May-27th-2003, 12:49 PM
The Best of Smooth
Shocked gasps all around...
This thread follows on from the "Branford on Jazz vs. Smooth Jazz" thread. Jazzoo has been giving a highly informative talk on contemporary studio technology and the nefarious effect it's had on smooth jazz. He mentioned Joe Sample as a contrasting example and said if all smooth sounded like that, it wouldn't be so roundly hated around here.
So, if we accept that there is a certain percentage of smooth jazz that has the human touch, as opposed to a majority of metronic, programmed pabulum, what is it? On this thread, refrain from attacking the genre, please. I'm interested in people who enjoy at least some smooth jazz giving recommendations on what to listen to in that style instead of Kenny G.
Old, new, whatever. RainyDay, Doug, others in the know - what smooth jazz is the best smooth jazz?
May-27th-2003, 01:05 PM
I have listened to a little tiny but of Dave Sanborn, and It was okay...
May-27th-2003, 01:27 PM
Tom--try to do an internet search for a sound clip of Bali Run on an Fourplay's self-titled debut. I think this could have set a new standard for smooth jazz in terms of composition and arranging, but it has turned out to be just an exception imo, probably because some of the cuts on the album went right for the easy smooth kill as opposed to keeping the standards higher throughout.
For me, the best stuff was before it became an official style with fairly rigid formats and rules. When Joe Sample's Carmel came out in the '70s, we knew it wasn't exactly mainstream but it also wasn't exactly fusion or pop or muzak...it was, well, just a nice little album with some fairly accessible but inspired writing.
The same is true for Pat Metheny's Still Life Talking. Was it Brazilian jazz, smooth jazz, instumental pop, soft fusion? Whatever it was, it was perfect for driving and unwinding and you didn't need to check your intellect at the door either. So, I recommend Carmel by Joe Sample and Still Life Talking by PMG.
Looking at my CDs, I see an awful lot of music that a) hard core mainstream fans would consider smooth but I don't, and b) should be getting airplay on smooth stations but isn't--compositionally hip and melodic stuff that straddles mainstream and pop sensibilities. But this music would be rejected by the Clear Channel-driven mentality of the moment for being too adventurous. I'm talking about Flim and the BBs, some of John Scofield's swinging ballads from the Groove Elation days with Larry Goldings on organ and piano, and certainly material from Metheny's albums that doesn't but should get airplay.
So it's a tough one. I'll leave it to Redmango and Rainy and others to recommend current smooth worth exploring--I haven't heard anything on the radio that would make me buy in several years. Even if I hear an interesting cut from, say, Spiro Gyra--and stranger things have happened--3 minutes at a listening station reveals that the rest of the album retreats into the safety of the signposts of the genre. The last technically smooth album that turned me on was that debut album of Fourplay, a kind of super group featuring an old friend and bandmate of mine. It has some of the earmarks of good jazz--nice group interplay being at the forefront--but there are too many songs that go nowhere for me to recommend it without reservation.
Last edited by Jazzooo; May-27th-2003 at 01:38 PM.
May-27th-2003, 01:30 PM
I forgot an album that I like for a date night once in a while:
David Sanborn, Songs from the Night Before. This isn't challenging music, but I think it's beautifully rendered and sexy instrumental R & B.
May-27th-2003, 01:32 PM
I really hate the term 'smooth' as it's so liberally used by many. I can't wrap my head around its use past what is basically contemporary instrumental R&B they use to advertise the radio stations. The early pop jazz that grew out of fusion (e.g. Spyro Gyra) doesn't sound enough like it to be lumped in, yet I fear it will be, in a thread like this. Oh well - it just comes down to my hating an inclusive use of 'smooth', which I hear as genealogically distinct from what I've always called "pop jazz" (exemplified by Spyro Gyra, Yellowjackets, early Bob James, David Sanborn etc). There's overlap, of course, but still...
Ignore me, this is just a label rant. :-/
May-27th-2003, 01:47 PM
Alright, I'll stick my neck out. I have no credibility here to guard anyway...
I've enjoyed David Sanborn at festivals over the years. The last couple of times I saw him, he had one of the most annoying guitarists I've ever seen in the band, but he used to travel with Hiram Bullock who nearly stole the show every time. Once I saw him with the Hal Wilner (?) produced group that did the Another Hand recording. That was very exciting.
Grover Washington's another guy I've enjoyed live.
Bob James has his moments. He's capable of pleasant performances. I even have a cd of his with a memorable track on it. Uses a jackhammer sample as percussion. Not kidding.
