I’ve let my biases toward early smooth jazz be known. So, how does the future bode for the genre? If some of the new smooth jazz I’m hearing on today’s radio is any indication, I think there’s still some life left. Here are my song picks from what’s out there now:
Feelin’ It, David Benoit. David Benoit is no stranger to smooth jazz radio. His newest album, however, is closer to a more traditional contemporary jazz vibe, albeit with a bit more orchestration. It’s clear from the album title, Conversation, and the depth of the music contained on it, that the pianist/composer, indeed, has more to say. Furthermore, Benoit has invited a stellar group of talent, including electric guitarist Jeff Golub and flautist Tim Weisberg, to share in the musical dialogue.
The radio single, Feelin’ It, which features David Sills on tenor sax, is a bossa nova-like number, fused with a bit of R&B. Benoit delivers the goods with charm and personality. The sound is engaging and—most of all—fun! Be sure to check out the discourse between Sills and Benoit on the ending vamp. The music remains accessible, but it is clear Benoit is not simply catering to program directors – he’s doing what he loves to do. I’m enjoying the results, and it’s nice to see the public responding positively, too. See if this one doesn’t put a smile on your face!
In the Moment, Gerald Albright and Norman Brown. Synergy is defined as “the interaction of elements that, when combined, produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.” That might also be an apt description of the new collaborative album featuring Gerald Albright and Norman Brown, 24/7. Albright is a true musician’s musician; Brown is a critically-acclaimed Grammy recipient. Together, they’ve produced ten remarkable tracks that just never stop grooving.
Composed by Albright, In the Moment is a soulful, easy R&B cut. It’s light and melodic, with plenty of opportunity for finger snapping and head bobbing. This was one of the last tunes Albright wrote for the project, feeling they needed something a bit more up-tempo and funky. The writing is brilliant, but the playing is simply impeccable. As a saxophonist myself, I have utmost respect for Albright’s musicianship – he’s always tasteful, whether playing R&B or straight ahead jazz, and this tune is no exception.
Here’s a behind the scenes look at the project:
City, Jeff Lorber Fusion. Keyboardist/composer Jeff Lorber returns to the jazz fusion sound he helped pioneer. Bassist/co-producer Jimmy Haslip (The Yellowjackets) joins him in his musical time-travels, along with drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl, percussionist Lenny Castro, guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Larry Koonse, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, and trumpeter Randy Brecker. The album, Galaxy, borrows from Lorber’s early catalog, but with a fresher, harder-hitting approach to some of his most requested material.
Particularly outstanding is the reinterpretation of City, from the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s 1980 album on Arista, Wizard Island. The tune is much more energetic this time around. The band sounds tighter. A more aggressive styling by Marienthal, in my opinion, suits the music better than the softer approach by young Kenny Gorelick (now known as “Kenny G”). And, frankly, it just sounds great on radio.
So, is there some new smooth jazz that goes beyond light rock or trite melodies over sampled urban drum loops? Absolutely! David Benoit, Gerald Albright, Norman Brown, and Jeff Lorber are definitely kickin’ it up a notch!