Top Names Assemble for Jazz for Japan Benefit Recording

Jazz for Japan benefit recordingJazz For Japan is a benefit album recorded in two days by 25 of the top jazz musicians in the world benefiting the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. The recordings took place last week in Los Angeles at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. Legendary and Grammy nominated performers include: Kenny G, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, George Duke, Rickey Minor, Tom Scott, Billy Childs, Boney James, Lee Ritenour, Keiko Matsui, Bob James, and many others.

Larry Robinson, Jazz For Japan producer states; “This project came about after discussing the tragic aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan with my co-workers. I told them that many of the American jazz musicians tour Japan numerous times a year. It was at that moment the seeds of Jazz For Japan were born. Within five days we called all our jazz friends and put together this truly amazing line up of musicians to record at Hollywood’s famous Capitol Recording Studio who all donated their time.”

The album features jazz standards including “Maiden Voyage,” “Body & Soul,” “Watermelon Man,” “So What,” “Sophisticated Lady,” etc. along with a DVD release including interviews with the artists stating their support and sympathy for the Japanese people. “You, the Japanese people inspire us with your resilience. We are trying to send our strength with what we have – and that’s music,” states Steve Gadd (drummer, performing on “Maiden Voyage”, and “So What”).

Jazz For Japan is being produced by Avatar Records and is available now worldwide via iTunes with profits benefiting the International Red Cross in Japan.

2009 Releases: Diana Krall, Boney James, Philippe Saisse

Diana Krall’s next recording, Quiet Nights, is a Brazilian jazz album coming out on March 31. After marrying Elvis Costello and giving birth, Diana says, “I feel more womanly, I guess, and I think this record is a love letter but very sensual, more on the erotic side. It’s definitely late night.”

Diana isn’t the one one feeling feeling amorous. Top-selling smooth jazz saxman Boney James has a collection of romantic covers and original compositions on the way. Send One Your Love will be out just before Valentine’s Day, on February 3.

Philippe Saisse’s debut on Koch Records. At World’s Edge. will be out on March 24. According to the press release, “At World’s Edge goes much deeper [than Saisse’s previous radio hits], weaving together a rich, melodic tapestry of progressive, impressionistic, and global threads.”

Review: Boney James – Christmas Present

Christmas Present from Boney JamesBoney James is now two for two for excellent holiday recordings. Almost a decade ago, I reviewed the saxman’s first seasonal CD, Boney’s Funky Christmas, and was impressed. I love the Christmas season and have a larger-than-average number of related discs. The fact that this is one of them that I put on first each season says something.

I’ve been listening to the new Christmas Present for about a month and jotting down notes on it. The words I wrote the most are warm, intimate, and acoustic. This is a great holiday recording and not just in the contemporary jazz genre. The opening track, “Skating,” maintains the jazzy feel of the original Vince Guaraldi composition. Boney’s playing effectively mimics the falling snow vibe I’ve always heard in the song. “Santa Baby” surprised me with an arrangement I’ve never heard before. I know a lot of musicians want to try something different with seasonal songs because everyone has heard the standard versions. More often than not, those make me wince. You know what I’m talking about. This different version, with a sultry vocal by Chante Moore, gets better for me each time I hear it. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is treated with reverence and feeling. The acoustic guitar and light keyboard interplay with a gentle saxophone had made this one of the most memorable versions of the song I have. The emotion is also palpable on the somber Joni Mitchell classic “River” – which is just Boney and Tim Carmon on acoustic piano. “O Tannenbaum” starts with a startling warm tenor sound then kicks into a festive mood about a minute and a half into it. It’s likely to get the people at your holiday party to start clapping. Speaking of fun, Angie Stone injects the uptempo, non-bluesy “Merry Christmas, Baby.” It’s another one for the party. My favorite track is “Silent Night” featuring Anthony Hamilton. It’s a gospel rendition featuring Boney, a Hammond B-3, an acoustic piano, and Hamilton’s vocal. Your local uninhibited church won’t be so silent if they hear this. Nice.

Christmas Present is more than a standard, going-through-the-motions holiday recording. It’s better than every other contemporary jazz recording I’ve heard in the last few years, and it’s better than the best selling holiday recording of all time. I think that can be chalked up to heart. There’s feeling in many of the songs. It’s music that can be enjoyed by everyone. Only the Grinch wouldn’t enjoy this gift.

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Review: Boney’s Funky Christmas from Boney James

[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]

Boney's Funky Christmas from Boney JamesThe ads for Boney’s first holiday release call this “the album to put on after you put the kids to bed.” Sure enough, Boney’s Funky Christmas features the seductive grooves you know the saxman for. This is the smoothest Christmas release I’ve heard in the last two years. Boney’s stamp on these songs (mostly traditional holiday tunes) is distinctive and the rhythms and production by his longtime producer, Paul Brown are top notch. Boney is especially tender on the Chris Eaton/Amy Grant composition “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” He has able assistance on the album from guest vocalists Dee Harvey (on “This Christmas”) and Bobby Caldwell (on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”). Rick Braun guests on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Although the other eight tracks are in the silky r&b vein, Boney also tries his hand at a stripped down sound with just him and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa on “Jingle Bells.” Overall, this is one of the most solid contemporary jazz holiday releases and one that will be enjoyed for years to come.

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