June 30, 2010

Bradley Leighton -- Soul Collective

It's been awhile since I've offered a decent gem for the library; so, here's one.

Flutist Bradley Leighton has covered a lot of turf in his career as far as citing musical influences is concerned. He’s covered Charlie Parker and even rolled through a little Tower of Power. Here on his 2008 release, Soul Collective, the flutist seems to travel back to his Back to the Funk release as he unleashes some coolly rhythmic and oft funky material on us.

The album runs the gamut for groovable tracks. The opening cut, “It’s On,” has a really nice hook and decidedly smooth yet funky feel while “Café Con Leche” has that appealingly rhythmic and exotic Latin touch. Funk takes center stage with “Wake Up Call” and its sassy swagger. Covers like “She’s Gone,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” and “Keep That Same Ol’ Feeling” are dealt with adeptly and with precision. Vocalist Paula Prophet, who is expected to release her debut sometime this year, offers her “That Man,” which has that early Motown/Martha Reeves kinda groove, and it works…well.

With guest help from Greg Adams, Tom Braxton, Jason Miles, Evan Marks, and Tom Scott, this project came gift-wrapped and set to please. It’s quite obvious that the stellar gathering prompted the album’s name and character.

It’s amazing what the flute has been able to offer in the world of jazz. From Laws to Najee to Zonjic to Leighton and many more, we have come to experience the texture and sweetness that the instrument adds to the genre. Soul Collective speaks to just how fortunate we are to have that experience.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 9:28 PM

December 19, 2009

Douye -- Journey

In a word, wow! Newcomer Douye brings such a freshness, so much silky smoothness to our world of smooth jazz that she produced a beaming smile to my lips the moment I heard her belt out the first notes of her opening track. Such sultriness, such a sense of belonging here. Her debut album, Journey, is loaded with splendid melodies and rhythms and colored perfectly with her fine, oh-so-fine vocals. Such a combination is usually a success, and Douye is here to add an exclamation point to that assertion.

Hailing from Nigeria, one can’t help making the obvious comparison to another nightingale from that marvelous land: Sade. Make no mistake, each of these ladies holds her own identity, but the affinity for the sultry, the sassy, the sexy is more than evident.

This album never misses a beat, pardon the pun, as it glides in confidently and captures every fiber of one’s aural senses and refuses to let go until the closing note of her finale “The Voice.” Choosing a favorite here is about as difficult as you can imagine. Each selection has its own magnetic pull, incredibly ripe with melody and shape. The phrasings on each song are well-placed, and each song sets a solid direction from the opening notes through the end. Still, if really pressed, I suppose I could select a couple of tunes that perfectly embrace and serenade “Fly Away,” “On For You,” “Cold Wind Blows,” “Walk Away” and…oh, did I say “a couple?” The point is this, imagine yourself anywhere tranquil, anyplace soulful, and you'll feel the need to have this album in hand.

We all know of that one-hit wonder or that debut album that became the only signature project for some artist who later vanished into obscurity. Here’s betting that Douye won’t be one of them.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 11:17 PM

November 29, 2009

Kafele Bandele--Acid Reign

This artist was introduced to me recently during a Facebook session with one of his fans. Though this is an older project (released back in 2006), I think the fact that this independent artist put so much effort into it and produced what I think is a pretty stand-up product, certainly warrants recognition.

Acid Reign is a good fusion CD, full of a lot of diverse material (I hear acid jazz, hip-hop/rap, African grooves laced with some cool scat, a touch of straight-ahead here, free or avant garde jazz there, and a smooth groove or two.

Kafele Bandele is a trumpeter, composer, and producer who has been playing trumpet for about 15 years. Born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bandele was first exposed to jazz by his parents. In fact, he attributes his love and appreciation for the art to his father who often played John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, and Miles Davis, among others. Later, his brothers and sister introduced him to Hip-Hop and R&B. This musically diverse background is certainly evident and provides clear answers as to his influences and pretty unique style.

Tunes that warrant a listen on this album include the title track with its hip-hop/free jazz fusion feel, the bright and rhythmic African-flavored “Morning Rush,” a hard-to-pigeonhole-free-jazz effort, “Softly She Blows By,” with its interesting vocals and chords, the aforementioned “Faraway Places,” and the stylish and exotic “Every Time She Breathes” with its interesting timing and suave vocals.

This album is full of unique expression, and Bandele’s trumpet does a great job of unleashing the free style that it often adopts. His is as serious approach to such expressionism as I’ve heard. It has that Miles flavor, that Coltrane touch, and yet a flair all its own. It’s not at all exclusively smooth jazz, but if you’re seeking to shed a different light on your jazz, Bandele may have had your taste in mind with Acid Reign.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 3:44 PM

July 9, 2009

Al Turner - Movin'

Welcome to Smoothvibes’ latest feature, What’s In Your Library?, where we will periodically select certain gems from our own respective libraries—albums or CDs that could be a few to several years old but that, in our opinion, should be in all smooth jazzers’ libraries. We hope that the column will direct some well-deserved light on a few artists and/or albums that may have flown under one’s radar screen. Enjoy!

