Of all musical genres, smooth jazz, or sometimes called “contemporary jazz,” is my go-to favorite. When I want to become completely enraptured in music, this is what does it for me.
Born in the early 1980’s, and most will agree in Southern California, smooth jazz had as it’s early pioneer’s artists like George Benson, Kenny G and Spyro Gyra. Soon enough, artists like the Rippingtons and Dave Koz (and many others) took this new sound nationwide and beyond. Others likewise followed and a new genre was born. Today, smooth jazz is enjoyed worldwide.
I have reviewed five new works by some of today’s better known smooth jazz artists. All these works were released in 2021, one even being released in September of 2021. I have spent considerable time with each, and I highly recommend them all.
In my normal reviews, I give a separate rating for overall and sonics for each work reviewed. I’ll change that slightly this time and say that musically, I rate each of these works a 10 and all are well recorded so sonics will not be a problem. Those who prefer a number for sonics, think 8 out of 10 at a minimum.
If you like smooth jazz, I enthusiastically recommend giving these five works a try. If you are new to smooth jazz, or are perhaps looking for a new sound, smooth jazz with its R&B styled, funky beat is sure to get those toes tappin. It would not be incorrect to say these five new releases are among my favorite music of 2021.
Vincent Ingala – “Fire & Desire” Shanachie Entertainment
Connecticut born, California based Ingala is something of a musical prodigy. He learned to play the drums at age four. A few short years later, he had learned, basically self-taught, the guitar and the saxophone. He released his first full length album at age 17 and essentially wrote and produced all the tracks. Oh, and he almost exclusively played each instrument himself – something he has consistently done on each of his seven releases, including “Fire & Desire.” Nine of the ten tracks were written and produced by Ingala with “Disco Sax” being a cover of Houston Pearson’s 1975 original. Of the ten tracks the pace ranges from moderately mellow on several tracks, to mellow and soulful on two, and really burning down the barn on three or four. Ingala knows all too well how to light things up. He does so to a magnificent degree and throws in some more reflective tempo on “Fire & Desire.
Adam Hawley – “Risin Up” MBF Entertainment
Say smooth jazz to me and I think saxophone. Guitar, well, not so much. There are, however, exceptions and Adam Hawley certainly qualifies. I have all of his works and each one, including “Risin,” are standouts. His fourth release, “Risin” is a follow up to the 2020 chart topping “Escape,” which itself produced three No. 1 singles. Most notably, “Risin” was recorded during the height of Covid which left a lot of time to try different sounds. Hawley manages to weave a horn section throughout almost the entire work yet keeps a guitar centric theme. Music moves along effortlessly and whether more on a soulful side, as on Track 5, “On The One,” or up beat and fast paced like “Gotta Get Up,” there is something for everyone to enjoy. Hawley has become one of my favorite artists and “Risin Up,” like all his works, is magnificent.
Steve Cole – “Smoke + Mirrors” Artistry Music
Like many 2021 releases, the latest from jazz saxophonist Steve Cole was recorded remotely. Because of Covid restrictions, the artists recorded their tracks and emailed them for final mixing and production. On the positive side, there were any number of jazz luminaries available to contribute since they weren’t traveling anyway. Cole delivers his amazing sax prowess through slow, melodic tunes, medium tempo tunes, and ‘burnin down the house’ tunes. Of particular grace is Track 3, “Wayman,” a poignant tribute to the late NBA star turned smooth jazz bassist Wayman Tisdale. Cole played on Tisdale’s 2001 release “Loveplay” and calls him an “inspiration.” “Smoke + Mirrors” is representative of what Steve Cole does best, make remarkably enjoyable music that can be listened to repeatedly. I know this is true because I have done exactly that.
Jeff Lorber Fusion – “Space-Time” Shanachie Entertainment
“The Funkiest Man In America.” This is how Lorber was once described. And while he has seemingly moved on from just his name to the addition of the “Fusion” moniker, Jeff Lorber still delivers a dose of light it up, high octane fire when he so chooses. On “Space-Time,” his latest release, he makes such a choice quite often. Only Track 9, “Day One” is more on the more mellow side. One of the more notable tracks is “Chick,” a tribute to the late, great, Chick Corea. Even that one basically sizzles. Of course, given Lorber once put out a release called “Kickin It,” and his “funky” nom de pleur, setting music to blaze seems to be in his DNA. I, for one, could not be more excited that he does. I have all his releases under both names, and he has never wavered from that high energy, up-tempo, wide-open, funky, R&B inspired sound. If you like music that will prompt you to get up and dance around your listening room, this is one that will make it happen.
Dee Brown – “Deep Secrets” Innervision Records
Released on September 3rd, the fifth release from smooth jazz guitarist Dee Brown is primarily a tribute to his late Mother. Making things even more difficult were the Covid restrictions in place during recording. Because of modern technology, this was overcome by remotely utilizing individual tracks emailed in for final production. “Deep Secrets” is so named because of Brown’s deeply held religious convictions. Such is evidenced in Track 7, “Praise Is What I Do.” Brown also was able to utilize jazz titans Blake Aaron, Darren Rahn and Nate Harrison who assisted with the final mixing and production. Musically, “Secrets” is exceptionally well written and produced. It contains noticeable elements of soul and R&B. Track 1 flows seamlessly into number 2 and then to 3 and so on. Before you know it, the 11th track is finished, and you feel good inside. This is my first exposure to Dee Brown. Given what I heard here, it will certainly not be my last.
For all you smooth jazz fans, I encourage you to give these works a listen if you have not already. And maybe, for others, they will help introduce a new style of music – one that might be enjoyed on those days when music is the only worthwhile endeavor.