Archive for the ‘ CD Reviews ’ Category

Rei Narita – The Color of Soundscape II

Japanese pianist and composer Rei Narita is one of the rare artists in Japan addicted to smooth jazz. He started to play the piano in the tender age of 15. He delivered the musical background for several NHK documentary programs, participated to compilations of King Records and further TV and movie productions.

His solo career began with the album The Color of Soundscape in 2011 and continues with his new album The Color of Soundscape II in 2015. His style is influenced by The Rippingtons, Brian Culbertson, Rachel Z and many more of the smooth jazz scene. As a self-made man he has programmed all instruments and tracks. All songs are composed, arranged, programmed, mixed and produced by Rei himself.

On the starting Run Through the Urban City Rei paints with fast and powerful keystrokes the dynamic picture of a modern town. Bass and drums are perfectly adapted to the magic piano performance. Tender Voices delivers a soft impression with the piano in the lead and keyboard as secondary melody transporter.

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Hailey Niswanger – PDX Soul

Hailey Niswanger was already getting rave reviews as a teenager. A listen to the saxophonist’s PDX Soul (2015) tells why.

Niswanger is accompanied by a variable lineup of players. Errick Lewis, and AG Donnaloia, guitar; appear on all tracks. Janice Scroggins handles keys on all but one song.

A groovy bass line greets the ear on the first track, “I’m Gone.” It’s an upbeat, see ya, I’m outta here kind of song. Niswanger plays the soprano on this one. Her lead is lighthearted, almost romantic, but not sugary sweet as a lot of soprano sax-led songs of this style tend to be. Lewis is dynamic throughout. Drummer Brian Foxworth makes a substantial contribution, though mainly as background. Donnaloia, Scroggins and Colligan also get busy. After a mostly easygoing, playful lead, Niswanger cuts loose big time. As if the proclamation of leaving weren’t convincing, she becomes emphatic, assertive during a sequence after the middle break. Then the two keyboard players take over, one out front and the other providing fills. It gives the song a late-1960s, early ’70s type of soulful instrumental sound. Not all the musicians get to solo here, but everyone makes a statement.

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Rocco Ventrella – Another Time

Bari resident Rocco Ventrella developed his affinity for smooth jazz in 1998. However it last to 2005, when he released his Tribute To Grover Washington, Jr. in memory of the late, great saxophone player. With his sophomore album Give Me The Groove (2007) he garnered a Grammy Awards Pre-Nomination for Contemporary Jazz Best Album. His third album Sweet Temptation followed in 2013.

Now well known as saxophonist by numerous appearances on hundreds of events Rocco shows with Another Time (2015) what is possible and that the hero is ready for the next achievement. With Greg Manning as producer Rocco has put his album in good hands. Among the plethora of participating musicians are good names like Andre Berry and Hussain Jiffry (bass), Michele Violante (rhythm guitar), Gordon Campbell and Eric Valentine (drums), Adam Hawley, Terry Wollman and Darrell Crooks (guitar), and many more.

The funky Swagger sets a high standard of pure entertainment with blasting horns. Dave Koz and Richard Elliot couldn’t do it better. She’s Ready delivers all ingredients for a successful tune with captivating melody, groove and dreamy harmonies. Rocco draws on the full of his experience.

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Jonathan Fritzen – Fritzenized

With an apparent target audience of pop-oriented fans, Swedish-American keyboardist Jonathan Fritzen releases Fritzenized (Nordic Night Records, 2015).

Fritzen adopted part of the smooth jazz radio formula. The selections are catchy and, with little exception, fit neatly into the approximate four-minute window intended for radio singles. Still, it’s a nice selection. Fritzen is accompanied by a variable lineup of guest musicians and vocalists.

“Fingers on Fire” is a happy-go-lucky groove. With Randy Jacobs on guitars, Alex Al on bass, Andreas Ekstedt on percussion and Fredo Osterlund on drums, Fritzen handles piano, keys and synth programming. One programming effect is of a violin that complements the piano during a phrase in the chorus. Jacobs throws in a little wah-wah effect here and there. No one element stands out. Instead, the joy of this song is the attitude projected by the musicians, as if they’re saying, “Let’s just have some fun.”

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Inaki Arakistain – Saxual

Spanish sax player Iñaki Arakistain is an in-demand musician in the music scene of Spain. According to his website he has already released three solo projects.

Tiempos de búsqueda was recorded in 2008, followed by PLAN B in 2010 and Saxual in 2014. On his newest project he is supported by Jonathan Badichi (trumpet and flugelhorn), Jorge Vera (keyboards), Israel Sandoval (guitar), Tomás Merlo (bass), Georvis Pico (drums), and Thomas Schindowski (vocals).

The album comprises six Arakistain originals and four instrumental covers. The journey begins with the dynamic Red Star and the in top form occurring main actor. The good flow is due to the great sax performance always ready to rise to peak exertion at the blink of an eye. The other musicians contribute to this through their perfect engagement.

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Nilson Matta – EastSideRioDrive

Mix a little Latin, a little samba and the craving to just get out there and play are the recipe for EastSideRioDrive (World Blue Records, 2015) by Nilson Matta.

Matta plays acoustic bass. His accompanists vary from track to track, with flutist Anne Drummond, pianist Edsel Gomez, and winds player Craig Handy contributing to several tracks each.

Guitarist Romero Lubambo’s expertise is called on for the opener, “Sertao,” featuring vocalist Jesse Lynn. It’s a lively piece with hints of South American styles with a taste of Europe. Handy’s flute is in a duet with the singer during the lyrical portions of the song. Then Handy shifts to tenor sax for a spirited solo. Percussionist Cyro Baptista joins Matta and carrying the foundation for this track. Lubambo is out front during the introduction, but he really stretches out after the middle break. The speed of his fingers amazes. After the guitar solo, Matta steps forward with Baptista providing a vocal chant. The song then reverts to early form.

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George Anderson Band – From Cape Town to London Live!

George Anderson’s bass has underpinned the sound of the hugely successful British jazz-funk outfit Shakatak since 1981. His very satisfying solo albums “Positivity” (2009) and “Expressions” (2012) have secured his reputation as a solo artist – and an invitation to fulfill a dream of playing in front of South African fans in December 2014.

Those fans were treated to the cream of the songs from those first two studio albums, kicking off with the insanely groovy, horn-laden Herbie. For me, a song this good underlines the relevance that British jazz-funk continues to have – I’ve always believed in it. Fans of soul vocals will love the sultry Cool Operator, High and Mighty Love and the hypnotic Weakness. Vocalists Janine ‘Blaq Pearl’ and Mikhaela Faye Kruger really do a fine job on these songs.

I’d love to have been in the audience for the crowd-pleasing Into U and Back in the Day. George grooves like crazy on these songs and the Stevie Wonder homage in Back in the Day sees him really throwing down. Of course, when a bassman fronts his own band live, we hope for a juicy solo and, oh yes, low-end fans can go nuts for Babel, just before the band flies into the utterly sublime Latin Love. It has delicious echoes of what George Duke was doing in the late 1970’s – I really can’t compliment it more highly than that. Props to drummer Bjorn Petersen’s superb off-the beat playing here. Nathan Carolus on guitar totally blazes and trumpeter Ian Smith takes a short but splendid solo, as does saxman Don Vino.

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