9th August

An insatiable lust for melody and a more confident outlook make Night Grooves this award winning contemporary jazz guitarist’s finest work since Special EFX. This isn’t just a great new smooth jazz album; it’s a new smooth jazz yard-stick.

If smooth jazz is the embodiment of jazz tinged pop melodies, unconsciously contagious grooves and a whole lot of passion and atmosphere, then Chieli Minucci’s masterful fifth solo album, Night Grooves, is the physical embodiment of smooth jazz. Everything here is of a ridiculously high quality, but the most remarkable thing about this album is that there are still standout tracks.

minucci3There isn’t much here to boggle the mind, at least, not in terms of technicality, although some guitar runs are pretty frightening. ‘Night Grooves’, for example, is based around a simple three chord turnaround, upon which is built loose and effortless melodies and phrasing. Most tracks here seem to be made for a certain mood or situation, with this track’s being a midnight road-trip with no particular purpose through a glamorous city.

Even the album itself is arranged well. ‘Night Grooves’ flows into the funk driven ‘Foolin’ Around Again’, with ridiculously catchy syncopated rhythms, and intelligent duals between clean guitar and saxophone. It’s sister track, ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ seems to attempt to emulate this, but even though it’s still good, it doesn’t even touch the relentless drive of its older and more sophisticated brother.

From funk to romance. ‘You’re My Reason’, is one of two tracks possibly inspired by Special EFX’s 2001 album, Butterfly. An acoustic number, its melody floats along with a charming grace, climaxing with a saxophone lead towards its end which relies not on volume, but notation. It’s perfect, but then again, ‘Without You’, sounding like a ‘Katalin Part 2’ is even better.

With ‘Without You’, you have the answer to the world’s renewable energy problems. If something were invented which could harness the power of raw human emotion, this track could power most of the globe without any trouble at all. In short, it’s the musical equivalent of the best sex you’ll ever have. Post-rock’s ability to create cataclysmic crescendos gets the smooth jazz treatment, rising from gorgeous acoustic melodies and arpeggios to entrancing, swirling, magical distorted guitar. Every single note, high or low, crotchet or quaver, is given its own very special meaning. Even the pauses and piano section are immaculately instrumented and timed. It’s impossible to describe adequately, but if you’ve heard Ralph Vaughan Willilam’s ‘The Lark Ascending’, you should know what I’m talking about. If not, then just thing of the most beautiful song you know, and multiply it, say, by infinity. Then add a bit more.

If you hadn’t guessed it yet, this is the ultimate introduction to the smooth jazz genre. Here you will find love, excitement, ecstasy, even mystery, with ‘Behind the Veil’, the detective, snoopy feel of ‘Mr Shady Eyes’ and the paradoxical nature of the final track, ‘Nasir di Nuevo’. It is very much an outro composition, but one that also creates a feeling of emptiness; the individual phrases seem to tail off towards their endings, almost as if the music is fading away in spirit, rather than if someone was turning the volume down. As the music becomes more coherent, the emerging melody furthers the sense of finalisation; a six minute paradox, and a perfect ending to a perfect album.

10/10

Published on sputnikmusic, August 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=27699

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