Listening Loft : HOTPICKS
Greg Carmichael, founding member of seminal guitar driven contemporary jazz ensemble Acoustic Alchemy, is a true survivor. He regrouped after the passing of band co-founder Nick Webb 20 years ago, and now, with longtime partner Miles Gilderdale, creates some of the group’s most compelling and diverse music ever on 33 1/3, the title reflecting on the band’s age. Recorded in the wake of Carmichael’s wife experiencing a life-threatening bout with meningitis and the loss of their long-time friend and manager, Steward Coxhead. The first studio album in seven years is a collection that darts by design, across a stylistic map from the assertive world-fusion fun on the opening track, “East of Babylon” to an exhilarating nod to fallen guitar hero, Chuck Loeb with “Carmen’s Man.” In addition, it includes a Steely Dan-esque pop/blues tribute to Walter Becker, “Blues For Mr. Mu,” while the album also brushes on Latin, classical and contemporary sonic realms, it also includes a full band collaboration “The Girl With A Plan,” a title inspired by global radio pioneer and decades long companion, Sandy Shore. With a fresh, new energy, their trademark melodic chemistry created by an alchemy of nylon and steel guitars shines brightly through.
Because it’s all we need... because it’s the answer and because it never fails. These are only but a few of the reasons why our favorite songbird, Grammy nominated vocalist Sylvia Bennett, wishes us Love on her latest outing of recorded musical bliss! I WISH YOU LOVE is simmering to the brim with delicious contemporary musical treats. Dipping into her collection of favorites from the classic songs that she’s romanced over the years in several languages; this intentional album of love songs blazes a new trail for our tireless, crooning crusader... the lusciously arranged set by longtime producing partner, Hal S. Batt, is all in English and features some amazing special guests including the one and only bass master, Nathan East on an impeccable cover of “Its Impossible” and Chart-topping Smooth Jazz trumpeter Rick Braun on a highly enjoyable run of “C’est Si Bon,” or as we like to call it, “C’est Si Braun.” Really it’s all you need to get by. Love that is… and this wonderful assortment of love songs falls into that category as well. Find out for yourself!
One of Smooth Jazz’s true superstars and prolific, in the pocket hit makers for over 25 years, Grammy winning guitarist Norman Brown keeps his strings crackling and swirling and the funky grooves tight and fresh on his latest album THE HIGHEST ACT OF LOVE. The titles of both the collection and most of its songs lets us know he’s got some divine expressions on his musical mind. While his enlightening production includes loads of inviting old school sonic touches, his artful balance of soul searing ballads and empowering funk jams are clearly pointed heavenward. Highlights include a sly, bluesy duet with Paul Brown and a lush re-imagining of Deniece Williams’ breakthrough classic “Free,” featuring the singer still in pitch perfect, heart tugging form.
Truly one of the edgiest, innovative and explosive performers in the sweet spot where Smooth Jazz meets contemporary R&B, saxophonist Eric Darius breaks fresh ground by launching his own label (SagiDarius Music) for his perfectly titled album BREAKIN’ THRU. With two Top Ten Billboard charting hits, the collection hits on all cylinders, from slammin’ funk sizzle to power ballads and blistering Latin fire. Ensuring a continuously crackling urban crossover flow, the multi-faceted collection was co-produced by Darius and two of today’s hottest R&B sound masters, Rodney Jones Jr. and Butta N’ Bizkit. His latest single “L.O.V.E.” is a passionately burning, gospel infused ballad expressing Darius’ most visceral, heartfelt feelings for his wife. Written for their first dance at their wedding last year, the track features Brian Culbertson’ sensual keyboard eloquence throughout.
Saxophonist Wayne Gutshall’s perfectly titled debut album SPICY! is a joyous reflection of the many years he’s spent immersed in Miami’s Latin pop and jazz scenes – which includes work with greats like Nestor Torres, Dave Valentin, Arturo Sandoval and an appearance on Ed Calle’s Latin Grammy winning album MAMBLUE. While he showcases these influences via an artful balance of high energy exotica and balmy sensuality, the Latin vibe is simply the launching point for a stylistically eclectic collection that includes jazz fusion, gritty blues, stylish tributes to Gato Barbieri and Miles Davis and engaging twists on pop classics by Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie. Playfully jumping genres from track to track, Wayne Gutshall delivers a fashionable collection with a lot of Miami spice!
