Fender Rhodes to Paul Litterals muted trumpet and Dennis Nelsons acoustic guitar. This great track also has Melena on congoes. A real smooth jazz classic with attitude.

Track number seven is the killer cut of the entire album. When DJ Jazzy Jeff combined with the Fresh Prince in 1991 to record the Homebase album, the track ‘Summer Time’ immediately received widespread appeal for its refreshing settling groove, angelic chorus and Will Smiths narrative on the joys of summer. But underneath it all was a sample of the Secret Garden favourite ‘Summer Madness’ from Kool and the Gang's 1974 album Kool Jazz. This original laid the perfect foundation for Jeff Lorber, Mike Phillips, Terrence Thomas and Tamika Peoples to further accentuate the tracks jazz foundation.

A technical departure from the smooth jazz genre but still worthy of merit is the second track on the second CD in this set, ‘The Lesson’ that has the look and feel of a classic soul slow burner with the added surprise tactic of blending in Karen Briggs on violin. It is a variant of a track from the Jay-Z release The Blueprint and was in turn taken from Tom Brock's 1974 I Love You More and More. In this Unwrapped version the easy riding, soft and rumbling score omits all vocal elements and luxuriates in the beat and exchanges between piano and violin.

Finally, track three on CD two is ‘Get Money’ featuring Jeff Lorber. In 1996, fifteen years after Sylvia Striplin released ‘You Can’t Turn Me Away’, Junior M.A.F.I.A scored a hit that sampled Striplin’s 1981 hit. It featured production from the great Roy Ayers and James Bedford. In an interesting twist, the Unwrapped version swaps Junior M.A.F.I.A’s lyrics for much more playful instrumental solos by way of Jeff Lorber on piano, Andrew Gouche on bass and Terrance Thomas on guitar to make this a truly outstanding contemporary jazz track.

The Secret Garden implores you to get on line and find Hidden Beach Recordings Present Unwrapped Volume 2. You will not be disappointed.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:49 PM

February 11, 2004

The Look Of Love - Ashanti Style

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

The Secret Garden has always followed with interest the cross over between smooth jazz and classic soul and the use of sampling to embed familiar riffs into new music. So, here in the month of February 2004, with this years Grammy awards replete with tributes to the world of soul and r&b it seems fitting to comment on an r&b star of today who is having chart success and critical acclaim with a hit single that not only samples heavily from a piece of soul history but also features the original artist on it.

The artist is urban sensation Ashanti and the recording is ‘Rain On Me’, surely destined in time for classic status.

coverAshanti has literally been an overnight sensation who blasted into the urban music scene in 2002 and topped the charts with multiple singles. Directed by hit maker Irv Gotti she rapidly built her reputation with some notable duets, first with popular rapper Ja Rule, on a the Secret Garden favorite ‘Always On Time’ and also with Fat Joe and The Notorious Big on ‘What Luv’ and ‘Unfoolish’ respectively.

New York producer, Gotti, took notice of Ashanti initially because of her beauty, dancing, and acting. She trained as a dancer at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, learning a number of dance styles and appearing in a number of big name music videos. As an actress, she made a name for herself working on several Spike Lee projects.

Often compared with Alicia Keys and more latterly Beyonce Knowles her huge selling debut album, Ashanti, sold an astounding 500,000-plus copies in its first week and she returned in 2003 with Chapter II, the album that features ‘Rain On Me’.

The fact that the track is actually credited to Bacharach/David/Douglas/Lorenzo/Parker is the giveaway that at its foundation is their classic composition ‘The Look Of Love’ that was done to such sensational effect by Isaac Hayes, the artist selected to partner with her on this latest recording.

