Archive for July, 2009

Pieces of a Dream – Soul Intent

God bless America, God bless Pieces of a Dream. Really, did they already release 17 albums? Time flies and seldom is a group so productive like POAD. I remember, when I bought their first album Pieces Of A Dream in 1981. Followed by We Are One (1982), Imagine This (1983), Joyride (1986), Makes You Wanna (1988), their Disco-styled album Bout Dat Time (1989), In Flight (1993), Goodbye Manhattan (1995), The Best Of Pieces of a Dream (1996), Pieces (1997), Ahead to the Past (1999), Acquainted With The Night (2001), Sensual Embrace (2001), Love’s Silhouette (2002), No Assembly Required (2004), Pillow Talk (2006) and now Soul Intent (2009) – a huge collection.

Time for keyboardist James Lloyd and drummer Curtis Harmon, the founding duo and driving force behind the enduring contemporary jazz collective, to remember the past and a look back. “One of my main goals was to go back to the original approach to making a Pieces record,” says Lloyd. “The idea was to bring everyone into the studio at the same time so we could all work together in real time. A lot of people really get into that vintage sound from our first three albums, that period from ’81 to ’83. I figured if we went back to those old-style methods of recording and writing, then that element of vintage Pieces might show up in the music itself. It was an opportunity to bounce ideas off each other in a way that we could never have done had we recorded it separately. Five heads are definitely better than one.”

Beside James and Curtis was the studio filled with Tony Watson, Jr. (saxophone), Martin Walters (programming), Randy Bowland (guitar), Bennie Sims (keyboards, programming, bass), Eddie Baccus, Jr. (saxophone), Rohn Lawrence (guitar), David Dyson (bass), Joe Cunningham (saxophone). I assume the musicians had several sessions to avoid an overcrowded studio.

The first tune Sway sounds familiar. On a relaxed sax background James Lloyd develops his elegant piano style. The combination of sax and piano is obviously the Pieces\’ trademark, shown in Vision Accomplished. While Tony Watson delivers the sweet melody James deliciously improvised on his keys.

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Shakatak – Afterglow

There is no contemporary jazz group which can look back on such a long-lasting career than the UK-based formation Shakatak. One cannot pigeonhole their music to a special genre, they have their own unique style, some call it britfunk, which is undoubtedly a trademark. Since their first record (Bill Sharpe’s Steppin‘) in 1980 they have released a huge amount of albums which can be hardly surveyed. They have released more than 50 (!) albums and even their website doesn’t list all copies. A rather complete but unfortunately discontinued discography is to find on Ralf Henke’s website music lovers.

We are writing the year 2009. The music world has changed. Earlier success doesn’t count anymore. Sales rates in the music business are constantly declining. Supporting radio stations are changing their format. But there are still small islands of devoted fans of this cult group worldwide. This review is dedicated to these music aficionados. I have a message for you. Shakatak will continue their recording and Shaks’ new album Afterglow (2009) is available now.

Shakatak are Bill Sharpe (keyboards), Jill Saward (vocals), Roger Odell (drums) and George Anderson (bass). The group is joined by guest musicians Alan Wormold (guitar), Jacqui Hicks, Debbie Bracknell (backing vocals), who are also partners of Shakatak’s live shows, and Mornington Lockett (sax). Afterglow is an exquisite and balanced collection of instrumental and vocal songs with contributions of all band members.

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Ronny Smith – Just Groovin

We need another hero. After Wes Montgomery and George Benson Ronny Smith epitomizes the culture of jazz guitar music. After his albums Long Time Comin (2001), Laid Back (2002), Got Groove (2006) and Simply Stated (2007) he honored us with his new album Just Groovin (2009),  released on May 19, 2009.

“As a guitarist. I’ve learned that bands can do with you or without you regardless of your abilities.” Ronny describes his solo career, “Your job is a filler, so I started thinking more independently outside the band box. Thus, this project was developed. I wanted to know first if I was capable of doing this. That is not only the guitar parts, but if I could put my hearing to test to see if I could bring out what I have learned and heard over the years into a composition. I have to say Long Time Comin’ was an effort, but I knew I’ve got a harder road ahead than I thought.”

On his new project Ronny is joined by Vernell Mincey (drums), Tony Whitfield (bass), Alan Alexander (keys), Scott Martin (sax), Stan Martin (trumpet), Andy Martin (trombone), and Karl McNeil (bass). With the exception of two covers Rony has composed all tracks on his new album.