In the spring of 2018, “Single Day” from Joe Hurworth’s debut EP Creativity hit #1 on the Smoothjazz.com Listener Chart – an extraordinary achievement for a new artist. Fusing old school pop/soul influences like Michael McDonald and Marvin Gaye with contemporary greats like Jason Mraz and Ed Sheeran, the 23-year old UK singer-songwriter finds the perfect way to keep that momentum going with his marvelously uplifting new single “Higher.” Highlighted by a plucky bass groove and feisty saxophone accents, it’s an instantly infectious, eminently danceable, horn-drenched tune fusing pop, soul and contemporary jazz. While on one level, it’s a lighthearted party song, a few listens reveal an artist continuing to discover his unique voice and develop a meaningful musical vision.
Guitar great Chuck Loeb’s untimely passing left Jazz Funk Soul – the powerhouse Smooth Jazz superstar trio he formed with Everette Harp and Jeff Lorber in 2014 – without his artful blend of vision, melodic energy and string fire. LIFE AND TIMES finds the saxophonist and keyboardist vigorously carrying on the concept with Paul Jackson, Jr. - perhaps the only genre guitarist whose jazz/R&B versatility could match Loeb’s. Celebrating and carrying forth Loeb’s formidable legacy, the three showcase their snazzy, free-flowing chemistry and infectious melodic mastery with a mix of silky soul and tight, punchy, horn-drenched funk jamming. While the snappy grooves and hooks will draw you in, the trio’s sparkling improvisational solos throughout make this a musically transcendent experience.
Twenty years since he co-wrote the Smooth Jazz classic “When I Think of You” with Brian Culbertson for Steve Cole, electric guitarist Gerey Johnson continues as a busy sideman (Culbertson, Richard Elliot, Boney James, Rick Braun, Euge Groove), producer, record company executive and co-producer/music director of the Smooth Chicago concert series. With the release of his new track “Like We Used To,” Johnson finally rewards fans who have been waiting for his emergence as a solo artist. An easy-grooving, compelling and crackling, blues/gospel infused track featuring the inimitably soulful Richard Elliot on sax. “Like We Used To” is the lead single of Johnson’s highly anticipated upcoming full-length debut album YOU DIDN’T KNOW? Now you do!
28 albums into her extraordinary, multi-faceted career, composer/keyboardist Keiko Matsui has always hit the sweet spot where contemporary funky jazz meets classical, new age and world music sensibilities. Her latest album ECHO is a musically and rhythmically expansive reminder that she’s still full of eclectic, globally conscious surprises. Just as we’re immersing in her trademark spirited, strutting melodies with sizzling horn textures and ethereal orchestrated new age magic, she takes us on an otherworldly blues excursion. Then she’s off to Brazil, where she vibes brilliantly with the stunning scat of Grammy nominated vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and other spicy, enticing parts of Latin America. Matsui’s latest flight of fancy also finds her jamming with greats like bassists Marcus Miller and Kyle Eastwood, guitarist Robben Ford, and saxophonist Kirk Whalum.
One of urban jazz’s most consistently soul-inspiring vocalists over the past 25 years, Grammy nominee and Soul Train Award winner Maysa has a powerful message for those who may feel alone in their struggle with life’s ongoing challenges: “You Are Not Alone.” Her dreamy and uplifting, new R&B and gospel tinged single is not a Christmas song, per se, but with its inspirational, hopeful message and stunning performance, it has the makings of a seasonal perennial. While universal in scope and applicable to many situations in her life and the lives of others, she wrote it as a tribute to the folks at the March of Dimes, who helped her through a tough time after the premature birth of her son Jazz.
