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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Paul Hardcastle – Hardcastle 8

Oct. 18, 2018

As the first line of the inside cover says: So, here we have Hardcastle 8. Maybe that’s all that needs to be said. Hardcastle fans know the drill. You listen, the familiar, gripping groove washes over you – whether you’re just chillin’ at home, riding along the highway or coastline, or sippin’ champagne with your love bug – you tap your foot, you bop your head, you snap your fingers, you do whatever dance you do. That’s all part of the Hardcastle Effect. If you know or have experienced it personally, you know you never get over it. You’re hooked for life. It’s magical, exotic, beautiful, smoother than butter, and compelling. Paul Hardcastle has been the master creator of this groove going back too far for me to remember when I first became addicted. Read full review


Kayla Waters — Coevolve

Oct. 18, 2018

Not quite two years ago, we c-jazzers were treated to the eloquence and spiritually satisfying sounds of Apogee, the debut release from Kayla Waters, the gifted and personable daughter of renowned saxman Kim Waters. The album was a beautiful expression of spiritual and intellectual ascension via the handsome sophistication of jazz. Here with her sophomore release Coevolve, the comely pianist/keyboardist/composer excites and motivates with her artistic handling of jazz elevated.

Joined here by just a few guest artists on select tracks (including guitarists Freddie Fox and Nick Colionne, bassist Mel Brown, vocalist Shacara Rogers, and dad Kim), Waters weaves her magic with just the help of some nifty programming of musical accompaniment. She also wrote or co-wrote and co-produced the project, joined by her dad and producer/keyboardist/programmer/engineer Michael Broening. Read full review


Doug Jones — Crossing Lines

Oct. 18, 2018

Crossing Lines is the latest in the line of very fine recordings from saxophonist Doug Jones who simply continues to satisfy with his smooth and delectable blend of c-jazz grooves, led by his clear and passionate sax work.

This time around, the saxman offers an 8-track production where the average track time is about 5:00, providing you the listener with almost 40 minutes of deliciousness. Each track here is moving, soulful, full-bodied, and quite well-produced, starting with his cool and light “Watching the Sunshine” and continuing through with solid tunes like “1979,” “Cool J,” the strong and catchy title track that hosts a mean blues signature in with the mid-tempo cadence, “Zen Garden” (the title of this one just may be a bit deceiving as this has all the “fingerprints” of a good ol’ feel-good dance number), “Season Change,” a rather laid-back, slow & somber piece, “One Flight South,” and the closer “Hand Clappin’” which has that big band jive music feel to it — a “happy” tune. Read full review


Dave Sereny – Talk to Me

Oct. 18, 2018

The long-awaited follow-up album to Toronto-based guitarist Dave Sereny’s Take This Ride is finally here and appears to definitely have been worth the wait. The album, titled Talk to Me, is a full-bodied, clean project loaded with generously-laced jazz riffs, melodies, and nuances.

A touring veteran of multiple jazz festivals (which probably explains the long period between his solo recording projects), Sereny has drawn the admiration of many of his most seasoned and well-respected peers, several of whom have joined him on this slick, poppin’ album. Read full review


Darryl Anders AgapeSoul — Conversations

Sept. 22, 2018

AgapeSoul is the rock-solid ensemble of musicians assembled by veteran Bay Area bassist Darryl Anders. Conversations, this followup release to the group’s Believe In Love debut is one of the most polished R&B/jazz hybrids I’ve heard in a while.

Effective vocals by Zoe Ellis, Geoffrey Williams, Tommy Sims, Naté SoulSangar (Naté’s last name is so spot on – especially if you’re a veteran listener of soul singers — that I’d be surprised if it isn’t a pseudonym), and Ashling Cole give this eclectic and very rhythmic project that special shine that helps all good artists stand out among their peers. Adding to the charm of the album are great horn arrangements and appearances by the inimitable B3 organ and some bold synth work. Read full review


Jeff Lorber Fusion — Impact

Sept. 3, 2018

Now into his 41st year of banging out hit jazz record after hit jazz record, master keyboardist/producer/composer Jeff Lorber nails another great one with the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s Impact album — a year after grabbing his first Grammy win for the group’s remarkable work on its previous album Prototype.

Still doing it majestically with sidekick/key collaborator Yellowjackets founding member bassist Jimmy Haslip, saxman Andy Snitzer, and drummer Gary Novak, Lorber tosses in the fanciful guitar work of Paul Jackson Jr. and Adam Hawley, horn arranger and performer Dave Mann, and others to spice up a recipe that’s always kickin’ anyway. This is jazz fusion the way it was always meant to be. Read full review


Rick Sparks – Half Moon Bay

Sept. 3, 2018

(New Age)

First off, there is nothing remotely associated with smooth or contemporary jazz here. However, while devoid of those grooves we so embrace and love, this new age project from pianist Rick Sparks, Half Moon Bay (you San Francisco residents can easily relate to that title, I’m sure, as can any visitor to the beautiful northern CA beaches) is rivetingly sweet, romantic, soothing, and heavenly. It’s of the stuff we always seek to meet in nightly dreams of escape from the harsh and manic world in which we often find ourselves. Read full review


Skinny Hightower — Retrospect

Sept. 3, 2018

Obviously a highly prolific songwriter/producer, keyboardist Skinny Hightower is constantly proving his musical prowess on the c-jazz scene as he’s released three albums within a year of each other, almost unheard of by today’s standards. Each release has been of high caliber and bears its own distinct identity. Believe it or not, not many go to any significant lengths to demonstrate their ability to achieve this – and certainly not many of the newer artists. This latest, Retrospect, is living, breathing proof that Hightower has that “it” factor. Read full review


Kim Waters – What I Like

Sept. 3, 2018

The artist I call the “Pied Piper of Jazz,” saxman/multi-instrumentalist Kim Waters, is a clear definition of smooth, laid-back cool as even his bouncier material has romance written all over it. The man’s essentially inked his signature in romance jazz. Here with his latest album What I Like, the love groove continues unaltered in any way. It’s still fresh, impactful, oozing with life, emotion, and soul.

Some artists need only look into their souls to locate that recipe for musical success or to get hold of that special something that captures their fans. Waters is definitely one of them, calling out to fans everywhere with his masterful musical appeal. Read full review


Jake Shimabukuro – The Greatest Day

Sept. 1, 2018

Ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro has truly established himself as a master of the instrument over the few years that he’s been on the scene. I first caught him as one of the new up-and-coming artists aboard The Smooth Jazz Cruise a few years. I found the choice of instrument to be a curious one but was truly impressed with his command of it and his choice of covers to demonstrate his prowess.

Back then, he included a few of The Beatles’ tunes, and, on his newest release The Greatest Day, he still pays a small homage to the Fab Four as he competently covers “Eleanor Rigby” and a live and lengthy version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Read full review