Listening Loft : HOTPICKS
In addition to playing for the Obamas, performing with Ne-Yo, working with orchestras and touring Africa, Marie Antoinette is quickly making the mystical sound of the harp a dynamic lead instrument in Smooth Jazz. Two decades after “That Thing” won two Grammys for Lauryn Hill, the jazz/funk performer – currently a touring member of the all-female ensemble Jazz in Pink - takes the enigmatic artist’s socially conscious doo wop/hip hop anthem to a fresh and transcendent, urban jazz meets classical level. From her forthcoming album, ALL MY STRINGS, Mariea swirls her dreamy, stringed melodies around the tune’s trademark synth riff, and artfully builds towards a soaring interaction with a hypnotic string ensemble. It’s a timeless tune about equality, self-awareness and self-value, with a message as essential now as it was 20 years ago!
Considering her lengthy recording career and an eye-popping resume that includes being discovered by Lionel Hampton, performing worldwide, presidential inaugurations and recording Smooth Jazz hits with Paul Brown and Rick Braun, it’s a delightful irony that veteran Grammy nominated international recording artist Sylvia Bennett is starting off the decade with the classic “It’s Impossible.” The well-traveled Italian born, American raised singer’s imaginative twist features hypnotic percussion, cool retro keyboards and the inimitable groove and a lightly funky, easy rolling solo by legendary bassist Nathan East. The single is a lighthearted, supremely engaging first-glance at Bennett’s upcoming THIS LOVE IS REAL a highly anticipated collection of her all-time love songs.
Given his stage name CTK by his mentor, legendary former Earth, Wind & Fire guitarist Al McKay, trumpeter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Clarence T. Kyle perpetuates that group’s style of old school groovin’ soul/funk and builds on the era’s classic horn-fired vibe on his latest album THE 2ND COMING. A musical gumbo for the soul, with Smooth Jazz, R&B, and hip hop, CTK pulls off the remarkable feat of creating instrumental music that tells his personal story. He invites listeners into his multi-faceted life with memorable tunes dedicated to his father-in-law, his recently departed mother, trips to Japan and fond memories of his early childhood in Rhode Island and attending the Newport Jazz Festival.
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, a powerhouse ensemble, deliver an intoxicating mix of soul-sensual ballads and tight urban jazz with an edgy funk twist on their chart-dominating, sophomore release, CROSS PATHS. Iconic jazz great Bob James joins in on the fun and exuberance... While the deeper joys emerge from George’s lush bass lead and vocal stylings, Tracy’s background vocals and the explosive energy of band members, drummer Ron Otis (Earl Klugh, Kem, Aretha Franklin), percussionist Juan Escovedo (of the legendary Escovedo family) as well as GTFers John Rekevics, Richard “Blitz” Livoni and John Cain.
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!
As Founder and President of the highly influential jazz, world and soul recording label Motéma – dubbed as “the most important label to plant its flag in the 21st Century” by All About Jazz – Jana Herzen has helped launch everyone from Joey Alexander to Gregory Porter. Part of her secret to success behind the scenes is that Herzen is an acclaimed artist herself – a stylistically eclectic singer/songwriter with an understated mastery on guitar. On her diverse, super romantic album, NOTHING BUT LOVE, she showcases her unique points of view on the many facets of love and romance via a series of alternately heartfelt and playfully frisky jazz, pop and folk influenced originals with distinctive global music sensibilities. Co-produced by renowned bassist and label mate, Charnett Moffet, Herzen weaves her colorful narratives through a landscape imbued with Cuban/Latin, African and reggae rhythms, intimate jazz and bluesy soul.
Truly embodying the concept of “old musical soul” at the ripe age of 23, multi-talented UK based singer songwriter Joe Hurworth beautifully blends old school, big production R&B with graceful low-key acoustic sensibilities on his second EP FOLLOWING YOUR HEART. Everything starts with his thoughtful, sensitive songwriting and a supple, emotive voice that draws as much inspiration from legends like Al Green and Michael McDonald as it does from contemporary greats Jason Mraz and Ed Sheeran. A passionate storyteller who weaves his tales in a multitude of styles, Hurworth is aces as producer as well, bringing lively funk grooves, sizzling brass accents and even hypnotic dance grooves to his guitar and keyboard grounded tracks.
