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Gregg Karukas: GK

Jeff Winbush By

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It's not smooth jazz musicians that deserve the disrespect they often receive from fans and critics. Smooth jazz is not the enemy. It's smooth jazz radio programmers who clown their own formats by sticking in records by pop and rock artists like John Legend, Michael McDonald and Steely Dan, and expect the listener to think it's all the same.

That's too bad because Gregg Karukas deserves to be taken seriously as one of the more versatile keyboardists in the smooth jazz genre. If someone looked back at a milestone moment for the pianists who place a greater emphasis on lyrical jazz-funk over improvisational exploration, it would be Joe Sample's Spellbound (Warner Brothers, 1989). Karukas is one of the guys who have picked up where Sample left off.

On tunes like "Manhattan," "Daylight" and "Walkin' in Time," Karukas—an underrated pianist—demonstrates that he is a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist who knows how to write a catchy tune, put together a funky band of studio pros and turn 'em loose (or as loose as it gets within the smooth jazz format).

If there's a downside to GK it's that while everything sounds bright and as polished as a shiny new penny, it's all a bit anonymous. With the exception of "Jamba Samba," no track runs longer than six minutes, begging the question of what Karukas might do if he let the groove go on a bit longer and gave himself some room to stretch out. Efficiency and economy are virtues, but Karukas is accomplished enough to trade in two four-minute songs for one eight-minute selection.

Karukas is complimented by guests including Rick Braun, Jessy J, and Russ Freeman, as well as Oscar Seaton, who is a revelation on drums. GK is a very good, but not quite great, entry in the Karukas catalog, that remains thoroughly satisfying throughout.

Track Listing: Manhattan; Daylight; Napa Road; Floating in Bahia; Wildwood; Walkin' In Time; Soul Kisses; Jamba Samba; Mesa Moon; Coyote Party; Believe in Me

Personnel: Gregg Karuskas: piano, synths, bass, drums, percussion, Wurlitzer, organ; Michael O' Neil: guitar; Russ Freeman: guitar (11); Ricardo Silvera: guitar (4, 8, 10); Paul Brown: guitar solo (10); Pat Kelley: guitar (6); Melvin Davis: bass (5, 8, 10); Eric Baines: bass (3, 9, 11); Oscar Seaton: drums (4, 5, 8, 10); Luis Conte: percussion; Rick Braun: trumpet, flugelhorn (4, 9); Lee Thornberg: trumpet (3, 9); Jessy J: saxophone (7); Michael Paulo: saxophone, flute; Rick Rossi: tenor sax, flute (2, 3, 9); Jacques Voyemant: trombone (3, 9); Contractually Anonymous: saxophone (1, 2)

Title: GK | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Trippin n Rhythm Records

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