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Listening Loft : HOTPICKS

Vassal Benford - Melody Man
Vassal Benford
Melody ManBenford Jazz

Though Vassal Benford is an all-around entertainment juggernaut, complementing his all-star Grammy nominated pop/R&B/jazz resume with ventures as a film producer, his heart has clearly been with music since launching his career as a teen working with Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson. After producing hits for the likes of Toni Braxton, Bobby Brown, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, he ventured into Smooth Jazz via collaborations with Norman Brown and Gerald Albright. After launching his solo career in 2022 with “Melody Man” – also the name of his upcoming star-studded debut album - the prolific composer, keyboardist and producer keeps the momentum flowing with “Dedication Song,” a sonically adventurous, sunny burst of elegant mid-tempo funk driven by spirited grooves, a tasty, uplifting piano melody and imaginative improvisations.    

 

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Sylvia Bennett - Amazing Love
Sylvia Bennett
YouOut of Sight Music

You can’t imagine a more devoted couple than Sylvia and her husband Dr. Hal, married over 50 years, spending the past two decades traveling and making memories and friends all over the world. Tragedy struck in late 2023 when Hal lost his battle with cancer leaving Sylvia physically, but emotionally she still feels him close by. This new single, “You” features acclaimed bassist Brendan Rothwell, who adds the perfect intimate warmth to the track, and is dedicated to her loving husband along with the entire upcoming album, AMAZING LOVE. The Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and performer will be thrilling her global fan base this year when she works her magic with long-time producer Hal S. Batt to keep the tunes rolling out… As always, inspired by love in this dimension and beyond.

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Fahrenheit 702 - Gettin' In The Game, Vol. 1
Fahrenheit 702
Gettin' In The Game, Vol. 1Jaz-Zay Soul Recordings

Fahrenheit 702 brings a sultry, high energy and party vibe to their debut GETTING IN THE GAME, Vol. 1! Named for producer/bassist/group founder Greg Radford’s triumphant return to the music industry after a near-decade hiatus, the colorful Las Vegas centric themes and slick ensemble action make it the perfect soundtrack to a winning streak with a frolicsome night on The Strip. The core members of this Smooth Jazz collective include Radford, power vocalist Diane 'Dedae' Patrise' Spann and saxophonist Keith Marlo are complemented by Grammy & Emmy Award winning Singer/Trumpeter Skip Martin, keyboardist Mike Clark, bassist Walter Jones, guitarists Michael Henegan and James 'JD' Davis, plus Ronnie Foster (organ) and John Wedemeyer (guitar) infuse blues excitement into the delirious swirl of urban jazz, Prince-like funk and Brazilian coolness.

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Wayne Gutshall - For The Love
Wayne Gutshall
For The LoveSpicy Music LLC

Wayne Gutshall first rocked and grooved the Smooth Jazz world with five #1 singles on the SmoothJazz.com Global Listener Chart from his aptly titled debut album SPICY!, the irrepressibly melodic and romantic saxophonist is back with “For The Love,” a smoldering follow-up to his previous radio smash, “Spanish Love” feat Steve Oliver! This alluring new single offers a dazzlingly dynamic horn duality with stylish flugelhornist Rob Zinn, as the two intertwine harmonically to a stirring effect as they engage in some crafty improvisational conversations. Though the Latin vibe is subtle, Gutshall will forever be influenced by his time working with top names in Latin music including Ed Calle, Arturo Sandoval, Nestor Torres and Dave Valentin!

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Skii Harvey - Waiting Cover
Skii Harvey
WaitingSkiiHarvey.com

Often described vocally as a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and Tina Turner, veteran Australian singer-songwriter Skii Harvey is a celebrated citizen of the world, recognized by the Billboard Music Awards, the UK Songwriting Awards and Australian Songwriter’s Association. Over a dozen years after launching her recording career, she profoundly shifts sonic gears on her heartrending, soul-piercing and incredibly cathartic EP WAITING with renowned South Korean producer and K-pop artist Mackelli. The sequel/emotional aftermath to her powerful heartbreak chronicle BROKEN, this four-ballad collection finds her taking stock of the past, moving slowly passed the pain and embracing the fact that she no longer must wait for happiness. She also slyly embraces the reality that the wait for true love (after one that wasn’t) captures the heart in perpetuity.  

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Jeff Logan - Indigo
Jeff Logan
IndigoFire & Ice Entertainment Network

When keyboardist/composer Jeff Logan first reached out to Paul Brown, the Grammy-winning hitmaker was first intrigued by the decades Logan had toiled as a corrections officer while developing his craft. When Brown heard his graceful and infectious, radio friendly compositions and lively piano style, he signed on to produce one song, which quickly evolved into Logan’s new album INDIGO, a tour-de-force collaboration that strikes Smooth Jazz gold. While showcasing Logan’s fresh, ultra-melodic touch on the piano and exciting sense of improvisation, the 10 fanciful, romantically inclined tracks create a dazzling, lightly funky flow that puts a hip, modern twist on a classic contemporary jazz piano sound that may remind listeners of classic tracks by David Benoit, Brian Culbertson and Gregg Karukas.

