One of the oddities in musical categorization has been the establishment of the New Age and smooth jazz (aka contemporary jazz) genres. Although they originally represented very different branches of popular music, the distinction has continued to blur over the decades.
Originally, New Age music was established by musicians and entrepreneurs like Will Ackerman, who founded Windham Hill Records three decades ago. They developed a musical specialty in which acoustic players could record in solo, duet and small ensembles. Windham Hill's success was built upon this formula, with significant additions by pianists George Winston, Liz Story and Jim Brickman, and guitarists Will Ackerman, Michael Hedges and Alex DeGrassi. After a very successful decade, Windham Hill expanded to electric (and even electronic) music that in some cases produced more revenue than the original acoustic recordings.
Smooth jazz, however, evolved in a different fashion. Using the jazz fusion movement which began in the early 1970s, many musicians made the transition from mainstream jazz into a more electric format. During the 1980s, the establishment of the "Quiet Storm" R&B-type radio programming combined with fusion music, which had the effect of watering down the former. During the early 1990s, smooth jazz made great headway per the success of musicians like Kenny G, who attracted many players to this subgenre. For example, the ex-lead guitarist of Jefferson Starship, Craig Chaquico, has established himself as a leading player in both smooth jazz and New Age by dint of his eight albums since 1994 for Higher Octave Records. Chaquico has made a lot of money and has been honored with several Grammy nominations.
What does all this have to do with Florida guitarist Greg Smith's debut album, Above The Clouds? The album, which finds Smith performing fourteen of his own compositions, is typical of product in both smooth jazz and New Age music. At times, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish between these subgenres, but many of these tracks are syncopated, hook-ish tunes that likely would deserve to get airplay on the various radio stations that feature smooth jazz. Smith holds his own on the instrument with other guitarists like Peter White, Jeff Golub and Paul Brown, who are all recognized celebrities. However, the only plectrist in smooth jazz whom I find unique is Marc Antoine, who brings an acoustic fingerstyle approach into his playing.
Greg Smith has endorsements from Larry Coryell and has studied under Coryell and Pat Metheny. In the liner notes, Smith also maintains that he is comfortable playing in a different number of musical styles including straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde jazz and gutbucket blues, and I have no reason to doubt him. "Postlude: Back Into The Clouds" is played quietly and reflectively, while many of the other compositions, like "Forties," "Valgar" and "Stop Sign in Brazil," offer infectuous melodies. In fact, the latter tune has a melody line that reminds me of the 1960s pop hit "Georgy Girl."
Personally, I like listening to this stuff, but only for ten minutes at a time. In fact, my snooze alarm is set to a local smooth jazz station to ensure a fast descent into dreamsville. If only New Age music were more popular in today's hip-hop musical society, and then it might be something for dissatisfied listeners to seek out.
Track Listing: Above The Clouds; Mountain Hike; Stop Sign In Brazil; D's Dream; Lava; Appaloosa; Forties;
Valgar; Summer Sand; Calamity; Chessmates; Wren Song; Figaro Tree; Postlude: Back Into The
Personnel: Greg Smith: guitars.