Music Review: Hello Tomorrow – Dave Koz

Hi again…

Once, many moons ago, I was a jazz alto saxophone player. I played for six years until graduating from high school and moving on to college. Some of my fondest memories from high school involved jamming on stage with the rest of the jazz band. Sadly, at that point I no longer had time for it, nor many opportunities to play.

But even though I no longer play my sax, I gained an appreciation for many of the jazz greats that keeps me on the lookout for great jazz music both past and present. Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are on my list of course, but so were more modern musicians such as Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Jay Beckenstein (Spyro Gyra), and Dave Koz. Each of these brings something different to the field.

Dave Koz recently switched to a new record label – Concord Records – after nearly 20 years with Capitol Records and his own label Rendezvous Entertainment. He recognizes that it’s a big change, but realized that there are many other people in a similar situation. “Circumstances have led them to take a step in a different direction or reinvent themselves in some way,” he says. “Many of us are at the beginning of a new era, and I’ve found it’s liberating to embrace change.”

He’s definitely done that with his first album on the label – Hello Tomorrow. Koz managed to pull together some truly amazing folks to help him out. Herb Alpert, legendary musician, plays trumpet on the record and most of the songs were recorded at the former A&M Studios – now Henson Recording Studios – where Alpert recorded many of his own classic albums. Add to that Boney James (awesome sax player – “Here She Comes” on Pure) who plays on “When Will I Know For Sure”, and Keb’Mo (blues singer/guitar) who plays on “Think Big” and “There’s a Better Way.” But the hit parade doesn’t stop there… Others include Jonathan Butler (R&B/jazz singer/guitar), Brian Culbertson (jazz/funk keyboards and trombone who also co-wrote some of the songs on the album), Sheila E. (drummer/singer), Dana Glover (pop singer), Jeff Lorber (keyboards/composer), Ray Parker, Jr. (R&B/jazz/funk singer/guitar, Ghostbusters theme song), Lee Ritenour (jazz/blues guitar) and Christian Scott (jazz trumpet). Koz is amazing on his own – but to be working with all of these other talented musicians just raises his work to another level.

Back in 2003 on Koz’s Saxophonic release, he opened the album with “Honey-dipped” which has to be one of my favorite jazz songs of the last 10 years. He repeats the feat on Hello Tomorrow with “Put the Top Down” where his jazz licks are joined by Ritenour, Parker Jr., and Butler on guitar; Marcus Miller on bass; and Sheila E. on percussion. This song just rocks along with a funky bass and drum groove behind the scenes as it builds and builds the conversation between guitars and horns until it fades away.

But funny enough, like on Saxophonic, Koz doesn’t rest on his laurels. This album moves around fluidly from genre to genre. Another of my favorites that is passionately haunting was written and sung by Koz’s friend Glover – “Start All Over Again.” Speaking to Koz’s own journey of change from one part of his career to the next with a new label, this song reminds us that so long as our hearts are beating and we’re still breathing we can start all over again. Her smoky, emotive voice builds to offer a hope that often eludes us when things seem their worst. Merged with Koz’s sax, piano, building guitar and drums, it will hopefully provide some light in the darkness for someone needing a bit of inspiration to keep moving…

And Koz’s song “When Will I Know For Sure” which pairs his tenor sax with Boney James’ soprano was another of my favorites. There’s something about the way this song grooves along to a beat, but plays with melodies back and forth in a way that it seems like it could have gone on forever. I don’t know what it is that adds that feel of mystery, but it’s fun to listen to these two masters go back and forth with various themes as it continues on.

If you are a fan of modern jazz, Dave Koz’s Hello Tomorrow brings together so many great talents from blues, jazz, R&B, rock, and pop that you should find it easy to find something to like among the thirteen tracks. If this is a sign of what’s to come for Koz, I’m excited to see what the next album will bring. <em>Hello Tomorrow</em> is set for an October 12, 2010 release.

Check out Koz’s website – DaveKoz.com – to listen to a few tracks from Hello Tomorrow and information about upcoming tour dates and more!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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Music Review: Frank Viele and the Manhattan Project – Neon Lights

Hi there!

Somewhere between the 1980s and today, the use of a horn section in a rock band fell out of favor. I’m not sure how or when, but we went from awesome sax solos and trumpets in songs like “Urgent” from Foreigner, “Who Can It Be Now?” from Men at Work, and Huey Lewis and the News when they toured with the horns of the Tower of Power. Sure there are a few groups like the Dave Matthews Band who still use a trumpet or sax now and then, but it’s not quite as integrated into the whole rock experience as it used to be.

Now bring in Frank Viele and the Manhattan Project (from where else, but the New York City metropolitan area) – a six piece group featuring Viele on vocals as well as acoustic and electric guitars, Mario Capdiferro on drums, Rob Liptrot on bass and backing vocals, Eddie Arjun Peters on lead guitar, Pasquale Ianelli playing tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones, and Andrew Mericle on trumpet. Add to that mix Richie Cannata playing sax (from Billy Joel’s band) on “Turn Around,” Jason Hirth on keyboards on six tracks, and Ben Golder-Novick helping on the alto sax on six tracks… and where having a strong horn sound can sometimes overwhelms a band, these guys sound amazingly well together.

They’ve been touring together for a few years now and Neon Lights is their first full-length album. It doesn’t disappoint, crossing multiple genres (funk, rock, pop, jazz, blues, and swing) on nine great tracks.