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Michael Manson - Ride Share
Michael Manson
Ride ShareManson Music Productions

Consistent with the musical tone and overall philosophy of his 2021 collection A RAY OF HOPE, veteran bassist Michael Manson keeps the relentlessly joyful, high stylin’ vibes flowing on “On the Up and Up” – the hard-grooving lead single from his upcoming RIDESHARE album featuring tight horns, bubbly improvisations, soaring energy and spirited musical conversations with Marcus Miller’s saxophonist Donald Hayes and former Rippingtons’ keyboardist Dave Kochanski. While best known for playing with Smooth Jazz greats like Steve Cole, Brian Culbertson, Kirk Whalum, Larry Carlton and George Duke, along with his wife Lana Manson is also co-founder of the Chicago based Musical Arts Institute, a non-profit school launched in 2010 that has serves thousands of students and families who lack the resources for a formal high quality music education. 

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Dennis Murphy - Infinite
Dennis Murphy
InfiniteDennis Murphy Music

If it was possible after OUR HIGHER SELVES spent 49 weeks on the SmoothJazz.com chart, Dennis Murphy reaches even greater musical-spiritual heights on his perfectly titled new album INFINITE. Famed for his work with pop and soul greats (Billy Preston, Lenny Williams, Kenny Rankin) and the crème of the crop Smooth Jazz artists (Acoustic Alchemy, Kirk Whalum, Eric Marienthal), the versatile veteran bassist – also a radio personality who once hosted the show “Bass Trax” – explores with great sonic boldness everything from Brazilian pop/jazz and strutting funk to slow simmering blues and re-imagined 60’s-70’s classic pop balladry. Murphy creates these infinite possibilities with guest collaborators Ricky Peterson, Eddie M., Miles Gilderdale and Eric Marienthal, plus a dynamite ensemble alternately featuring Oli Silk, Sonny Emory, Will Kennedy and the late great Jeff Golub. The multi-instrumentalist's 3rd solo release is indeed a charm!   

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Rei Narita - Walk On The Star
Rei Narita
Walk On The StarStudio Luna Azul

After a prolific year that saw Rei Narita release an incredible 11 singles, the pianist/composer – known for over a decade as Asia’s greatest pioneer of Smooth Jazz – launches into 2024 with the seductive, deeply meditative “Walk on The Star” – an elegant   ballad that rolls beautifully as a thematic extension of his final 2023 track “Stars Taking a Nap.” The journey begins with Narita’s dream-like melody floating over a hypnotic easy groove, with acoustic guitar harmony touches by guest star Peter White. The piece feels like a sweet, subtle romantic dance between piano and guitar, White’s thoughtful solo improvisation adds emotional and mystical depth, sparking our cosmic imagination to better envision this fantastical walk into the galaxy!

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Shawn Raiford - The Next Step
Shawn Raiford
The Next StepShawn Raiford Sax Productions

Calling to mind the title of sax man’s Shawn Raiford’s critically praised 2020 debut album, MAN WITH A HORN… While many may call themselves ‘men (or women) with horns, few know what to do with it to create the magic and make an emotional connection! Raiford, who’s been sharing his vibrant and adventurous horn-fire with fans in and around his home base in California for years, continues his breakthrough hot streak by following his recent, top-charting single, a sassy and brassy twist on Silk Sonic’s #1 multi-Grammy winning smash, “Leave the Door Open,” with his 3rd pre-release single, “Vallejo,” from his forthcoming album THE NEXT STEP. This jazzy nod to the original East San Francisco Bay Area hip hop scene sound, pioneered by Mac Dre and E-40 promises to propel Mr. Raiford further into Smooth Jazz star status! Becoming well-known for his live performances, the artist packs his rich, pure, dynamic tones into an entertaining, muscular delivery making for exciting concert productions featuring this supernova. 

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Rainforest Band - Good Medicine
Rainforest Band
Good MedicineSan Francisco Records

With the release of GOOD MEDICINE, an inviting mix of spirited contemporary jazz, robust funk and sensual balladry, six-piece Bay Area ensemble Rainforest Band confirms its status as one of Smooth Jazz’s most environmentally conscious artists. Launched in 2017 by R&B/Gospel soul veterans Tony Saunders (bass), Vernon “Ice” Black (guitar) and Sylvester Burks (keyboards), the group refashions the eco-minded aesthetic of BLUES FROM THE RAINFOREST – A MUSICAL SUITE, an early 90s  “environmental earth music album” created by Saunders’ father, famed keyboardist Merl Saunders, and the legendary Jerry Garcia. While the soaring power and passion of saxophonist Dave Ellis ensures that this collection is more horn-centric than their debut, there’s also plenty of urban jazz and groovin’ soul from Saunders and tasty, melodic guitar magic from Black and Lorn Leber. GOOD MEDICINE will make you feel good!

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Lawson Rollins - Infinite Chill Vol 2
Lawson Rollins feat Shahin Shahida
Infinite Chill Vol 2Infinita Records/BajaTSR

Chosen by Guitar Player Magazine as one of the “50 Best Acoustic Guitarists” of all time, Lawson Rollins has been a melodically and rhythmically innovative solo hit maker for more than 15 years. One of his most unique albums was INFINITE CHILL (THE REMIX SESSIONS), featuring engaging chillout re-imaginings of some of his classic tracks. Rollins’ sequel, INFINITE CHILL, VOL 2 is equally fascinating, a sonically intricate and adventurous romp that keeps his sumptuous strings front and center amidst fresh, imaginative arrangements of ten more gems created with Persian/American remixer-producer Shahin Shahida (of the Billboard charting world music duo Shahin & Sepehr). More than remixes, these tracks feature bold new arrangements, fresh instrumental coloring (flute, sax, trumpet et al) and exotic wordless vocals that create a soul transporting experience.  