Al Turner – Movin’

I don’t know if bassist Al Turner can be said to be flying entirely under most jazz fans’ radar, but he certainly had flown under mine. Until now. His latest album, Movin’, was released last year on the Megawave Records label . I just happened to stumble upon this gem at Amazon.com and decided to explore it. A very wise decision on my part, I must say.

While I may have missed him before now, Turner is certainly no stranger to the industry and many artists. A bassist since age 12, Turner has played with some of the brightest luminaries in the business (Earl Klugh—with whom he’s toured for 10 years—Randy Crawford, Kem, Anita Baker, Nancy Wilson, and Bob James for starters). Here on Movin’, Everette Harp, Paul Jackson, Jr., Oleta Adams, and Earl Klugh all drop by to lend their respectively highly respectable skills.

A bassist in a mold not unlike the late great Wayman Tisdale, Turner turns on the charm of his bass in a number of capturing pieces, ranging from mid-tempo sassy funksters like “Stop Watch,” “Bassin’,” and “Dreamin’” to the crankin’ up-tempo funk of the title track to more mellow in-the-zone tunes like “Te Quiero” and “Your Will” (featuring the sexy and provocative vocals of Oleta Adams).

Clearly an artist with the depth of insight and soul needed to infuse gravity in his material, Turner simply shines in this effort. There’s no wonder he’s been in demand by so many for so long. It’s always so refreshing to hear so much emphasis being afforded the bottom end of music. Cleverly and meticulously-laid bass lines are as important to me as a lead guitar riff or a sax solo, and Turner gets it done here almost effortlessly. More than worthy of a listen and, quite likely, a place in your collection.

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 2:29 PM

May 1, 2009

Ronny Jordan - At Last

Welcome to Smoothvibes’ latest feature, What’s In Your Library?, where we will periodically select certain gems from our own respective libraries—albums or CDs that could be a few to several years old but that, in our opinion, should be in all smooth jazzers’ libraries. We hope that the column will direct some well-deserved light on a few artists and/or albums that may have flown under one’s radar screen. Enjoy!

Ronny Jordan, At Last, (N-Coded Music)

Quietly powerful, gentlemanly, debonair, funky acid jazz? Almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Well, this is what comes to mind whenever I hear a Ronny Jordan album. This veteran British guitar virtuoso who is widely regarded as the originator of acid jazz always seems to bring it all and leave it there either in the studio or onstage---but has always done in such a mannerly fashion. Always the English gentleman. The monster layers of funk and the driving rhythms and bottom almost speak contradictorily to this quiet giant, but that’s the beauty of his music, character, and versatility.

As I’ve implied, Jordan is quite an unassuming, unimposing, yet clearly superior artist who exudes the type of taste and class of which only the best can boast. The licks, the melodies, and overall productions are always made of the stuff seldom approached by anyone who’s not at the top of his or her game in the world of jazz.

I could have chosen any number of this superb artist’s albums to review, but I chose At Last not just because it’s chock full of aural goodies from track one to track 10, but also because of the deep, solid, and permeating presence it exhibits. Here, as with many of his other projects, Jordan’s guitar speaks passionately in every tune, and there’s enough body and soul here to satisfy anyone seeking a good firm vibe. The man and his music clearly complement each other. Whether you classify him as acid or smooth or anywhere in between, he satisfies—immensely.

Sit back and take a mental stroll with Jordan on the very popular title track, “Night & Day,” “Heaven,” “Word of Mouth,” “Tease,” or any of the others offered here, and you’ll get my point. Don’t have this one yet? What are you waiting for? By the way, his latest will be heading our way sometime in the very near future, I’m told. If you have none of his material, why not let At Last be your introduction? You’ll then be somewhat prepared for what’s next... and I’m pretty certain that you’ll want whatever’s next!

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 7:35 PM

April 6, 2009

The Roberts Bros., Twins, (BDM Records)

Earlier here, I wrote about The Roberts Bros., a dynamic duo with the punch, thickness, funk, soul, and rhythm more than capable of making any smooth jazzer proud to be a smooth jazzer. I also mentioned that the duo had released a subsequent project in 2007 called Twins and that I would be grabbing a copy of it. Well, I have and am I glad I have! Add “consistent” to my description of these guys. Here again, the funk and the “We-Get-It” factor come across boldly. These guys know what works. Period. From the moving, gyrating track 1, “Seems Like Yesterday,” to the snappy funkfests, “Don’t Look Back,” and “From Head To Toe,” and throughout this masterful piece of work--with laid-back catch-your-breath pieces like “Lazy Summer Day,” “Just Like That,” and the very sweet finale “Between Now and Then” thrown in for good measure--this is another gem that simply must be added to any serious smooth jazzer’s library. Watch this duo. Keep them on your radar screen, if they’re not there already. They bring smoke, heat, and soul to fill any heart, any void. You just can’t go wrong with consistency of this sort. Available via their website at www.therobertsbros.com. Enjoy!

