music reviews

  • Chieli Minucci, Without You Review

    In my experience as an active music enthusiast, I have yet to discover an artist who can more cleverly merge such diverse styles of music not only onto a single album, but also within each individual song. Guitarist Chieli Minucci creatively hints at his vast musical influence and repertoire with his epic new release Without You.

    The album opens with a very intriguing rhythmic, almost world-music styled piece entitled “Quivering”. Described by Minucci as “mischievous”, the opening piece fuses a fusion-influenced melody with a somewhat Middle Eastern track. The first piece makes a fantastic introduction to the album; Without You musically transverses the globe and generations of musical style in 22 songs and 2 discs.

    Chieli constantly throws curveballs at his listeners with his new album. This includes everything from incorporating violin into most of his compositions to short musical interludes between some of the longer works. Many of the pieces on Without You are modern, updated renditions of the Special EFX catalog. “You Make Me” and “You Make Me Blue” are contemporary versions of “You Make Me Smile” while the 1982 “Sambuca Nights” appears halfway through “The Night is Ours”. “Ballerina Rocks” also makes an appearance on the album as an island-style piece with an instrumental rock styled melody, not to mention several other Special EFX songs disguised in new arrangements.

    Overall, the album has the perfect blend of intense, fusion, hard-driven pieces and mellow, relaxing, smooth compositions providing listeners with a diverse aural experience. With everything from orchestral film scores to Brazilian and Latin pieces, RNB-influenced vocals to electronica, any music fan will find something to enjoy.

    Without You features many well-known guests including Lao Tizer, Karen Briggs, Jeff Lorber, Will Brock, Dave Anderson, and Alan Grubner. Chieli’s son, Gianluca Minucci, is also showcased on the song “Wonderboy” as both a composer and as a bassist.

    Leave it to Chieli Minucci to ensure his listeners are constantly on their toes. At some point, each song harmonically, melodically (or both!) goes to a place one wouldn’t expect. Without You implements modern music style and technology to avoid the typical instrumental song format which has become too predictable and repetitive.

    If it hasn’t already been added into your music playlist, I would be amiss if I didn’t recommend you doing just this! For diehard fans, the physical version of the album includes an in-depth history of the band Special EFX.

    Get Without You on Amazon

    September 19, 2012 • Reviews • Views: 1718

  • Jeff Lorber, Now is the Time Review

    Release Date: 01 JUN 2010

    Fusion is re-emerging as a popular genre in the instrumental music market. In fact, many artists are “going back to basics” and rediscovering their musical roots and influences. Artists like Jeff Lorber and Chieli Minucci are bringing back fusion while saxophonist Mindi Abair has released an R&B/Motown inspired album.

    These artists are moving away from the overly produced, synth dominant smooth jazz style and rediscovering their roots. It’s not out of place to say that many smooth jazz artists have come full circle, trading in midi sounds for more traditional and acoustic instruments. Hopefully, sequenced drums and horn sections will continue down the path of extinction as live musicians once more begin their way back into recording studios and onto the albums of their peers.

    For those unfamiliar with the various genres of instrumental music, fusion is a style that developed in the 60s and 70s, and was made popular by groups such as Weather Report and Return to Forever. It is a combination the improvisation and somewhat enhanced instrumentation of jazz with rock, R&B, and funk styles, implementing more electronic sounds than most of the music that came before. In fact, the literal definition of fusion is “the process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity”. So, by definition, most musical styles today are “fusion”.

    By the late 70’s, Jeff Lorber Fusion, originally from Portland, Oregon, had begun its expanse into national and international markets. After a brief period as a solo artist and producer, Lorber has returned to the style that launched his career.

    Now is the Time, Jeff Lorber’s latest release signifies his return to fusion. The title of the album is not the title of a song as one would assume, but rather a statement of the musical shift the album takes to something a little “jazzier… exciting…”

    Many of the songs on the album are reinventions of the old Jeff Lorber Fusion material. His reason for covering his own songs is because “… people seem to be interested in hearing that again. They’re ready to hear musicians who can really play, really stretch the envelope with their technique, with their songwriting, and with harmonic structure.” Several artists have been redoing their catalog; even mainstream artists like Jewel are doing it. Many artists look forward to the opportunity to rerecord their pieces, and in the case of Jeff Lorber, with three decades of improvement by both the musicians and technology. The pieces are recreated in a way that stimulates the aural senses and intellect of listeners. Some of the updated songs on the album include Black Ice, the 7/4 piece Chinese Medicinal Herbs, and my personal favorite, Water Sign. Lorber also covers Wayne Shorter’s “Mysterious Traveler.”

    This album features a selection of exciting melodies, both instrumental and vocal, and showcases many great artists. On Now is the Time, Lorber collaborates with guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, and rhythm secion players Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Haslip, Alex Al, and Lenny Castro, and Dave Weckl. The Blood, Sweat and Tears horn section also appears on numerous tracks.

    Now is the Time, is not the typical aggressive, in your face fusion typically associated with the genre. Instead, it is more laid back and easier for listeners to enjoy. The instrumentation on the album is fairly simple – it is easy to identify each of the sounds (instruments) on the record, and it is far more enjoyable to hear. The arrangements are clear and comprehensible because they are not buried by strings and synthesizers. Over all, any listener looking for something a little more edgy or musically interesting is sure to enjoy Jeff Lorber’s Now is the Time.