"Smooth Jazz" as a format seems just a way to commodify music that is a certain kind of "jazzy". Like all formats, it contains some music that's worthwhile. But as a format it's ...a meanspirited scam.
Now I have a confession to make. Count me on the anti Kenny G. side. I chuckled mightily at Metheny's well reasoned and widely distributed screed. But Kenny G's popularity reflects poorly on the taste of the record buying public more than Kenny G. himself. He's just another slob with mad chops who has found a button to push over and over that rewards him with money and an opportunity to stay busy. I've seen him at festivals a few times. And ya know what? What he does live is perfectly acceptable standing-in-line-for-the-porta-potty music. I'm sure there are legions of kids who have heard him at festivals and gone on to listen to other players of jazzy instrumental pop music - maybe even people we'd deem worthy. He has a fun band, talks pleasantly to the audience, plays tenor, alto, soprano (and perhaps even bari if memory serves) and has too damned much technique for his own good. Frisbee music. Hot tub music. Is he even active these days? I too though his use of Armstrong's music was ghoulish. Let the frenzy of G. - hating posts commence...
May-27th-2003, 02:01 PM
No, no, let the frenzy of G-hating *not* commence!
Doug, any suggestions from what the 70's other than "Carmel"?
May-27th-2003, 02:25 PM
I was gonna chime in on this in the "vs." thread, but I thought it went a bit wayward. My FIRST foray into jazz, around '76 or so, was after hearing a cut from Sample's Carmel on a syndicated AM show called "Triple Z Jazz." I immediately went out and bought it, still have it, and still listen to it. It's a beautiful record. I've since widened my listening scope quite a bit, but continue to enjoy:
Spyro Gyra, Morning Dance and Spyro Gyra
Neil Larsen, Jungle Fever
Wayne Shorter, Native Dancer
Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life, Pat Metheny Group, and American Garage
Sea Level, Sea Level and Cats on the Coast
George Benson, Breezin'
I realize, looking at this, that I'm veering off a bit to fusion-land (vs. smooth), and the Sea Level entries may be closer to rock than jazz, but we could argue about that shit for weeks.
Last edited by strich; May-27th-2003 at 03:48 PM.
May-27th-2003, 02:28 PM
Well, I've loved Native Dancer since it came out - never put a label on it, though. But it does have a nice, comfortable feel.
May-27th-2003, 02:38 PM
An air of normality
Holy cow. I thought I was the only person in the world who still remembered "Triple Z Jazz." I was beginning to think I'd made it up in a fevered dream.
For what it's worth, I'll also weigh in as someone who has enjoyed a fair amount of David Sanborn and Grover Washington, Jr. And Spyro Gyra was where I first got started... every now and then I'm tempted to go back and reacquire at least the handful of early albums that I so admired back then (Morning Dance, Catching the Sun, Carnaval).
They were also a damn fine live band, at least in the early years with Chet Catallo and Eli Konikoffalthough later on they began to bore me, but that might have been just as much about my changing tastes as any diminishment on their part.
Last edited by Other Steve; May-27th-2003 at 02:39 PM.
May-27th-2003, 03:05 PM
I always like(d) Grover Washington, whatever you call his music.
some Pat Metheny, lots of John McLaughlin, George Benson
other than that, not much....
May-27th-2003, 03:08 PM
Dude, you have no Koran.
Tom: Thanks for starting this. I'll have to come back to it because today is just a little crazy here.
But, because I like the R&B groove in the smooth that moves me, I really dig "Shake It Up," by Boney and Rick Braun. It just has a nice groove and I dig it. You, know, same reason I dig some of the newer rock stuff. It just grabs me.
May-27th-2003, 03:36 PM
Reevaluating @ 500k
I can't think of anything by McLaughlin that even vaguely fits the category.
Originally posted by hornplayer
lots of John McLaughlin
May-27th-2003, 03:54 PM
Well, I guess it depends on how "smooth" is defined. I hate Kenny G and anything even remotely resembling his music, but do like a lot of George Benson and Grover Washington.
Some "smooth soul" singers are also sometimes linked to smooth jazz. I like very much Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, Anita Baker, Babyface, and R Kelly.
May-27th-2003, 04:07 PM
Dude, you have no Koran.
Well, this is interesting. We're going to argue over who is smooth and who isn't. See, I have always thought that people are not talking about the same thing when we talk about smooth. Everybody has their own idea about smooth.
I'm not a big Sanborn fan but I have to tell you, I don't recall ever hearing his music on the jazz stations. I hear his music on the smooth station. He's okay but he "doesn't" get me. Syro Gyra is okay, but not a favorite of mine either.