Ronny shows sign of life with Here We Go Again. The essence of smooth jazz is smelling to my nose. Ronny’s signature guitar sound and his terrific keyboards skills brighten our mood. Appealing guitar chords are Ronny’s trademark. The next title Smooth suggested something mellow to me. Multi-instrumentalist Ronny Smith arranges keyboards, guitars, bass, flutes and string to a brilliant package supporting his captivating guitar line.

Continue reading Ronny Smith – Just Groovin

Spyro Gyra – Down The Wire

Some groups become famous with one huge hit. For Spyro Gyra was the initiation their song Morning Dance, released in 1979. Since that time they constantly extended their position as one of the premium contemporary jazz group worldwide. Their new album Down The Wire is according to their website the 31st. Signed in 2001 with Heads Up International the group released in the following period In Modern Times (2001), Original Cinema (2003), The Deep End (2004), Wrapped In A Dream (2006), Good To Go-Go (2007) and A Night Before Christmas (2008).

Today’s Spyro Gyra are alto saxophonist, songwriter & founding bandleader Jay Beckenstein, keyboardist Tom Schuman, guitarist Julio Fernandez, bassist Scott Ambush, and since 2007 drummer and percussionist Bonny B. Jay Beckenstein considers his work as something special: “When I’m making music with the band and things are going well, I leave the anxiety behind. I escape that part of me that’s just trying to survive in the world and I’m able to get in touch with that part of me that has nothing to do with practicality. It’s something that’s kind of divine, and I don’t normally think in those terms, but it’s as close as I can get to that ideal. I really do get swept away in it and it’s a marvelous, spiritual, therapeutic thing.”

Down The Wire is not only available on prescription. I would never say no to this musical remedy. So the album starts with Scott’s precise bass intro leading to Jay’s spiritual sax sequence. Here we are again right in contemporary jazz. Jay: “When you’re improvising in front of a crowd, you’re really walking down that wire.”

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Paul Taylor – Burnin’

The summer is not hot enough. Paul Taylor lets it burn with his new album scheduled for release July 21, 2009 on Peak Records. It’s Paul fifth release on this label and it looks like Paul keeps the standard high. After the tremendous success of his previous album Ladies Choice Paul teamed up again with the producers Barry Eastmond and Rex Rideout following the chart-topping concept.

But there is a change in the instruments. Paul plays instead of soprano and alto sax the tenor sax on nine of the ten tracks. Playing the tenor sax requires more physical strength. “The focus on the tenor happened by very happy accident,” Paul comments. “I thought it would be cool to bring my tenor along with my soprano and alto to the sessions which kicked off the project. When I got to the studio and opened up my cases, I saw that the soprano was damaged. It made sense to use both alto and tenor to start writing, and I really started liking the way the lower tones of the tenor sounded.

One of Barry’s strengths in jazz is producing the tenor, so we just kept rolling with it. It’s got a gutsier sound and as things turned out, lent itself to the retro ’70s soul sounds that naturally emerged from our writing and recording sessions. I always think back to that Junior Walker Shotgun blast and this was just my time to go in this direction.”

Back in the Day awakes memories of wonderful summer days full of emotion and joy. Grover Washington Jr. is in the air. Balladeer Billy Cliff shines with a charisma like Michael McDonald. The similarity is undeniable.

Continue reading Paul Taylor – Burnin’

U-NAM – Unanimity

Hailing from Paris U-NAM aka Emmanuel Abiteboul recently moved to USA, where he is performing with the cream of contemporary jazz. Working for artists such as Barry White, Honeyz, Luis Fonsi, Alsou, Kool & the Gang, Billy Paul, Cindy Daniel and CNote motivated him to release after his debut The Past Builds The Future (2005) his sophomore solo album Back From The 80′s (2007). This album received high acclaims because of its originality, freshness and rich proficiency. This album was one of the best smooth jazz albums I heard since several years. Without exception strong songs, no filler.

Will U-NAM continue his previous success with his follow-up Unanimity (2009)? This question can be answered with a clear and astounding YES. The title of the new album is explained by U-NAM with his move to L.A. leaving his family especially his four years old son Melvin behind. The concept of “Humanity” should be able to do the “Unanimity”. The album was recorded in parts in his studio in France and in his new studio in Rancho Cucamonga called Studio II. As on his previous album U-Nam is supported by the Merkevah Orchestra and the M.A. strings section conducted by Raymond Gimenes, furthermore by the Paris horns (Thierry Farrugia, Christian Martinez and Bernard Camoin). Further musicians on his new album are Denis Bennarosh (percussion), Mike White (drums), Franck Sitbon (clavinet, Fender Rhodes, acoustic piano, organ and background vocals) and some special guest musicians.