While building an incredible multi-faceted career that has included being a top BMI composer, with over 10,000 performances in U.S. and European television and solo albums dating back to the mid-90s, keyboardist/composer Phil Klein has dreamed of finding the right time to record his own version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.” An all-time favorite. “God Bless the Child Reimagined,” a colorful, lightly funky R&B/jazz driven vocal version featuring dreamy atmospheres, a hip horn arrangement, cool synth effects, a punchy sax solo and lush female backing vocals. Poignantly bringing eras of American History together, Klein has also created a timely video. One that shines a spotlight on the current state of emotionally charged race relations. The heartwarming video is a reminder that prejudice is taught and that children left to their own devices...are colorblind.
Establishing herself as a powerful new presence on the urban vocal side of Smooth Jazz with her previous singles “T.F.I.L.” and “Paralyzed,” jazz, blues and soul influenced vocalist M’Lynn shares an important message to the recently broken-hearted on her seductive and dreamy ballad “Just Take Time.” Originally appearing on her debut EP Grounding, the track was chosen the No. 2 Best Soul Song of 2018 by UK radio personality Franklin Sinclair of Mi-Soul Connoisseurs. While imparting wisdom to take things slow so that we can more effectively regroup and move on, she shares her silky, intimate vocal charms (think a contemporary version of Sade or Norah Jones) and colorful scat over a lush musical bed caressed with simmering horns and gospel-blues organ textures.
Steeped now in his incredible fourth decade of contemporary urban jazz excellence and non-stop hit making, Grammy nominated saxophonist and flutist Najee finds exciting new ways to groove and mingle with the Smooth Jazz elite and up and comers on his perfectly titled 18th album CENTER OF THE HEART. Showcasing his amazing flute prowess more than ever before, he’s got everything from in your face, funky originals and elegant sultry ballads to an imaginative, danceable Maxwell cover and a transcendent twist on a Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick classic. A thoughtful instrumental storyteller, Najee shares the seductive narrative here with multi-talented rapper son Superb Clawson, Darren Rahn (a spectacular flute-sax jam), Greg Manning, Kenny Lattimore, Demonte Posey and emerging bass virtuoso Blair Bryant.
After recording sensual bossa nova versions of Beatles and Michael Jackson for producers in Brazil and Japan, Brazilian singer Lulu Joppert had a brilliant idea. Joining forces with pianist Marcos Ariel and arranger/multi-instrumentalist Marco Antonio Santos, she formed the cleverly titled trio Pop’n Bossa to create sophisticated bossa re-imaginings of hits by contemporary pop singers. First on the trio’s list is Bruno Mars, and they work their dazzling 24K magic on five of his most notable tunes on their infectious, percussively exotic, self-titled debut. In addition to presenting colorful twists and uncovering new emotions stirring in tunes we thought we knew, the EP is also an exciting showcase for Joppert’s alternately sultry and soaring vocals and Ariel’s adventurous ivory playing.
Two decades after first showcasing his exotic, classical fingerstyle excitement as part of the duo Young & Rollins, multi-talented contemporary jazz/new age/world music recording artist Lawson Rollins – chosen one of “50 Transcendent Acoustic Guitarists” by Guitar Player magazine – happily finds his TRUE NORTH. On his masterful, rhythmically melodic, genre-traversing 10th solo album, produced solely by himself, Rollins delivers a sultry dance of world beat rhythms and an impassioned surge of guitar arpeggios, scales and harmonies making the project the most radio ready album yet. While it’s always energizing to hear Rollins shred, his tasteful restraint gives us a deeper look into his musical heart.
Since graduating from Ithaca College of Music in 2018 with a degree in voice (Opera believe it or not), ultra-hip pop, R&B and jazz influenced, Pittsburgh based singer/songwriter Stephen Rothhaar has been unstoppable. He follows his indie-acoustic EP HUMANS with the engaging, pure pop, ultra-danceable debut full length album MOMENTS. Helping take Rothhaar’s spirited soul sensibilities and instincts for creating infectious light pop gems to the next level is producer Nate Harasim, who fashions a slick, multi-faceted sonic landscape full of lightly funk contemporary beats, bright jazzy guitar jangle and a sensual seductive flow. In addition to showcasing Rothhaar’s multi-faceted artistry, the album includes impressive guest spots by globally acclaimed bassist Nathan East, chart-topping contemporary jazz guitarist Nils, vocalist Monica Notaro and the popular Detroit-based rapper K-Squeez.
