This is a crazy time for smooth jazz musicians. After plying their art for public recognition via suit-oriented business models on smooth jazz radio stations, the musicians now find themselves in one of three non-mutually exclusive situations. In the first scenario, (1) they are happy smooth jazz radio is dead and can now play the kind of music they had always wanted to but their record companies wouldn't allow, or (2) they are totally lost fearing their audience will leave them as the radio formats change and with it, perhaps, their fans, or (3) they struggle to find relevance among jazz and instrumental music fans, charting a course they hope will allow them to survive and be accepted within the jazz community.
It's been two years since vocalist Anders Holst released a recording and his newest one, Soho Suite, may very well be his best. Originally from Sweden, Holst is now based out of New York. In the style of Kenny Rankin, Holst has a rich lower tenor voice that is full of deep romantic leanings that falls into either the smooth jazz or adult contemporary vein. Recorded with a variety of Swedish backing musicians and vocalists, every track is richly produced, but not over produced and is so popular these days in the smooth jazz world.
Rarely does an ensemble come along that has its own vision, one that is rooted in the music the members heard around them and grew up with, yet is still original in conception. That is truly the case with the Montalban Quintet. One of the first to incorporate indie music conceptualizations placed within jazz frameworks, this ensemble has staked out a unique path.
Evening In Vermont is the ninth CD by the straight-ahead jazz quartet, TRP (The Reese Project). Featuring three members of the Reese clan, Tom play flutes, Laurie is on cello, and Kirk on piano, rounded out by the percussion set work of Dave Young, the ensemble plays a collection of original, covers by jazz legends like Wayne Shorter and Roland Kirk, and folk songs.
In this, the age of being able to record your own CD in your basement, the adage, “just because you can record your own CD doesn’t mean you should,” has never been more true, especially in the smooth jazz realm. The market has been flooded with, let’s face it, tons of just terrible recordings, mostly done by artists playing all the parts themselves on their keyboard workstations. None of the above applies to the new CD by saxophonist Neamen, So Free.
The Bad Plus and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, a few years ago, blew the walls down when it came to how modern musical elements could be fused into jazz and still be true to the history and culture of America’s classical music. Traveling down that same road comes E.S.P. The best way to think of this group is cool jazz meets groove. Their hip swinging lines are fused with an emphasis on the beat and their melodies are just cool enough to have been composed back in the 1950s. The result is some of the freshest new jazz heard since the Rippingtons’ earliest recordings and Gamalon’s rocking Western New York jazz music.
Vocalist and composer Michael Franks has had a long career of which anyone would be envious. Since his launching pad hit “Popsicle Toes,” Franks has consistently released strong jazz oriented recordings featuring the best jazz musicians in both backing and featured roles. Like Kenny Rankin, Franks found a unique way to present his soft pop without ever sounding dated. Time Together is yet another fantastic Franks release featuring the best jazz musicians sweetly swinging behind Franks’ eye-winking lyrics.
Self-taught native Washingtonian Jeff Logan today lives in Maryland, near where we grew up. While he has a day job as an administrator in Prince George’s County detention center, Logan has opened concerts for artists such as Martha & The Vandellas and Junior Walker & The All-Stars. This, his seventh release, finds Logan playing all of the instruments as well as releasing the CD on his own BASS-mint Records. With 12 tracks, 10 of them originals, Logan has recorded a sweet recording of subdued instrumental R&B.
Player A is a loose collection of studio musicians out of Nashville who have come together under the direction of keyboardist, producer and Creative Soul label President Eric Copland. While all of the musicians on the disc are heavy hitters, there is no way they are household names unless you like to read liner notes on the records of others because it’s there where you’ll find their names. The cast of musicians rotates and revolves depending on the composition, but the one stable element throughout is Copeland’s playing, his compositions and arrangements; besides the two covers, one by the Brothers Gibb, “Staying Alive,” and the pop chestnut “Windy.”
Primarily known as a session musician, pianist Eddie Gip Noble has worked with artists such as Gerald Albright, Patti Austin, Wayne Henderson, Etta James and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. In The Lite Of Things is Noble’s second release, following 2004’s Love T.K.O. Like a number of keyboard oriented albums by Kim Pensyl, this recording was totally done by Noble, playing all of the parts on a keyboard workstation. In this case it’s the Korg Triton Studio Musicworkstation Sampling Keyboard. There is one exception. On “I Don’t Want To Be Alone Tonight,” Noble adds a guitarist and vocalist to great effect. The material covered on this R&B uptempo-oriented smooth jazz recording is all covers, save for one Noble original.