Bringing deep R&B inspired passion to the sax and masterful/improvisational energy to the flute, Nelson Rangell has been one of Smooth Jazz’s most dynamic and versatile reed players over the past 30 years. Launching eloquently and emphatically into his fourth decade, the multi-talented composer/musician’s latest album BY LIGHT finds him exploring some fresh and exciting creative concepts. True to its title, the collection balances bright, instantly engaging melodies and optimism with intensely muscular, deeply emotional playing. Beyond the edgy, sax driven, mostly up-tempo pop, funk and soul melodies and horn textures, Rangell shares his deeper artistry on several flute centered pieces that showcase his stunning virtuosity and otherworldly improvisational abilities on that instrument.
Reflective of its title and the individual themes driving its soulful, engaging tracks, Sam Rucker’s emotionally compelling third album REDEMPTION is powered by a deep spiritual vision of true soul survival. The versatile Virginia-based saxophonist uses bright melodies, tight grooves and the occasional uplifting, gospel flavored female vocals to enhance the musical praise, and to count the blessings that saw the artist through the dark times. While Rucker’s previous works were infused with inspirational messages, his shift from featuring top guest stars on his previous album TELL YOU SOMETHING (Norman Connors, Bobby Lyle, Euge Groove) to carrying the emotional passion himself is indicative of the many emotional and creative breakthroughs he’s made over the past five years. REDEMPTION is as divinely inspired as Smooth Jazz gets!
Music has colors… as well as textures and energy. Our favorite Lifestyle Music craftsman, Waldino returns with a new collection of musical motifs, RANDOM SCATTERED COLORS. This soundtrack of soul-tugging jazz vibes and melodic dance grooves will play like a weekend every time you turn it on. The one-time, in demand emergency room maxillofacial surgeon returned to music composition after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s over a decade ago. Since that time, Dr. Walter Liskiewicz (aka Waldino) has prolifically created over a dozen albums… all compelling and kinetic upon the last. The perennial composer delivers a stunning set of songs here with RSC, just hit Play/Repeat and see/feel the music for yourself!
Listening Loft : MUST HAVES
R&B/funk driven, Detroit based guitarist dee Brown’s REMEMBERING YOU is that rare Smooth Jazz album that lifts the spirits and gets the fingers snapping as it weaves a compelling narrative through its thoughtful song titles. A colorful blend of hard grooving jams and passionate ballads, the collection tells the beautiful and emotional story of Brown’s relationship with singer/songwriter Shaunia Edwards, his collaborator and fiancée who made her transition to heaven in February 2016. His inspirational chronicle of their time together is a celebration of her extraordinary life and their incredible love - and a reminder that we are all here to share our lives together.
Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Dozier’s success as a solo artist these past 17 years has led him to open shows for the Smooth Jazz, Soul and Gospel elite, play with everyone from Paul Taylor and Brian Simpson and serve as musical director for Karen Briggs and Gail Jhonson. The optimistic title of his latest album BRAND NEW DAY lets us know that he’s looking forward to the future with tight, infectious melodies, fluid guitar licks and picture perfect urban pocket grooves. Dozier complements the electric guitar vibe with an acoustic neo soul tune featuring vocalist Jessica Lane and a deep electronica soul dive into a Sade classic.
The title of saxophonist Isaac Edwards’ urban oriented debut album BEGIN AGAIN reflects his determination to get back to making music over a decade after releasing two well received gospel albums – one of which included a collaboration with Kirk Whalum. Finding time amidst his successful career as a lawyer, he delivers a collection of intense passion, alternating the silk and funk, sizzling powerfully with rich horn textures and even frolicking in playful Latin territory. The multi-talented artist – who has opened for Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith – also taps deeper into his gospel roots on soul-stirring collaborations with Take 6’s Joel Kibble.
Chicago flutist, composer and music educator Steve Flowers may have titled his latest album MISSING YOU in tribute to a departed friend, but this super soulful, dreamily melodic and rhythmically diverse collection is more about celebrating. Playing an array of flutes – including the piccolo, bass and G flute – the multi-talented artist, who has performed with everyone from Take 6 and Koko Taylor to Regina Belle and B.B. King, takes us on a whimsical yet wistful, emotionally compelling journey filled with pop, R&B, light funk, improvisational jazz and vibrant, spirited Latin pleasures.
