The makers of the number one selling soft drink in the world learned a tough lesson nearly 4 decades ago. If you have a winning formula and recipe, you don't mess with it. The comparison between the Coke gaffe of 1985 and the success of smooth guitarist, Les Sabler, might be a bit extreme, but the idea remains the same. Luxuriating in the success of his 2021 release, Tranquility, which I also had the honour to review, the Montreal-born Sabler has employed many of the same ingredients for this project and the final product proves that you don’t mess with success.
Back to produce Sabler's 2023 release is Grammy winning producer (and smooth jazz star), Paul Brown, whose insistence that Sabler change up his choice of guitar to a vintage 1967 Gibson Johnny Smith on the previous album, proved to be a major game changer. With Brown, who co-wrote all 7 original songs in place, co-writers Shane Theriot (Neville Brothers, Hall & Oates, Dr. John) and Lew Laing (Norman Brown, Marion Meadows, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach) also leave their respected and remarkable imprints on Sabler's 11-song offering of originals and some cool covers.
Overall Flyin' High delivers a well-balanced presentation of Sabler's infectiously written and performed melodies, coupled with precision arrangement and production. “New Bossa” is an uplifting track with an ear pleasing rhythm and certainly redefines our definition of the word 'boss'. “Moonlight” pairs Sabler with Laing on this co-composed track and displays the same chemistry as the two executed on their previous work together. Flyin' High's album opener, “Over The Top” is one of five songs co-written by Shane Theriot. Keeping in the mid-tempo range, Greg Vail sweetens up this track with his flowing flute.
Summer may be a memory in the North Hemisphere, but the season stays alive on Sabler's very sophisticated cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's “Summer In The City”. Lyric-less, his delectable chords merge smoothly with some fine horn section backing. One song that he particularly told me is among his favourites is “The Windmills Of Your Mind”. A cover of the Grammy winning song from the 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair, Sabler's interpretation gives it beauty and elegance with a Latin flair and nylon string performance. Joining him on keyboards is Canadian arranger extraordinaire, Lou Pomanti (Michael Buble, Gordon Lightfoot). According to Sabler, Dusty Springfield’s version was his influence for recording this track.
One very important talent to note is Geoff Pesche. He called Sabler's 2021 release, Tranquility, his favourite album of 2021 and was subsequently invited to master this new album at the legendary UK studio, Abbey Road, forever synonymous with The Beatles.
It seems nothing was spared to ensure that Sabler's ninth album either equaled or surpassed the success of his previous project, resulting in some of his finest work alongside some of the finest talent in the smooth music business. Flyin' High demonstrates that the ascent of Sabler continues its steady incline and fans will be thrilled with the ride.
Reviewed by Stu Berketo
It truly is what music is all about, right? Creating a SOUL CONNECTION between artist and audience. The soul connection within a brotherhood of musicians, forging a harmonious blend of notes, beats, vibes and grooves. That gorgeous kindred-spirithood that blossoms when melody and humanity merge.
Welcome to Brian Simpson's latest connection collection, 10 songs that I guarantee will soothe your soul. And this is Brian's greatest desire. “Every performance and recording presents an opportunity to bring happiness to a world of listeners. Music has an unparalleled ability to make a difference in our lives. I continue to appreciate how it can inspire people through good and bad times and never take for granted the opportunity I have been given to play a small role in someone’s life.”
Filled to the brim with a myriad of influences Brian holds dear - Jazz, R&B, Funk, Blues and Contemporary Groove, each track rings clear with optimism, sophistication and originality. Plus, dare I say... soul? “I named it Soul Connection because that is always my goal in making music, to create a sonic message of love that can hopefully touch the soul.”
From the leadoff title track, “Out of the Blue” to “Barcelona” to “See You Again”, each fresh composition pulsates with smooth and groove, following in the footsteps of the many giants who began it all. "Fusing jazz and R&B is just what contemporary jazz is all about.”
With the bluesy sax on “Midnight Mood”, tribal rhythms guiding “Through The Tears” and twinkling piano on “Going Home”, Brian has found his home. "I feel that I have refined the ‘Brian Simpson sound’ on this project. I can only hope that my fans take part in the joy and passion that went into its conception and production.”
That passion is joyously displayed on “Stranger in Paradise” - yes, THAT song from the delightfully old musical, "Kismet". Brian imbibes this classic with his own modern groove and the result is pure magic. And whenever musical magic is created, can a soul connection be far behind?
Mission accomplished, Mr. Simpson. Well done.