Currently #1 on the SmoothJazz.com Listener Chart!
Smooth Jazz has a long and wonderful history of superstar duo pairings, from David Benoit & Russ Freeman to Boney James & Rick Braun and Paul Brown & Marc Antoine. 2020 begins with one of the most awe-inspiring yet, with genre icons Brian Simpson and Steve Oliver pooling their respective melodic and rhythmic geniuses (and collective history of 25 #1 radio hits) on UNIFIED. Building off their trademark alternately sensual/soulful and lively/rambunctious acoustic piano and guitar foundations, the two create their free flowing, festive and often romantic flow by incorporating elements specific to their individual sounds. These include Oliver’s vibey atmospheres, exotic percussion and light vocalese and Simpson’s improvisational grace and occasional retro keyboard riffs. Amazing individually, UNIFIED they transcend all expectations!
Encapsulating the carefree days of summer, guitarist Will Sumner, delivers a brand new original collection ranging from coast-driving Smooth Jazz and slow grooves to exciting Latin rhythms on RIDE THE WAVE. The prolific, Southern California composer follows the lead of similarly, beachy themed collections, such as COAST DRIVE, PIER GROOVE and the craftily titled ENDLESS SUMNER. Drawing on an eclectic background that includes performing with Prince and Yanni and composing symphonies, Sumner infuses his signature sound of sensual rhythms and hypnotic melodies with a variety of genres and textures including blues licks and steel pans. RIDE THE WAVE concludes with a rock and soul tinged vocal take on a patriotic classic that will light up the 4th of July!
Listening Loft : MUST HAVES
A perfect synchronicity takes place between the title and overall vibe of “It’s a Party,” the high-spirited, playfully grooving new hit single by guitarist Keith Andrew. Written and produced by hitmaker and fellow Smooth Jazz guitarist Nils, the instantly infectious, coolly atmospheric track is as adventurous as the artist himself, easy flowing in the verses, then exploding into a crackling jam mode with bright, tasty licks darting off the melody on the chorus section. Along with Andrew’s previous hit “Cielo,” “It’s a Party” will appear on his forthcoming album SOUL EXPEDITION, which will feature Nils and Chris Standring.
If the Crusaders had ever taken a dip in the warm waters of Ipanema, the result would be something about as gloriously spirited and jazz-chilled as WAVE HUNTER, a unique project combining the melodically and rhythmically varied talents of veteran pianist/composer Marcos Ariel with remarkable guitarist Enéas Marques and world-classe drummer/producer Roberto Alemão. Ariel’s 32nd album fuses classic, soul jazz, alternately easy flowing and percussively charged melodies and grooves and including adventurous vocalese, the collection is a musical love letter to the sea, created by three musicians who share a lifelong passion for the waves in Rio de Janeiro and on the California Coast.
Freeing himself from a corporate job in organic produce, Salinas based guitarist, singer/songwriter Dan Beck followed his passion for musical journaling to create the truly organic sounding, stylistically eclectic Dan Beck Band. On their latest album PRIDE & ARROGANCE, Beck and his guitar, sax and violin driven ensemble engage in a playfully strutting swirl of jazz, rock, blues and Latin vibes that he collectively calls “Blue Jazz.” Creating soulful, enticing conversations, the group weaves its colorful tales via a mix of swinging instrumentals and coolly seductive, thought provoking vocals.
True to the fascinating, multi-faceted title concept of his latest album SHADES OF BLU, masterful guitarist Juewett Bostick – whose fluid, funky axe has backed recording royalty including Grover Washington Jr., Nancy Wilson, and Barry White – soulfully blends his cool, urban jazz style with elements of the classic blues & jazz as well as neo soul jazz. Bridging beloved traditions with current musical innovations, Bostic creates a rich, colorful sonic world featuring female vocals, exotic vocal textures, spoken word conversations, state-of-the-art technology and global rhythms. These caress a blend of buoyant originals and re-imagined classics by Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley.
