Miles Stiebel – Excellent Distraction

Miles Stiebel defines himself as special event artist. This honorable title is justified by numerous events presenting this musician on his instrument, the violin. A violin in contemporary jazz is rather unusual. Miles has a fearless explanation: “People often tell us how much they like the way we blend the sound of the violin and saxophone or the violin and guitar, so you will hear some nice conversations between these instruments in my music.”

Miles’ first CD No Hassle Miles (2007) features his version of the Beatles’ classic And I Love Her which has been played on over 65 jazz radio stations in the U.S. and Canada and Miles’ original composition A Great Day which has been played in rotation on The Weather Channel.

Now Miles is back with his sophomore album Excellent Distraction (2009). Miles is supported by Gerry Kunkel (guitars), Pete BarenBregge (sax), Dan Reynolds (piano, synthesizer), Steve Fdyk (drums), Mark Russell (bass), Sam Turner (percussion), Bob Dawson (additional percussion), Kevin Burns and Mike Crotty (trumpet, flugelhorn), Doug Morgan (sax), Ben Patterson (trombone) and a group of strings.

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The L.A. Chillharmonic – L.A. Chillharmonic

Education plays a central role in the busy life of Professor Richard Smith. Settled in the L.A. jazz scene Richard played with Dan Siegel, Kenny G, Richard Elliot, Rick Braun and many more. His first album Inglewood was followed by nine further solo albums.

His newest project is called L.A. Chillharmonic assembling the contemporary jazz star alliance of Brian Bromberg (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Alex Acuna (percussion), Jeff Lorber (keyboards), Patrice Rushen and Greg Karukas (pianos), Greg Adams (trumpet), Gary Meek, Michael Paulo, and Eric Marienthal (sax).

“It’s something that represents the best and brightest in my geographic area,” says Richard Smith. “Most major cities have a philharmonic orchestra in the classical idiom, and some cities have municipal jazz bands, but no city has something that represents a major musical genre like instrumental jazz/funk/pop/R&B. And with this project I just wanted to represent and celebrate the unique musical signature as Los Angeles players, writers and arrangers.”

The first album of this all-star group was released on Aug 26, 2008 and as Richard confirmed it will not be the last one. The album starts with L.A. Chillharmonic, the new anthem of the west coast. While Richard Smith\’s guitar is the melody leader his fellow-musicians deliver brilliant contributions on their instruments.

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The Rippingtons – Modern Art

The Rippingtons are a formation with a high impact on the smooth jazz genre. No other group has gained such a great popularity in the last twenty years. Guitarist and band leader Russ Freeman formed the group in 1986. Current members beside Russ are Dave Karasony (drums), Bill Heller (piano), Ricardo ‘Rico’ Belled (bass) and in addition a sax player.

Eric Marienthal, Paul Taylor, Jeff Kashiwa, Brandon Fields, Dave Koz and Kenny G were all former members of the group. On the new album Jeff Kashiwa returns to the project. While the group played on their earlier albums contemporary or fusion jazz they have performed since 1999 more smooth jazz.

Obvious reason for this development was the previous success and prosperity of this genre. Some critics awaited with the 18th album a return of the group to the contemporary jazz scene. Although the new album is a step to more ambivalence, which is certainly a positive aspect, The Rippingtons are still a band listening to the audience and the market.

All songs were composed, produced and arranged by Russ Freeman. He had even hands on the mixing and recording process. Russ explained in an interview with Shannon West his strong influence: “This time I decided that what I would submit to them was the finished guitar tracks. All the guitar tracks were completely done first and they played to them.”

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Noel Webb – Give It All

That guitarists are fans of Jimi Hendrix is a common thing, but that a violin player is a disciple of this guitar hero, is somehow unusual. We are talking about the violinist Noel Webb who discovered new directions of music.