Vickie Van Dyke
Middays @ Wave98.3 FM Vancouver
What do you do when you're a multi instrumentalist who just loves to tour and a world pandemic shuts you down? Keyboardist Brian Culbertson sat down at his recording studio and got creative. He reached his audience by streaming on YouTube, connecting with his followers, and receiving feedback on his new music ideas, which enabled him to create more music and reach a wider audience. The result was a 30 song three part trilogy with Part One being Red = passion, Pt. 2 Blue = melancholy and Pt. 3 White = hope and with that he opens the finale with ‘Stars' - a track that highlights his talents both as a songwriter and a producer with his lush hypnotic beats and dreamy keyboard/synth sounds.
Other highlights include ‘Dance With Me Tonight' - a sonic piece of Brian's music, featuring an uplifting chorus and catchy rhythms that are both characteristic of his style and ‘Summer Hideaway’ with its groovy backbeat and David Foster sounding piano by way of the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack. Make Brian Culbertson’s latest The Trilogy Part 3 - White, part of your summer escape.
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It was not the news music fans were expecting to wake up to on the first day of 2022. In fact, it seemed like a cruel internet prank to start the new year, before the official confirmation announced that beloved smooth jazz guitar great Nick Colionne had passed away. A career that began 28 years and 11 albums earlier was over. Just like that. Perhaps fitting and metaphorical, those three words make up the title of Colionne's 10 song posthumous release.
In the aftermath of the stunning and shocking news, in early '22, Colionne's longtime label, Trippin N Rhythm, announced that a new album had been in the vault and that singles and the full release would be forthcoming, kind of bittersweet music to the fans of venerable smooth musicians who absolutely adored both the music and player, with the love strongly reciprocated.
Just Like That features the song writing mastery of Chris 'Big Dog ' Davis and Michael Broening, both of whom have worked with the biggest names in smooth jazz and penned many big chart hits for said artist. However, two of the compositions on the album belong to Colionne himself. Just Like That has already yielded three chart impacting Colionne masterpieces, including the easy and more laid back “What You Do To Me”, the funky “Step To This”, where the flute work of Marcia Miget, and some horn backing inject a retro Philadelphia soul groove vibe that would impress even Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. The title track itself lends a blues feel and is another example where Colionne lets his chords mimic a sassy scat, and some hammond organ and horn accompaniment bring home this fun-loving track.
Colionne doesn't let us forget that he was as much an accomplished composer as a guitar player on the upbeat infectious “Kastle”, and the other self-written track, the album's final cut, “It's My Turn” provides shades of 80s' style funk/pop with yet another infectious guitar melody.
Just Like That reminds us of the enormous talent that Colionne was in the genre in which he became famous. Known as "Uncle Nick" to colleagues because of his seniority in the world of smooth jazz, and to fans for his gentle nature despite a booming baritone voice, a hulking physical presence, and a closet of the most colourful, stylish signature hats and pristine suits that earned him the title as the best dressed man in smooth jazz many years ago. I am personally honoured to have gotten to know him years ago during several of his Canadian performances and could not be more grateful for those opportunities to not only see him perform, but to meet the genuinely gracious person he will always be remembered as.
The album liner notes, obviously pre-written before his passing, thank a litany of people, with the final thank you dedicated to his former manager, Carol Ray, who predeceased Colionne by several years and whom he first met in 1992.
Just Like That is guaranteed to evoke many great memories for anyone who attended his electrifying concerts at huge outdoors festivals, aboard sea cruises, in charming historic theatres across the world, or for anyone who simply made a point of purchasing the music of the musician known and loved as 'Uncle Nick'.
Reviewed by Stu Berketo
First off, let me say I am not one for "ageism". We are all exactly as old as we are and there ain't no use in arguing it. Let me also say that when I first met Keiko (the last concert I hosted before the pandemic) I thought she was stunningly beautiful with the sexiest stilettos ever. She looked, at best, 39.
She is, in fact, 61.
But here's the thing: she plays piano with the technical expertise of a well-traveled 61 year-old and the exuberant joy of an uncompromising 39 year-old (not that 61 year-olds can't also possess uncompromising exuberant joy). And that is a win/win for all of her happy fans. “This album is about the hope that we all carry inside of us,” she says, adding “I have this dream where we can each cherish our own happiness and learn to accept and care for one another.”
The lead-off single, "Steps on the Globe", sets the optimistic tone with a powerhouse vibe that speaks to Keiko's cool confidence and charming chops. Kirk Whalum makes a guest appearance on “Luminescence”, lighting up the album with sparkling sax. "Love and Nothing Less", featuring the haunting vocals of Lalah Hathaway, is cool vibe at its finest - smooth, groovy and gorgeous. Every track on this new record brims with hope and optimism.