coverA massively covered recording in its own right Hayes featured an eleven minute version of it on his album To Be Continued that was released in late 1970 on the heals of two chart-topping albums, Hot Buttered Soul, in 1969 and The Isaac Hayes Movement earlier in 1970. To Be Continued proved to be another number one album and, typical of Hayes at that time, featuring four songs that extended far beyond traditional radio-friendly length mainly due to important mood-establishing instrumental segments. Notable among these moments were his treatment of ‘Walk on By’ and ‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin’. Elsewhere on the album, ‘Our Day Will Come’ featured a nice concluding instrumental segment driven by a proto-hip-hop beat that proved just how ahead of his time Hayes was in those early-'70s days. It’s commonly considered that To Be Continued was better than any of his recordings that came after 1971. Indeed, although both 1975's Chocolate Chip and 1976's Groov–a–Thon went gold, his records of that period attracted considerably less attention than prior efforts. This combined with poor management and business associations left Hayes with no choice but to file for bankruptcy in 1976. However, To Be Continued did not top the charts for eleven straight weeks by accident and that alone marks it out as one of the truly classic soul albums.

coverSince then Isaac Hayes has been fighting back. Despite retiring from the business for five years in the mid eighties he is now recognized as an icon that helped translate the smooth luscious soul of the seventies into nearly everything that has followed. He is a successful restaurateur and a television personality. He is again in demand. In 2001 he supported Alicia Keys as a musician and arranger on her acclaimed debut Songs In A Minor. This latest collaboration with Ashanti is another step along that road and when listeners hear the haunting orchestra laden riff that permeates the number they should thank god not just for the modern day recording techniques that make it sound so good but also to the genius of Hayes for bringing it to us in the first place.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor or a track for ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:34 PM

December 24, 2003

The Secret Garden Knows Bob Baldwin

Some contemporary smooth jazz tracks can be uplifting while others can be monotonous to the point of blandness. Then again there are others, and I guess this is really what it is all about, that are just great to listen to.

One artist who perhaps does not always grab the big smooth jazz superstar headlines, but is consistently great to listen to, is Bob Baldwin and although the album Standing Tall has been on release in the USA for over a year The Secret Garden, at the time of year when peoples thoughts are turning to buying gifts, thought it a good time to jog peoples attention on just how good a smooth jazz album this really is.

BobBaldwin_bw.jpgBob Baldwin was born on December 9 1960 in Mount Vernon, NY and reared in Westchester County. His father, Robert Baldwin, Sr. who is also an accomplished jazz pianist, taught Bob how to play the piano at the age of four. He studied both classical and jazz standards and includes Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis to Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye as his musical influences. Having earned a degree in Business Administration from Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA while working at MCI and Sprint Communications, he later met one of the inspirations of his formative years, Herbie Hancock, at his Sony Innovators performance in Beverly Hills in 1989. It was Roberta Flack who selected Baldwin as the winner of that award for his first album, The Dream Featuring Bob Baldwin, that was released on Malaco Jazz Records in 1988.

When, in 1986, he formed the The Bob Baldwin/Al Orlo Project it was their performances at the legendary Bottom Line in New York City that led to his first production with trumpeter Tom Browne. This opportunity was also the route to his first album and eventually to his two-album deal with Atlantic Jazz Records, Rejoice in 1990 and Reflections of Love in 1992. Baldwin’s fame began to grow as Reflections of Love peaked at #7 on the contemporary jazz chart. The Project also proved to be a stepping stone for other band members. Many went on to work with some of the most popular jazz and pop bands in the world including: Spiro Gyra, Michel Camilo, Paul Simon, Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, The Silos, The Average White Band, The Temptations and Ben E. King.

As Bobs career progressed he didn't let his business acumen go to waste. He independently produced his 2000 creation Bob Baldwin.com that was subsequently distributed through the powerful Virgin/EMI Network. It sold an impressive 60,000 copies and made #17 in the Billboard contemporary chart. Bob Baldwin.com featured such smooth jazz greats as Gerald Albright, Marion Meadows, Armsted Christian, Dean James, Eric Essex and Tom Browne.

coverHe also used his business skills to develop and negotiate his recording deal with Narada Jazz and his debut on that label is Standing Tall. The result is what has been described as a vibrant, meaningful 11 track CD filled not only with great grooves, but also uplifting, memorable works of art.
Baldwin says, "I like to keep my finger on the pulse of new trends, like neo-soul. Jill Scott, D'Angelo, Eryka Badu and so many others really have something great going on. What I'm doing on the new album is taking inspiration from them and putting it into an instrumental jazz framework."