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Paolo Rustichelli - Tempus Fugit - Love Divine
Paolo Rustichelli
Tempus FugitNext Age Music

Italian composer and innovator Paolo Rustichelli saw jazz icon Miles Davis at the Umbria Jazz Festival in the summer of 1986. Rustichelli slipped Miles’ manager a demo cassette of his music. Several weeks later at the Rome Jazz Festival, intrigued by the demo, Miles invited Paolo to record with him and the magic began at a private studio in Europe. This session yielded beautiful results that have been stored away for decades, until now. “Love Divine” (The Smooth Jazz Mix) unearths these long-lost recordings and sets them into a contemporary yet timeless jazz setting. Steeped in perpetuity, this duet is likely to send chills down your arms and fill your heart with an unfamiliar hope… Almost like rewinding to a better place and time.

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Jack Sax Davies - Late Night Drive
Jack Sax Davies
Late Night DriveJack Sax Davies

The fact that UK composer/producer Jack Sax Davies makes his instrument his middle name shows that he means business as he turns his lifelong passion into emotionally hard-hitting Smooth Jazz dynamite on “Late Night Drive,” a highlight among the handful of singles he launched his solo career with this past year. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Davies comes to the genre after establishing himself as a sideman for many British artists, from veteran performer Murray Head to hip-hop and dance/electronica artists Che Lingo, Melle Brown and Paris Cesvette. On a compelling track that makes the perfect soundtrack for a fun evening on the road, Davies shares his smoldering, edgy lead horn-fire and sizzling brass textures over propulsive drum textures, cool retro-keyboard harmonies and deep groovin’ basslines.

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Neika Simone - Point of View
Neika Simone
Point of ViewNeikaSimone.com

Riding the promising momentum of her debut EP BEAUTIFUL MOMENT and the single “Million Pieces,” fast-emerging vocalist Neika Simone (whose name intentionally honors the legendary Nina) promotes her multi-faceted artistry as “Relaxing jazz vibes with a touch of funk and soul.” That description aptly captures the mid-tempo groovin’ (and sometimes rockin’) energy and hopeful and heartbreaking romantic themes coloring her engaging new album POINT OF VIEW. Yet Neika’s real magic takes hold when she transcends the easy flowing dreaminess and showcases the angelic, ethereal aspects of her voice as it hits surreal, sky-high notes that take her to Mariah-Whitney territory. Buoyed by a killer band and with a fiery guest appearance by saxophonist Marcus Anderson, Neika’s latest makes her one of the most promising urban jazz artists around.  

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Will Sumner - Meadowlark
Will Sumner
MeadowlarkGuitar One Records

After a series of edgy electric guitar driven Smooth Jazz albums featuring beachy/summery titles like COAST DRIVE and RIDE THE WAVE, multi-talented musician-composer Will Sumner got more personal with his 2021 release OCEAN STREET, which featured songs emotionally connected to his longtime former family home in Carlsbad, where his mother lived until her passing at 96. On this latest, truly innovative sonic excursion MEADOWLARK, Will keeps his trademark blend of buoyant funk/rock, sensual atmospheric balladry and breezy, piano-enhanced melodic grace flowing in loving homage to the beautiful working alfalfa farm in Apple Valley, California owned by his grandmother in the 1960s and 1970s. The collection of infectious tunes brings to life grandma’s warmth and generosity, as well as the sweet nostalgia of his childhood summer vacations there.     

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Ultrablue - Maria in Blue
Ultrablue
Maria In BlueSRS Records

The sophisticated, musical collective Ultrablue is the creation of in-demand New York-based keyboardist and composer John Smatla, a former music school teacher who made his way to the NY music scene from his hometown in Cleveland, OH. On the heels of the project's successful re-release of their star-studded self-titled 2006 recording, "Maria In Blue," rolls out in advance of the forthcoming NEW YORK STORIES recording featuring guest performances by Chieli Minucci, John Patitucci, David Mann and Omar Hakim. Inspired by the artistry of contemporary jazz guitar legend, Earl Klugh, Ultrablue's nod to nostalgia in a contemporary soundscape, offers up seductive and spicy Latin rhythms for Smatla and NYC session guitarist Bernd Schoenhart to deliver a sexy and playful melodic dance, interspersed with balmy solo guitar passages. A tasty peek at what’s to come with full album!

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D.S. Wilson - Pocket Change
D.S. Wilson
Pocket ChangeBig Splash Music, LLC

Though its release is exactly a year away, the title of Chicago-based saxophonist D.S. Wilson’s next album, METAMORPHOSIS perfectly captures the full circle evolution from his roots in jazz through decades of playing and recording rock, pop and blues before emerging as a bona fide Smooth Jazz artist in 2018. Testament to his extraordinary melodies and chart success - as well as spotlighted for being a finalist in the illustrious talent competition on board the Dave Koz Cruise - Wilson’s 2023 album SKYLINE was produced by Adam Hawley and METAMORPHOSIS is being helmed by Steve Oliver and Grammy nominee Jeff Carruthers. Its first lead single “Pocket Change” has a vibrant, polished and funky flow, with a hypnotic hook, bright horn textures and spirited keyboard riffs. Mastered by none other than saxman extraordinaire, Euge Groove!