A decade after first dazzling the Smooth Jazz world with their combined talents on the hit debut ALWAYS… Bay Area married couple George and Tracy Franklin – collectively known as GTF - are back with CROSS PATHS, leading their powerhouse ensemble on an intoxicating mix of soul-sensual ballads and tight urban jazz with an edgy funk twist. Though keyboardist Bob James and percussionist Juan Escovedo (of the legendary Escovedo family) lend their exuberance, the deeper joys emerge from George’s lush lead and wordless vocals, Tracy’s background vocals and the explosive energy of band members John Rekevics, Richard “Blitz” Livoni and John Cain.
With her sensual yet gritty, world-wise influenced vocals, popular Australian singer/songwriter Skii Harvey offers a cross between the raucous bluesy soul of Tina Turner and hip, jazzy elegance of Ella Fitzgerald. The multiple award-winning artist’s latest EP may be called UNINVITED, but she immediately draws us into the raw, plainspoken emotion and sizzling horns on these four, new tracks. Sharing a variety of moods and tempos, she powerfully fulfills her goal with this tight, energetic project to give herself, and all of us listening, a little mental health TLC as we “un-invite” ourselves from the pressures of the world.
A renowned luminary in his adopted hometown of NYC who has also toured throughout Europe, Russia and Australia, veteran trumpeter Michael C. Lewis’ INTIMATE JOURNEY is the kind of clever, artful, stylistically expansive album that Miles Davis would be making if he were still alive and rising up the Smooth Jazz charts. Lewis enhances his inviting melodies with a blend of old school textures, soothing atmospheres, tight hip-hop elements and edgy electronica flavors. Complementing the vibrant instrumentals, he also impresses with a deep vocal timbre perfect for creating a romantic urban jazz vibe.
Tony Lindsay’s remarkable quarter century as Carlos Santana’s lead vocalist included numerous world tours and netted him 11 Grammys – but it’s all forward motion now with the release of his first post Santana solo album SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL. As he describes it, it’s a “no smoke, no mirrors” collection of vibrant, heartfelt originals that showcase the versatility of his songwriting and vocal style. With production by greats like Narada Michael Walden, Preston Glass and Randy Emata, Lindsay taps into his love of romantic R&B, gospel, Latin jazz and brass fired blues. This album offers SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL for everyone!
For legendary bassist Byron Miller, “Psychobass” is more than a clever branding idea reflective of his lifelong passion for his instrument. It’s his full-on “a.k.a.” identity. His rhythmically eclectic, jump off your chair grooving new album THE GIFT: PSYCHOBASS 2 picks up where his 2015 long awaited return to action PSYCHOBASS left off. He keeps the deeply personal autobiography hopping with a sensual George Duke cover, some island fun and a mix of high octane and chill, Duke-inspired originals with appropriate funk and groove related titles. On hand to celebrate the bassist’s many gifts are Kirk Whalum, Paul Jackson, Jr., Walter Beasley, Munyungo Jackson and others.
Decades after establishing himself as a progressive jazz rock great via his band Niacin, keyboardist/composer John Novello is a fast-emerging Smooth Jazz star. Building upon the foundation he laid with three hit singles from 2016's IVORY SOUL, he stirs a blend of lively, funk filled romps and dreamy, sensual, romantic ballads on GOOD TO GO. The clever album title perfectly captures the spritely energy and graceful elegance he creates with longtime collaborator Eric Marienthal, plus two of the genres brightest young saxophonists, Jeff Ryan and Jazmin Ghent.
