Album Review: People of Tomorrow, Citrus Sun (Dome Records, 2014)

Citrus-sun-albumIt took me a while to come to this album produced by Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick. I was reluctant not because I had any doubts it would be good but because it was immediately swept into the “smooth jazz” realm. I have a tentative relationship with that genre. On the one hand, Incognito’s instrumental work and other artists who have attracted that descriptor (e.g. George Benson, Bob James) have created an amazing body of work that respects jazz’ tradition while embracing elements of soul, funk, and even pop music. On the other hand, there is a sizeable slice of “smooth jazz” that remains bland and formulaic.

People of Tomorrow falls easily into the first category – great jazz music with latin and soul influences. But it wasn’t until a recent listen to the track, “Yesterday Detroit” did it hit me why this album is special. At times, it rekindles a sound in jazz music that Donald Byrd and the Mizell Brothers perfected some 30 years ago. Having just lost Donald Byrd last year, it’s a fitting tribute, even if unintentional.

Listening to “Yesterday Detroit,” Domenic Glover’s trumpet solos are reminiscent of Byrd’s expansive style. The title track is similarly steeped in Glover’s trumpet. Combined with steady rhythm tracks and funk-inspired arrangements, the sonic landscape of a classic album like Byrd’s Places & Spaces (Blue Note, 1975) springs into new life. Remarkable.

Featured on most tracks is Jim Mullen, a veteran of the jazz guitar. Comparisons to Wes Montgomery are not coincidental. Like Montgomery did, Mullen picks with his thumb and his style is just as fluid as Montgomery’s. The lead track, “Mais Uma Vez (One More Time)” opens with an addictive melody, expands into a luxurious solo by Glover, and closes with a Mullen solo so cheerfully easy going, you can see the smile on his face as you listen.

In a promotional interview on the project, Maunick cited a Herbie Mann album someone gifted him as the inspiration for the latin jazz elements on the album. Although he didn’t name the album, my guess is he was talking about Do the Bossa Nova with Herbie Mann, originally released in 1963 (Atlantic reissue, 2005).

People of Tomorrow manages considerable breadth in its 10 tracks. As well as the latin influence and contemporary jazz tracks, “Cooking with Walter” offers a more uptempo, dance-inspired sound, not unlike what we might hear as an Incognito instrumental (fans of the TV series Breaking Bad will get the title).

Still, I have to come back to the Byrd comparison, which somehow makes me more welcoming of a new smooth jazz record. It reminds me that smooth jazz, like its ancestor, can be great given the right songwriting and musicianship. People of Tomorrow has both in spades.

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick – Guitar; Jim Mullen – featured Guitar; Matt Cooper – Keyboards, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Drums; Domenic Glover – Trumpet, Trombone; Pete Ray Biggin – Drums; Richard Bull – Drums, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Organ, Percussion; Joao Caetano – Percussion; Randy Hope-Taylor – Bass; Francis Hylton – Bass, Drums, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano; Francesco Mendolia – Drums; Valerie Etienne – Vocals.

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