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Listening Loft : MUST HAVES

Dan Alan Levine - Over The Moon
Dan Alan Levine
Over The MoonDanAlanLevine.com

Acclaimed TV arranger/orchestrator and Tony Award nominee for the score of the Broadway Musical "Anna Karenina," multi-talented pianist/composer Dan Alan Levine says that “one of the nice things about Smooth Jazz is that it allows the spirit and soul to relax.” It’s joyfully ironic then, that the wondrously inviting, infectious tunes on his stylistically eclectic (and perfectly titled) debut album OVER THE MOON are peppy and optimistic. Advance singles are still receiving airplay around the world on Smooth Jazz radio and being featured on some of the most popular streaming Playlists. Mixed and mastered by chart-topping songsmith Peter Ferencz (Peet Project) and driven by light funk grooves that breeze along the pop, soul, jazz, tropical and Latin landscapes – with a dash of classical. Dan’s emotionally compelling melodies come to life with the support of two genre leading ladies, flutist Kim Scott and saxophonist Jeanette Harris. The latest single, "Over Easy," is an infectious groove that you'll be humming along to upon first listen! 

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Jill Butler - Joyride
Jill Butler
JoyrideJill Butler

It’s listed as a “Fun Fact” on her bio, but when you listen to multi-talented, genre-busting (blues, jazz, pop soul) pianist, vocalist and composer/producer Jill Butler’s aptly titled, wildly and adventurous debut JOYRIDE, you’ll know it’s truly her ongoing mission – devoting 100% of her time to uplifting the soul and uniting hearts through music. She brings her fiery and frolicsome, homegrown Louisiana lightning to a slate featuring both shimmering, percussive piano driven originals (including tributes to her professional musician parents and regional legend Carol Fran) and fanciful twists on classics by Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Charlie Chaplain and New Orleans great Allen Toussaint. While ensembling with a cadre of Louisiana Music Hall of Famers, Butler also spins fascinating flute, vibes and organ sounds on her synth.  

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The Allen Carman Project - Soft Life
The Allen Carman Project
Soft LifeAllen Carman Music

Though The Allen Carman Project is named after the veteran bass player who has led studio sessions starting with the release of the cleverly titled CARMANOLOGY album, the ever-evolving collective is a true study in the collaborative magic of creating top-flight, melodically and rhythmically engaging Smooth Jazz. Their new single, “Soft Life” features the core group of Carman, multi-talented keyboardist (and song composer) Philippe Saisse and percussionist Gumbi Oritz designing a super chill, easy-grooving and freewheeling vibe to the aspirational concept of living the good life, feeling stress-free and vibrating at a higher level. With Carman and Ortiz sparking the infectious rhythmic flow, Saisse complements his soaring synth horn melody and hook with his trademark sparkling piano harmonies and improvisations.  

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Karén Devroop - Relentless
Karén Devroop
RelentlessUnisa

Though based in South Africa where he is revered as one of the country’s top saxophonists, Karén Devroop is a true citizen of the world, collaborating with artists from all over the planet, performing at international jazz festivals and playing in symphonies in the U.S., Europe and his home country. Building upon the success of his 2020 release ANCESTRAL HOME - which received airplay in over 40 countries – his latest album RELENTLESS finds the multi-talented composer/performer and his all-star Smooth Jazz artists, from South Africa and beyond, on a mission to tantalize fans of everything from incendiary jazz/funk, whimsical dance music and moody, sensual power ballads to exotic mid-tempo jams, spirited tropical and Latin-tinged delights and inspirational vocal ballads. It’s a tasty cosmopolitan combination showcasing Devroop’s relentless passion for jazz.   

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Mike Di Lorenzo - Play It Cool
Mike Di Lorenzo
Play It CoolKeep The Groove

A quote on keyboardist/composer Mike Di Lorenzo’s website reads “Let the Music Tell the Story.” The versatile artist did that early in his career performing with Whitney and Cissy Houston, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many East Coast symphonies. A decade and a half since launching his solo career, he’s found a fresh way of sharing musical narratives on his two recent albums, including his latest, the masterfully hip, stylish and sophisticated PLAY IT COOL. He artfully pairs his formidable melodic and improvisational piano chops with vibrantly soulful vocalists Sonna Relé, Denise Stewart and Anna Moore. While creating graceful grooves and dreamy atmospheres around their featured vocals, he also showcases his dynamic range on acoustic and electric piano on a handful of free flowing, high-spirited instrumentals. Mike D'Lo always plays it cool... You can count on it!

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Jeff Golkin & Forever Love - Our Beautiful Music
Jeff Golkin & Forever Love
Our Beautiful MusicSmiling Goddess Productions, Inc.

Gearing up for the release of OUR BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, follow-up to Jeff Golkin & Forever Love’s acclaimed, unabashedly romantic Smoothjazz.com charting debut WE HAVE LOVE…FOR ALL TIME, the band leader, pianist, drummer and producer/arranger simultaneously drops two versions of the sweeping, lushly orchestrated and film score-like title track single. There’s an R&B/jazz flavored vocal and a sumptuous instrumental spotlighting Fred Reiter’s rapturous, borderline surreal flute melody and Golkin’s graceful touch on the ivories. The dreamlike piece beautifully captures the driving philosophy of Golkin, who began his musical life performing on and off Broadway. He believes that “Love of another, greater than love of oneself, is to know the joy of how to make the world a better place for all time.” Words and music to live by. 