Miss Matsui has worked with 'everybody' including Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder and Bob James. Her style is as unique as a bonsai tree, flowing freely and joyfully with a poignant positivity infusing every note. “I hope in some small way that these songs stay with people. In some small way, I want to leave a positive impact. Rather than wanting people to receive the message that I want to convey, I would be happier if they can feel the music freely and decide what the music means to them.”
On Euphoria, Keiko Matsui achieves this goal effortlessly. Each track brings its own gift of gratitude and grace. From a grateful, gracious and glamorous performer, Euphoria is a glorious gift to the globe.
Vickie van Dyke
It’s as if Tom Waits and Billie Holiday had a child. Singer Marc Jordan’s voice has the uniqueness of Waits with the sheer elegance of Holiday.
Original but with a bit of flash.
‘Best Day Of My Life’ from Marc’s latest album, 'Waiting For The Sun To Rise’, spotlights these traits with a lush piano ballad backed by orchestral strings from the Prague Symphony Orchestra and a trumpet solo provided by Randy Brecker - picture a romantic movie or a beautiful first wedding dance; this song has it all. Lou Pomanti’s cinematic instrumental interludes at the beginning and middle of the album give it nice segues into Marc’s originals and covers, including Jimmy Webb’s ‘The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress’, The Blue Nile’s ‘The Downtown Lights’ and Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’. Marc has written for everyone from Cher to Zappacosta, including the great Rod Stewart whose hit, ‘Rhythm Of My Heart’, was co-written by Marc and John Capek.
This songwriting duo teams up once again on ‘Coltrane Plays The Blues’ - a melodic riff reminiscent of Steely Dan and suggesting Joni Mitchell’s jazz influence. Overall, there is a real vibe to the album.
Marc said of the recording, “This was my first project in the era of COVID so there were challenges getting people together to cut tracks and just do the usual hang as tracks are going down...which has been my process for many years. That said, it's always interesting to shake it up now and then and I think the music somehow had more urgency as a result”.
That said - the album is definitely one of his best.
There's a famous line from Hollywood that goes something like 'If you build it, they will come." Sub out the words 'build it' for 'record it', and that would easily apply to soul jazz trumpeter, singer, writer, producer, Johnny Britt. Instead of attracting the ghosts of former baseball legends, Britt yet again presents an all-star lineup (pun intended) of collaborating guests on his new album, After We Play. Already known for his work with icons like Josh Groban, David Bowie, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones and many other noteworthy names, Britt's project boasts some highly impressive talent among this 13-song collection. As for the album itself, Britt lays out 9 originals in succulent smooth, sophisticated soul jazz style offering both instrumental and vocal grooves. The most notable is Britt's rendition of the 1964 transcendent hit, “Going Out Of My Head”, featuring none other than Jerome "Little Anthony" Gourdine. The pair work this classic perfectly with complementary vocal styles and featuring the guitar mastery of George Benson. Unknown to some, Britt has worked with the Imperials since 2018, so covering the Teddy Randazzo composed tune was likely in the stars for quite some time.
Britt hooks up vocally with the proclaimed Prince of Sophisticated Soul, Will Downing, for the soulfully relaxed love song, “Butterflies”, merging two distinctly different vocal ranges on one very smooth offering. A frequent collaborator with superbly stylish guitar, is Nils, and his guitar, coupled with Britt’s trumpet, provides a fast moving, highly rhythmic jam on “Let's Do This”. Britt rolls out some old school style funk on “Ain't Nothin’ But The Funk”, featuring New York native, Tom Browne, who gets a stellar introduction from Britt to kick off the track. Showcasing a wide range of diverse moods and styles, the soothing and gentle nylon string greatness of Peter White on the album's title song is mid-tempo and highly stylish. Smooth jazz sax greats, Gerald Albright and Blair Bryant, along with keyboardist, Ricky Peterson, also offer their talents on what could be described as Britt's most complete and well-rounded album to date, an assertion that is quite bold, considering his incredible discography that includes the favourites, “Mo Jazzin” and 'Marvin Meets Miles.' Listeners will also be impressed with Britt's treatment of the Bacharach/David classic, “Walk On By”, quite sophisticatedly performed with his vocals sharing the spotlight with his muted horn.
Full credit to the multi-talented and multi-dimensional Britt for bringing together this esteemed ensemble of musicians and their undeniable talent on After We Play. A bit of soul, a dose of funk and some smooth jazz vibes go a long way in making sure this gem is on your repeat button.
