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Paul Brown: Upfront (2004)

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Paul Brown: Upfront No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

You probably should have seen this coming, but it’s still somewhat of a surprise. When the king of smooth jazz producers decides to make an album, you figure it’s a vanity project. But what you get instead is one of 2004’s early surprises, top-to-bottom smooth jazz stunner brimming with bright melodies, good picking by Brown on the guitar and enough hits to fill a Christmas stocking.

More than any other producer in his genre, Brown defines what makes a hit. The “Paul Brown sound” is one that smooth artists kill for, and what a long list of artists have ridden to the top, from George Benson, Al Jarreau, Norman Brown and Euge Groove to Rick Braun, Boney James, Peter White and Larry Carlton. The 12-song CD is grooving and melodic, showcasing Brown’s guitar, drums and—yes—vocals. He scats on “Wes’ Coast Swing,” sings straight up on Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and alters his voice with a vocoder on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” The recording's first single, “24/7,” is already a smooth jazz radio smash. Other singles abound: the Wes Montgomery-penned “Angel”; the Larry Carlton-sounding “Moment by Moment,” with scatting; and the traditional “My Funny Valentine,” which Brown turns into a smooth classic and gets a chance to really play his guitar.

Brown’s list of guest musicians is impressive: Peter White, Boney James—for whom Brown has produced eight recordings—Jeff Lorber, Rick Braun and Chuck Loeb. Also on board are multi-instrumentalist Jeff Carruthers, whom Brown has known since his early mixing days, and French DJ star Cam, who rewrote a rap song and stripped it down with Brown for song called “Chill Out.”

An amazing debut.

Track Listing: Wes' Coast Swing; Angel; Moment by Moment; Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight; My Funny Valentine; Phat City; Sweet Sweet Love; Ain't No Sunshine; Chill Out; 24/7; Dear Ndugu; Moondance

Personnel: Paul Brown (guitar, vocals); Johnny Britt (keyboards); Jeff Lorber (vibraphone); D.C. (programming, keyboards, guitar); Jeff Carruthers (keyboards, drums, drum programming); Roberto Vally (bass); Jerry Hey (trumpet); Larry Williams (sax, keyboards); Chuck Loeb (guitar, keyboards); Bill Reichenbach (trombone); Peter White (guitar); Boney James (saxophone); Kurt "KC" Clayton (keyboards, drums, bass); Cam (keyboards, bass, drums, horn); Rick Braun (trumpet); Dan Higgins (saxophone)

Record Label: GRP Records

Style: Contemporary/Smooth


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