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Nick Gomez - You Better Figure It Out
Nick Gomez
You Better Figure It OutTDC&M

You may not realize this based on listening to Nick Gomez’s passionate and stirring new ballad “You Better Figure It Out,” but if you’re a fan of 80’s music, punk and/or folk rock, you have something in common with the L.A. based saxophonist. Before his own tunes received airplay on radio and featured on TV and films, he performed with the likes of Naked Eyes, Wang Chung and Nick Heyward of Haircut 100. Gomez’s adventurous resume also includes collaborations with famed punker Billy Bones (including a track in the documentary Who is Billy Bones?) and folk rocker Mondo Cozmo. He channels all of this energy and experience into his music, and this soulful sexy single provides a riveting showcase for his melodic horn vibe and dazzling improvisational skills. 

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Lowell Hopper - Soul Fingers
Lowell Hopper
Soul FingersGet Jazzed Records

If there’s one sure thing fans of adventurous, fashionable and super-melodic Smooth Jazz guitar can look forward to, it’s an annual (sometime bi-annual) release of another phenomenal album by Lowell Hopper, one of the most prolific hitmakers in the genre over the past decade. While his discography extends much further back to a whole different era, his latest masterwork, the perfectly titled SOUL FINGERS, is the Air Force veteran’s 22nd album since the mid-90s. Not surprisingly, it’s another instant smash, with his silky, fluid and intricate guitar lines soaring over sly, supple and funky basslines, adventurous and bouncy beats, bluesy keyboards, magical motifs and dreamy, hypnotic vibes.   

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Justin Klunk - Kindness Is Mandatory
Justin Klunk
Kindness Is MandatoryJustin Klunk

After teasing with four irresistible lead singles over the past year and a half, Justin Klunk unleashes the full fury of his relentless saxophone passion on his party ready debut full length album (after two EPs and loads of individual singles). With a title that doubles as a timely reminder, KINDNESS IS MANDATORY, motivates us (and gets our blood pumping) as the  young, mega-talent brings to his solo artistry the same funk, rock and soul fire he’s been lighting up the stage with for years alongside Ariana Grande, Lindsey Stirling, Saint Motel, David Foster, Earth Wind & Fire and David Benoit! By the way, Benoit appears twice on this collection. In the midst of the blazing hooks and burning production skills, a lone romantic ballad offers a sweet meditational oasis.  A must have for contemporary sax fans!

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Roman Street - It's All About The Groove
Roman Street
It's All About The GrooveRoman Street Music

The flaming hot guitar duo Roman Street is named after an old Roman passageway in the Alps. Brothers Noah and Josh Thompson have been on a steady and exhilarating passageway of their own since their breakthrough 2009 debut AMORE. With more than a half a dozen full length albums and at least as many singles, the project has been on world and jazz airplay charts consistently with their improvisational global fusion, blending classical, gypsy, contemporary jazz, Latin and Nuevo Flamenco. On their latest single, “It’s All About the Groove,” the Thompsons find fresh fire by shifting stylistic gears, including tastes of exotica and improv in the mix while focusing more on a relentlessly funky, horn-spiced mainstream urban pop instrumental jam. It’s a blast to hear Roman Street taking this infectious new approach!

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Franko Spero - One Step Ahead
Franko Spero
One Step AheadFH-Music

Under his cleverly rhyming hipster moniker Franko Spero, veteran Norwegian keyboardist, composer and producer Frank Hestness uses the titles of his EP releases to make it easy for fans of “high energy chill” to track his creative and career progress. He called his debut SIGNING IN as a way of introducing his vibe, followed by the new ONE STEP AHEAD. This one keeps the artful balance of smooth and edgy yet has deeper, more infectious melodies and poppin’ grooves that drive both hypnotic, mid-tempo ballads and energetic drive time gems. One of Spero’s unique trademarks is surrounding his in-the-pocket Smooth Jazz sound with colorful, immersive synth-generated sonic details that create warm, soulful and sometimes bluesy atmospheres.    

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James 'PJ' Spraggins - Stick It Out
James PJ Spraggins
Stick It Outjamespjspraggins.com

STICK IT OUT, the title of James ‘PJ’ Spraggins’ first album in eight years, is a clever double entendre, referring to his powerful, in the pocket virtuosity on the drums and the core of a positive, faith-based message reflecting his determination to overcome personal challenges, with the hope that confidence inspires his listeners. Having achieved a lifelong dream recently by playing behind Peabo Bryson on the 2023 Soul Train Cruise, Spraggins – who has also worked with Eric Essix and Kim Scott – showcases not only his rhythmic prowess but also his gifts as a composer of ultra-melodic ballads and mid-tempo funk adventures. While most of the positive-titled tunes feature lead guitar, keyboards and sax, the drummer includes two exciting drum interludes where he struts his ample stuff unadorned.  

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Nick Stefanacci - Secrets
Nick Stefanacci
SecretsSweet Lion Music

Nick Stefanacci’s rise in Smooth Jazz has been so quick and steep that it’s hard to believe he was a longtime pop fusion artist who started his career touring with artists like Derek Trucks, Ja Rule and DMC. Three years after dropping his picture-perfect collection, COVER TO COVER, rising Smooth Jazz star Nick Stefanacci launches his new EP SECRETS with a sizzling, high-octane tribute to one of the legends he covered, Michael Jackson, complete with a “Billie Jean”-like bass groove. In addition to two previously released singles (including a seductive holiday tune featuring vocalist Rich Aveo), the set features three mid-tempo jazz/funk ballads (one is also a playful romantic vocal) that showcase the power and soaring passion Stefanacci brings to his ever-evolving artistry.    

