Smooth Jazz CD Reviews

Our reviews of various smooth jazz CDs. We also review certain Latin, World, & blues music releases. TSJR does not engage in negative reviews. All CDs presented here are releases that we accept as being quite worthy--even outstanding in many cases. If a release does not warrant such an assessment in our view, we will simply decline to review it.

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Boney James — Honestly

July 29, 2017

Now, there’s probably not a soul who’s listened to music in the last quarter century that doesn’t know of the thunderous impact one particular saxophonist – Boney James — has had on not just the world of smooth or contemporary jazz but R&B, as well. Album after album has been a smash, increasing his fan base to some crazy, almost infinite, number. It’s all been very justified, and that justification is advanced by the release of his 16th album, Honestly (release date: Sept. 1), an inferno-hot masterpiece of jazzy, soulful, funky, in-your-face tracks guaranteed to cause some to offer that this may well be his hottest to date. Read full review


Jonathan Fritzen — Ballads

July 29, 2017

Swedish keyboardist/pianist/composer Jonathan Fritzen stills works his charm on us as effectively now as he did 9 years ago when he happened onto the smooth jazz scene with his debut album Love Birds, and his new release Ballads serves as a reminder as to why his style and sense of what works still works for us.

This album is abundantly stocked with some of the sweetest melodies I’ve heard in years in this genre and puts on display Fritzen’s skill, professionalism, and total musicianship. There are soft caresses and the total embrace of you the listener. It’s so serene that the occasional spark of edginess found in tunes like “Today” and “Let It Go” in the form of distortion guitar comes almost as a surprise when taking the entire album into account. As its name implies, this is an album of slow, romantic, soul-stirring sensuality, charisma, and beauty. No finger-popping, foot-tapping, head-bopping grooves here — and it works out perfectly. Read full review


Michon Young – Love, Life, Experiences

July 29, 2017

Should one try to pigeonhole this album, the artist reminds us that, oftentimes, it simply can’t be done. As she says, “I have always believed that music is love. It is universal. It can soothe the soul, bring tears to your eyes or simply just place you in a reflective state.”

So, with that in mind, and while one might try to classify this as R&B for whatever purpose, this debut release from vocalist/composer Michon Young entitled Love, Life, Experiences was too compelling for us to ignore because it is, first and foremost, music. Good music. If you simply must identify with a specific genre, keep in mind that this is not your typical neo-soul or modern day or even old school R&B. This album comes packed with plenty of eclectic vibes (gospel, soul, and even a touch of poetry) and body. Its thick and melodic persona is clearly not to be disregarded. The vocals, at times, a bit reminiscent of early Leela James, are strong and strike directly at your core. Again, this is music. Read full review


Najee – Poetry In Motion

July 29, 2017

Iconic saxman/flautist/composer Najee is once again working his woodwind magic as he presents his latest stylishly soulful and jazzy release Poetry in Motion, an album that is actually, among other things, a finely honed homage to two other iconic entities– the late one-of-a-kind crooner Al Jarreau and the consummate musician, the late Prince.

Here on Poetry in Motion, the saxman includes the essence and character of these world-renowned artists and offers other slick, smooth, very textured and enticing tracks that lead you along the path that he has effortlessly traveled for more than three decades, dazzling and wooing fans with his trademark soul-appealing sound. Read full review


Michael J Thomas — Driven

July 29, 2017

This latest release from saxophonist Michael J Thomas, entitled Driven (release date: Aug. 18), opens with a vocal track, “My Love’” that echoes the late Michael Jackson. Thomas’ vocal is the nearest thing to MJ that I have heard in a long while. The track itself is a gorgeous piece of mid-tempo, soulful pop music punctuated with some delightfully breezy horn playing. In contrast, the next track, “Baby Coffee,” is a sultry funk-infused number that features Thomas’ velvet tenor sax playing around a bouncy chorus. That breaks down in true old-school style to roll on out of here. Read full review


Carol Albert – Fly Away Butterfly

July 25, 2017

Ahh, we are again treated to the wholesome, all-embracing musical charm of the lovely vocalist/pianist/composer Carol Albert who has reemerged with her at once enticing and alluring offerings here on Fly Away Butterfly, an album of intensely satisfying melodies and lyrical colors.