Colorful, uplifting, steady grooving and wildly inspiring, singer/songwriter James Bowman III's latest album THINGS ON MY MIND offers a seamless merging of gospel energy, sacred reverence and urban oriented Smooth Jazz. Having played with Brian McKnight and Mervyn Warren and opened for everyone from Edwin Hawkins, Kirk Franklin and BeBe & CeCe Winans, the multi-talented artist and seductive vocalist has plenty to communicate about - the Lord, marriage, family and relationship. Led by a spiritual lyrical reworking of an Earth, Wind & Fire classic, the collection offers a positive overall message to combat the harsh discourse occurring in the world today.
Truly the Smooth Jazz equivalent of pop super group Toto, Jazz Holdouts is a dynamic collective of studio greats with all-star pop, R&B and jazz resumes, featuring the simmering light funk energy of Alan Palanker (keys), Lou Cortelezzi (sax), Michael Thompson (guitar) and John Sieglar (bass). Their cool, yet high spirited full length album, SUMMER NIGHTS is driven by tight, funky, old school soul-jazz meets chill music. The album follows the group’s three groundbreaking Billboard hit singles, including the #1 song that is now the title track. Palanker and Cortelezzi sparkle trading off lead melody lines throughout.
A fascinating, diverse musical citizen of the world, guitarist/composer Reza Khan brings a wealth of progressive jazz and global fusion influences and sensibilities to NEXT TRAIN HOME. Featuring everything from dreamy funk and percussive, multi-cultural exchanges to fiery electric jazz fusion, the festive, extraordinarily intricate album was composed primarily in hotel rooms throughout Africa, where Khan traveled as part of his amazing “day job” as program manager for the United Nations. Khan’s essential tracks featuring Pat Metheny’s longtime bassist Mark Egan are enhanced by the colorful sound design of Philippe Saisse, along with dynamic contributions by Andy Snitzer, Jeff Kashiwa and Nils.
A onetime member of the orchestras of Glenn Miller and Harry James, saxophonist Gary Meggs calls the release of his latest album LIFE’S LITTLE CHANGES a “lifelong dream, a chance to help place my own footprint in the Smooth Jazz scene,” inspired by the West Coast Jazz of the 80’s and 90’s. Collaborating with rock/fusion guitarist Bryan Jeffries, who produced the collection, Meggs’ brings a bold and brash horn energy to an exciting, stylistically eclectic collection that includes spirited Latin influences, innovative arrangements of pop standards and re-imagined versions (complete with new titles) of a gospel and seasonal classics.
Phaze II’s fifth and latest album boasts the clever title NO COVER CHARGE, but their kind of finely honed, supremely cool eclectic magic is worth any price! Now well into their third decade lighting the jazz, funk, Latin and R&B fires in their hometown of Washington, DC, the six-piece super-ensemble Phaze II – onetime winners of the Capital Jazz Challenge Competition - alternates their flow between silky, seductive cool, fiery, wild energy storms and infectious, easy grooving mid-tempo tunes. They balance their more muscular, rocking offerings with dreamier pieces clearly and designed to melt the heart.
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.
Getting back to making music full time after years where other priorities took precedence, guitarist, keyboardist and composer Jim Richter taps back into his rock/blues roots with a mix of deep soulfulness, playful buoyancy and fiery intensity on his new album BREEZY DAY. Hitting all the infectious yet artsy-cool sweet spots of Steely Dan and Larry Carlton, he offers dreamy ballads, funk jams, island delights and bluesy grit – in addition to playful titles that pay homage to Bill Evans and Weather Report.
When you grow up, as Tony Saunders did, with godparents like Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Smith, relentless jazz funk becomes part of your DNA. The two-time Emmy winning veteran bassist, composer, arranger and producer – son of legendary Bay Area keyboardist Merl Saunders - brings the goods on his sizzling, amped up re-imagining of The Whispers’ late 1980s #1 R&B jam “Rock Steady.” Vibin’ powerfully with guitarist Nils and weaving in and around dynamic horn section energy, Saunders whets our whistle for the old school and contemporary fusion he’s bringing to his upcoming album SEXY SOMETHIN’.