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The Smooth Jazz Alley - Here's the Thing
The Smooth Jazz Alley
Here's the ThingSmoothJazzAlley.com

After two albums and a handful of Smooth Jazz.com Top 30 singles, The Smooth Jazz Alley founder/keyboardist/producer Marco Montoya and longtime drummer/producer Kevin Lewis introduced the latest addition to the group, female Japanese sax dynamo Otoe Mori, on their infectious, fiery 2022 smash “Deep Into You.” That track lays an explosive foundation for the irresistibly sensual and grooving blend of soaring ballads, Latin breezes and catchy funk on their latest EP, HERE’S THE THING. The project continues TSJA’s engaging tradition of vibing with some of the boldest, brightest stars in the genre. In addition to acoustic guitarist Chris Camozzi, the guest list also includes Jessy J on saxophone and Marc Antoine on guitar, both featured on the project's current single "Brisa Del Mar" along with Roberto Vally and Karl Perazzo holding down the Latin rhythm section, plus Blake Aaron, Nathan East, Jeff Ryan and saxophonist WaKaNa, plus co-producer Matt Godina who adds additional keys and guitars to this exciting collection.  

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Dennis van Aarssen - Just Call It Love
Dennis van Aarssen
Just Call It LoveBTA Music Powered By AOE

The 4th album from super-talented wunderkind Dennis van Aarssen is a jazzy pop success as well as a masterclass in musical elegance with veteran composer-pianist Jeff Franzel (Sinatra, Torme, Groban). The two met in 2019 to write for DVA’s big band, and a seed was planted about an acoustic piano project. The idea of simmering down songs with an intimate approach was appealing, allowing the two more personal access to the music, as well as to the lyrics by including renowned lyricist Maria Christensen (Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez). The Voice of Holland winner can sing just about anything and on JUST CALL IT LOVE his voice style is impassioned with greater emotional depth. As Dennis notes “the songs are more fragile,” and his vocals are “not so much about power as they are about the nuances.” 

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R.L. Walker - Colorized
R.L. Walker
ColorizedR.L. Walker

Talk about creative visualization! Capping a prolific decade as a recording artist, U.S. Air Force veteran and composer/saxophonist R.L. Walker’s latest album COLORIZED invites listeners to create mental images of the compelling eight-song journey. His hope is that this will help listeners connect with the emotions he conveys as he mood swings from popping mid-tempo funk and crunch-grooving jams to sweetly reflective ballads (including an ultra-sexy Whispers cover). As Walker, who developed his alternately crisp/edgy and silky soul vibes in South Korean clubs and talent shows while stationed overseas, says, “Music gives color to the air of the moment.” With tracks produced by Walker and longtime collaborator Lew Laing, Jr., the sonically exciting set includes tracks featuring special guests vocalist Castella, Gerey Johnson on acoustic guitar and bassist Christian de Mesones.    

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Listening Loft : ESSENTIALS

400 Proof Enjoy the R.U.M. - Pour'd Nicely
400 Proof Enjoy the R.U.M.
Pour'D Nicely400 Proof

Though surely a glass of wine would make splendid company with their music, the clever name of the fresh and exciting, on the rise Atlanta-based urban jazz ensemble 400 Proof Enjoy the R.U.M. (Rhythmically Unchained Music) has nothing to do with alcohol. It’s a reference to the different venues along Georgia Highway 400 where drummer/producer Uriel Carney, saxophonist/composer Marquis Hare, bassist/string player Moe Winograd and keyboardist Derrill Pruitt work their alternately slow simmering and high energy fire – as they also have while sharing the stage with the likes of Kirk Whalum, Outkast and Branford Marsalis. The title of their debut EP, POUR’D NICELY says it all about the high spirits and tight rhythms of its tracks and how effortlessly and enjoyably their vibey, drink-themed tunes go down.    

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Amandus - All Night
Amandus
All NightAmandus Records

While pushing several decades as a composer, youthful German keyboardist, Michael Amandus Quast delivers a fresh, high-energy, melodic Smooth Jazz hit with his latest, "All Night"! This liberating new single is the ideal soundtrack to late night dancing, romancing or burning the midnight oil on your next big thing. Quast swapped out his studies in physics for pursuing his first love of music, and has since been an in-demand touring musician working with 80's icons Paul Young, Nik Kershaw and Midge Ure and Eurovision winner Johnny Logan. His recent splash into the Smooth Jazz genre (during Covid) has earned the exceptional musician a prominent place on radio charts and streaming playlists, often with his talented sidekick, guitarist Uli Brodersen.

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Uli Brodersen - South of Summer
Uli Brodersen
South of SummerLorraine Tracks

Dropping a sun-drenched single in the middle of winter is a stroke of genius from veteran German jazz guitarist Uli Brodersen!  “South of Summer” is an upbeat, highly danceable, carefree tune… An inviting showcase of dynamic, melodic electric guitar charms during a time when much of the world is dreaming of the warmth and freedom of summertime. The celebratory nature of the song is also reflective of the fact that it’s his first solo release in over ten years – and the first since working for several years behind the scenes with Smooth Jazz keyboardist and composer Amandus.   

