Archives for posts with tag: Smooth Jazz

Album Review: Silver, Fourplay (Concord Music Group, November 2015)

Fourplay_SilverFourplay has been writing and recording contemporary jazz for twenty-five years. The aptly named new album, Silver, celebrates this anniversary with ten new tracks penned by various members of the band, including leader Bob James.

Fourplay has often been classified as smooth jazz. Their music is easy-going, melodic, and simply arranged. A quartet of masters on their instruments, Fourplay needs no other accoutrements. Silver features the solo guitar work of Chuck Loeb on most tracks. “Quicksilver,” in particular, is a pacey number with a great hook and lush vocalizations reminiscent of Pat Metheny.

The album has a range of up and downtempo numbers. “Mine” is an example of the latter, offering a simple melody carried by James’ piano. “Horace” is a more straight-ahead jazz arrangement, an ode to jazz pianist Horace Silver.

It’s ironic that a milestone anniversary like the 25th has traditionally been marked by silver, one of our most tarnishable metals. Fourplay’s Silver glistens all the same.

The Players: Bob James (Keyboards), Harvey Mason (Drums), Chuck Loeb (Guitar), Nathan East (Bass Guitar)

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Concert Review: Incognito, Detroit Opera House, April 4 2015

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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, on stage with Incognito at the Detroit Opera House (April 4, 2015)

I’ve been listening to Incognito’s recorded music for about 25 years and they consistently qualify as my favourite band, my favourite music, and the best group creating new music today. Seeing them live has always been a dream of sorts. For this year’s tour, egged on by my sister, I finally made it happen. We saw Incognito’s short but quality set on a triple bill at the Detroit Opera House on April 4, 2015.

Incognito had a one hour set in between two other well-known ensembles from the smooth jazz realm: Hiroshima and fOURPLAY. Both acts demonstrated strong songwriting, musicianship, and a love for performance. fOURPLAY, in particular, was a pleasure to watch for a couple of reasons. First, they are talented musicians who play together with the cohesion you would expect from a band with their longevity. Second, because two living legends were on stage in leader and pianist Bob James and drummer Harvey Mason. Chuck Loeb on guitar and Nathan East on bass guitar were virtuosos of equal calibre.

But this post is really about Incognito.

One of the most remarkable things about their performance was the setlist itself. Staying in tune with the smooth jazz tone of the evening, Incognito chose to weight their selections with older material, mostly from 1992’s Tribes, Vibes, & Scribes (Phonogram) and 1994’s Positivity (UMG Recordings). With such a short set, they squeezed only one track from their most recent album, Amplified Soul (Shanachi, 2014). Paying respects to Detroit’s musical pedigree, they included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, sung with relish by Tony Momrelle.

Incognito Playlist (from memory)

  1. L’Arc En Ciel De Miles
  2. I See the Sun
  3. Roots (Back to a Way of Life)
  4. I Love What You Do For Me
  5. Still a Friend of Mine
  6. Colibri
  7. Deep Waters
  8. As
  9. Everyday

Maysa joined the band for “I Love What You Do for Me” and subsequent songs. She brought her magic to the songs she originally recorded with the band, including free-wheeling scatting on “Colibri” with the incredible range she is known for.

With precious little time, some of the songs were played at a slightly higher tempo than their recorded versions. This kept things moving and jammed more great music into the set.

After the show, we were fortunate enough to meet leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, vocalist Tony Momrelle, and sound engineer Chris Lewis. Bluey was gracious with his time and sincerely thankful for our patronage through the years. It was a warm meeting and one I’ll cherish because of how much Incognito’s music has meant to me through the decades.

 

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (guitar); Matt Cooper (keyboards); Maysa Leak (vocals); Tony Momrelle (vocals); Vanessa Haynes (vocals); Katie Leone (vocals); Francis Hylton (bass); Sid Gauld (trumpet); Jamie Anderson (sax/flute); Trevor Mires (trombone); Francesco Mendolia (drums); João Caetano (percussion)

 

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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