It’s significant that bassist Luico Hopper covers a Bill Withers tune (“Lovely Day”) on his new disc. Like that master of earthy soul, Hopper’s approach to his own idiom – smooth jazz, to pick an umbrella term – has an honest, downhome feel to it. The requisite surface features are there (drum programming, keyboards, easy grooves), but the result stands out by virtue of its human warmth.
Hopper’s writing palette allows for a wide variety of colors, as on the title track, where vibraphonist Brian Carrot (whose CV runs from mainstream to the avant-garde) adds a nice metallic feel alongside Maurico Smith’s alto flute. Hopper adds some of the same sharp sonorities to “Hidden Treasures” via keyboards, but Mark Adams’ acoustic piano grounds the tune with pleasant chords, and thoughtful arpeggios. “Don’t Hold Back” features the leader’s electric bass, soloing economically, unhurriedly, over Zane Mark’s organ work. Mark Gross’ alto saxophone work on the track is similarly fresh, mic’d naturally, and not pushed to sound like he’s playing the “Saturday Night Live” theme, a trait found on too many smooth jazz releases. Reggie Pittman adds proficient trumpet to several tracks, including the sinuous “For You,” which conjures visions of rainy-day contemplation.
Hopper also plays acoustic bass on the soulful “Leslie,” which – like the disc as a whole – reaches back to the genre’s funk-jazz roots for its signposts. Like Hopper’s music, the production on Reflections is agreeable to the ear, with enough grit in the details to let you know that it comes from the heart.