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 5:15 PM

March 20, 2009

What's In Your Library?

Welcome to Smoothvibes’ latest feature, What’s In Your Library?, where we will periodically select certain gems from our own respective libraries—albums or CDs that could be a few to several years old but that, in our opinion, should be in all smooth jazzers’ libraries. We hope that the column will direct some well-deserved light on a few artists and/or albums that may have flown under one’s radar screen. Enjoy!

Nightbyrd – Moonlight Serenade (Dreamwhisper Music)
“Who is Nightbyrd?” some may ask. Allow me to help with that. Nightbyrd is a musical project created, arranged, and recorded by Ben Rutstein (acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboards) and Doug Marcum (acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, keys). The duo focuses quite effectively on smooth Latin jazz that possesses some of the sweetest and most exotic melodies I’ve heard in quite a long while. The Moonlight Serenade CD, released in 2004, is so loaded with mesmerizing melodies that it conjures up in my mind images of all the Latin parties I attended earlier in my life, with all the ambience, color, and feeling of goodwill that went into those gatherings. The call of the majestic trumpet by Bill Armstrong on track two’s’ “It Happens Every Time” is so moving and exact that you can’t help feeling that you’re in some Spanish village during a full-blown fiesta. Truly, I have not heard this quality of Latin jazz placed in such a fine, textured context as is demonstrated here. It’s an addictive album, forcing one to play it over and over again just to be caressed by the melodies as they sweep over you in waves of blissful passages and depth. I have zillions of songs and albums on my person Ipod, yet I keep returning to this album religiously!

Cool and as exotically thick-tongued and romantic as the Latin culture itself (which I absolutely adore, by the way---or can’t you tell??), this album speaks volumes in any language. If you love Latin jazz, you just might spring hearts in your eyes over this one. Available via CDbaby and Amazon. On a scale of 1-10, this is a clear 20! Ronald Jackson

The Rippingtons – Life In The Tropics (Peak Records)
While we’re on the topic of Latin jazz, Russ Freeman and Co. released a hottie in 2000 called Life in the Tropics. Now, we all know by now that Freeman, being the consummate guitarist/producer/composer, can transition easily from the contemporary jazz of his early Rippington days to the now familiar Santana-like or Hendrix-like compositions and riffs that have dominated quite a few of his later projects. Life in the Tropics is as good an example of the blazing adeptness and acuity of this renowned artist’s skills as any. With a boldness and swagger that challenges the best of Latin guitarists, Freeman and Company charge onto the Latin scene with a blistering nod to the illustrious Latin culture with tracks like “The Rhythm of Your Life” (the call to the party of parties) with hot Latina vocals by “Daisy” Lourdes Villa who also co-wrote this firestarter. There’s the appearance of another luminary, Peter White, on the marvelously penned “Caribbean Breeze.” Talk about dance music! This adds a whole new meaning to the term. Then, there’s the Santana-like “South Beach Mambo” and, for a nice twist, the reggae-heavy closing track, “Island Aphrodisiac.” Wow! is all that comes to mind.

Throughout this amazing production, you are treated to splendid contributions by the likes of Paul Taylor, Howard Hewitt, Dave Koz, and Eric Marienthal, just to name a handful. Truly one treasure to have in your library. One of Freeman’s best, in my opinion. Ronald Jackson

The Roberts Bros., Sugar & Spice, (BDM Records)
Here’s a duo worth tracking down if you like your jazz packed with punch, thickness, funk, soul, and rhythm. Even though this album, released in 2000, received extensive airplay on many smooth jazz radio stations across the country and in Canada, and they received a nomination for the Prism Award for the “Best New Up and Coming Artist” by the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards in 2001, I’ve encountered many who are still unfamiliar with the work of this impressive duo.

Each member has been quite busy with several individual projects in the business and, as a result, is quite possibly better known individually than as a duo. For example, Jimmy Roberts is a veteran saxophonist who, in the ‘80s, 90s, and early 2000, was an integral part of the Rod Stewart story. He’s shared the stage with such luminaries as the legendary Etta James, The Eurhythmics, Gregg Karukas, and David Benoit. In 2006, he released a solo album entitled “For We Are Never Alone,” a quality production heavy in both the contemporary jazz and spiritual realms. Peter Roberts has produced and written songs for artists including George Benson, La Toya Jackson, Daechelle, The Beu Sisters, Irene Cara, Survivor, Lisa Frazier, and Under Suspicion, just to name a few.

Combining their talents was a brainstorm that could reap benefits for ages to come, Sugar & Spice is proof positive of that. If you haven’t already done so, make space for this one in your library. There is also a hot follow-up called “Twins,” released in 2008, that I’ve yet to review. Stay tuned! Ronald Jackson

Posted by Ronald Jackson at 1:18 PM