"Bands come and go. I just try to do my best for the audience whether it is a live show or a recording. You are only as good as your last thing, your last project or your last show. You want to leave people with wanting to talk about you and having good things to say so they will come back to see the next show or buy the next CD," says Greg Adams who certainly needs no introduction to jazz fans. Adams was speaking to me from his home in Los Angeles on this Tuesday morning.
The trumpet virtuoso was the kingpin behind the prolific horns arrangements for Tower of Power and for more than twelve years has carved out a very successful solo career that began with the Hidden Agenda project. In 2006, Adams released Cool To The Touch and the CD, singles and the artist have recorded high marks with the smooth jazz charts. As you would expect from the trumpeter the album is dominated by horn melodies.
Featuring an all-star cast of brass players blowing some of the sweetest notes that you will ever hear "Felix The Cat" opens this songbook. Drawing upon a circle of close friends Adams is accompanied by Mindi Abair (alto sax), high school chum Johnnie Bamont (baritone sax), Eric Marienthal (alto sax). Tenor sax men Richard Elliot and Boney James also bring their reeds to this recording. "Felix The Cat", released as a single from Cool To The Touch has been well received by smooth jazz radio. "Felix The Cat" takes its inspiration from a ‘cool cat’ that Adams performed with in Tahiti during 2006.
Adams refers to the musicians as a million dollar sax section and adds, "It’s crazy, and I am a lucky guy to know all of these great players."
Adams recalls that Abair was so eager to be part of the project that she left immediately following a Hollywood television appearance and raced out to the San Fernando Valley to join the other musicians for the recording session.
Adams says, "Even though I have a formula for what I create I try to reinvent myself a little bit differently every time I do another CD for my own satisfaction and hopefully for the listener’s satisfaction." Adams along with longtime friend, co-writer and co-producer James Wirrick detoured from Adams’ fondness for utilizing a horn section usually consisting of two trumpets, a trombone, a couple of tenor saxes and a baritone sax to feature the superbly talented saxophone quintet on Cool To The Touch.
"This time I thought a sax quintet juxtaposed to a muted trumpet could be very slick. Once again, we went back to a retro thing, instrumentally five-piece sax sections are the number in a big band. That harkens back to the sixties. Still when you open up the package (CD), it is totally today. It is not a big band sax section; it is kind of a big band funk sax section. These guys are so great and they are great friends. It was great to have them all in the room at the same time," and you can hear by the inflection in Adams’ voice that he is beaming across the miles. It is difficult to imagine assembling this much talent for any recording these days with perhaps the exception of a tribute album to some legendary figure. The same players were ready to go when it came time to record the song "Cool To The Touch". The songs "Felix The Cat" and "Cool To The Touch" only took a combined time of two hours to record serving as a further testament to the strength of the musicians.
It would be selling short the creative genius of both Adams and Wirrick to suggest that Cool To The Touch is only about horns as there are some other great performances including Nick Milo’s keys magic on "One Night In Rio". Johnny Sandoval’s hand played percussion is outstanding and provides a Latin backbeat. Sandoval resurfaces on a number of other tracks including the nostalgic sounding "Life In The Key Of Blue", but his best performance may be the Latin flavored "Bongo Baby".
Legendary drummer Vinnie Colaiuta who is featured on the March edition of Modern Drummer is the keeper of the beats for "Felix The Cat", the title track "Cool To The Touch", Sting’s "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" and "It’s Only Love, Love". Colaiuta who Adams refers to as "a dear old friend" has toured and recorded with artists such as, Herbie Hancock, Sting, Lee Ritenour, Joni Mitchell, Faith Hill and Gino Vanelli.
Bass guitarist Leland Sklar, Paul Jackson Jr. (guitar), Carmen Grillo (guitar), Brian Allen (bass), Evan Stone (drums), Joey Navarro (keys) and James Wirrick (guitar, keys and harmonica), turn in other strong performances on Cool To The Touch.
The forward thinking Adams took time during our conversation to explain why he opted for a nostalgic black and white cover for Cool To The Touch. "We made a jacket for the CD that looked like an old Blue Note record. It is so minimalist and I think in that day it might have been the hip thing to do," he says. Reflecting further he adds, "There is nothing classier than a black suit or a little black dress that Audrey Hepburn might have worn. It’s classic and that is what we were going for."
"We didn’t really want to use the word smooth so we opted for the words ‘cool to the touch’ and (thought) we would branch out from the box a little bit more. Sometimes a title can really pigeonhole you," he says.
The reinventing of Greg Adams’ music continues with retro sounding titles such as "It’s Only Love, Love", "Life In The Key Of Blue", "Hi-Fi" and "Bongo Baby" set to modern arrangements.
The Sting tune "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" is the only song on Cool To The Touch that was not either written or co-written by Adams. "First of all I am a big fan of Sting and whenever I heard that song on the radio I would always perk up my ears. Doing covers of songs is something that I began ten years ago with Sade’s "Smooth Operator". To cover "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" differently was so difficult that we pretty well mirrored the (original) arrangement. We did the voice with the trumpet and it was a bit of a stretch but I think it works. It goes over great live," he says.
The album draws to a close with the dreamy "When The Party’s Over" as Adams’s trumpet laments having to say goodbye. There are many great tunes on this CD but this Adams and Milo arrangement is the prettiest.
While Greg Adams’ Cool To The Touch may feature a cast of legendary artists, we should not forget that he is a legend in his own right. His prolific charts fueled Tower of Power to fourteen albums. His recording and performance career has heard him share the stage and studio with a diverse plethora of artists including, Linda Ronstadt, Luther Vandross, Lyle Lovett, Eurythmics, Aaron Neville, Carlos Santana, Josh Groban, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones, Quincy Jones, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Wilson Pickett.
While the song may be named, "Felix The Cat" it is Greg Adams who is one cool cat!