Craig Sharmat – So Cal Drivin

The encounter with Craig Sharmat reveals a personality of a special kind. Influenced by artists like Larry Carlton, Pat Metheny and George Benson he soon had the lucky opportunity to share the stage with platinum selling jazz saxophonist Ronnie Laws and the not little-known jazz singer Randy Crawford. Although he arranged and programmed for chart topping trumpet player Rick Braun’s album Yours Truly and arranged strings on Peter White, Mindy Abair and Rick Braun’s 2007 Christmas Album he wasn’t caught by my smooth jazz radar screen.

The reason is simply explainable. Mainly he is fostering merits as a brilliant film composer. So he composed trailers for movies like King Kong, Ghost Rider, Eragon, Anchorman, wrote songs for the TV series like CSI Miami, Without A Trace and many more. His credits are overwhelming. Certainly enough to review his debut album So Cal Drivin, which was just released October, 2009.

The album presents his band Comfort Zone (John Balbuena, keys, Chris Mostert, sax, David Chamberlin, bass, Rich Diamond, drums) furthermore guest artists including Rick Braun, Greg Matheison, Mike White, Philippe Saisse, Dino Soldo, Billy Hulting, Steve Billman, Andy Suzuki and more. We should not forget Craig, who plays on all tracks electric guitar and in addition on some tracks keys, percussion and programming.

Blinded by such a great list of illuminates I approach Craig’s album with a certain respect. So Cal Drivin, a song about Drivin’ along the coast of Southern California, transmits the spirit of relaxed freedom, we all want to internalize, when we stuck in the middle lane of a So Cal freeway flailing our arms in frustration about the dense traffic. Turn your radio on and let Craig’s guitar music flow.

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Kristina – Offshore Echoes

When covering non-jazz songs, most artists tend to do hit singles. San Francisco vocalist Kristina breaks tradition by putting her stamp on “Tea in the Sahara,” an album track by The Police. With a cool bass line by Rich Girard and African percussion in the background, Kristina brings a multicultural approach to open her release, Offshore Echoes, on Patois Records. Her wordless chant during Frank Martin’s piano solo adds an ethereal element. Drummer Deszon Claiborne contributes.

Kristina is joined by a lineup that’s variable and versatile. In addition to the musicians mentioned, the cast includes producer/arranger Wayne Wallace, pianist Murray Low, bassist David Belove and many others. Offshore Echoes also revisits some jazz standards. A full horn section accompanies on “Cherokee,” which is highlighted by Kristina’s scat and a brief call and response between the horns and the percussionists.

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JD Daniel – Back To The Groove

JD Daniel has released a burning new album of funk-driven piano jazz, featuring bold and creative compositions, inspired piano performances and special guest appearances by David Sanborn, Brandon Fields, Mike Miller and many other talented artists. Multi-talented pianist, keyboardist, composer, producer, arranger, bandleader  and vocalist J D Daniel has been blessed with a rich and colorful life in music.

His work has been heard by millions of people around the world.  J D’s musical taste and professional history are wildly diverse and eclectic.  His varied experiences have encompassed a broad range of musical styles, from  classical to blues, jazz to hip-hop, pop to rock, gospel to latin, new age to funk.

The new album is entitled Back To The Groove and is now available at CDBaby.

Plunky & Oneness – 2012 Collectors’ Box Set

J. Plunky Branch offers music for old fans and new with an impressive 5-disc compilation, Plunky & Oneness 2012 Collectors’ Box Set, a retrospective of the best of his last 20 years’ 12 CD albums. Long known for his versatility, saxophonist-producer Plunky has exceeded the bounds of eclecticism in this extensive library of songs organized into genre-specific CD’s: Urban Groove, Cool Jazz, Love Songs, P Phunk and Afro World, packaged into a box set.

This is a collection of songs by one of the most prolific and enduring groups of the last 40 years. The band originated in the early 1970’s as Plunky & Oneness of Juju, an avant Afro-jazz ensemble, and they developed by constantly exploring a wide range additional genres of Black music including R&B, funk, smooth jazz, reggae, hip-hop and neo-soul. Plunky and the group has continued to record and tour extensively and recently had a new break-through when Plunky’s song “Drop” received national radio airplay and became a dance club hit.