Listening Loft : ESSENTIALS
Discover infectious, horn-spiced, old school and neo soul gems on urban jazz songwriter and vocalist Julius Adams’ new EP, LIFE AND LOVE. Impossible not to get wrapped up in his retro-cool vibes and deeply penetrating joy, optimism and forward-thinking energy. With loads of spirit, silk and sensuality to spare, Adams takes us on a mini-journey through different types of love – romantic with a partner, choosing to love ourselves and the ultimate love of God. Fans of Smokey and KEM will love Julius!
When most people think of Smooth Jazz horns, only the sax and trumpet come to mind – but trombonist Hank Bilal is changing all that with his spectacularly melodic, funky, sassy brassy debut album THE BLACK AQUARIUS. Bilal showcases his virtuosity and improvisational skills on a set showcasing his bright, emotionally resonant tone on a snazzy blend of old and new school soul sensibilities and playful excursions into gospel and Latin territory. Guests Marcus Anderson and Gerald Albright are also on hand to create fascinating brass conversations.
Fast emerging Smooth Jazz trumpeter Keith Fiala is honing his craft with the masters, starring in Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band and serving as longtime personal assistant to Arturo Sandoval. His latest single, the vibey, heavy thumping, brass-fired “Wanna Be With You,” is an old school, soul-jazz jam that draws from two dynamic influences – Fiala inspirations, Earth, Wind & Fire and the classic Jerry Hey horn arrangements for the ensemble.
A completely self-made independent arranger, composer, singer, producer and online entrepreneur, Jhavali has overcome great financial and emotional setbacks in recent years to emerge now as a force in Smooth Jazz with her sensual and hypnotic debut single “Ooh-Woh-Ooh-Woh.” Connecting early in 2019 via Instagram with Bob Baldwin, Jhavali fuses her unique old school sensibilities with the keyboardist and producer’s easy poppin’ melodies and grooves to create this truly fresh and seductive flow.
Richmond, VA bassist Brandon Lane celebrates his recent Masters of Music degree in Jazz Studies from North Carolina Central University with a funk-filled, mightily melodic grooving EP, with a title tells us exactly what’s in store, OLDSOULMUSIC! Influenced by everyone from Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke to Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire, Lane’s balance of snappy, in your face intensity and simmering chill vibes pays glorious homage to the classic R&B era while infusing his youthful contemporary sensibilities.
The title of Brian Lenair’s latest single “Silky Soul” says it all – classy and sexy, with breezy, laidback vibes that make it a smooth, romantic soundtrack. The veteran Washington DC saxophonist, who’s performed with the likes of Will Downing, Maysa, Billy Paul, Pieces of a Dream and Al Jarreau, grounds his intensely emotional playing and bright horn section sizzle in a deep, funky bottom that adds visceral dance energy to the spirited mix. Produced by Mr. Silky Soul himself, Chris “Big Dog” Davis, for Lenair’s upcoming full album!
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.
Once cleverly dubbed “the missing link between Pharoah Sanders and Kool & the Gang,” the innovative, relentlessly grooving Plunky & Oneness – led by world renowned saxophonist J. Plunky Branch – has been kicking up the funk, soul, Smooth Jazz, electronica and African percussion for more than 30 years. True to its titular mission, their latest album AFROCLECTIC uses its zesty brew of exotic Afro-funk, cool nu jazz, dreamy neo-soul and global fusion as a backdrop for empowering, socially conscious messages spreading universal love!
With a musical resume that includes playing on four of legendary Hammond B-3 player, Charles Earland’s 1970’s albums, this versatile guitarist finds a natural ease in bringing “First Light,” a Freddie Hubbard classic from the era, in the present day. Driven by hypnotic, snappy grooves and warm caressing atmospheres, Turner’s re-imagining features his snappy guitar melody, colorful improvisations, hypnotic keyboard riffs by Moe Daniel and Patrick Whitehead and an infectious, ultra-cool whistle element. From the forthcoming album, RUN IT BACK.