Baldwin’s music is of such quality that he really doesn’t need to fill his releases with high-powered guest appearances. However, when you have friends like Roy Ayers, Chieli Minucci, Phil Perry, Kim Waters, Will Downing and Marion Meadows you might as well as include them in the mix.

Vibes master Roy Ayers joins Bob on the modern classic ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’, which Ayers composed and recorded in the 70s. Vocalist Will Downing also lends a hand to ‘Sunshine’, while Phil Perry does the honours on ‘Too Late’. Saxophonist Marion Meadows, also a frequent collaborator, joins Baldwin on ‘It's A New Day’.

Personal Secret Garden favourites from the album are really Bob Baldwin classic feel good smooth jazz tracks. Like Brian Culbertson but different one could say. Best examples of these are undoubtedly track #1 ‘Stand Tall’ and track #9 ‘Lets Fly Away’. ‘Too Late’, on the album twice in vocal and instrumental form, is completely hypnotic and guaranteed to have any listener with only an ounce of soul in his or her body singing along compulsively.

Bob Baldwin is a high quality artist of many parts. Those wishing to discover more could do a lot worse than starting with Standing Tall.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:18 PM

You Make Me Feel Brand New Is A Smooth Soul Survivor

A common thread that runs through the philosophy of The Secret Garden is the desire to maintain a genuine link between the smooth jazz of today and the smooth soul of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s 90’s and today. Principle vehicle for that is the occasional Smooth Soul Survivor feature and recent recording activity by two of the greats from smooth jazz and pop respectively has identified yet another candidate for this Smooth Soul Survivor label. In case new readers are unsure what it takes for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor, it must be a much-loved smooth jazz track which has its origins deep in soul music. The intention is to encourage you to get out there and search the racks of your favourite record store for these items of buried treasure.

It is Richard Elliot and Simply Red whom are this time turning the spotlight onto the great 1974 hit from the Stylistics, ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’.

Along with the (Detroit) Spinners and the O’Jays, the Stylistics were the leading Philly soul group produced by the legendary Thom Bell. During the early '70s, the band had 12 straight top ten US hits, including ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New.’ The Stylistics were perhaps one of the smoothest and sweetest soul groups of their era. All of their hits were ballads, graced by the magic tones of Russell Thompkins Jr. and the lush production of Bell that added up to make the Stylistics one of the most successful soul groups of the first half of the '70s.

stylistics.jpgThe Stylistics formed in 1968, from the remnants of the defunct Philadelphia soul groups The Monarchs and The Percussions. Thompkins, James Smith and Airrion Love hailed from The Monarchs while James Dunn and Herbie Murrell came from The Percussions. After working initially with Sebring Records they were then signed to the larger Avco Records with whom they enjoyed their first top ten single in 1971.

Once with Avco, the Stylistics began working with producer/songwriter Thom Bell who had already created hits for The Delfonics. The Stylistics became Bell’s pet project and with lyricist Linda Creed he crafted a series of hit singles that included ‘You Are Everything,’ ‘Betcha by Golly, Wow,’ ‘I'm Stone in Love With You,’ ‘Break Up to Make Up,’ and, of course, ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’.

Following ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ in the spring of 1974, the Stylistics broke away from Thom Bell and began working with Van McCoy who helped move the group towards a softer, easy listening style. In 1976, they left Avco and signed with H&L. The group's American record sales declined, yet ironically it was in Europe where they remained popular with the 1975 hits ‘Sing Baby Sing’, ‘Na Na Is the Saddest Word’ and ‘Can't Give You Anything’. ‘Can't Help Falling in Love’ followed a year later. The Stylistics continued to tour and record throughout the latter half of the '70s, as their popularity steadily declined. In 1980, Dunn left the group because of poor health, and Smith followed him later that year. The remaining Stylistics, bolstered by the by then growing retro circuit, continued performing as a trio into the '90s.

‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ has been a hugely covered track. Philly compilations and reggae renditions, the ridiculous of Mantovani and James Last to the sublime of Roberta Flack, this tune has been done every which way. Truly notables come the 1995 Reachin Back from Regina Belle, a real Secret garden favorite, and from smooth jazz guitarist Norman Brown on his 1999 Celebration. Soul and jazz cross over artist Norman Connors features it on his 1978 release This Is You Life and Babyface with a style that can only be called urban smooth includes it on his 2001 Love Songs.

A real blast from a shaky past comes from The 5th Dimension and their version of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ from their 1995 album In The House that was critically hammered for being a cabaret characture but certainly one of the better versions can be found from Everette Harp on the 1994 CD Common Ground. This release from smooth jazz saxophonist Harp, who employs a style not dissimilar to Dave Koz and Warren Hill, has Marcus Miller on bass and executive production from George Duke. It’s a nice piece of work.

coverInto 2003 and Simply Red have made the track a single lifted from their album Home. This is another record that has come in for some criticism for being bland and is seen by some as being yet another marker along the road of Simply Red decline. Fortunately we can end on a high note with the 2003 CD Ricochet from the excellent Richard Elliot. Of the current crop of smooth jazz saxophone superstars perhaps Elliot is the most distinctive. Indeed it would not be overstating the case to say that Elliot can be heard coming a mile away. Certainly, his version of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’, has his own very individual style written all over it and really elevates the track to the status of true Smooth Soul Survivor.

Watch this space for more great Smooth Soul Survivors, alternatively, if you have a favourite that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:44 PM

October 23, 2003

The Secret Garden Checks Out Rick Braun In Boston

Boston is a strange city in many ways. Not only does it boast a baseball team that is allegedly cursed never again to win a major trophy it is also one of the few cities not do have a dedicated smooth jazz radio station. Despite one recent failed attempt Boston is a smooth jazz dry city making it that much more difficult to find the promotion to attract the sort of live acts that cities like Chicago routinely do.

Consequently such events are joys to savour and one such tasty morsel came along on September 22 with the appearance of Rick Braun at the intimate Scullers Jazz Club.

coverDespite the fact that it was already heavily charting in the smooth jazz listings, Braun was on the road to promote his latest CD release Esperanto and to the crowd who packed out Scullers he was quite simply sensational. While the genre groans with saxophone overload top notch trumpet players remain uncommon and that perhaps is one of the reasons why Braun has created his own exclusive niche on the smooth jazz scene. Another reason is that Braun is one of those live performers who possess real star quality and this asset was evident in spade fulls that night in Boston.

With a tight band that included the excellent Mitch Forman on keyboards Braun showcased Esperanto his long-anticipated follow-up to the 2001 Warner Bros. Records debut Kisses In The Rain. The album is a wistful reference to a language created in the late 19th century by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof, who used the pseudonym ‘Dr. Esperanto’ to facilitate communication between people of different lands and cultures. Braun is on hand here with the message that music is truly the transcendent universal language.

A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, trumpeter Rick Braun first surfaced as a member of the jazz-fusion outfit Auracle, formed while he was a student at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. After two LPs the group disbanded and Braun turned to songwriting. He scored a hit for REO Speedwagon with ‘Here with Me’; but in time directed his focus to contemporary jazz, releasing his solo debut Intimate Secrets in 1993.

Yet Rick's initial move to contemporary jazz came about by accident. He travelled to Toronto to try and get an audience for several of his demo tapes. One music publisher who listened to Rick's instrumentals suggested that he contact Mesa - Bluemoon, whose main offices were only two miles from his home in Studio City.

coverAfter touring with Sade on her Love Deluxe tour, he was back in the studio in 1994 with Night Walks as well as the seasonal release Christmas Present. The Sade influence hangs heavy on Night Walks that has been likened to listening to Sade instrumentally.

His popularity was on the up curve with his 1995 Beat Street the influence for which Braun attributes to his days in the 80’s touring with the band War. A year later came Body and Soul, that launched the NAC chart-topper ‘Notorious’ and topped the contemporary jazz charts for no less than 13 consecutive weeks. His next release Full Stride, topped the charts for 20 weeks, and his numerous collaborations with artists Richard Elliot, Brian Bromberg, Chris Standring, Jeff Golub, Peter White and 3rd Force led to multiple No. 1 records.