What blew me away was the title track – “Neon Lights”. It opens with a bass line that has stuck with me like few recent songs, reminding me of the way the bass line in “Running Down a Dream” from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers wormed its way into my head to the point where I can’t help but sing along. Layer that with Viele’s rough voice, the backing horns, and some sweet lead guitar and it is tough to get me to stop listening to it over and over again…

Like most great bands who write their own songs, the lyrics for “Neon Lights” tell a story as well. A modern tale of wanting the best for an ex- with drug and alcohol problems… “Then my hip starts buzzing, you’re on the telephone / But Honey you know they’re wrong and that you don’t want to stay…” It’s not quite a plea for her to come back (after all, in the first verse they say she “ain’t coming home”), but you can tell he’s worried.

Another great track is “Portland Rain” which has some awesome horn riffs that remind me of some of the great R&B groups of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a throwback to an earlier time with a guitar solo tearing up a chunk of the song as well.

And so you don’t think it’s all R&B and rock, their song “Try” sounds very much like something you might hear from Dave Matthews. The syncopated rhythms on an acoustic guitar mixed with Viele’s voice talking straight to a girl he wants to get to know better… “Yeah but Baby, there ain’t enough wine in me to tell you that God is on your side / And there ain’t no holy roller that’s gonna bring you peace tonight / … / But if you leet me be your lover, I will bring you peace tonight…” It’s a heck of a pick-up line to play from the stage, but it just might work!

My only complaint with this album isn’t with the musicians, but with Viele’s voice at times. Every now and then it was so gravelly or growly that it was nearly impossible to tell what he was singing. But most of the time when he wasn’t going that far, he sounded great and was backed up by his amazing guitars and horn players.

If you’re looking for something different with some sensational horns and guitars and a funky modern feel, give Frank and the boys a listen. Look for Neon Lights at your favorite music online or brick-and-mortar retailer when it’s available July 13, 2010. And check out their website at FrankVieleMusic.com for a list of tour dates and more information about the band!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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[Music Review] Some Strange Country – Crooked Still

Hi everyone…

Who would have thought that bluegrass music would become a guilty pleasure for me? In the last year, I’ve been learning to love bluegrass and Americana, with that unique combination of strings, hope, and passion among those fiddles, banjos, and harmonies strummed, picked, and sung to express life’s loves and losses and the road between. Some Strange Country is my first exposure to the band Crooked Still, but they’ve been around since the early 2000’s.

Aoife O’Donovan’s expressive vocals are but a part of the composite that forms when this quintet purrs along on all cylinders. Joined by bassist Corey DiMario, banjo player Greg Liszt, cellist Tristan Clarridge and fiddler Brittany Haas, the finger-picking and bow-playing layers add depth and balance that makes even the saddest moments full and emotive. To put it bluntly, these people are amazing.

Some Strange Country features a mix of traditional songs, original works, and a surprising version of the Rolling Stones‘ “You Got the Silver.” Nowhere along the album’s path did the group stray from the classical roots of bluegrass or the skills that brought them where they are today – touring to support the album to be released June 1st, 2010.

I knew I was hooked from the first song “Sometimes in this Country.” As O’Donovan sings… “Sometimes I’m in this country / sometimes I’m in this town / sometimes a thought goes through my mind / that I myself will drown…” accompanied by a gentle banjo melody and string bass that drives this song from beginning to end. Through the song you can hear the other band members playing with the rhythm and melody combinations to add almost a jazz-like playfulness between fiddle, cello, the banjo, and vocal harmonies.

Contrast that with the slow, emotional vocal and instrumental melodies of “Distress,” which evokes a feeling of loss. As a lover of traditional Celtic-sounding songs, this one seems to blend an Irish lilt with the bluegrass to create something not entirely new, but sharing a familiar and comfortable sadness that goes beyond ethnic background or musical style.

My second favorite “Half of What We Know” again merges a steady beat with a melody that rises and falls with a Corrs-style chorus above Liszst’s incredible fingers picking the banjo. With poetic verses like “Your lonesomeness I see / but I know it’s not for me / the mountains all have crumbled to the sea…” I lost myself finding meaning in each poetic line. Each turn of phrase might be interpreted any number of ways, as with much of art – a quality missing from far too much of the music heard on the radio today.

And though I’m not a religious person, there’s a passion and energy to “Calvary” that can’t be denied. From the cello and banjo solos and the vocal harmonies, this song simply rocks and tells the story of Jesus’ final day. Who knew a song about events in the Bible could be so well written and entertaining? “Behold faint on the road ‘neath the worlds heavy load / comes a thorn crowned man on the way / with the cross he is bowed but still on through the crowd / he’s ascending to the hill on the grey…” This is the first song in quite a while (since Matt Duke’s acoustic “Kingdom Underground”) where I’ve felt my spirit moved in ways it rarely goes.

Even if you’re not a bluegrass fan and simply like to hear great words, musical skills and performances, I’d recommend you take a listen to what Crooked Still has to offer. This isn’t Hee-Haw bluegrass, but instead a blending of musical styles and sensibilities around the bluegrass feel. Some Strange Country will remain in my listening queue for quite a while.

Be sure to take a look at the Crooked Still website for information about their tour schedule and previous albums.

–Fitz

p.s. Please check out this album and others from Crooked Still below!

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