Plunky & Oneness 2012 Collectors’ Box Set is a virtual music library of the best of Plunky’s last 20 years’ releases. The compilation includes more than 80 songs on five CD’s plus a bonus disc that contains background information, pictures, travel journals and videos.

The original 12 albums recorded and released between 1988 and 2008 were each unique but similar in that they all contained multiple types of music, as Plunky consciously continued to demonstrate the “oneness” or common characteristics inherent in all Black popular music forms. The songs on the new 2012 compilation CD’s are organized by genre, taking into account that listeners are likely to utilize music albums in accordance with their moods, activities and settings.

Whatever your mood, this collection offers music to enhance and uplift it. Choose whichever hour-long CD matches your state of mind and the music does the rest. Disc 1 Urban Groove has saxy instrumentals for dancing or just grooving (and includes Plunky’s smash hit “Drop”). Disc 2 Cool Jazz is smooth tracks for a mellow atmosphere. Disc 3 Love Songs’ sensual music sets the mood for romance. Disc 4 P Phunk is all hard-core funk to move your mind and body. Disc 5 Afro World explores African rhythms and other world beats.

This is a massive compilation of music for Plunky fans and for collectors of original urban, saxy, cool, funky, love inducing, Afro-jazz and more. The five CD set, plus bonus disc will be packaged in a regular DVD case and have a list price of $39.99, with deep discounts offered for pre-release orders and downloads. National release date for the box set: November 3, 2009.

Available online at and CDBaby.

Paul Hardcastle – The Very Best of Christmas

UK-born keyboard player and producer Paul Hardcastle topped the UK charts in the mid-80s with an electro-pop tune about the Vietnam War and post-traumatic stress disorder entitled 19. Since several years he is recording with great success in the smooth jazz genre following his own music formula. He is artist on the label Trippin ‘n’ Rhythm, a new home for smooth jazz artists like Tim Bowman, Cindy Bradley, Oli Silk, U-Nam, Gregg Karukas, Jaared and Sekou Bunch.  Respectable owner of this label is Les Cutmore.

With his well-developed and distinctive sense for everything beautiful and economic trade he discovered the world of Holiday Jazz.  Featured artists on the album The Very Best of Christmas are, you guessed it already, the above mentioned artists, Paul Hardcastle and a combination of them called the Trippin’ Allstars. The album presents typical Christmas hymns like Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Winter Wonderland and more.

Brian Culbertson – Live from the Inside

On June 3rd, 2009, Brian Culbertson and a small army of well respected musicians in the Smooth Jazz community, descended upon the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood to film and record a live career retrospect of well loved tunes from his GRP and other labels’ catalogs.The resulting session is presented in full on a DVD directed by filmmaker Joey Castro and on a CD with 12 of the songs they performed including the brand new song “Go.”

Musical guests includes Ray Parker Jr., Dave Koz, Michael Lington, Eric Marienthal, Eric Darius, Jim Culbertson and Sheldon Reynolds. The band consists of Lenny Castro, Chris Miskel, Lamar Jones, Eddie Miller, Michael Stever, Rob Schaer, Nick Lane, Wayne Bruce and Marqueal Jordan. Get a sneak peak of the new album at Brian’s website.

“I think it’s important to make this available to people because this DVD is definitely a milestone for me,” Brian comments. “It’s just something special with all these legends and great musicians getting together in the studio at the same time. I just really felt like I had to document this and let everyone else see the energy and the magic that was created with all of us together.”

Live from the Inside is scheduled for release on November 10, 2009 and available at Amazon.

Phil Walker – Passion Thing

Playing alto, soprano, and tenor saxophones, Phil Walker is a solo artist from the Central Valley of California. His 2nd CD release Passion Thing has 7 original tracks and 3 covers which are a reflection of his greatest musical influences such as the Rippingtons, Dave Koz and David Sanborn. Musicians included on this album are Kim Stone and Dave Hooper of the Rippingtons, Steve Oliver, Richard Smith and Allen Hinds.

Also featured is drummer Pat Ready, percussionist Jo Pusateri, Chris Tedesco – flugal horn & trumpet, Tim Redfield – keyboards, and Wendell Kelly – trombone. CD Produced by Phil Walker and Tim Redfield. Executive Producers Phil Walker, June Glennon, Brad Kious, and Don Sharp. Welcome Passion Thing at CDBaby.