Already a two-time winner of the Gavin Report's smooth jazz artist of the year award, he returned in 1998 with South Of Midnight. A more recent highpoint was his collaboration with Boney James on the 2000 release Shake It Up that helped the two of them perform to audiences in the United Kingdom. Kisses in the Rain followed a year later.

Braun’s pedigree is impeccable having worked as a side man on tour with such rock and pop stars as Rickie Lee Jones, Sade, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Glenn Frey, Natalie Cole, Tom Petty, Crowded House, Phoebe Snow and of course, War.

coverIn his colourful liner notes for Esperanto, Braun conveys the album's distinctive Euro-vibe influences with images of folks from various European countries sitting on an Italian portico, speaking different languages amongst themselves. Wafting over the conversations from inside the house is the music of Miles Davis, one of Braun's idols. ‘The idea is that music is a link between these people of varied backgrounds, a healing force that brings them together’. It creates an atmosphere of mutual understanding’.

Braun's finely cultivated eye for fruitful musical collaborations continues on Esperanto. It features two tracks co-written and co-produced with keyboard legend Jeff Lorber In addition the likes of Gerald Albright, keyboardist Gregg Karukas and long-time Braun keyboard player Mitch Forman all guest as part of this eclectic mix of smooth jazz flavours.

The album also includes cuts created with Rhodes player Johnny Britt, the moody chill tune ‘To Manhattan with Love’, keyboard player Tim Gant, from the band Chicago, drummer Tony Moore and long-time Dave Koz bassist Bill Sharp.

Esperanto's first single is ‘Green Tomatoes’, an old school, Les McCann flavoured retro-funk explosion written by Braun over a groove originally composed by the popular London based acid jazz outfit 45DIP. In Boston Braun had some fun with this one having been approached before the show by a member of the audience who told Rick he didn’t think much of the track as the choice for the single. Before playing the tune he retold the story and then at its completion asked the self appointed critic if he had had a change of mind. The feedback was thankfully in the affirmative. Included on this track on the album are Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown who kick it up to tremendous effect.

coverOn explaining his motivation for the Esperanto project Braun recalls the risk taking approach he took to his 1995 breakthrough recording Beat Street. ’The trumpet wasn't an accepted smooth jazz instrument at the time’, he explains, ‘but I was making some strong inroads. I just did what felt right for me and enjoyed the process, and it became a very successful record. I had just got back from a visit to the Northern region of Italy when I began to write for Esperanto, and the romantic Euro vibes were just running through me. It was all about how I felt at the time, and the music evolved organically. One cultural difference I notice about Europeans is that they move at a more leisurely pace than we do. The slower unfolding pace permeates the album, and in a few cases I forgo traditional song form, create longer intros and wait longer to get to the hook. Trance and lounge music played a big part in the inspiration.’

Those who were there on September 22 can certainly testify to that.

Posted by Denis Poole at 11:14 PM

September 3, 2003

Richard Elliot In Boston

richardelliot.jpgWelcome to the August 2003 issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz.

The week of August 25 in the city of Boston seemed much like any other. Warm summer sunshine was fragmented by scattered and dramatic thunderstorms and the Red Sox were winning again. However, from a musical perspective this historic city was serving up some very untypical and varied delights.

The first of these was the appearance of Richard Elliott at the Scullers Jazz Club and the second was Aretha Franklin, in town in suburban Lowell as part of her farewell concert tour. More news of this Aretha Franklin tour in the next edition of The Secret Garden but for now its time to concentrate on the Elliot gig.

Scullers Jazz Club is something of a rare phenomenon. It is small and intimate and buried within the Doubletree All Suites Hotel between the Charles River and the Massachusetts turnpike. Hardly the place one would expect to find top rank smooth jazz artists. But find them there you will, a fact that is even more surprising given that Boston is one of the few major US cities not to have a dedicated smooth jazz radio station.

On August 26 it was the turn of Richard Elliott to blow into town with an early and a late show and the opportunity to showcase tracks from his new release Ricochet.

Although he's called a "smooth jazz artist," saxophonist Richard Elliot is equally at home with most rock & roll and the kind of classic R&B performed by the group Tower Of Power. For five years in the 1980s, he was a big part of the classic R&B band's horn-based sound.

