Grammy award winner Jason Miles is easily one of the brightest minds working as a synthesizer/computer music programmer and electronic musician on either coast. There’s a reason why he is the first call musician of this type - excellence. Already well established as a consummate professional who brings a wealth and depth of musical knowledge to any project he undertakes, his work with Marcus Miller on Miles Davis’ highly touted and critically praised synthesizer heavy Tutu only solidified Jason’s reputation. His years of outstanding work have paid off in a list of musicians who have called upon his abilities that is unparalleled in the business. It is those associations Jason calls upon in the making of this, his latest recording as a leader, Maximum Grooves: Coast To Coast.
Only someone with Jason’s credentials could gather, on a single recording, some of today’s hottest jazz musicians taken from across a number of today’s jazz genres. From the monster saxophonist of the straight-ahead world (Michael Brecker), to one of the founders of the modern instrumental pop music movement (trumpeter Herb Alpert), to one of the most multi-versatile saxophonists playing today (Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra), to the leaders of the contemporary jazz movement (guitarist Russ Freeman and saxophonist Gerald Albright), to young smooth-jazz guns (saxophonists Jeff Kashiwa and Walter Beasley), it was probably harder for Jason to decide who would not be on the recording than to pick those that appear.
Jason’s latest recording is full of danceable instrumental grooves that are tightly constructed, superbly thought out and full of great instrumental solos. Michael Brecker literally rips it up during his turn on Krazy Eyez. Brecker single-handedly shows the smooth jazz industry that it’s possible to play an articulate, harmonically interesting solo that is also exciting. He captures fire and turns it loose on this heavy groove oriented track. Jeff Kashiwa also turns in a fine performance on Everyday Magic, able to find the pocket of the track and keep it locked in. There are also a number of other good tunes on this recording. C’est La Vie, featuring Jareed, is a great dance/pop track that should get some significant play in clubs, and Cactus has a wonderful feel all its own.
With this many big name musicians, all being lead by a true master of electronic sounds and a master musician himself, you’d think there was no way this recording could miss. Unfortunately, while there are many high points, there are also a number of misses. On the negative side there are times when no matter how funky the rhythmic setup, the artists aren’t able to save the track. For example, while Herb Alpert’s playing on Chasing Shadows is hip, he doesn’t quite pull off the feel. He locks into the beat well and reaches a stylish level of playing, but isn’t able to build on it from an emotional standpoint. It’s regrettable that as the tune plays on Alpert isn’t able to build the chart to a satisfying climax. The groove is good, but there has to be more to be successful. Say what you will about smooth jazz artists like Dave Koz and Rick Braun, but they do have the ability to convey emotion and build on it.
It’s obvious Jason’s recording comes from the heart and has many great moments, he just wasn’t able to put all of them back to back. While this recording is good, it’s just not as good as it might have been given the musicians employed and the master behind the concept.