Bob James is good. I also dig Ramsey Lewis a lot. I enjoyed Grover live but his records were just okay for me. I like the music funky, makes you want to shake your butt.
Boney does a tribute to Fourplay on Shake It Up that's pretty nice. I've heard some Fourplay that's nice.
I wouldn't have called Native Dancer a smooth record. It's different, but not smooth, imho. When I was a student, I played this record endlessly. A real favorite.
Pat Metheny: I only have a couple three of his and I don't recall what they are (vinyal titles are a dim memory for me) except the soundtrack to the Falcon and the Snowman, which I enjoy very much. I don't know where to put him. He's not funky but he has a great sound.
Isn't this fun, guys?
May-27th-2003, 04:21 PM
Reevaluating @ 500k
FWIW, Miles's "Tutu" and "Time After Time" got a lot of airplay on smooth stations.
May-27th-2003, 05:39 PM
"Well, I guess it depends on how "smooth" is defined. I hate Kenny G and anything even remotely resembling his music, but do like a lot of George Benson and Grover Washington.
This has nothing to do with the definition of smooth jazz. There are just a couple of smooth artists you like and some you don't--isn't that the case with mainstream jazz as well?
Rainy, I could be wrong but I think that when people dis smooth jazz, Rick Braun (if they heard him) would not be an exception to them. I know he isn't to me. A percolating groove is not enough sometimes. Maybe Tom will listen at a listening station and confirm or deny this.
May-27th-2003, 06:24 PM
Dude, you have no Koran.
Rick Braun and Boney James work well together. Shake It Up was a good record. I hope they work together again. Boney's older stuff is interesting because his music is rooted in R&B, which I enjoy. His CD Ride was fairly pedestrian except for a couple of tracks.
Originally posted by Jazzooo
[BRainy, I could be wrong but I think that when people dis smooth jazz, Rick Braun (if they heard him) would not be an exception to them. I know he isn't to me. A percolating groove is not enough sometimes. Maybe Tom will listen at a listening station and confirm or deny this. [/B]
Tom Grant is one of my favorite pianists going back to when he used to play with Joe Henderson. His work from the 80's was perhaps funkier than what he does now, which seems to be more reflective. He just put out a solo record that I will pick up. He has a wonderful, elegant style and I really enjoy hearing him live, which I have on many occasions.
Last edited by RainyDay; May-27th-2003 at 06:43 PM.
May-27th-2003, 10:48 PM
As I have stated here before...it ain't ALL bad.
May-27th-2003, 11:15 PM
Dude, you have no Koran.
Jeez, Goody, that's all you have to say? What took you so long to get here?
Last edited by RainyDay; May-27th-2003 at 11:15 PM.
May-28th-2003, 07:08 AM
Originally posted by Jazzooo
"This has nothing to do with the definition of smooth jazz. There are just a couple of smooth artists you like and some you don't--isn't that the case with mainstream jazz as well?
Jazzoo: Just curious, what would be your working definition of "smooth jazz?"
May-28th-2003, 11:04 PM
Man I have a lot of smooth cats in my collection.Kirk Whalum,Boney James,Rick Braun,Kim Waters,Waymen Tisdale,Joe Sample,Bob James,George Benson,Richard Elliot and the late George Howard.I guess my favorite is Grover's 'Mr.Magic' still jam on it from time to time. Latest things I copped was BWB"Groovin" with Rick Braun,Kirk Whalun and Norman Brown.Going to dig this band June 27 in Greensboro,NC.The Crusaders new disc."Rural Renewal" will probably be in my top ten for 03.Me and my Crew roll up to The Berks Jazzfest in Reading, PA. which is a smooth jazzfest.Most of the venues are Sold Out and these cats stretch it out live.Last year at the late night jam session Marion Meadows who if you listen to his discs sounds like a black Kenny G sat in with a local group from Phillie who was the host band that night and got down on Miles Davis's "Footprints" Hancock's "Headhunters" and Grover's 'Mr. Magic".Peace and all that.
May-29th-2003, 01:40 AM
"Jazzoo: Just curious, what would be your working definition of "smooth jazz?""
Well, I know what I would like it to mean, but that doesn't jive with what is on the airwaves today at all.
When it started, I think it was an innovative blend of jazz and pop sensibilities, much like fusion was a blend of jazz and rock. I don't mean to use the word "innovative' lightly either. The CTI guys--Bob James, George Benson, even Freddie Hubbard's First Light--best represented this for me. Lee Ritenour had some jazz/rock albums that were a little too tame, tight and slick to fit in with the popular definition of fusion--I would consider Ritenour's '70s work to be part of the genesis of the genre.
