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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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


The Braxton Brothers — Higher

Aug. 19, 2018

It’s been quite a while since I’ve heard anything from twin brothers Nelson and Wayne Braxton, known as The Braxton Brothers (I think of them as the dynamic duo of c-jazz). Not surprisingly, they haven’t missed a step or lost a bit of that smooth and funky groove that catapulted them to the limelight in the mid-90s and on through their 2013 release, True Love. Here with Higher, the pair’s newest release, the vibe continues to be heavy, rhythmic, and tight.

Joined here by guest guitarists Chris Camozzi and Kay-Ta, the brothers pour loads of kickin’ soul and jazz into this project, which is, of course, packed with solid bass and sax lines. Read full review


Billy F. Gibbons – The Big Bad Blues

Aug. 19, 2018


I have never made it any secret that my favorite blues rock group in the world has been the world famous ZZ Top; so, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me and my musical tastes that I would be totally ecstatic when I learned that the group’s lead guitarist and vocalist Billy Gibbons (aka Billy F. Gibbons, aka BFG, aka the Rev. Willie G, and — on an occasion or two–the Rev. Billy G.) was kickin’ out his solo blues monster album called The Big Bad Blues. If you are a blues or blues rock fan, you’ve gotta sit down and let me tell you about this killer. Read full review


Lori Williams – Out of the Box

Aug. 19, 2018

Like a breath of sweet midnight island air, renowned jazz vocalist Lori Williams saunters in on this latest recording entitled Out of the Box. Moving smoothly, lightly, soulfully, and, of course, with a jazzy aura, she offers 15 tracks of musical bliss.

Noted for her straight-ahead jazz offerings, Williams has decided to embark upon the path of contemporary jazz, displaying her majestic vocals on such soul-jazz-rich tracks as the title track (featuring bassmaster Nathan East), “Where’s That Smile?” (featuring the pairing of two incomparables – Maysa and Will Downing), the mid-tempo and sassy “Hold On,” the slow, beautiful, and sultry “Our Love Is Real” (oh, please break out the candlelight and wine for this), and a cover of Isaac Hayes’ “Déjà Vu,” delivered with that breezy, Dionne Warwick airy manner. Not abandoning her straight-ahead roots, the artist also offers nicely-arranged covers of “round Midnight” and “Little Girl Blue.” Read full review


Brian Simpson – Something About You

Aug. 6, 2018

Longtime bearer of feel-good, silky smooth, and hot & smoky grooves, master keyboardist, producer, composer Brian Simpson once again proves why he is among the most sought-after musicians to create and/or enhance the quality of others’ recordings as well as why he stands on the top-tier with other c-jazz masters who command the flow and texture of this music.

From musical director to producer to master artist, Simpson has always poured his all into his work, resulting in prime caliber performances time and again, be they live or recordings. Here on his latest effort, Something About You, that high caliber is as intact as ever as he again offers us his musical magic potion of jazz, R&B, funk, and soul. Read full review


Kenny Gilkes – Taking It From Here

Aug. 6, 2018

Here’s an interesting project from a composer/producer unknown to me until now. His name is Kenny Gilkes and, while his new album, Taking It From Here (his sophomore release), doesn’t state per se what instrument he plays on each track, his primary instrument appears to be piano/keys. Research revealed that his practice is to use “accomplished musicians to bring the songs to life on recordings and in live performances.” One thing’s perfectly clear: This is strong R&B/c-jazz material quite worthy of a listen. Read full review


Sam Rucker — Redemption

July 28, 2018

When I last offered a review of Sam Rucker, the illustrious saxman who has that special mesmerizing style we all look for in our sax players to help them stand out in a sea of saxophonists, I said then that here was a huge prospective headliner and that his sophomore album Tell You Something was loaded from beginning to end with killer tracks. Well, here again, the suave saxman offers his third album Redemption with his own form of greased lightning and charm just as effective as before, if not more. Read full review