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Sacramento-based keyboardist/composer Tony Windle is back with his sophomore release called Right There - and the "there" is smack-dab in the middle of the smooth jazz genre. In fact, he has named his own record label "GoSmooth." As such, it's quite an agreeable outing. The lead voice responsibilities are shared between Windle's keyboards and a saxophonist on most tunes. In the sax role, Jeff Kashiwa and Greg Vail provide the name-brand firepower (on two and three tunes, respectively) and Scott Reams plays soprano sax on three others. As a keyboardist, Windle is adept and well-rounded; his palatte includes the natural beauty of the acoustic piano, a wide variety of synth colorings (ranging from a funky flute-like solo on the opener "4th Avenue" to airy background sustained chords on "My Dream"), and the fullness of the Hammond B-3. Scott Reams plays a significant partner role in the production of this disc; he co-produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered the CD as well as providing programming and background keyboards on several cuts, plus soprano sax on three.
Not all of the tunes fit the smooth glove, in fact, there's nice variety throughout the program. "Up Home" is a notable change of pace - its an expressive acoustic piano feature with Grusinesque cinematic scoring by Alan Koshiyama, utilizing two violins, an oboe, and a trumpet. "Never Never Land," as the title suggests, is filled with child-like optimism and wonder. The closer, "Sunday Brunch," is the closest this program comes to combo jazz, complete with real bass and drums. "My Dream" consists of Reams' soprano sax wafting over the synth blanket mentioned above; this one sort of suggested Yanni to me.
Pluses: the compositions (all but "Baby Be Mine" are by Windle) are good and the arrangements are skillful. The album is polished but not over-produced. There are no sappy, mindless lovesong vocals or repetitive background chorus drones. The only negative - and this is really just a matter of preference for my ears - is that the programmed drums are somewhat mechanical and mixed a little too far to the forefront on the smooth jazz tunes for my tastes. But at least it's tempered by the live percussion of Mombo Hernandez on many tunes. But I know that many people these days like having their rhythms spelled out loud and clear for them.
By the way, also check out Tony Windle's impressive debut, Unfinished Picture.
(GoSmooth GSMR 0910)
Track Listing: 4th Avenue; Baby Be Mine; Spring's Hope; Up Home; Shuffle Shack; Right There!; Never Never Land; Shaker Kids; My Dream; Campfire on the Mountain; Sunday Brunch. (48:51)
Personnel: Tony Windle - piano, Hammond B-3, keyboards, programming; Scott Reams - loops, programming, keyboards, soprano sax; Jeff Kashiwa, Greg Vail - sax; Mombo Hernandez, Adrian Giovenco - percussion; Rick Willow - bass; Steve Giovenco - guitar; Kirk Rosander, Cary Rosander - violin; Joss Bravo - oboe; Chris Tootle - trumpet; Bruce Spencer - drums.