14th August, 2008

Attempting a top-board dive into the rich waters of Spanish folk music, Glow smashes the bottom of the pool and bobs around lifelessly for a while. But manages to look pretty whilst doing it.

Peter White’s smooth jazz outputs are by no means stunning, but display a degree of consistency that a few artists within the genre should take note of. So, mixing Peter White’s dependability with Spanish atmospheres and Latin scales sounds quite intriguing. And it is, so long as you don’t listen to the album all the way through.

glowDon’t get me wrong, there are some real shimmers of sunlight here. ‘Who’s that Lady?’ is by far the best track on the album. A sexy, steamy, sax-led piece with a stalking beat, it features a melody which glides effortlessly between the provocative and the delicate, building to a sax solo straight out of the Richard Elliot (alto saxophonist) book of sophisticated seduction. ‘Glow’ can only be described as achingly quaint, and ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ is reflective and free to wander though its four minutes of elegant phrasing.

It’s strange. So many albums start brilliantly and then tail of towards the end, like a painter who died during the creation of his masterpiece, leaving the world with a disappointment, and wonder at what could have been. Not so with Glow. Here, it feels as though towards the middle of the album, the artist just lost interest, almost gave up entirely, and then seemingly from nowhere managed to pluck three songs out of nothing that nearly met the high watermark of ‘Who’s That Lady?’

Independently, ‘Turn It Out’, ‘Bullseye’ and ‘Bueno Funk’ are great songs, with catchy melodies and laid back basslines, again with a Spanish feel to them. But when listened to consecutively, they sound almost exactly the same, and three tracks of Flamenco-but-in-reality-not-Flamenco is quite simply irritating. And ‘Pedro Blanco’ is quite simply an awful attempt at a bossanova.

It’s almost as if Glow was made with the shuffle function in mind. ‘When I’m Alone’ is pretty much a re-working of ‘Just My Imagination’, just as ‘Baby Steps’ is to ‘Chasing the Dawn’, except in the former there is the addition of strummed chords. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible album; there are some memorable songs and some interesting melodies. Separately, it’s exciting, but together, it’s frankly a bore, becoming background music that wasn’t composed to be background music.

5/10

Published on sputnikmusic, August 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=29757

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

14th February, 2008

CLARE TEAL has been worshiped by Jamie Cullum, Paul Gambaccini, Michael Buble; even Sir Michael Parkinson. This, the eighth album from “one of the best vocal talents to energy from the UK in a long, long while”, continues much in the same vain as her previous releases; a collection of well selected covers combined with skillfully written new material to create a natural balance across the 49 minutes of many different moods and jazz styles.

clareOf course, Clare Teal will be venerated primarily in terms of her voice. But this isn’t what impresses me about this album; I’ve heard many great jazz vocalists, from Nat King Cole to Ella Fitzgerald, and yes, Norah Jones, (and I’d put her in the same category as those) so a beautiful voice for me is a necessity for jazz vocal. It’s the quality of the musicianship which impresses me here. This is jazz played with the utmost passion for the genre. ‘Breaking Up is hard to Do’ is performed with a rare graceful elegance, squeezing every bit of emotion out of each note. The re-interpretation of ‘The Very Thought of You’ actually sounds better than the original, its wonderful piano solo showcasing just how good this girl is.

She can do upbeat and bouncy too, and for someone who prefers his music to be melancholy at the least, these tracks would normally only get one play. However, they are conveyed with such a joyous innocence that they warm even the coldest of musical hearts. ‘Get on It Sam’, one of her own works, is happier than a manic clown on laughing gas and swings like a rope bridge in a hurricane. It’s brilliant, as is the 20s Dixie groove of ‘Cheek to Cheek’. In fact, this is the perfect place to start for any jazz-newbie, as everything is covered here. There aren’t many jazz albums that are not only an accurate summary of the jazz world, but are also accessible enough to not turn the listener off. A joy to listen to.

8/10

Published in Student Direct, February 2008

10th February, 2008

IT’S A shame that this review (if it makes the paper), wasn’t in time for Valentine’s Day. Even though it isn’t a collection of love songs, its pace, tone and pure warmth that only jazz can conjure up make it perfect for a snuggly night in. melody-gardot

It might be short (only half an hour), but Worrisome Heart sure is sweet. It flows with all of the grace of a brand new silk dress, and shimmers like the starlight in your beloved’s eyes. ‘Worrisome Heart’s beautiful lyrics light the candles, whilst ‘All That I Need is Love’s lyrical guitar groove runs the warm bath, and ‘Love Me Like a River Does’ leads you into the depths of the most exquisite, endless passion; upon the exquisite final note of ‘Twilight’, the most romantic evening of your life is complete.

8/10

Published in Student Direct, February 2008