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Mark Carter - Brand New Day
Mark Carter
Brand New DayMarkCarterProductions.com

It's been more than 15 years since guitarist/composer Mark Carter's last Smooth Jazz album. The 2022 Paul Brown-produced hit "Swingtown" left the door open for more from the talented Southern California recording artist! Hopefully back in the groove for a good while, Carter re-establishes his multi-faceted, stylistically diverse excellence on this latest album BRAND NEW DAY. Alternately showcasing his crisp, edgy electric guitar artistry and romantically-inclined acoustic guitar grace (including on the project's rollout radio single, "First Love" with saxophonist Greg Vail), Carter infuses his love for gritty funk and classic blues with a touch of Latin jazz into his infectious contemporary jazz vibes.  

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Phil Casagrande - Jazzie Girl
Phil Casagrande
Jazzie GirlCasagrande Studios

This touching, soulful new instrumental from composer, producer, keyboardist and music educator, Phil Casagrande is sure to touch the hearts of music lovers around the world. Especially those with an affinity for pets! The prolific songwriter was moved by the recent loss of his dog Jazzie. The two had forged a deep bond through hard times and losing her was challenging. The piano forward melody offers a healing wistfulness while the gently percussive arrangement floats with hopeful melancholy. Casagrande recently charted on the Groove Jazz TOP 100 with his 2023 Holiday hit, “Christmas Time Is Here,” and is managing a very busy new year with TV & Film composition and production. 

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Marcus Click - Brand New Day
Marcus Click
Brand New DayTwin Records

Louisville native Marcus Click devoted 13 years of his early adulthood to the U.S. Navy – during which time he cultivated a passion for contemporary jazz saxophone. Encouragement from the late George Howard, Nelson Rangell and Najee ultimately led him to win the 2019 Artist Music Guild’s (AMG) Instrumentalist of the Year award. This in turn led Click to drop several charting singles and now his brilliantly diverse, percussively progressive and intoxicatingly exotic breakthrough album, BRAND NEW DAY. The spiritually minded collection includes a sophisticated, radio worthy Stevie Wonder re-imagining and dynamic contributions from multi-Grammy nominee Roger Ryan, Bob Baldwin, Jonathan Fritzen, and Japanese keyboardist Madoca.

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Reggie Griffin - Smooth Island Jazz Mokoli'i
Reggie Griffin
Smooth Island Jazz Mokoli'i Quiet Storm Records

This winter, when you need a break from all the cold weather and holiday hoopla, let your mind and heart drift off to sunny Hawaii with SMOOTH ISLAND JAZZ MOKOLI’I, a fascinating collection of classic Hawaiian tunes refashioned with relaxing, romantic Smooth Jazz arrangements and performed by Grammy nominated guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Reggie Griffin (who also contributes a handful of seductive originals), powerhouse Philly saxophonist Moon Griffin and an ensemble of Hawaiian instrumentalists and vocalists. Executive produced by entertainment entrepreneur John Iervolino, this artful fusion of Hawaiian, R&B and Smooth Jazz vibes is sure to warm both body and soul and this is only the beginning! Pick up your copy on 180 gram blue vinyl or stream on your favorite digital streaming platform.

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Luiz Millan - Brazilian Match
Luiz Millan
Brazilian MatchLuiz Millan

While the title BRAZILIAN MATCH, from one of Brazil’s best kept secrets, Luiz Millan, sounds like it could be a reference to football, it’s actually an intimate and romantic, lushly orchestrated collection matching the highly storied, multi-talented singer-songwriter’s contemporary point of view with the masters who inspired him! These iconcs include Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa and João Gilberto. Joyfully, the 16-track collection also dramatically matches two dozen of Brazil’s top musicians with American jazz greats the likes of David Sanborn, Randy Brecker, Mark Egan, New York Voices, Eddie Daniels, Mike Mainieri and Alice Soyer among others. A brilliant concept and incredible recording!

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Greg MInnick - Lazy Time
Greg Minnick
Lazy TimeLevelblu Records

Greg Minnick’s warm, fluid electric tones may be a fresh new vibe to Smooth Jazz, but the multi-talented guitarist/composer has been producing contemporary jazz and world fusion artists in his hometown of Miami for years – while also amassing an incredible resume full of television (MTV, HBO, VH1) and musical greats from many genres, including Ed Calle, Barry Gibb, Audra McDonald, Warren Hill and Greg Phillinganes. Minnick’s seductive and engaging debut single “Lazy Time” features his bright, intricate playing alongside the sweet and silky romantic vocals of featured artist Lauren Carter, with keyboardist Ricky Williams providing graceful atmospheres. "Lazy Time" is a vibey, musical reminder that all work and no play is definitely not the way.

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Nex Lev'l Band - Why You Wanna
Nex Lev'l Band
Why You WannaNex Lev'l Band

Many artists talk about taking their vibe to the next level, but drummer Morris “Pinky” Harris is so ambitious that he calls his ever-evolving R&B/Smooth Jazz collective Nex Lev’l Band. Besides outstanding musicianship and eclectic grooves, the key to their creative elevation is unpredictability – perfectly embodied by their double-sided single “Why You Wanna” and ”DC Groove.” “Why You Wanna” is an easy-flowing, radio-ready jawn showcasing the emotional intensity and fiery horn textures of guest saxophonist Eddie Baccus Jr. “D.C. Groove” is a bonus, high-octane funk jam featuring fanciful synth runs by the late Dawoud Said and a killer groove and solo action by legendary drummer Dennis Chambers.   

