Archive for January, 2013

James Saxsmo Gates – Gates Wide Open

Gates Wide OpenThe passionate search for perfection describes James Saxsmo Gates and his career as a top Jazz Musician. From his experiences performing with Art Blakey, Larry Carlton, Jeff Lorber, Alex Bugnon, Cyrus Chestnut, Chris Botti, Billy Kilson, Terrance Blanchard and many others, comes a smooth, yet blazing style and presentation. Gates Wide Open is the third commercial release for Saxsmo as a solo artist and is the beginning of a new era for Saxsmo.

The journey to Gates Wide Open has been heartfelt and emotional. Saxsmo lost both of his parents between his first and second CD’s, they were his inspiration to strive for perfection and to continue making excellent music. A positive major event in his life was receiving his Masters of Jazz Studies at North Carolina Central University (Magna Cum Laude), where he worked closely with Branford Marsalis and Dr. Ira Wiggins.

With that behind him he is determined to show the world that James Saxsmo Gates is Wide Open and moving on up, making intensely emotive music that will gratify, entertain, inspire and move his fans, and the general listening public. To make this happen Saxsmo has called on the great trombonist Fred Wesley, sax man and Berklee Professor, Walter Beasley, smooth jazz guitarist and Berklee classmate, Freddie Fox and the 804 Jazz Allstars to help him take this CD to another level. Continue reading

Dave Koz – Live At The Blue Note Tokyo

Live At The Blue NoteThe latest contender for the instrumental pop saxophone throne, Dave Koz came out of nowhere after his self-titled 1990 release made it onto the Billboard contemporary jazz charts and stayed there several weeks. He has more fire and intensity in his work than Kenny G, and often sounds like a reworked David Sanborn. Koz also played on Arsenio Hall’s show, which increased his popularity among the urban contemporary, light jazz, and pop audiences. Koz plays instrumental pop covers and some upbeat tunes, and generally sticks to the fusion production formula: background vocalists, synthesizers, and drum machines, a minimum amount of solo space, and so on.

His sessions are available on CD and have been regularly released since his first appearance on the scene. Highlights include 1993’s peppy Lucky Man, 1999’s collaboration-heavy Dance, 2001’s holiday treat A Smooth Jazz Christmas, and 2007’s film music-themed At the Movies. Koz left EMI to sign with Concord in 2010 for the release of Hello Tomorrow, produced by John Burk and Marcus Miller.

He released his very first live album this fall with “Live at the Blue Note Toyko,” which includes a handful of his hits such as “You Make Me Smile,” “Faces Of The Heart” and “Put The Top Down.”

“I love doing different projects all at the same time,” says the California native. “The music business used to be a real horizontal business in which you tried to grab the most amounts of people you possibly could across a horizontal place. These days, it feels as if the whole point is to figure out how many different ways can you touch the people you already have. And in the process, find a way to expand the number of fans from there. I’ve been doing this for many years, so every time I can touch and say thank you to my loyal supporters, I take advantage of it.

Live At The Blue Note Tokyo is available in all stores.

Graham Dechter – Takin’ It There

Boss for a day could describe guitarist Graham Dechter. A member of the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Los Angeles native fronts a quartet that includes his bosses, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, for his second release as a leader, Takin’ It There (Capri Records, 2012).

It’s Dechter’s second romp with the ensemble, which is completed by pianist Tamir Hendelman. It’s been a while since Dechter’s debut, Right on Time (Capri Records, 2009). The new release is worth the wait.

The set begins with a swinging take on Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song.” Dechter’s play here can be compared to Montgomery’s style – also that of George Benson or Lee Ritenour. A highlight of the piece comes about two minutes in when the guitar gets put through a series of rapid-fire phrases. The rhythm section provides plenty of sass.

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Swing Out Sister – Private View

Private ViewBest known for the international hit single “Breakout”, Swing Out Sister formed in 1985 as the trio of Andy Connell (keyboards) and Martin Jackson (drums) and Corinne Drewery (vocals). They are now a duo after Jackson left during the recording of their second album. They have released more than 15 albums and have had a couple of minor hits in the Adult Contemporary charts in the US and abroad and their most successful hit single was “Breakout”.

These jazz-noir arrangements of many of their classic hits and older catalog were originally arranged for an east coast tour of America.  The band and touring ensemble were in the last days of rehearsal’s for this tour when that  volcano in Iceland erupted, covering Europe in a gigantic ash cloud, grounding planes for days.  The tour had to be scrapped. Rather than have all their rehearsal work go to waste, they recorded these tour arrangements – and to my ears much of this will work well for the format.

Shanachie Entertainment will release on January 29, 2013 a super deluxe edition including the CD combined with a full length concert DVD of Swing Out Sister performing at Billboard Live in Tokyo, Japan. In addition to the beautifully staged concert footage, included are exclusive scenes of the band backstage as well as sightseeing in Tokyo.

Duncan Millar – Fresh Air

FreshAirDuncan Millar grew up near London and played the piano from an early age. Although he studied classically his great passion was jazz and in particular jazz pianists such as Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. After playing jazz in small groups at college and on the local scene he pursued this interest by moving to Boston, Mass., where for two years he studied jazz piano and arranging and also film-scoring at Berklee College.