The Scottish-born Richard Elliot was raised in Los Angeles, where he quickly became a fan of West Coast classic R&B. Elliot landed his first job while still a teenager with Natalie Cole and the Pointer Sisters. A few years later, he was tapped to record with some of his idols from Motown Records, which had relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles. In the 1970s, he had the chance to record with both Smokey Robinson and The Four Tops.

coverSince the 1980s, Richard Elliot has been among the top saxophonists in the smooth jazz genre. But if Elliot had to categorize his music, he wouldn't necessarily call it jazz - at least not in the traditional sense. The tenor sax man tends to think of himself as essentially an R&B instrumentalist with jazz influences. Soul and funk are his foundation and he celebrates his soul/funk heritage on this latest GRP release Ricochet.

‘In some respects, this record is a return to my roots,’ Elliot says of Ricochet. ‘I consider myself more of an R&B artist than a jazz artist, and I felt I was really exploring my R&B roots on this album. In my younger days, I tended to make eclectic records. But on my last few records I tried to have more of a commonality-and on Ricochet there is always an R&B thread.’

That isn't to say that Ricochet is devoid of jazz or pop elements. Like his previous releases, this instrumental album is very much a part of the contemporary jazz idiom. Nor is Elliot saying that he forgot about his R&B heritage on any of his previous CDs as Elliot has usually favoured the more R&B-influenced side of jazz. But if all of Elliot's albums underscore his soul/funk roots to some degree, Ricochet finds him being even more R&B-minded than usual. From tough, sweaty funk-jazz smokers like ‘Sly’, named after the legendary Sly Stone, and ‘Slam’ to the dusky ‘Corner Pocket’ and a sentimental remake of The Stylistics' ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New.’

Ricochet finds Elliot joining forces with a variety of accomplished musicians and producers. This album called for participants with strong R&B credentials, and Elliot has exactly that in guitarist Tony Maiden, who backed Chaka Khan when he was part of Rufus in the 1970’s, veteran percussionist Lenny Castro and guitarist Robbie Nevil. One of the album's keyboardists is the multi-faceted Jeff Lorber.

Lorber and Elliot both do their share of producing on Ricochet and the album's other producers include Steven Dubin, bassist Ronnie Garret, and keyboardist Rex Rideout. There was a time when Elliot preferred to do all of his own producing, but these days, he enjoys the input that he gets from others.

cover‘I used to produce all of my records by myself,’ Elliot recalls. ‘But along the way, I decided that I wanted people to help me with the production so that I could put all of my energy into playing the saxophone and writing - and I found that to be a very liberating experience. When the time came to do this record, I picked the producers I wanted to collaborate with and everyone had their own ideas. At the same time, I wanted all of the material to have a common thread.’

Both Rideout and Garrett were on stage with Elliott at Scullers and as well as doing a terrific job on the Ricochet showcase they also found time to remind the packed audience of some of the great numbers from Elliott’s previous releases.

Most memorable among these was his rendition of two numbers from his Chill Factor CD. The first was ‘Moomba’ and Elliott explained to the audience that the word Moomba was of African origin and meant to move on to the next village. He added that was just as well because at the time he wrote and named the track he had no idea what the word meant.

In addition, Richard Elliot also served up ‘Aint Nothing But The Real Thing’ from his Chill Factor CD. This Ashford and Simpson composition falls fair and square into our category of Smooth Soul Survivor. As regular readers will know, for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor it must be a much loved smooth jazz track which has its origins deep in the soul music of the 60’s and 70’s.

ashford_simpson.jpgNikolas Ashford, born May 4, 1942 in Fairfield, SC and Valerie Simpson, born August 26, 1946, in New York City have had two distinct careers. Both song writing and performing have worked hand in hand.

