In the ever-growing subgenre of smooth jazz, it’s always so very invigorating and encouraging to happen upon a group such as Washington, DC’s own Collaboration, a band founded by drummer Kenneth Dickerson and saxophonist Tracey Cutler and comprised entirely of teachers and school administrators. Here’s a very polished group of musicians that has a firm handle on the essence of contemporary jazz in a way that is instantly obvious with Because of You.
Collaboration, whose influences include such luminaries as Billy Preston, Joe Sample, Wes Montgomery and Marcus Miller, just to name a few, has shared the stage with the likes of Peabo Bryson, the Manhattans, Pieces of a Dream, Betty Carter, Lee Ritenour, Stanley Turrentine, War, Layla Hathaway, Norman Brown and the late, great Phyllis Hyman. They have wowed crowds at the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, the Democratic National Convention, the 1997 Presidential Inaugural Ball, the National Urban League, the Capital City Jazz Festival, The Jazz Company at Walt Disney World and the Darryl Green Youth Life Foundation Gala. The group has also been featured on BET’s BET On Jazz Series as an up and coming new talent. Quite the resume, to say the least.
Tunes of note, and there are many, include "My Funny Valentine," which is a tight piece with very deliberate and polished vocals by one Lori Williams, whose intonations and style can easily remind one of Anita Baker. "The Colors of Fall" has that soft and unimposing, unassuming Caribbean touch. The piano and sax have flair that shapes and drives the smooth, moderate tempo of the tune very nicely. Yes, its title is very telling as the tune is ideal for walking in the park through leaves strewn all about during a cool fall afternoon. "In Walked ‘He’ boasts a very solid backbeat and superior upfront sax work. The guitar solo also offers careful, well-conceived riffs without being "too much" or selfish. The title cut is a very romantic caress whose intention is obviously to set that mood that seems to whisper, "Sweetheart, for the moment, for this moment, everything is perfect with us." You’ll find that same caress in "In Your Sexy Kind of Way." This group does well in that "lovers’ light."
Should one wish to deviate from the soft and mellow, try on the group’s rendition of the classic "Summertime." Very upbeat, rhythmic and "electric." Here again, we’re treated to the seductive vocals of Lori Williams. Another beauty is "Just Friends," with its Kim Waters/Walter Beasley "Let’s just love love" feel. The finale "Spiritual Union" is simply a collection of pure, aural enticements. It’s magnetic and soft "sway" provides just the peacefulness for which all spirits undoubtedly yearn at some point.
Because of You is music for lovers, without question. Of course, someone who just wants to be softly caressed into oblivion by soothing, quality jazz will welcome this gem as well. Collaboration. The name works well for a group that obviously believes in working together to achieve the melodic experience witnessed here. Another must-have album for serious smooth jazz aficionados. The album was released in 2003 and the group is currently working on its follow-up offering, to be released in June, 2008. I strongly suspect that it will prove to have been well worth the wait.