Benson's Breezin' was an interesting example--simple as dirt (but really no simpler than a mainstream tune based on the blues), lushly orchestrated...but with some firey extended jazz improvisation. Too tame to be fusion, but too jazz-influenced to be considered pop at the time.
As time went on, a lot of artists did creative things in this netherworld between jazz and pop: Al Jarreau's Look To The Rainbow, steel drummer Andy Narrell, David Sanborn, Larry Carlton all brought outstanding instrumental prowess to the forefront, making instrumental music with advanced improvisation that actually had pop crossover potential. It was slick jazz that I wasn't ashamed to enjoy, because there was not only substance but also innovation. We can all look back today and say "Mr Magic, what's the big deal?" but the truth is, to this 15 year-old who was steeped in big band, fusion and mainstream at the time, it really WAS a big deal to use such a funky, solid backbeat rhythm in jazz. Previous jazz backbeat stuff sounded pretty square to me--Billy Higgins playing a rock beat just didn't get it for me. Steve Gadd or Billy Cobham doing it--different story altogether.
Where smooth started going wrong, imo, was during the era of Chuck Mangione's Feel So Good. Nothing particularly wrong with that sappy little tune per se--nice guitar solo, which was interesting enough for musos to get into--but suddenly there was a format: write a pretty melody with no surprises, throw in some jazzy licks and add disco-style audio production (dead, close-mic'd drums). Next thing we knew, everyone as going for the easy kill. The airwaves started filling up with musical filler that quickly descended into pablum.
When a group named Hiroshima came out with a long song featuring basically two chords and a repetitive drum machine beat with a sequenced bassline, and then they had a SMASH HIT with it, all was lost. The music got unbelieveably dumbed down. Radio heard what it wanted and started shutting out the rest. Cynics will scoff, but I think anyone with ears can appreciate the differences in sheer musicality and excitement between Lee Ritenour's Captain's Journey and Richard Elliot doing a tired, over-dramatic retread of When a Man Loves a Woman. In a period of about 4 years, the creative guys either stopped being creative (George Benson and Al Jarreau kind of fit that description, sadly) or just gave up.
And that brings us to what I think smooth jazz is today: I believe that the current format can be described as largely dumbed-down, driven by Clear Channel radio programmers, not by artists. The artists are not chaffing under the restrictions--they are part of the game. Everyone is courting the radio advertisers. Smooth jazz radio is the Wednesday night ABC sitcom of music--too many of them seem like the last one and the next one, but they manage to hold onto the time slot and bring in ad revenue so no one is complaining.
Rhythmically, today's smooth jazz relies way too much on uncreative drum programming, which is like tying a horse's legs together just as the gate opens. The piece can never go anywhere too interesting. The rhythms are all "light rock" beat with the same subtle syncopations--if i could point them out to you, you'd hear them in every other song.
Musically, it's really gone downhill imo. How many sj songs are content to play a big ol' minor 9th chord and just hang there, in order to convey an sultry, cool attitude? If you play the piano or guitar, sit down and try this: play a Cminor 9th for 2 measures, then switch to an F minor 9th for 2 measures. Repeat it. And again. And again. Congratulations! You've just copped the fundamental musical message of an awful lot of sj tracks. I often wonder why non-musicians don't get bored with hearing this, but then every music gets into ruts--how many mainstream tunes are based on simple blues changes? How many rock songs used the Evil Ways chord changes (A minor to D7th) as their backbone? See what I'm saying?
If what I'm hearing on San Diego's smooth station is any indication, then the majority of smooth jazz songs are between 120 and 130 beats per minute; they begin with simple alternating minor chords like the ones in the example above, use drum machines and mostly programmed band tracks, and feature no more than 16 measure solos. The solos--ahh, the solos--are really just riffing on a blues scale, all attitude and no substance. There are good, bad and excellent players out there, but you can't really tell the difference because they are all playing the same kind of licks over the same kind of beats. No one plays outside the chord changes, not even for a second. Even Benson's Breezin' solos took it outside a little now and then, and that was on top of a very simple four-chord progression.
This doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable--simple does not equal bad, and complex is not necessarily good. And guys like Joe Sample do contribute fine tunes with tasty improvisation and live rhythm sections. Spyro Gyra actually hooks me once in a while with a neat arrangement. And any music can be broken down to it's basic elements and seem kind of ridiculous. But the rigidity and overwhelming reliance on cliches is going to kill sj sooner or later, imo.