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Lori Nicely - Faithfully Ladonna Tribute to Donna Summer
Lori Nicely
Tribute to Donna SummerNicely Music

With her latest single, “Faithfully LaDonna Tribute to Donna Summer,” veteran composer/pianist Lori Nicely finds a fresh and spirited way to pay homage to the remarkable life of the Queen of Disco. Rather than simply do a Smooth Jazz cover of a Summer classic, she imagines what Donna might have recorded had she ventured into the urban jazz genre. Perfectly capturing the legend’s indomitable spirit, the track is a hip, whimsical and (of course) highly danceable instrumental featuring Nicely’s infectious, super jazzy piano melody, guest Justin Young’s lyrical, soaring sax and the lush backing vocals of former Atlantic Starr vocalist Rachel Oliver-Cobbin.  

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Plunky & Oneness - Love Is Everywhere
Plunky & Oneness
Love Is EverywhereN.A.M.E. Brand Records

In the world of J. Plunky Branch, socially conscious messages are layered within the joyous strains of jazz, R&B, hip-hop and reggae music. For over 40 years, the saxophonist, composer, producer, and leader of the progressive jazz ensemble Plunky & Oneness, has garnered critical acclaim for his musical range and his vision. On LOVE IS EVERYWHERE the entire collection of original songs focuses on various aspects of love, from intimate personal romance to universal themes. Waves of Plunky’s silky sax and the band’s soothing and emotionally compelling vocals whisk listeners off on an intoxicating journey through smooth jazz, soul, hip-hop, dance and progressive remixes to explore the boundless depths of love. This defiantly optimistic album conveys Plunky’s commitment to transcending genres and his desire to share wisdom, peace and love through music.

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Spontaneous Groovin' Combustion - All's Well
Spontaneous Groovin' Combustion
All's WellTune 9 Records

Truly living up to the excitement-generating moniker, saxophonist and former NYC rocker Warren A. Keller’s Spontaneous Groovin’ Combustion ensemble has been an explosive force on all of the major Smooth Jazz charts since its 2019 debut release. The power-packed, ever so funked up EP, ALL’S WELL gathers the group’s four most recent singles – including the slinky, horn-tinged, obviously autobiographical latest joint, “Spontaneity” – into a bold bundle that showcases Keller’s punchy sax and dreamy flute soaring atop all that Groovin’. Special guests include bassist Brendan Rothwell and guitarist Blake Aaron adding extra buoyant jazzy magic to this unforgettable mini-set.  

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Rod Tate - Smooth & Peaceful
Rod Tate
Smooth & PeacefulRodTate.com

On the cover of this latest album, the stellar SMOOTH AND PEACEFUL, veteran St. Louis saxophonist Rod Tate reminds us how long he’s been in the Smooth Jazz world as he celebrates his 40th album release and 30 years since his debut, A TASTE OF ETERNITY. Blissfully, Tate’s blend of seductive ballads and explosive jams don’t always live up to the chill vibes the title promises – but when they do, he’s all about melting the heart. With 14 new tracks (12 originals and 2 covers) Tate delivers his unique, urban jazz flow which includes his passion for blues and tropical music, along with a string-caressed version of a George Benson classic!

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The RT Project - Lifted
The RT Project
LiftedThe RT Project

After over a quarter century playing America’s hottest jazz festivals and backing the Smooth Jazz elite as core members of the super-busy and acclaimed jazz/funk ensemble Urban Jazz Coalition, bassist Phil Raney and guitarist Duane Tribune venture off on an exciting, equally engaging and funky side excursion they call The RT Project. Providing the perfect motivational soundtrack to the new year, the duo’s tasty, upbeat debut single “Lifted” features electric guitar driven fire and fluidity riding over a tight, bouncy groove, caressed with dreamy synth atmospheres. This is a certifiable hit!

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Felece Tillman - Tell Me All About It
Felece Tillman
Tell Me All About It FAT Records

Starting with her degree in vocal music performance from Virginia Union University, emerging R&B/jazz vocalist Felece Tillman brings an extraordinarily diverse background to her emergence in Smooth Jazz – including over 30 years in the creative arts, extensive work in gospel, soul and jazz and numerous performances in the U.S. and overseas. This is the follow-up to her internationally spun 2023 debut single “Brighter Love,” as Tillman offers a soulful and seductive wash over the popular Michael Franks’ Latin-tinged, romantic track, “Tell Me All About It” (from PASSION FRUIT). The classy cover showcases her subtle charms and powerful range with a fresh, hip arrangement. 

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Jayson Tipp - Table For One
Jayson Tipp
Table For OneMind in Overdrive

It’s been a banner year for Jayson Tipp! The veteran keyboardist/composer celebrated 30 years since founding his popular “rough jazz” fusion band Under the Lake – which has been on a prolific creative roll since releasing a comeback album in 2018. 2023 also found Tipp releasing two hit airplay singles (one produced by Darren Rahn, the other by Adam Hawley) which laid a promising, momentum-filled foundation for the drop of his long-awaited Smooth Jazz debut album TABLE FOR ONE. Driven by his summery, upbeat grooves galore and a tasty mix of various keyboard sounds (including organ) with his lively, romantically inclined, improvisational piano excitement, the engaging collection features impactful guest appearances by saxophonists Quintin Gerard W (from Under the Lake) and Greg Vail as well as trumpeter Ilya Serov. 

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