If this CD ever wins a Grammy, it will probably be based more on the packaging than the music, which I will get to in a moment. Not an easy way to start a music review when the subject should be whether "Say That!" is good or bad musically.
First, to look at the cover and the packaging might suggest that Geissman is finally sucking up to an industry that pretends that the music is important when it's really the image and the look that counts. Of course since Futurism Records is not a major label, that still doesn't explain the extravagance behind it. The cover and it's gateway opening done by Miles Thompson features a hodgepodge of strange images ranging from an elephant dancing on top of a turntable to several misshaped characters representing musicians and a bikini-clad girl appearing to rise from a flaming hat. The artwork, of course, is sublime, strange, and despite it all, represents one of the best CD covers so far this year. I would have said original except that the artwork does reek largely in the influence of the late artist Jim Flore whose various covers for jazz artists like Louis Armstrong had the similar style. Sadly, Thompson never credits Flore on this CD as a main influence.
Also inside, the CD is made up to look more like a mini LP. The mini sheet music to the title track and a folding liner note which has the usual credits plus the story behind the making of this album. Written by jazz writer Bill Milkowski, the notes suggest that the purpose behind the making of this CD was based on Geissman's dislike over the direction that corporate radio has gone as far as smooth jazz was concerned. And that he really wanted to get back in touch with what made jazz music really great meaning the solos, improvisation and the unlimited freedom a musician achieves.
With that point taken, let's get down to the music. The title track starts off with a funky drumbeat followed by a rhythmic bass riff and Geissman with his guitar lines matched by Brian Scanlon on tenor sax. The piano work by Emilio Palame complements the rhythm section very well. Say That! gives off the sound of a 1960's TV crime drama which adds to the mystique. When the rhythm section slows down a pace, Geissman gets down with a spicy guitar solo. Wrong is Right represents the harder edge of smooth jazz, referring to what Milkowski wrote as a 'wrong kind of solos, wrong harmonies, wrong instrumentation and wont intent to suit the smooth jazz niche." With that, Geissman kicks in a great solo along with the rest of the band gelling together with the right (I mean, wrong) volume and improvisation of this blend of bossa nova/fusion styles.
"Bossa", says it all. A nice bossa-nova ballad where Geissman adds a refreshing groove to set the pace. Special guest Tiernay Sutton performs a wordless vocal improvisation matching her interaction with Geissman and Scanlon. "Spy vs Spy", based on Mad Magazine's two beloved clumsy secret agents, puts the rhythm section in a crawling slinky pace and yet maintains an easy groove. The track even allows Geissman to do more with notations and chords during his solo. "Below The Radar" is a cut-to-the-chase Bebop style tune that allows Geissman to lighten things up more. Ranier's B3 organ solos on that and "What's The Story?" adds flavor to both tracks full of top class musicianship.
I could do without the "Theme from Two" and a "Half Men" partially because I don't watch the show, but because the track lacks the creative spark or melody that any TV theme song provides. "Yes or No?", with Russel Ferrante, has the brilliant pianist starling the show with his atmospheric chords and notations leaving Geissman as a mere sideman.
But it's "Grandfather's Banjo" that deserves the most attention. The track is a splendid hybrid of bluegrass and New Orleans jazz mixing tuba,clarinet with the typical piano-bass-drum lineup and Geissman's banjo solo to bring out what Milkowski calls, "the most eccentric offering on the album." The banjo that you hear on this tune belonged to Geissman's grandfather who played the instrument just for fun. And as you can hear, this slow-pace, yet warmhearted tribute to his grandfather earns Geissman what should be his shining moment, especially at Grammy time.
Overall, the eccentricities that were supposed to overshadow the record seemed to have paid off. And despite the packaging, (which was innovative, I must add)Geissman makes his point about his breakaway from th limiting confines of smooth jazz. In other words, smooth jazz should sound closer to modern jazz than new age. Grant Geissman will make no apologies if this alienates his smooth jazz audience who expect something in the vein of "Feels So Good." It's only the audience and the rest of the music word that has to catch up with him.