    Get the album Now Is the Time on Amazon

    September 19, 2012 • Reviews • Views: 1635

  • Review of Incendio Performance at Spaghettini’s Sep 1, 2012

    On September 1, 2012, the Latin guitar world fusion group, Incendio, performed at Spaghettini’s in Seal Beach as part of their 2012 tour. Incendio was established in 1999 and has since released seven albums (with an eighth on the way). The members – JP Durand, Jim Stubblefield, Liza Carbé, Nicole Faizone and Brian Brock – come together to create an energetic and exciting performance with unique compositions and excellent playing.

    Incendio’s performance at Spaghettini’s featured many of their classic and popular tunes including “Los Rios” and “Misterioso” as well as unexpected titles such as Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” In addition to a captivating selection of original music and covers, the evening was filled with virtuosic acoustic guitar solos from Jim Stubblefield and JP Durand, skilled percussion and drumming from Nicole Fazione and Brian Brock, while Liza Carbé provided her talents on bass.

    With impressive unison guitar licks, Latin-influenced music and a contagious energy, Incendio’s music had the audience dancing in their seats. The night was as entertaining as it was musical.

    For those looking for something a little outside the typical instrumental scene, this is a must-see performance. For young artists, they also make a fantastic example of strong stage presence and audience communication. Check out Incendio‘s website to see when they are performing in a venue near you.

    September 2, 2012 • Reviews • Views: 1497

  • U-Nam | Weekend in LA: A Tribute to George Benson Review

    Today marks the official US release date for French guitarist U-Nam’s George Benson Tribute Project, “Weekend in L.A.” The album has already made it to #1 on iTunes in Japan for Jazz, the Top 13 on Amazon in the US and has been a Top 5 for radio stations throughout Europe and the world.

    “Weekend in L.A” provides fans with a fresh perspective on many of Benson’s most popular songs with the playing and performances comparable to the great artist himself. The songs are reinterpreted in a way that not only remains true to George Benson, but leaves listeners with something new, fresh and exciting. One definitely has reason to listen to and enjoy the album on it’s own and without comparison.

    With this album, U-Nam’s goal was to provide tribute to an artist who served as a significant musical influence while taking classic songs and making them his own with a soulful and urban touch. In other words, only U-Nam could successfully incorporate rap into the R&B classic “On Broadway.” That’s not to say, of course, that Jeff Lacey’s well composed lyrics didn’t help in the success of this feat – it’s quite the contrary! In fact, Lacey’s cleverly crafted words appear on more than one track on the album.

    Weekend in LA, a tribute to George Benson The project also features the talents of many renowned musicians including Phil Perry, Ronnie Foster, George Duke, Marcus Miller, Michael White, Wah Wah Watson, Patrice Rushen, Stockley Williams, Paul Jackson Jr, and more. Despite the amazing list of guests, however, the real stars are vocalist Tim “TiO” Owens and U-Nam himself. Tim Owens is a huge part of the album, appearing as the primary vocalist on the majority of the tracks. He does a fantastic job performing the different pieces, namely my favorite track from the album “Give Me the Night.” Of course, as for U-Nam, there are no words to describe his excellent playing and all the heart he poured into putting together this album.

    Although I was a part of this project since it’s inception and performed as part of the horn section, I did not have the opportunity to hear the songs in their entirety until the album was mixed and mastered. Like anyone else, the first time I heard each of the songs from start to finish and without pause was when I received a finished copy of the album. When I finally had the hard copy, I was very impressed with how it all came together, especially since I had the opportunity to see all the work that went into the project behind the scenes.

    Because of U-Nam’s tribute, I personally have found a reason to connect with the music of George Benson and that of artists that came a generation or two before me. That’s not to say I was not a fan of Benson – I’ve always appreciated his great artistry – but U-Nam’s contemporary versions of his music provided me with the means to relate to the songs and the music in a way that didn’t exist for me before the release of this album.

    Overall, I think the album is amazingly put together. U-Nam combines the talent of a large collection of musicians from a diverse range of genres, bringing them all together to pay tribute to a great artist. I give this album two thumbs up and I definitely have to say it is my favourite tribute albums by far.

    Track listing:

    1. Weekend in L.A (feat. Andreas Oberg & Ronnie Foster)
    2. Give Me the Night (feat. Tim “Tio” Owens)
    3. Shiver (feat. Paul Jackson Jr & Tim “Tio” Owens)
    4. Love X Love
    5. Nature Boy (feat. Stokley Williams)
    6. This Masquerade (feat. Marcus Miller, Phil Perry, Tim “Tio” Owens, Jeff Lacey & George Duke)
    7. Hip Skip
    8. I Just Wanna Hang Around You (feat. Tim “Tio” Owens)
    9. Turn Your Love Around
    10. Before You Go / Breezin’ (feat. Patrice Rushen)
    11. On Broadway (feat. Tim “Tio” Owens & Jeff Lacey)

    Buy the album Weekend In L.A ( A Tribute To George Benson ) | Download the album Weekend in L.A (A Tribute to George Benson )

    August 29, 2012 • Reviews • Views: 2188