Duncan’s interest in the jazz/acid-jazz sphere continued to be strong, however, and he wrote and produced a single, mixing samples and beats with live playing under the name “A-One”.
This led to Duncan signing a solo album deal with Instinct Records, NYC, and his album-release Dream Your Dream in August 1998. The album-single “Little Ray Of Sunshine” made it into the U.S. Smooth Jazz Charts and the title-track “Dream Your Dream” was also heavily play-listed on Jazz FM in the UK, along with other tracks. As a result of this album, Duncan also received a nomination as Best UK Jazz Act in the prestigious MOBO music-industry awards held in London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Duncan released a second album, Good To Go, on Instinct in June 2001, with several tracks also receiving steady air-play and continuing to do so. His tracks also appeared on the majority of numerous Instinct smooth-jazz compilations such as Smooth Jazz Radio Hits, The Best of Smooth Jazz Blues and Bossa Brava Caliente. Passion Jazz Records in London also released a compilation, Comin’ Thru’, of tracks from both albums in March 2002, and Duncan played a number of UK gigs to support this, including at the Jazz Café, London.

Now, after an over-long sabbatical, Duncan has re-emerged with a new album, Fresh Air. Fresh, because the piano-focused tracks reflect new-found musical influences. Also, because in a changed musical-world, Duncan has also forged fresh ways of working, such as self-producing his album on new boutique label Warmday Records.

Duncan returns with ten enticing new tracks. Filled out by a full band comprising some of London’s leading jazz and funk musicians, including sax and trumpet, the keyboard-led melodies take you on a journey through a range of sensuous moods and grooves, ranging from funk to slow-samba to jazz-waltz.

For more information and previews, see duncanmillar.com and freshairalbum.com.

Album is available for pre-order on iTunes and Amazon now.

I Happened To Hear 01/2013

If you read my review of Sharon’s first full-length CD, you’ll know I’m already a fan. I love her phrasing and the clarity of her delivery. Both virtues are evident on this album of jazz standards. The musical setting is simple: acoustic bass, drums, piano and trumpet – and they don’t all play on every song. That’s how stripped-down this is.

So – there is lots of room for Sharon’s very warm tone to work its magic on these lovely songs. I’m hooked from the first number “Don’t Go To Strangers” – the pace is right, the jazz trio sounds elegant and it’s all good. I love the Joe Sample-style bounce in the deceptively bluesy “Evening” and the gentle cha-cha rhythm of Duke Ellington’s “Midnight Sun” – a song which I’ve never heard before but instantly fell for. The minor chords in this song are gorgeous.

The evergreen “If Ever I Would Leave You” is a tear-jerker. I appreciate the breathiness of Sharon’s vocal and her perfect vibrato. Maybe I watch too many TV shows with singers who exaggerate the vibrato – and pretty much everything else. That’s not what happens here. The Razaf/Redman classic “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You” gets a lovely treatment here and it’s as much a homage to previous singers of this song such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday as it is to the writers. The muted trumpet solo adds just the right bluesy flavour.

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Drew Davidsen – True Drew

TrueDrewA slick, cosmopolitan showcase of a dozen contemporary jazz instrumentals, cool-toned guitarist Drew Davidsen elevates his technical prowess and creative muse while contemplatively chronicling his journey through life on “TRUE DREW,” his fifth album that will be released March 5th on Oznot Records.  In addition to his impassioned, fanciful fretwork on electric, acoustic and nylon-stringed guitars, Davidsen wrote or co-wrote seven original tunes for the disc that he produced with Eric Copeland, Preston Glass and Norman Connors.  Setting the stage at radio is “Hi5,” which adeptly bridges the sensibilities of a hip L.A. rooftop hang and sultry songo rhythms.

The material that makes up “TRUE DREW” mirrors the mission of the man.  Beginning with the infectious “My Guitar” that is ignited by a spirit-raising guitar and celestial vocal hook, Davidsen ventures onto “95 South” in search of an energetic exploration, brazenly allowing the music – jazz, R&B, blues and adult pop – to be his guide.  Riffing adventurously throughout, he gives a “Hi5” to his traveling companions on the album, an accomplished lot that boasts Bobby Lyle, Eric Marienthal, Bob Baldwin, Gerald Veasley, and the Temptations’ Ron Tyson.

When life forces him to take risks (“Double or Nothin’”), he pauses for reflection (“All Night and Forever” and a brooding, New Age-y take on the classic hymnal “All Creatures”) before arriving at the “Sweet Spot” where he encounters love (“I’m Into You,” “I Can’t Help It” and “Give Me Your Heart”).  A man of faith who devotes his time and a portion of the proceeds from all music sales to charitable endeavors such as Ghanaian Mother’s Hope (www.GMHope.org), Davidsen ultimately remains true to the path to “Do Right” and “Change The World.”  In fact, he’s currently encouraging people to make healthier choices in the New Year via The 30-Day Wellness Challenge (www.30DayWellnessChallenge.com).

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