With a sparkling saxophone vibe that’s been lighting up the Pacific Northwest for years, Kenney Polson – who’s appeared on TV with greats like David Sanborn and Wynton Marsalis - has blended Smooth Jazz with a wide variety of influences, including Latin, classical, R&B/funk and gospel. True to its title FOR LOVERS ONLY, Polson’s latest recording finds him creating a tight, soulful ensemble with members of Tower of Power, Kool & the Gang and Parliament, among others. Soothing, romantic and lyrical, the album builds an easy groove with new compositions and satisfying classics.
Renowned by his peers as “The Quincy Jones of Gospel,” Terrence Richburg has graced that realm as a songwriter, vocalist, arranger, orchestrator, producer, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist and percussionist. In addition to working with the likes of Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar and Ben Tankard, he has been a force in gospel jazz with his own groups R&R and The Terrence Richburg Experience. His latest Smooth Jazz collection PORTRAIT OF ADORATION is a powerful testament to Richburg’s wild multitude of talents, driven by his love of God and equal passions for sensual soul-jazz, sizzling funk and dazzling keyboard and guitar melodies and improvisations. Along the way, Richburg also impresses with some Take 6 like vocalizations.
Two-time Grammy winning producer Kamau Kenyatta, best known for discovering and helming projects for Gregory Porter, says it all about emerging vocalist Daneen Wilburn: “When Daneen sings, you will believe every word.” Produced by Kenyatta, Wilburn’s multi-faceted self-titled album is a soul-deep immersion reflecting the artist’s wide range of passions - from pop, soul and jazz to Brazilian music and, most “earpoppingly,” the rousing gospel music she was raised on. The San Diego based performer’s ability to modulate her voice to create sensual seductions as well as shout-outs to the Lord is attention grabbing and inspiring.
Nearly 10-years after being named runner-up in the Capital Jazz Challenge, that launched his exciting and prolific career as a Smooth Jazz artist, Detroit-bred saxophonist Deon Yates is feeling more than great, he's feeling QUINTASTIC. The socially trending title of his upcoming fifth solo album literally means “a person aged 50 or more and is still attractive and successful.” That timeless magnetism and intense, horn-sizzling energy are the driving forces propelling his latest single, the Darren Rahn-produced title track, into the melodic funk stratosphere. No matter your age, the track’s cool soulful flow and relentlessly grooving hook will keep you feeling young at heart!
Listening Loft : ESSENTIALS
Brilliantly soulful as both a vocalist and saxophonist, Marcus Adams – inspired by David Sanborn’s timeless “Chicago Song” - has made a powerful and heartfelt transition from success in the gospel world to rising Smooth Jazz star. His new EP DREAM AGAIN conveys his vibrancy and emotional urgency as a playfully grooving, sensually romantic and socially conscious singer and horn player with an edge. Helping bring his musical dreams to life are urban jazz stalwarts Nils, Lin Rountree and Nate Harasim.
Talk about prolific! In just over a year, classically trained keyboardist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Grace Brancale has released nearly 20 albums of atmospheric, chill oriented Smooth Jazz covering a wide variety of vibes and moods. As its title promises, the global sensation’s latest work VACATIONS, VOL. 1 blends soothing ambiences, lively grooves and lush, soulful melodies reflecting a variety of inviting activities and destinations, from a rainforest and a tropical paradise to a festival and just relaxing at home.
It takes EverLove only four transcendent romantic tracks to establish herself as a major up and coming vocal presence in Smooth Jazz. On her debut EP TRUE, the gospel, R&B and jazz influenced singer creates a lush, intimate and sensual romantic landscape with a unique blend of sparse and full, vibrant arrangements featuring trumpeter and Grammy winning arranger Philip Lassiter and acoustic guitarists Mark Baldwin and emerging genre star Adam Hawley.
With fans like saxophonist Ronnie Laws, Stanley Jordan and George Benson, veteran multi-talented Saint Lucia born guitarist Ronald “Boo” Hinkson can pretty much declare any day “My Good Day,” the title of his latest single. On this soaring, infectious easy funk track, Hinkson vibes beautifully with the passionate, ultra-romantic lead vocals of Irvin Ace Loctar and Shannon Pinel. His crisp and cool electric guitar plays harmony behind them before taking emotional control on a fiery solo, complemented by his spirited scatting.
