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 (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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George Benson – Songs And Stories

The release of a George Benson album is always a musical major event. George Benson is legend, icon and musical reference. While jazz fans prefer his sophisticated jazz releases, Benson’s growing popularity is nevertheless build on albums like Give Me The Night and Irreplaceable.

The making of the album Songs And Stories is documented in the George Benson Sessions. As the title indicates is Songs And Stories a collection of popular songs of prolific musicians of the last half century. Nine of the songs are renditions, while three songs, Bill Withers’ A Telephone Call Away, Rod Temperton’s Family Reunion and Lamont Dozier’s Living in High Definition are especially written for George’s new album.

The album opens with Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, a song by James Taylor, written for his album One Man Dog (1972). Benson recorded his rendition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with the support of some Brazilian session players. “James Taylor is a great songwriter, and a great performer too,” comments Benson. “Not many people are brave enough to cover his songs because he does them so well himself, and with such simplicity. It’s hard to beat that combination, but I tried my hand at it while I was down there, and it came off so well that I decided to put it on the record.”

Composer Rod Temperton is famous for his Michael Jackson contributions like Rock With You or Thriller. Rod is also composer of George’s all-time hit Give Me The Night. He tailored Family Reunion in a perfect George Benson style. You know, it’s a masterpiece when every note is just at the point.

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Paul Brown + Marc Antoine – ForeignXchange

Paul Brown and Marc Antoine. Two guitarists with different résumés but same interests. Marc, a globetrotter between France, Spain, UK and USA, has performed in the past with Basia, SoulIISoul, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, The Solsonics, Queen Latifah, acid jazz DJ GreyHoy, Rick Braun, Sting and the late Selena. Paul Brown is the producer per se in the smooth jazz genre. He performed with Al Jarreau, Boney James, Jeffery Osborne, Kirk Whalum, Larry Carlton, George Benson, Patti Austin and many more.

Paul’s solo projects are Up Front (2004), followed by The City (2005) and White Sand (2007). Marc Antoine’s albums are Classical Soul (1994), Urban Gypsy (1995), Madrid (1998), Universal Language (2000), Cruisin’ (2001), The Very Best of Marc Antoine (2002), Mediterraneo (2003) and Modern Times (2005).

Both guitarists performed together at Paul Brown’s Guitar Night in 2008, which was the reason for Paul’s invitation to join his next recording. The official comment: “This initial session sparked a dynamic, complementary creative flow that developed into a fruitful new partnership, giving rise to the magical give and take of Foreign Exchange.”

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Joyce Cooling – Global Cooling

Since her arrival in the San Francisco Bay Area Joyce Cooling was always infected by music. But it was Wes Montgomery’s solo on If You Could See Me Now which Joyce turned to the guitar. Her contact to Jay Wagner, a keyboardist on San Francisco’s Brazilian circuit, gave her the impetus and energy to start her solo career. Her first album was Cameo (1990), a Brazilian-oriented music under the strong influence of her partner and musician Jay Wagner.

Her breakthrough was her Heads Up International debut Playing It Cool (1997), presenting a mixture of Latin and smooth jazz. The title song reached #1 on the Gavin Report and was the foundation for her great fan community. Based on a frequent appearance on numerous gigs and festivals her next album Keeping Cool (1999) could extend her popularity and success. Still on the heights of charts followed her albums Third Wish (2001-GRP), This Girl Got To Play (2004) and Revolving Door (2006-Narada Jazz), musically anchored in the smooth jazz genre.

Released from any label contract in the absolute weightlessness of independence Joyce finds back to her roots on her new album Global Cooling (2009). All songs on the new album are written and arranged by Joyce and her longtime friend Jay Wagner. Joyce expresses her excitement: “Global Cooling is like taking a transcontinental flight, touching down in fun, exciting and beautiful places. We were inspired to travel into uncharted territory, so we really stretched ourselves to get our passports in order! We played with a lot of new instruments and layered Tablas, congas, bongos, sitar, berimbau and even accordion over funk, rock and jazz. It was a trip.”

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Candy Dulfer – Funked Up!

Saxy Candy is back with her sophomore Heads Up International release Funked Up! “It came together over the course of a year and a half,” says Dulfer. “First, we had the beginnings of the album. Then we made the soundtrack to the movie. After that, we even wrote a couple more songs. It’s almost like a best-of album representing my funky and softer sides. It’s great when you have so many good songs, and you get to choose the ones you like best.”

Candy has a deep affinity for funk. Her funk jazz alto tone has been heard alongside artists such as Jimmy Cliff, Tower of Power, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Prince, Maceo Parker and Aretha Franklin. I recommend you every concert with her explosive appearance and her special European style of funk.

She is surrounded by her Dutch band called Funky Stuff. Currently this group consists of the musicians Thomas Bank (keyboards), Ulco Bed (guitar), Dedre Twiss (vocals), Chance Howard (bass, vocals) and Kirk Johnson (drums). Further assistance arrived with a three-piece horn section that includes trumpeter Jan van Duikeren, tenor saxophonist Guido Nijs and trombonist Louk Boudesteijn and some guest musicians.

First In Line is a tutorial program of funk. Candy uses all ingredients of old school like vocoder, Moog, syncopated bass and a fat horn section. Just like in the time of The Brothers Johnson, Cameo and James Brown.

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