The mesmerizing seduction of this music starts at track one (the title track) and never lets up as she takes you by the hand and leads you along this plush horizon of musical bliss with delicate caresses and high-spirited exoticism and finger-poppin’ grooves like that heard on her covers of the late Al Jarreau’s “One Way” and the classic “Mas Que Nada.” Read full review


Darryl Williams – Here to Stay

July 25, 2017

Bassist Darryl Williams needs no introduction among the many smooth jazz giants he’s backed over the years. Now, rolling out his own Here to Stay, he demonstrates why he’s so highly regarded among those giants. This is one album that gets off the ground in a flash and heads directly for the stratosphere with a huge display of power, charm, melody, and, of course, that inexplicable thang that moves all C-jazzers.

Fueled by the presence and contributions of such luminaries as guitarists Paul Brown and U-Nam; keyboardists/pianists Jonathan Fritzen, Greg Manning, Scott Wilkie, and the prolific and iconic Jeff Lorber; saxmen Michael Lington, Elan Trotman, Marcus Anderson, and Euge Groove (the latter also serving as co-producer of this fine project, Williams beats a solid groove path from the infectious title track to the slick and polished mid-tempo lure of “Now or Never” to the up-tempo dancer “Do You Remember” to the soulful and easy “Reflections” to the mid-tempo finger-snappin’ “Harveston Way” and beyond. Read full review


Harold Little — Akoben

July 23, 2017

Here’s a project that’s not just interesting musically but historically, as well. The artist, Washington DC, native Harold Little, a trumpeter who favors the fusion of jazz, funk, R&B, and old-school hip hop, draws on his DC roots that boast as part of its culture the Chuck Brown go-go groove. Expanding on that, the very title of his debut release Akoben, speaks to the relevance and respect he gives to the “war horn” (for purposes of reference and context, Akoben is a wind instrument of West African origin used in summoning warriors to the battlefield. It symbolizes love, devotion, and service. Seeing this symbol is supposed to encourage people to be ready at all times to serve their nations even in times of war. Read full review


Cindy Bradley — Natural

July 10, 2017

While this one was a bit delayed in getting to me, I am thrilled to be able to offer my two cents on this gem of a recording by the one and only trumpeter Cindy Bradley, an A-list artist ever since she burst onto the C-jazz scene years ago with her 2009 debut release Bloom. Here with Natural, yet another release that promises to capture and mesmerize, the sexy and mega-talented trumpeter continues with her signature blend of high quality jazz combined with sassy, funky, and soulful melodies and rhythms.

Bradley, as usual, comes prepared, assembling top-tier support via guest appearances by the masterful flutist/saxophonist/arranger David Mann, super-guitarists Nick Colionne and Chris Standring, the lovely saxtress Paula Atherton, the ever-competent bassist Andre Berry, and others who bring their A game to this highly charged project. Read full review


Julian Vaughn – Bona Fide

July 6, 2017

Kansas City, MO native Julian Vaughn has made some very impressive strides in the world of contemporary jazz as a self-taught bassist who not only learned to play by ear but by heart and soul, as well. His latest offering entitled Bona Fide clearly demonstrates that his aim for your heart and soul is dead on as he strolls through melodies that are meant to be felt as much as heard.

A tall man (height measurements have been reported from 6’7” to 6’10”), Vaughn makes sure that Bona Fide towers high and proud with polished originals like the finger-snappin’ lead and title track, the easy gliding “If I Could,” and the silky “Reflections,” among others, to sharp covers of tunes like the sweet and soulful Jackson 5 track “All I Do Is Think of You” featuring vocalist Anthony Saunders and Michael Jackson’s high-steppin’ “Remember the Time,” the latter capturing a bit of that MJ magic via some hot lead bass chops. Read full review