Anybody familiar with these artists likely knows what they’re getting by purchasing this album: soothing comfort food with no pretense at gourmet trappings.
Pianist David Benoit and guitarist Russ Freeman have both notched artistic achievements in the smooth jazz realm during their lengthy careers, but the mentality here seems to be playing it safe above all else. It’s one of those albums perfect for hosting dinner parties and romantic encounters where the goal is to keep the music from intruding on the evening’s activity. But anybody planning to actually listen to this, including those hoping to catch a taste of Freeman’s work with the Rippingtons or Benoit’s occasionally thoughtful fusion composing, is in for a disappointment.
The opening “Palmetto Park” is all one needs to know about this collection. A vanilla melody with no memorable hook gives way to Benoit and Freeman exchanging brief and equally bland solos—the main message seems to be “Hey! We’re two popular artists! We’re interacting!”—and the tune ends in a nice radio-friendly four minutes (4:01, to be exact). It’s a formula that repeats for the other nine songs, with the so-called interaction perhaps the most maddening aspect, since both artists can provide at least crowd-pleasing riffs when given enough measures to do so.
There’s a vague Latin theme throughout much of the album, and other commercially successful artists like Chris Botti (trumpet) and Vince Gill (vocals) contribute cameos here and there. The 23-member Nashville String Machine backs many arrangements and fulfills its role of providing texture in competent fashion, never getting overly syrupy or threatening to outshine the solo players.
The duo at times briefly threatens to rouse listeners, offering at least decent hooks on songs like “Club Havana” and “Moon Through The Window,” but it never lasts beyond any single song.
The album is almost too easy to bash from an artistic standpoint, so perhaps the real test is whether it fulfills its mission to its target audience and Freeman’s Peak Records label. By that measure, it probably is a modest success. As noted, those who buy smooth jazz for background listening will find this a safe purchase. And Peak Records can take comfort knowing they will sell plenty of albums to fans of both artists, even if they don’t win over too many new ones.
Track Listing: 1) Palmetto Park; 2) Via Nueve; 3) Montecito; 4) Club Havana; 5) Two Survivors; 6) Samba; 7) Moon Through The
Window; 8) Struttin
Personnel: Russ Freeman, guitars, synth and guitar synth; David Benoit, piano, Fender Rhodes and Yamaha Motif 8; Vinnie
Colaiuta, drums; Luis Conte, percussion, Dave Carpenter, bass (2); Byron House, bass (6); Peter Erskine, drums (2, 5);
Vince Gill, vocals (5); Chris Botti, trumpet (4, 8); David Pack, vocals (3); The Nashville String Machine (2, 5, 7, 10).
Members of the ensemble include Carl Gorodetsky, Pam Sixfin, Lee Larrison, Conni Ellisor, Alan Umstead, David
Davidson, Mary K. Vanosdale, David Angell, Cathy Umstead, Cate Myer, Janet Askey and Gerald Greer (all on violin);
Kris Wilkinson, Gary Vanosdale and Jim Grosjean (viola); Bob Mason, Carole Rabinowitz and Anthony LaMarchina
(cello); Craig Nelson and Jack Jezioro (bass); Ann Richards (flute); Bobby Taylor (oboe); and Jennifer Kummer (french
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.