Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick – Life Between The Notes

LifeBetweenTheNotesAfter waiting more than 30 years to record his first solo album – 2013’s Leap of Faith - Bluey enjoyed the experience so much that he is following it up with a very impressive second solo set Life Between The Notes. The album will be released in the UK and Europe on April 20, and it sees Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick working with co-producers Richard Bull, Ski Oakenfull, Dan Goldman aka JD73 and Incognito’s Matt Cooper.

Bluey has surpassed himself, venturing into new areas and developing his own jazz vocal style. And there are some seriously funky tunes for the dancefloor. Bluey displays an assured vocal performance on a wide range of songs from the disco flavour of “Hold On” and the dancefloor-friendly title track (Says Bluey: “I quote my record collection…the songs that have fanned the flame of this long musical journey”) to the funky falsetto of “I’ve Got A Weakness For Your Love” and the jazzy “Saints and Sinners” and “Columbus Avenue”. The album shows a real development for Bluey, especially as he ventures into more jazz-leaning vocal material. He feels the album has “a jazz undertow that sweeps the whole thing along”. Of the album’s closing track “Sunships On The Shores Of Mars”, he calls it “the deepest adventure I’ve allowed myself to take into the world of jazz. It allows me to croon like I’ve never crooned before.”

Pre-order the album here.

Earth Wind & Fire – The Promise

Earth, Wind & Fire is combining elements of funk, jazz, rock, and soul into an evolving form of fusion. With these many interfaces and their incredible stage presence, the group has become a legend in music history. In 2014 Maurice White, the founder of EWF, relaunched his label Kalimba Music, which was home of so many recordings of his group and supported musicians.

The label’s first release is a reissue of The Promise, a digitally remastered collectors edition of songs of EWF. This album was originally released in 2003 reaching #5 on the Top Independent Albums chart, later re-released in 2009. The 2014 Edition presents two versions of the new title Never, which appeared on smooth jazz radio in May 19.

The album gives a splendid start with All the Way. An overwhelming chorus including the Emotions with the typical horn section and the beloved Kalimba are the main ingredients for a rousing beginning. Betcha’ is tailored for the ultra-high voice of Philip Bailey, known by his four-octave range and especially his overtones. The interlude Wiggle brings some Kalimba input.

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Manuel Valera – In Motion

Grammy nominated pianist and composer Manuel Valera continues to churn out ear candy. Having recently collaborated with his father, Manuel Valera Sr. and released a solo piano set, he’s back with his band, New Cuban Express, for their third venture, In Motion (Criss Cross Jazz, 2014)

Valera plays piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano. With him are Yosvany Terry, alto and soprano saxophones, and chekere; Tom Guarna, guitar; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet and flugelhorn; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; and Mauricio Herrera, percussion.

It’s like a confluence of Tito Puento, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval “Descargando” is a lively opening track. It’s as if Valera said, “Let’s just play.” The song captures many moods, represented by each musician, as they all get a moment or two in the spotlight. Terry and Sipiagin are out front much of the way, blending for a bright, sunny melody, and separating as they trade verses. A highlight is a call and response between Valera and the percussionists, which sets up the leader’s climactic solo near the end.

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George Freeman – Make It Happen

Make It HappenRecorded for Low Key Productions, Make It Happen encompasses a rich dynamic spectrum as George Freeman employs all of the digital wizardry of the latest technology. With Make It Happen, all of the facets of Freeman’s ever-evolving artistry are highlighted in vivid detail. But it is the instrument from his youth that infuses the tracks with the requisite warmth. “Last year, I purchased an acoustic piano. You can’t beat the feel of a real instrument in my opinion. It’s vintage and it gives so much depth and richness.”

As a musical director and bandleader, the demands on George’s time and creative energies are considerable. “When you are in the process of doing everything for everyone else — putting shows and bands together — it is music all of the time. And because you don’t see the immediate gratification or payment from a solo project, you tend to keep putting it off. But a friend of mine put out his album and I watched him in the process. I thought, ‘I’ve played behind people who do this, why don’t I give it a shot?’” A thoughtful, analytical player and composer, George is proud of the influences that he distills into his own creative identity. “I hope my music is an enlightening part of my listeners’ lives, a soundtrack that allows them to relax, and think back with some good listening music.”

Bringing musicians and audiences together, composing thoughtful music with soul and imagination and crafting modern smooth jazz soundscapes: In 2015 George Freeman commands center stage to Make It Happen. Get it now at CDBaby.

James Lloyd – Here We Go

Here We GoHitmaker James Lloyd of Pieces of a Dream has written, produced and played on more than 30 top 10 smooth jazz radio hits. As a founding member of the legendary Pieces of a Dream, James has been the heart and soul of that smooth urban jazz super group for more than 20 years.

Renowned for his brilliant keyboard stylings and soulful compositions, James has produced #1 hits for the likes of Walter Beasley, Najee, Eric Darius, Gerald Albright, and of course, Pieces of a Dream. And now he is about to perform the same magic under his own name.

The first single, the spirited Play It Forward, is already climbing up the smooth jazz charts, soon to be followed by a funky No Holds Barred, featuring the Grammy nominated saxophonist Gerald Albright. Other highlights include smooth jazz superstar and Grammy winner Najee on the soulful Movin Right Along, the sensuous ballad Granted Wish and much more.

Pre-order Here We Go at Amazon.com.

ShaShaty – Brighter Day

Just appeared on my radar screen is saxophonist ShaShaty. He started his solo career with his self-titled debut album in 1993, followed by Voices In My Head, From Me to You (2008), Come Together (2011), and It’s My Pleasure (2013). His 6th album Brighter Day will be released on March 3, 2015.

The album was produced by Steve Oliver, who also plays guitar on all tracks and composed several of the songs. Guest musicians on selected tracks are Will Donato (sax), Bonny B (drums), Gary Stanionis (percussion), and Usay Kawlu (vocals). ShaShaty shows his skills on tenor, alto and soprano sax, piano and synth programming.

Dream Ride is the positive overture of the album. Will Donato supports ShaShaty’s lead sax with a sophisticated horn arrangement. Let’s Go! takes off with a jazzy groove that is heated vigorously by Bonny B on drums. Song of Hope features the lovely Taiwanese vocalist Usay Kawlu. A remarkable airy voice.

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Ezra Weiss Sextet – Before You Know It – Live in Portland

Some of the best jazz sounds are generated by small to mid-sized combos with two or three horns, often playing as a unit. The Ezra Weiss Sextet’s Before You Know It – Live in Portland (Roark Records, 2014) delivers that style in grand fashion.

Weiss plays piano. His sidemen are Farnell Newton, trumpet; John Nastos, alto saxophone; Devin Phillips, tenor saxophone; Jon Shaw, bass; and Christopher Brown, drums.

“The Crusher” is an upbeat, toe-tapping song. The horns shift easily from a bright, overlapping melody, to a – well, words cannot adequately describe the softer phrase. Newton steps out first, rolling notes in a manner that brings to mind Freddie Hubbard or Terence Blanchard. Weiss pounds the keys emphatically behind him. Weiss powers down briefly during the saxophone solo so we can hear more of Shaw, but the piano gets going later on. The horns come back with the same verve as the beginning.

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