Smooth jazz groups are, unfortunately, becoming a dime a dozen. Smooth jazz sounds, to most unsophisticated ears, as being remarkably easy to play. With no need to have to master tricky rhythms or complex harmonies, as in straight-ahead jazz, many musicians have turned to smooth jazz in hopes of cashing in on this lucrative music market. The truth is, however, that to play smooth jazz well one has to truly feel the music. There have been a ton of musicians, including greats like Kenny Garrett, who tried their hand at smooth jazz only to fail. The reason being they do not have a genuine love for the style.
One of the new up and coming smooth jazz groups out of Detroit is Diamond Steele. Trumpeter and composer Marcus A. Allen Sr. leads the ensemble. Allen cites famed Motown trumpeter Marcus Belgrave as his mentor and has played with artists like fellow Detroit musician James Carter. Allen's son Marcus Jr. plays keyboards, Leslie Morgan Jr. is the bassist, with Gerard Evans handling woodwinds, including one very tasty flute solo on this disc, and Willie Davis is on the drums.
Technically this is not a smooth jazz ensemble. More rightfully they play an R&B inspired form of jazz that is in many ways similar to the less advanced compositions the Brecker Brothers were playing when they first hit the scene in the 1970s. The compositions may not be as advanced as the Brecker Brothers, but that doesn't mean the music isn't good. Each of the seven tracks on Lavish Living are fundamentally sound, with a nice variety of melodic hooks and easy groove based rhythms. While none of the compositions standout in particular, they all allow for a unified conceptual framework to come forward.
With regard to the musicianship, the Gestalt principal is truly in place with regard to Diamond Steele, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. While all of the musicians play well, there is nothing spectacular about any of them. When put together as a whole, however, their ability to come to a singular vision and in an uncommonly tight aggregation makes this one of the more enjoyable "bands" to listen to. There are a lot of bands made up of individuals and they sound like it. With Diamond Steele, however, you have a true band. If you like grooving small ensemble jazz that harkens back to a time when there were no genres within the jazz music world, then you fill find much to enjoy in this disc.