Creating a compact disc recording of any value is a careful balance involving the adept juggling of many different, yet essential, multi-dimensional facets. The procedure starts with the choice of musicians. From there it’s on to picking the compositions/tunes and arrangements. Next up is the recording process and selection of jewel box art before finishing with marketing and distribution - to speak nothing of the legal aspects at each of those stages. As one can imagine the process is laden with land mines. Failure in just one of these critical fields can spell disaster. Cruise Control, the first duo venture for experienced and eminently talented Los Angeles musicians Mike Young and Rich Arnold, on keyboards and guitars respectively, is as about near perfect a synergistic work of smooth jazz as can be executed, except for one area, the tunes.
All of the above isn’t to say there aren’t fantastic moments on the disc. It opens up with two really great pieces. The first, Mike Young’s "Blue Coast," is about as radio friendly and up-tempo happy as you will find in this genre. Augmented and made better by smooth jazz heavy-hitter Michael Paulo on saxophone and flute, this cut is just itching for a real record company to pick it up and release the track as its own. This is quickly followed by Arnold’s "Smooth Sailing," a nice mid-tempo groove with an infectious hook which, like its predecessor, is again made better by Paulo’s fluent sax work. With such an auspicious beginning the disc holds great promise.
Unfortunately there is where the magic, and it was great magic, ends. From here on the disc loses its focus and winds its way through a number of different styles. There are two blues numbers, "Everyday I Have The Blues" and "Reconsider Baby," with the later being the better cut due to Arnold’s exception feel for line and space. It’s obvious he has real chops but thankfully downplays them in favor of feel and taste.
Young’s obvious performance talents are just as, if not more, incredible than Arnold’s - just check out his playing on "Brazilian Daydream" and there will be no lingering doubt as to whether Young can truly play. Throughout the disc Young covers a number of different keyboards in order to create washes which work to enhance the mood of each tune.
The problem lies not in the musician’s abilities or their musical knowledge of the genre, it’s in the strength of the material after the first two cuts. Troubles include a number of tunes, such as "Mr. Mellow" (not to be confused with the tune of the same name done by Maynard Ferguson), which is too predictable and a few others, such as "Only Questions," which don’t build up any steam, let alone simmer. All in all this is a disc with two fantastic cuts followed by filler, which, because the first two cuts are so great, truly makes the rest sound like filler by contrast. There’s no reason why Arnold and Young won’t make it one day, it just doesn’t happen on this disc.