Keyboardist Gregg Karukas is a rare gem that has managed to outshine many of his contemporaries, yet he is devoid of widespread recognition. Since 1987, he has recorded nine highly engaging albums, with most having consistently charted in every smooth jazz category. As a sideman and studio musician, Gregg is much sought after on recordings and in concert. His latest CD entitled Looking Up on the Trippin’ "N’ Rhythm Record Label is Karukas’ 10th smooth jazz album. In many ways, this recording continues a formula that always breaks new ground in a genre that is often controversial and leaves little if any room for creativity.
First of all, Gregg Karukas is an original and is without imitation. On many of his previous albums, his primary focus has always been as a keyboardist synthesizing sound; on Looking Up, we see the acoustic piano as his messenger of choice. In another bold move, Gregg has included a number of outstanding guitarists to create an album that is proof positive. Listen for the effervescent talents of Peter White, Thom Rotella, Michael O’Neill, Ricardo Silveira and Richard Smith. To further highlight this jazz activated sound energy experience, Karukas features trumpeter Rick Braun and flutist Andy Suzuki.
When examining the texture of Looking Up, Gregg’s choice of guitar specialists was very well calculated. He has stated on numerous occasions: "Ideas come to me at night when I am writing a song. There is something about the melody, style of music or the groove I’m in that will cause me to say: This is the perfect song for a particular artist." Karukas’ conceptualized thought process pulled in Ricardo Silveira for his Latin-induced grooves, while Peter White served up a heaping helping of melodic fusion. Michael O’Neill has always had Gregg’s back on most of his previous jaunts, as well as his main go to guitarist for solos. On the other hand, Richard Smith and Thom Rotella bring something extra to the table as well, whether it be velvet smooth textures or the underlying influences of guitarist Wes Montgomery possessed by Thom.
When listening to Looking Up, I can understand why Gregg Karukas has chosen his cadre of merry men to assist him. The album’s title cut features Thom Rotella, he alone has the licks to re-visit the smooth contemporary style of the late Wes Montgomery. The ebb and flow of this track prominently reinforces Karukas’ eclectic ideas. Further evidence is seen on "London Underground," where Michael O’Neill shines through. On the irrepressible tune entitled "Deep Into It," we see Peter White and Richard Smith strutting their stuff.
By all accounts, Looking Up has tremendous elements of listening pleasure firmly embedded within its tracks from start to finish. Additional enhancements are brought to bear with the inclusion of Rick Braun’s and Roberto Silveira’s influential chops on "First Flight Home." When attempting to put this entire project into perspective, Gregg Karukas’ division of labor is very apparent. He has filled this CD with plenty of artistic impression, which makes for a very likable journey into sound, one that is seamless and thoroughly inviting.