Waiting for something to musically happen is the watchword for many artists hoping to cash in on the smooth jazz movement. At first glance mastering and competing with the artists who rule the roost in this genre (Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Peter White, Marc Antoine, Jeff Lorber, etc.) would seem easy. The prescription for success seems simple - create a couple of mid-tempo grooves with little chordal movement, add single line acoustic line leads and mid-fat bass lines. What at first glance appears simple is, in application and in fact, far from it. It should be obvious if artists with the certifiable technical and musical skills of Rachel Z and Kenny Garrett have had trouble connecting with the smooth jazz crowd mere mortals should tread lightly.
The art of smooth jazz is not in the elements. Putting the concepts in play is easy, witness the plethora of smooth jazz recordings everyone with a home recording setup is trying to sell. The art is in the emotion and bringing that emotion across to the audience. This reason alone is precisely why artists like Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Peter White, Marc Antoine and Jeff Lorber run this market. Bringing emotion to music so stripped down is hard and not everyone can do it successfully.
The Gregory James Band’s 2001 recording, Reincarnation, is an example of the failures associated with not being able to bring emotion to the smooth jazz formula. Guitarist James and his group create a series of mid-tempo sonic washes displaying all of the characteristics listed above, but with no meat and no emotion. The entire disc is basically a series of "chill-out" tracks heavy with Kai Eckhardt’s ostinato bass lines, James’ guitar-light lines and Peter Horvath’s restrained, sustained and minimalistic chordal synth/keyboard chords. The tunes don’t progress or move forward and James prefers to not light any fires in hopes of creating sparks.
Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti is a case in point. Few jazz compositions are constructed as well as this one that if it was just played down straight it would have created its own fire, even if it was just the fire of the Miles Davis original reverberating in the ear of the listener. In this recording the melody is stated simply. The polyphonic juxtaposition of lines, as with the original, is removed. The ensemble background formula is utilized with slow moving guitar interludes.
There are a number of tunes, For The Ride, Between Two Worlds, Bittersweet and The Awakening, with spoken word poetry lying on top of the mix. These show promise, but get a little sleepy. James’ sentimental solo guitar turn on the disc’s last track, Las Dos (Rondena), is truly delightful, but comes a little late. As chill-out/ambient music this recording is actually not too bad and very well may have been the point. As jazz, it just doesn’t go anywhere.