Beside his live as an actor (General Hospital, Mad About You, FBI-Untold Stories, etc), and as a writer of film scores (History of Violence, Butterfly Effect, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Seabiscuit, etc.), he is also a passionate musician. Webb performed with blues legend John Hammond, John Coltrane’s band, Grover Washington, Jr. and rock icons like Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Tubes and REO Speedwagon.

His previous solo projects are Satin Sheets (2000), The Soul Of (2003) and the single The Big Bang (2007).

His new album Give It All (2009) offers only five tracks. Noel explains: “I really wanted to create something that was easily accessible for fans, yet reflected the intensity of my live performances. There isn’t any filler in this CD. All five songs are rock solid as a collection, yet each one is packed with enough energy to stand alone as a single download. Fans are demanding better quality for their money and I intend to give it to them.”

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Cassandra Wilson – Closer To You: The Pop Side

Jackson Mississippi born jazz vocalist, songwriter and producer Cassandra Wilson can look back on a rich solo career. She received Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her album New Moon Daughter (1996) and for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Loverly (2009).

She is also known by her collaboration with alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, who encouraged her to look beyond the standard jazz repertoire in favor of developing original material, and the M-Base collective, in which Coleman was the leading figure.

Her new album on Blue Note Records is entitled Closer To You: The Pop Side (2009), a collection of covers of pop and rock hits. With her unmistakable voice she gives each song a new finish.

The album starts with Love Is Blindness, a song from U2’s 1991 album, Achtung Baby. Cassandra had already performed this melancholic song on her album New Moon Daughter which received high acclaims especially because of her luscious interpretation.

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Bob Baldwin – Lookin’ Back

Bob Baldwin just released on NuGroove Music his sophomore album Lookin’ Back. The title already reveals it, Bob honored us with a retrospective of his musical career. The album contains 17 tracks with over 70 minutes of music. In my review about Bob’s previous album Newurbanjazz.com (2008) I wrote down a survey about his capricious musical life. Now Bob delivers his own musical view and in addition six new compositions. So here is your collectable gem.

The album starts with a remix of Summer Madness, originally released on Kool And The Gang’s album Light Of The World (1974). Featured singer is James “Crab” Robinson, formerly a prominent vocalist of the group Change. Bob Baldwin’s retro synth and piano in combination of James Robinson\’s glorious vocals are terrific.

One of my eternal favorites is Summer Breeze. I was infected by the version of the Isley Brothers (1974) and their wonderful harmonies. Bob Baldwin’s instrumental version is a awesome revitalization of this ancient hit featuring Marion Meadows on soprano sax.

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Walter Beasley – Free Your Mind

Professor Walter Beasley started his career on the trace of Grover Washington. Grover’s music inspired Walter to choose the saxophone as his favorite instrument. Furthermore he was influenced by Donny Hathaway and Earth, Wind and Fire. “All I wanted to do was figure out how I could move people the way I was moved by those records.”

Graduated from Berklee College of Music in the early ’80s, Walter took a teaching position on this college a year later. In 1987 he released his self-titled debut album on Polydor, followed by Just Kickin’ It (1989), Intimacy (1992) and Private Time (1995) on Mercury. After Walter Beasley Live and More (1996) on Affable Records and Life and More (1996) on Ignition he signed at Shanachie, where he released Tonight We Love (1997), For Your Pleasure (1998), Won’t You Let Me Love You (2000) and Rendezvous (2002). Go With The Flow (2003) was his interplay on N-Coded Music before he joined Heads Up International releasing For Her (2005), Ready For Love (2007) and in 2009 Free Your Mind. On his website he also offers Sax Meditations (2008) as downloadable music.

“All I wanted to do with this record was accurately reflect the times and how I felt about them,” explains Walter the title of his new album. “I had been working so much in the past few years, and living this musical life so intensely, that I hadn\’t taken the time to recognize the emotional impact of some things that had been happening in my life and in the world. With the times being what they are, I think this is a record that can help people let go of their concerns for a while and just lose themselves in the moment.”

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