U-Nam surprises with his unusual introduction Viva La Revolucion. A movie score of the Mexican revolution with the blowing trumpet, revolting people and the whole body of sound of this ancient period. When you search after the contemporary funk, your quest is over. Funk-4-U-Nity has it all. U-NAM’s dynamic guitar performance takes the audience by storm.

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Jason Weber- Five

Graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1994 Jason Weber is since a long time an integral part of the San Diego jazz scene. He started his solo career with 1st AVENUE in 1997, followed by Leap of Faith (1999), Something Blue (2002), Can U Feel Me Now? (2005) and this year Five.

On his new album Jason is supported by drummers Steve Ferrone and Duncan Moore, keyboardists Michael Leroy & Tad Sisler, bassists Nathan Brown & Chris Kringel, & guitarist Mike DeRose. Jason wrote most of the compositions in part with producer Marcel East. Guitarist/songwriter/producer Marcel East is Nathan East younger brother, working with Nathan on numerous projects including Fourplay, Al Jarreau, David Benoit and more.

The album starts with the apodictic U Know U Like It. Indeed this compelling tune offers an addictive melody which let’s you prick up your ears. Jason and Marcel East composed For The Children for those who will follow us and will hopefully have a better childhood than Michael Jackson.

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Scott Wilkie – Home Again: The Solo Piano Sessions

First time I met Scott Wilkie in Duesseldorf-Kaiserwerth during the Wave Music Festival in August 2000. It was a lucky time. The summer was warm, people full of hope and nobody thought about recession and economic crisis. Scott and his group were the first highlight of the festival. Oh yes, we all had a great time. What remains? The impression, memories and Scott’s music.

Most of you will be familiar with his debut album Boundless, released in 1999 on Narada Records and his sophomore album More Than You Know (2000). Today’s you have a good chance to see Scott and his friends on tour or at Spaghettini Jazz Grill. His band Nathan Brown (bass), Dave Hill (guitars) and David Anderson (drums) will be on his next project which is currently in the making.

Home Again: The Solo Piano Sessions was recorded in Scott’s home studio on his Yamaha C7 concert grand piano in 2007.

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Patrick Yandall – A New Day

Patrick Yandall is a jazz guitarist with a constant contribution to the music scene. Born in Bay City, Michigan, he found his luck in San Diego and L.A., where he has established himself as session musician. Besides performing on sessions Patrick is recording tracks for the Weather Channel and jazz Muzak that you hear in malls and other places.

Patrick started his solo career with That Feels Nice (1994), followed by A Lasting Embrace (1997), Of Two Cities (2000), Back To The Groove (2001), From The Ashes (2003), Eyes Of Mars (2005), Samoa Soul (2006), New York Blues (2007), Laws Of Groovity (2008) and this year A New Day (2009).

His new album is devoted to the smooth jazz genre and features besides multi-instrumentalist Yandell himself Marc Pierucci (keyboards, percussion, bass and drum programming) and Jeff Laakso (sax). Patrick wrote all songs on this album, which is today’s by no means common practice.

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Zap Mama – ReCreation

Zap Mama, African queen, creator of African European music, exotic pop wonder. Marie Daulne created the project “Zap Mama” during the beginning of the 90′s with an a capella group of Afro-European women. Born in the Congo to an Belgian father and an African mother Marie Daulne brings together natural beauty and music, the music of two continents and the hearts of thousands of fans. Daulne specializes in polyphonic, harmonic music with a mixture of heavily infused African instruments, R&B, and Hip-hop.

With this concept she recorded the World Music releases Adventures in Afropea (1991/1993), and Sabsylma (1994). While the first albums were a capella, Marie Daulne changed her style with the third album Seven (1997) to a more instrumental profile. Next albums were the experimental A Ma Zone (1999), and after her move to New York Ancestry in Progress (2000). In 2004 she moved back to Belgium. Her debut on Heads Up International was Supermoon (2007) now followed by ReCreation worldwide released on May 26, 2009.

Marie explains the title: “That moment when you are relaxing and enjoying yourself, is the perfect moment to create a new person within yourself – to heal yourself and let go of all the negative aspects of your life. In those times when you relax, you recreate yourself.”

We immerse in the magical world of Zap Mama with ReCreation preparing for the musical miracles. Do you hear the heartbeat of Africa? Then listen to Vibrations. The pulsing bass, the dark drums, Marie’s luscious vocals carving lines into the wooden tree of life. Marie is back in the heart of Congo’s jungle.

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