As far as performing, their own career was launched in 1973 with Keep It Comin on Motown and Gimme Something Real on Warner Bros. Their first success came in 1977 with the gold-selling Send It which contained the Top Ten R&B hit ‘Don't Cost You Nothing.’ Is It Still Good To Ya, a second gold album and released in 1978 contained the number two R&B hit ‘It Seems to Hang On’. Stay Free, their third straight gold album, contained ‘Found a Cure’, another R&B smash that also made the Top 40 on the pop chart. A Musical Affair, in 1980, featured the hit ‘Love Don't Make It Right,’ but was not as successful as previous efforts.

Meanwhile, Ashford & Simpson continued to work with other artists, scoring successes with Chaka Khan, and the classic ‘I'm Every Woman’, and with Gladys Knight. Their own career saw a resurgence in 1984 with Solid, which went gold and produced the R&B number one ‘Solid’ that made number 12 on the pop charts. During the late '80s and '90s, Ashford & Simpson continued to tour and record sporadically.

The two had originally met in 1964 and scored their first song writing hit in 1966 with Ray Charles recording of their ‘Let's Go Get Stoned.’ After a period at Scepter Records, they moved to Motown where they wrote hits for The Supremes that included ‘You're All I Need to Get By’. When Diana Ross left The Supremes for a solo career, Ashford & Simpson also wrote ‘Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand’ for her. During this Motown period they also wrote ‘Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing’ for the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

‘Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing’ proved to be a massive and much copied smooth soul classic with Kiki Dee, as far back as 1971, and Michael McDonald, as recently as this year both choosing to cover it. Add in the likes of Aretha Franklin, Donny Osmond, Angela Bofill and Vince Gill and its clear this is track has appealed to a wide range of artists and a wide range of music styles.

Three decades on and it is Richard Elliot who was lighting up a Boston summer evening with his version of this excellent Smooth Soul Survivor.

The Richard Elliot Ricochet tour continues around the US and he is also scheduled for ‘Guitars and Saxes’ appearances too. Visit his website for dates and catch him if you can. The experience will be richly rewarding.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor or a track for ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:48 PM

July 25, 2003

Barry White dies

barrywhite.gifJust as this months page was being put to bed the sad news came through of the death of the great Barry White. It seems these days that our musical hero’s are dying all too frequently and in the case of Barry White he really was one of the all time hero’s of seductive soul. He is worth a special tribute here because it was his hallmark monologue on the introduction to the Quincy Jones epic ‘The Secret Garden’ that spawned the idea for the name of this page. In addition it was the mood of the man that inspired the idea of the regular feature, Smooth Soul Survivors. One thing that is certain is that the music of Barry White is set to survive for a very long time.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:45 PM

Ronnie Jordan - At Last

With the exception of just a handful of outstanding artists there is little doubt that smooth jazz is in crisis. Bland recordings and lacklustre covers are doing nothing for the genre. Couple that with the change of musical direction of radio stations such as Jazz FM, who now seem to think it is OK to play music from artists such as Dean Martin and call it smooth jazz, and indeed times are troubled.

That’s why it has been particularly refreshing to discover the latest release, this time on N-Coded Music, from the diverse and talented Ronnie Jordan. For those of us who do not like our smooth jazz too smooth this is certainly the release of 2003 so far. At Last brings us ten edgy but radio friendly tracks that really hit the spot.

When talking to Jordan about Jordan the word legend is an uncomfortable fit for the famed guitarist. ‘George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian’, he says humbly, ‘now those guys are legends. Me, I am just a guy always working to improve his craft’.

coverAnd the fruits of his labour, along with his growing legendary status, are splendidly evident on At Last, his sixth CD overall.

A quick sampling of the disc amply proves the master musicians’ assessment is right on the mark. Track #3, ‘Heaven’ is typically infectious and smooth, track #5, ‘Word of Mouth’ is pleasant and melodic while track #1, the title number ‘At Last’ is punchy and groovy with a melodic tinge. All three have that irresistible rhythmic bounce that smooth jazz aficionados have come to love. Add Jordan’s unique guitar riffing and melodic expression and its virtually impossible not to envision smooth groove stations jumping all over them.

Track #2, the cover of the Al B. Sure number from his 2002 release Give It Up, ‘Nite and Day’ and track #4, ‘You Might Need Somebody’, with Crystal Lake doing the Randy Crawford vocals are two more automatics.

