What I often define as "refreshing and innovative" is not so much the playing abilities of artists as their vision and fluidity in styling their music, particularly melodies, with the appropriate genre in mind. In this case, Vernon Neilly & G-Fire have identified the smooth jazz audience and tailored their music specifically for that audience. Sounds trite, but so many fail to do that, getting caught up in their own worlds of self-indulgence without caring to bring the audience along.
Vernon Neilly & G-Fire simply "get it." Because they "get it," smooth jazzers will "get it." The even, smooth, and bright guitar work is shared between Neilly, Mark Whitfield, and Kevin Chokan. Then there’s the shared drum programming duties (Neilly, Chokan, and George Fontanette) that never miss a beat (no pun intended) and the solidly supportive and expressive bass lines. Actually, there’s a lot of shared instrument duties on this CD, displaying a great deal of artistic versatility. All of this adds up to just the touch many smooth jazzers seek and actually yearn to experience.
The material is fresh, catchy, and has plenty of the "sway" of which I often speak. From the opening cut "LFC" (hmm.... I suspect only the band knows for sure), the group sets the ever-bright tone of the CD. My favorite on the CD, "Afternoon Drive," speaks to the very core of uniqueness, yet it’s extremely identifiable as good, funky, smooth jazz. Neilly plays all instruments and does a really decent job of it! It’s one of those pieces that you hum in your head for hours, not being able to get rid of it (not that you’ll want to!).
Simply put, it’s smooth jazz as I like it. The group follows this with fine, refined vocals from Vince Hall on "Unconditional," a mellow R&Bish offering. Then comes the island cut "Sweat." It changes the flavor a bit, but it doesn’t lose you one bit! There’s even a hot-rockin’, up-tempo piece with plenty of searing guitar work by Miguel Mega to end on a good sweaty note. It’s the only piece that really darts away from smooth jazz as we know it (well, some similarly hot offerings by Russ Freeman do come to mind). Take a listen to this refreshing group. You can envision it in your collection quite easily.