May-29th-2003, 04:40 AM
And this is exactly the distinction (nice summation, Doug) I had in mind in my "pop jazz" vs "smooth jazz" label rant above. And the reason why "smooth" being used to refer to the former irks me so.
Originally posted by Jazzooo
When it started, I think it was an innovative blend of jazz and pop sensibilities, much like fusion was a blend of jazz and rock.
Cynics will scoff, but I think anyone with ears can appreciate the differences in sheer musicality and excitement between Lee Ritenour's Captain's Journey and Richard Elliot doing a tired, over-dramatic retread of When a Man Loves a Woman. In a period of about 4 years, the creative guys either stopped being creative (George Benson and Al Jarreau kind of fit that description, sadly) or just gave up.
Last edited by Vince Kargatis; May-29th-2003 at 04:45 AM.
May-29th-2003, 07:39 AM
Jazzoo: Thanks for that very extentsive and substantative answer to my question.
In that case, I feel exactly the same way that you do. Myself, I was weened into jazz through Grover's Mr. Magic, Turrentine's Don't Mess with Mr. T, Benson's Breezin', Ronnie Laws early records, and the like. I still like and listen to that stuff. If that is smooth jazz, then I am a fan.
On the other hand, just as you write, what gets air play on smooth jazz stations today is, for the most part, not this kind of music at all. Most of it sounds programmed, mechanical, and as if the musicans themselves are not even TRYING to make statements, but just watching the clock before the session ends and they can collect their money. It is like a slightly hipper version of the old muzak that we always heard at the dentist's office and Safeway. If that is smooth jazz, then I am most certainly not a fan.
If both are smooth jazz, then I see your original point. On the other hand, lumping those two musics together under one roof seems a bit strange to me.
May-29th-2003, 03:48 PM
Well, the first saxophone player I ever had a whole CD by was Sanborn, but as above, I don't count him as a smooth jazz player (although some bits definitely are, some aren't). He's one person who's suffered from being over-imitated. There was a TV series which had some live Bob James and Lee Ritenour videos on when I was in my early teens, and I liked that stuff as well, although the more I listened to it the cleaner it sounded. Although I'd guess that that '80s slick pop-jazz or whatever you want to call it was the progenitor of smooth jazz as formula filler between ads, I don't consider it to be the same thing. Maybe commercial fusion?
I've asked this before, and tumbleweed flew by for a while, but has anyone heard Bob James' ESP Disk - I assume it's the same guy, and would love to know what it sounds like, although I ain't going to rush out and buy it.
May-29th-2003, 03:58 PM
I heard one track of the James ESP (the track he did with Robert Ashley, I believe) on a Wire ESP comp. Interesting, and I suppose groundbreaking for its time (with its use of electronics), but not that great.
I think there's a qualitative distinction between the pop/crossover-jazz of, say, 70's CTI or (some) 80's GRP, and I think the distinction or distinctions are described in Doug's posts. As Doug mentioned, interactive improvisation is one of the key distinctions. But I think it's just one of those things that if you hear them you can notice the difference right away. And I say that as someone who doesn't listen to or like much pop-jazz.
May-29th-2003, 04:56 PM
I was in Barnes and Noble and got to listen to several SJ artists:
Marc Antoine- Madrid
Hardcastle- all volumes
Rippingtons new release
All were fantastic! I think its better to call this stuff Contemporary jazz, instead of smooth. Its all so positive and uplifting. I love it. It seems the raw forms of Jazz are too extreme/intense for my tastes. Its hard to listen to an artist who plays in a frenzied/migraine producing style. (Hope I haven't offended anyone by saying this).
May-29th-2003, 05:19 PM
So you think it's better to label this stuff using a word that means "made in the current times"? Argh. All jazz made these days is "contemporary jazz" by definition - trying to hijack the phrase for a subset has always been a truly horrible idea, and implicitly insulting (in the sense that it doesn't deserve to be called 'contemporary' for some reason) to the rest, imo.
Originally posted by redmango7
I think its better to call this stuff Contemporary jazz, instead of smooth
np: some contemporary jazz -
Anthony Braxton & Taylor Ho Bynum - "To Wait" (Duets (Wesleyan) 2002)
May-29th-2003, 05:27 PM
No worse than "avant garde". I mean, when is Ornette's "Shape of Jazz to Come" gonna stop being considered avant garde?
Originally posted by Vince Kargatis
So you think it's better to label this stuff using a word that means "made in the current times"?
That Braxton/Bynum is fantabulous, no?