Marion Meadows: Secrets (2009)
Regardless of the genre, an acoustic drum kit generally makes for a better sound than an electronic program. However, when the latter is done well, the difference can be staggering. That's one factor that makes Marion Meadows' Secrets function.
Meadows began playing saxophone at age eight. His studies led him to appreciate such greats as Stanley Turrentine, Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins. He has also studied Joe Henderson, Dave Liebman and Eddie Daniels. On Secrets, Meadows is accompanied by a variable lineup. The rhythm section for most tracks consists of Micheal Broening, keyboards and programming, Freddie Fox on guitar and Mel Brown on bass. Broening also wrote six of the ten original songs.
The title song features an easygoing groove. The backup ensemble of Broening, Brown, Fox, and drummer Michael White, is effective, with Maria Meadows offering some wordless vocals. The soprano sax is smooth without sounding trite or sugary.
Trumpeter Jesse McGuire joins for "Let the Top Down," another laid-back, Sunday drive kind of song, with Fox's guitar effects giving it a soulful edge. Though Broening's programming takes the place of drums, it does so superbly: with subtle changes in how the tom rolls and varied cymbal sounds are made, it seems like the real thing.
"Sand Dancers" has a slight Latin feel. The lineup here consists of composers Orly Penate and Roberto Vazquez, who handle a variety of keyboard and programming duties, including horn synths; percussionist Tony Verdejo; saxophonist Anthony Church; and trumpeter Ted Zimmerman. The result is a song that sounds like a fuller band. The congas add a really nice flavor here, and the keyboard solo provides one of the highlights, along with Meadows' lead.
Meadows co-wrote the delightful "Flirt" with Broening. Apart from covers of songs by Bobby McFerrin and Pat Metheny Group, the other tracks were written by some of the musicians who appear on them. Though Meadows is clearly the focal point of Secrets, it's the ensemble work of the other musicians that helps it break from the mold of so many other smooth jazz instrumentalist efforts. Meadows plays with passion and energy throughout, but it's less about him and more about the overall sound.
Track Listing: Secrets; Let the Top Down; You Lift My Heart; Soul Sugar; The Child in Me; Sand Dancers; Playtime; Flirt; Friends; Urban Angels; The Shade Tree; Here to Stay.
Personnel: Marion Meadows: saxophone, clarinet (9, 10); Maria Meadows: vocals (1), background vocals (3); Michael Broening: keyboards and programming (1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10); Freddie Fox: guitar (1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10); Mel Brown: bass (1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10); Michael White: drums (1, 8); Jesse McGuire: trumpet (2, 9, 10); Brian Keane: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, keyboards and drum programming (3); Charlie Karp: lead vocals (3); Chip Shearin: bass (3, 9, 12), keyboards (9, 12), piano (12); Orly Penate: keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and percussion programming (6), strings and horns arrangement (6); Roberto Vazquez: piano and horns (6); Anthony Church: saxophone (6); Ted Zimmerman: trumpet (6); Tony Verdejo: additional percussion (6); Will Brock: keyboards, guitar, bass and drum programming (7); Brian Chartrand: vocals (9); Rachel Eckroth: Rhodes and Wurlitzer (9), B3 and Rhodes (12); Brian Morgan: guitar (9, 12); Steve "Jabari" Kersey: drums (9, 12); Philip Hamilton: vocals (10); Sean Thomas: vocals (11); Johnny Britt: vocals (11), trumpet and "all other instruments" (11); Jay Rowe: piano solo (12); Perry Hughes: guitar solo (12).