Reviewed by Stu Berketo
The man just keeps getting cooler and cooler. And how he finds time to write and produce his own stuff when he writes and produces for most of the rest of the world is absolutely beyond me. But here we are with another stellar offering from the maestro of modern groove.
Kicking things off a long cool "7 and 7," Paul and Euge Groove (real name Stephen Eugene Grove and guess who gave him his hip moniker? Yep... it was PB) define smooth as only two old hipsters can, settling into that perfect pocket and laying it down. "Secret Sauce" showcases Paul's signature style; so recognizable, so sweet and so slick. PB has always loved the blues and that love shows up on "Hey Dude" because, after all, Paul Brown is THE dudiest dude of all dudes. I have no idea how to spell "Ohww!" - you know that screeching little howl we do when we're really getting down? Listen to this bluesy nugget and I guarantee you'll be howling.
Marion Meadows does a groovy guest turn on "Don't Stop", lending his unmistakable soprano sax to the funky flow. And it's so nice to hear Paul's vocals on the title track. After all, he was nominated as International Vocalist at The Canadian Smooth Jazz awards and his gritty timbre suits "Promised Land" to a tee. For something completely different, check out "Elegance." Indeed it is; a smoky, sultry, sensual sonnet, no doubt written for a special someone.
They call him the "Greatest Producer in the History of Smooth Jazz." Just ask Luther Vandross, George Benson, Patti Austin, Boney James, Norman Brown, Peter White and Larry Carlton, to name just to name a few. But the real thing is this: he also produces impeccable music on his own - from his heart, from his hands and from The Funky Joint in his own humble home.
And that is the true Promised Land.
Vickie van Dyke
Barbados is home to beautiful beaches, people and amazing food. But it's also exported some talented artists over the years including Rhianna and saxophonist Elan Trotman. His latest album 'Better Days Ahead' opens with guest bassist Julian Vaughn on the song for family member called 'Tatianna Nale'. Smooth and laid back. Another reason I can see why he was asked in his final year at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston to come back and teach.
His cool licks come from years of listening to Kenny G and others on cassette! His dad would have a great collection and Elan would rewind and play, repeat and then to try and figure out Kenny's style of playing. His hard work and dedication to his craft paid off with great compositions like the title track featuring guitarist Adam Hawley and 'Twice As Nice' featuring Marcus Anderson as they give us a double dose of some chill sax. He brought in flautist Athea Rene on 'Millie's Song' - sort of a Bob James or Dave Grusin sounding track. Perfect for a film.
Be sure to look for Elan in the new Whiteny Houston biopic 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody'!
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In my humbleness, a new project from Herb Alpert is more than just another album to his esteemed credit. It’s another defining chapter in the career of the legendary trumpeter, 8-time Grammy winner and founder of A&M Records. And 65 years after his initial breakthrough and introduction to the music world, let me introduce you to the latest chapter, titled Sunny Side Of The Street.
Father time has no bearing on the Tijuana Brass legend who remains active in both recording, touring, and of course philanthropy. Sunny Side Of The Street uniquely offers a collection of 11 songs, 6 of which are originals written with longtime collaborators, Jeff Lorber, Bill Cantos, longtime wife Lani Hall, and John Gilutin. Prior to the full release of the album, Alpert offered a preview of the project with the release of the Gilutin co-penned “Here She Comes”, that offers funky arrangement of trumpet, guitar and piano on one of several tracks reminiscent of the Tijuana Brass era. The even cooler contemporary jazz groove, “Tickle Time” with Lorber, is an amazing work of musical art that ventures into the more mainstream sound but is equally as full of feel-good rhythm. Alpert and Lorber lean back into a more traditional jazz vibe on “Sneaky Pete”, where Lorber’s organ stylings lend to a retro sound with a slight ‘beatnik’ nuance.
The iconic trumpeter has never been shy to offer his interpretations of songbook classics and Sunny Side Of The Street is no exception. Alpert performs a fabulous rendition of South African singer-writer/political activist Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata”, where Tijuana brass melds with Afro-groove for this fine cover. Timeless favourites like “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” and “Time After Time” get a gentle and classy Alpert treatment, and I was very fond of the rendition of “Going Out Of My Head”, popularized by Little Anthony & The Imperials. While essentially an instrumental version, there is some minimal vocal chorus, although uncredited on the album.
With his 88th birthday looming at the end of March, the legend will be rolling out his long awaited and multi-postponed Canadian tour that no doubt will be performed in front of packed audiences in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec starting April 4th. Get a ticket, while there is still one to be had.
Reviewed by Stu Berketo