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Norman Brown: West Coast Coolin' (2004)

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Norman Brown: West Coast Coolin' No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Norman Brown knows how to chill. And he has a way of making you chill right along with him.

The guitarist/vocalist is a master of the laid-back groove, successfully bringing together elements of smooth jazz and contemporary R&B. On West Coast Coolin' , Brown consolidates his reputation as a premier recording and performing artist with a collection of ten tracks—written and co-written by the leader—that push the idea of "chillin'" to new heights.

While Brown's scatting has drawn comparisons to another cool guitarist, George Benson, he actually sings on this album. "My fans kept asking me to do more singing," he explains. "At the same time, I wanted to go further into the great soul and R&B sounds that have been such a tremendous influence on me. I tried to bring those two goals together on this new album."

On that promise, he delivers. In fact, Brown offers a pleasant opener, the lighthearted "I Might," a slick groove that gets heads to bopping and fingers popping from the first note. On the instrumental "Up 'n' At 'Em," Brown delivers some guitar riffs and scatting that's immediately mindful of Benson. He's complemented by mellow horn arrangements by Jerry Hey, who also plays flugelhorn on this track. More of the same follows on the title song, minus the scat.

If there's one low point on this album, it's the extensive use of programming. All but the last two tracks have some programming. First, with such superb musicianship available, there's no place for it in jazz—not even smooth jazz. Second, if it's to be done, it should be done in such a way that the listener's mind is less on the programming and more on the song. While Brown delivers fine vocals and guitar play on "Come Over," the monotonous programmed drum track ruins the song.

Brown's cover of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On" also suffers this problem, but not quite as severely. Brown's solos in the middle and on the fade, supplemented by haunting vocals, help to strengthen this cut.

Fortunately, the rest of the album doesn't suffer. "Let's Play," another jaunt into West Coast Cool, is as laid back a tune as you're likely to find. One that's clearly intended for the romantic. In recent years, Brown has gotten a lot of mileage out of collaborations with his former B.W.B. bandmates, Rick Braun and Kirk Whalum, each musician contributing to the others' studio projects in 2003. On West Coast Coolin', Brown goes in another direction, demonstrating once again why he's one of contemporary music's more popular performers.


Track Listing: I Might, Up 'n' At 'Em. West Coast Coolin', Missin' You, Come Over, What's Going On, Let's Play, Right Now, Angel, Remember the Time

Personnel: Norman Brown, lead guitar, vocals; Chalmers "Spanky" Alford, rhythm guitar; James Poyser, keys; Pino Palladino, bass; Vikter Duplaix, programming; Jerry Hey, flugelhorn, horn arrangements; Wirlie Morris, keyboards, programming; Dan Higgins, saxophone, flute; Reggie Young, trombone; Alex Al, bass; Lil' John Roberts, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; Chris Bolden, programming; Arno Lucas, percussion; Brian Culbertson, keyboards, programming; Stephen Lu, keyboards, programming; Lynn Fiddmont-Linsey, vocals; Thaddeus Tribbett, bass; Herman Jackson, keyboards; Michael Bland, drums; Kevin Richard, percussion

Record Label: Warner Bros.

Style: Contemporary/Smooth


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