Review: Chris Standring – Love & Paragraphs

Acid jazz was the hip new style taking the States by storm in the 90s. While much of it was created by producers and deejays from abroad, two west coast musicians decided to tackle the genre themselves by fusing jazz melodies with hip hop stylings on the release Solar System (1996). The musicians responsible for that funky outing are none other than guitarist Chris Standring and his longtime co-collaborator and keyboardist Rodney Lee. Today Standring is well known for his retro-soul compositions on releases such as Hip Sway (2000) and Groovalicious (2003). On Love & Paragraphs, we find Standring exploring chill and ambient sounds while maintaining the soulful mood that his fans have come to expect. The album’s opener “Qwertyuiop” is a funky bass-driven groove featuring a smooth blend of Standring’s Fender Strat along with Everette Harp’s tenor. The title track is a snappy midtempo piece with a hook that you’ll likely find yourself humming after a few listens. I also enjoyed the more ambient pieces on the release such as “Liquid Soul” and “Have Your Cake And Eat It” which is co-written by Lee and features an interesting talk box solo by Standring. If you like your contemporary jazz with a retro-soul vibe, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Love & Paragraphs. You’ll be glad you did.

Review: Miles from India

Amazing! There have been a number of Miles Davis tribute recordings released over the years, covering various periods of his storied career; both with and without alumni of his numerous bands and configurations. I’m pretty sure that I own most of them but this one, organized and led by producer Bob Belden, covering songs from Miles’ controversial first forays into fusion via electricity, is just amazing. If you can get your head around the opening track, “Spanish Key” from Bitches Brew with tabla, soaring flute and konnakol (Indian vocalization), then you’ll be in for a sub-continental treat. Belden and the musicians he’s assembled – American, Indian and alumni of Davis’ bands – take 12 songs, all but one of which are associated with Davis, and interpret them as if Miles donned a Nehru Jacket. Traditional Western instrumentation meets Indian ideals; complementing sitar, electric mandolin, flute, tabla, konnakol and a whole host of Indian drums and percussion are; Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz on sax, Mike Stern, John McLaughlin and Pete Cosey on guitar, Marcus Miller, Ron Carter, Michael Henderson and Benny Rietveld on bass, Chick Corea, Adam Holzman and Robert Irving III on keys, Ndugu, Lenny White, Vince Wilburn and Badal Roy on drums – all alumni, complemented by the great Wallace Roney on trumpet. To hear “All Blues” open with sitar or “So What” open with konnakol is both amazing and liberating at the same time. If you’re a fan of Miles, especially his early electric and later periods, you’re going to be blown away by this recording. I haven’t been able to stop listening to this recording since I downloaded it. Call me star-struck, but this just might be the best release I’ve heard thus far in 2008. I haven’t been this taken aback since Alan Pasqua’s The Antisocial Club.

Review: Palmystery from Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten is a musician with a penchant for creativity and this is clearly heard on his latest release, Palmystery. The disc captures this versatile artist in his element as he succinctly takes listeners on a genre-bending tale during which themes of mysticism and spirituality are explored. This premise is shared in Wooten’s concurrently released novel The Music Lesson which tells the story of a young musician’s encounter with a mysterious music teacher who expounds upon him spiritual lessons in music and life. The album opens with the playful and energetic “2 Timers” featuring Derico Watson and JD Blair on drums. The piece is further aided by Howard Levy’s harmonica, Eric Silver’s violin and a full horn section. On “Left Right & Center” guitarist Mike Stern shares the spotlight with Wooten and Neal Evans (Soulive) on the Hammond B3. Perhaps the track’s biggest accomplishment lies in the enlistment of Dennis Chambers, Will Kennedy, and Blair on drums whose combined force provides a fluid backbeat that keeps things moving along at a steady clip. A lively cover of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” is included on the release as well. Wooten states that “A song is just an idea until someone brings it into the world,” adding “That’s the great mystery of music or any creative endeavor. The power is in the palm of your hand. You just have to release it to the world.” And release it to the world he did on the satisfying and eclectic Palmystery. Keep an ear out for this one.

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Review: Tequila Moon from Jessy J

Wow! What a discovery! I was at the Berks Jazz Festival last week. Unfortunately, I was only able to spend two of the festival’s ten days taking in music. Simultaneously I realized that Peak has released the debut of 26-year-old saxophonist Jessy J, who also was to appear at Berks as part of the Guitars & Saxes show. What a debut, from the opening throaty chords of “Tequila Moon,” I knew I was going to like this woman. I’m not sure the last time I’ve gotten this excited over a debut by a young sax player. Jessy J, under the ever-watchful eye of Paul Brown, exhibits maturity on her instrument beyond her age. I can’t help but make the comparison to Grover Washington, Jr. – and that’s a good thing! The album Tequila Moon has a definite Latin lean to it, but in a very sophisticated, intense, contemporary jazz way. This album just feels different – unlike anything that’s been released the last few years – smoky, intense, throaty, complex, and sexy. On top of the blowing, this girl can sing as well! This just might be the best all around contemporary jazz release of the year so far.

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Review: Rhythm and Romance from Kenny G

It’s hard to believe that Kenny G is 51 years old but, after releasing 26 albums for Arista, he is starting a new relationship with Concord Records. Concord, by the way, is about the only record company supporting jazz in a big way these days (thank God for an independent label!). I haven’t really listened to Kenny G since his Kenny G Live album from 1989, and if it wasn’t for my emusic subscription, I probably wouldn’t have picked this release up. But Concord has been on a pretty good roll with their releases, so I decided to give the smooth one a shot. This is actually a good album, and this is coming from someone who felt Kenny’s best years were when he was still using his last name and playing along side a guy named Lorber. The album starts off with a “Sax-o-loco” that sounds a lot like “Tequila,” a real upbeat Latin number, but it’s on the next tune, “Ritmo y Romance” that I really sat back and listened hard. Kenny’s as good as anyone in contemporary jazz on this one – maybe even better; no repetitive, simple smooth (boring) jazz here. There’s a little Samba, some Salsa, Spanish and Latin flavorings all tossed together to create a very seductive sounding album, where the energy is bubbling just beneath the surface ready to breakout. There was a time, 40 or so years ago, when the jazz labels, routinely put their stars in a Latin or Bossa setting, even Concord did it 20 and 30 years ago. Listen to Kenny tackle the standard “Besame Mucho” and you’ll understand why it was such a popular idea. If you haven’t listened to Kenny G in awhile, or got tired of all the holiday songs and standards he was putting out, or just gave upon him as I did, give Rhythm & Romance a listen. You just might be as pleasantly surprised as I am.

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