James Vargas is a British saxophonist (alto, tenor and soprano) who has echoes of Walter Beasley, Steve Cole and other contemporary sax players on his debut, a winning collection of twelve songs firmly rooted enough in the sax- led smooth jazz tradition. After scoring gigs in clubs around in London, Vargas drew the attention of Oli Silk, the force behind the soulful British smooth-jazz group Sugar and Silk, who invited him to play on a recording. Silk and Vargas collaborate on the majority of the songs here, which are suitably funky-smooth and show an amazing grasp of sax skill.
Vargas couldn’t have picked a better song than “Curtain Call” to open the disc and his career as it offers a killer hook on alto—his instrument of choice—and a drum line that’s surprising at first but becomes more welcome with each listen. There’s a lot to be said by not “filling in all the spaces” while playing sax, but Vargas proves that filling pretty much all the spaces can work as well, especially on the romantic “One Fine Day” and the fast-paced “Push Da Button.” On the CD’s best vocal track, “Say You Will,” Vargas wraps his soprano lines around Yvonne John-Lewis’ soulful singing on a Quiet Storm treat that works to perfection, while on other tracks the vocal refrains are unobtrusive and fit in. On “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever,” Vargas plays a pretty soprano duet with acoustic guitar by Yuzuru Matsuda.
Like another smooth-jazz newcomer, saxophonist Grady Nichols, Vargas seems to have a bright future ahead of him. He’s a commanding presence on the sax—he does some real playing but never lets that get in the way of a good song—and has no problem finding radio-friendly melodies. It’s no surprise that Trippin ‘N Rhythm, which also boasts Paul Hardcastle, Roger Smith, Joe Fuentes and Thom Rotella, snatched Vargas. Get ready for a new British Invasion.
Personnel: James Vargas (saxophones, vocals); Oli Silk (keyboards, programming); Yvonne John-Lewis (vocals); Matt Park (guitar); Yuzuru Matsuda (acoustic guitar); Danny Sugar (bass); Spy (bass); Sheena McSween (background vocals)