Like Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum, veteran saxophonist Mel Holder is a powerful musical minister who shares his faith via infectious, easy grooving jazz/funk and rich gospel vocals and instrumentals. On MUSIC BOOK VOLUME III - MAGNIFICENT, the producer, speaker, author and multiple award nominee (Grammy, NAACP, DOVE, Stellar) keeps the powerful message and the edgy, soulful, multi-faceted cool of his previous volumes flowing with various special guests, including keyboardists Ben Tankard and Bob Baldwin.
Like her longtime friend Patrice Rushen, Misz the Groove Producer does it all when it comes to fusing jazz and funk, old school keyboard vibes with fresh grooves, atmospheres and otherworldly sonic possibilities. Driven by her propulsive work on drums and percussion, Misz’s latest album TIME TO GROOVE includes a tasty mix of Fender Rhodes, organ and synth textures (including a spotlight for special guest Jeff Lorber), a tasty reworking of a Rushen classic and an adventurous slow jam dedicated to Bob James.
A versatile singer/songwriter who plays piano, guitar and sax, Ontario-based recording artist Len Mizzoni – a former member of the Juno Award winning band Frozen Ghost - brings dramatic passion, deep soul and lively romantic energy to his second solo album BETTER DAYS. These heartfelt, modern themed, atmosphere-rich songs reflect the craftsman powerful and heartfelt jazzy, urban pop sensibilities. We love Len! Once you hear the infectious melodies and hooky tunes on this new project, you’ll be into better days in yourself!
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Herb Partlow has been a radio personality, producer and artist, manager, recording and mastering engineer. Yet he’s totally focused on what’s ahead for him: FUTURE JAZZ, his sonically inventive breakthrough EP that he calls “jazz music for a new generation.” Playing keyboards, piano and bass, he lays a dynamic foundation for an atmospheric, trippy effects filled and groove intensive flow. Saxophonists Allen Omenka Webb and JLP and rockin’ guitarist Ricardo Love take Partlow’s vision and vibe into the urban jazz fusion stratosphere!
For multi-talented guitarist Stuart Redd, DREAMS TO REALITY is more than an inspirational title. It’s the magical and empowering swirl of excitement he feels digging into and sharing his legendary traditional and electric fusion jazz influences (many he originally discovered listening to on Detroit’s jazz station WJZZ) to create this epic, genre-transcendent collection. Driven by his fluid and melodic, yet crackling style, he blissfully exudes his freewheeling passion for Smooth Jazz, fiery fusion, adventurous rock/funk jazz and sizzling Latin jazz.
Following up his popular debut single “Song for Fina,” 14-year-old bass phenom Gabriel Severn – a two time DownBeat Student Music Award winner – pops and grooves from the get-go on his buoyant new single “Kick Start” – dedicated to those who supported his musical dreams on Kickstarter. The snappy, instantly infectious, romp spotlights Severn’s rhythmic and melodic intensity as he holds his own (and then some!) while vibing with guitarist/producer Chieli Minucci and current Special EFX members, drummer Joel Rosenblatt and keyboardist Jay Rowe.
One of the top Smooth Jazz performers in the San Antonio area for several decades, BillyRay Sheppard’s infectious debut album SILK finds him bringing his stylistically and rhythmically sophisticated saxophone magic to life with the alternately supercharged and sensitive input from co-writer and producer Steve Oliver. Beyond the in the pocket, danceable funk and wistful balladry, Sheppard taps into the Latin/Tejano side of his artistry for a rousing closing jam. BillyRay is smooth as SILK!
With his playfully titled new album SUNSHINE & LEMONADE, versatile St. Louis saxophonist Rod Tate finds a multitude of clever, atmosphere and groove filled ways to pay homage to his older brother Terrell. Matching musical moods with delightful memories, Tate uses the rich emotion of his horn to convey Terrell’s high energy personality and the joy he gets from sitting on his back porch, enjoying life’s simple pleasures. By design, it is the ultimate in refreshing Smooth Jazz!