Those who have followed Jordan from the beginning know that when the man wants to mellow things out, he is virtually unparalleled.

And he doesn’t disappoint on At Last. Track #8, ‘Island Paradise’ is exactly that, a romantic journey for the lover in all of us. It is evocative of the beaches of southern California, a very tight recording and a contender for the albums stand out track. The cutely titled track #7, ‘Ron-dezvous’ is the perfect tune for creating a little midnight magic, a very groovy smooth number with nice build qualities and a catchy riff. Throughout his career Ronny Jordan has been nothing if not teasingly unpredictable, so the fact that he rounds out this sensual set with the seductive club mix of ‘St. Tropez’ should come as no surprise. This is really an outstanding track, a genuine dance floor filler that is a wonderful way for the album to close.

Also not too surprising is the fact that Jordan, who deserves credit for revolutionising the sound of contemporary jazz, would produce this project with radio airwaves in mind. ‘That’s something I have never consciously set out to do before’, he explains. ‘I have had my fair share of success, but I wanted to make a record that would stand the test of time with the general public’. In order to do that, Jordan has compromised neither his sense of self nor his musical integrity. At Last unquestionably conveys the essence of Ronny Jordan. Regardless of what direction he chooses to go on any given project he is a guitar player first and foremost. This is very much a guitar album.

Jordan’s guitar playing has served him well, bringing both critical and fan acclaim ever since his first project, the 1992 The Antidote, was hailed as one of the seminal recordings of the then up and coming acid jazz movement. Follow up projects, The Quiet Revolution and Light To Dark, further solidified Jordan’s growing reputation as not just one of the best players on the scene, but one of the most innovative as well. By the time A Brighter Day and Off The Record ushered in the new millennium, Jordan’s reputation was secure and his legend was on the rise.

Recognised by critics, fans and fellow musicians alike, Jordan’s one-of-a-kind talents have earned him the coveted Gibson Guitar Award, as well as Mobo’s Best Jazz Act honour plus a Grammy nomination. Ironically, while Jordan’s accolades come in the jazz arena, his personal musical tastes are wide. As the 40-year-old Jordan explains himself,

‘Musically, I am a product of the seventies. Radio was much more adventurous then, so I grew up on everybody from Abba to Earth, Wind and Fire to P-Funk and Steely Dan. People ask me who my influences are and I ask, how much time do they have? On guitar, it’s easy. The Big Four for me are George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. Once we get past guitarists, though, we can sit up all night and I still wouldn’t have told you all of them. Good music that’s what influences me. That is why no two albums of mine are the same. I have got a lot to say and a lot of different ways to communicate’.

If At Last is anything to go by the power of Jordan to communicate with his listening public has never been greater.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:42 PM

Rueben Brock - Dig

An album has come to the attention of The Secret Garden this month that is an interesting diversion from the usual. Released by DHP Records, Dig, by jazz trumpeter Rueben Brock is an EP that is only available from the DHP website.

digcover.jpegShowcasing Brocks diverse talents Dig features six tracks all written, produced and performed by the man himself. The DHP publicity machine describes the recording as ‘blending the rough and raw production style of hip-hop with the textures and instrumentation of contemporary jazz. The result being a smooth and relaxing escape from the world of popular music’.

A personal view of the recording is that it is perhaps a little too much of a muchness as it hits a very mean and moody late night groove on track one and then stays right on in there for the duration of the album. That is very true with tracks #1 and #2, ‘Both Ways’ and ‘Forbidden Fruit’ although track #3 ‘Blues For Dominique’ carries with it a straight-ahead flavour. Track #4, ‘How Much’ is perhaps the album stand out and incorporates a dreamy sax overlay on what would very well work as a movie soundtrack to signify quiet late night city streets.

Track #5 is again a moody late night piece supported by a haunting beat which, in a way, provides more of an overall effect than being supportive of a single piece of music. This extended play closes with #6, the title track ‘Dig’, with a good drum scene setter and some interesting laid back sounds.

Dig is a very interesting piece of music and Rueben Brock is an interesting newcomer on the scene. Check it out at www.dhprecords.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 12:36 PM