How smooth jazz artists sound on-stage and how they sound in the studio can be two very different things. In the studio, many of them dumb themselves down as much as possible in order to get played on American smooth jazz/NAC radio stations; on-stage, however, they don't have to worry about pleasing program directors — so they are free to stretch, blow, and improvise all they want in front of a live audience. All too often, studio recordings don't begin to reflect what smooth jazz artists are actually capable of — and in the '90s, guitarist Marc Antoine wasn't above recording schlock, drivel, and elevator music in order to appeal to smooth jazz/NAC stations (1998's Madrid on GRP was perhaps the worst offender). But Modern Times is one of Antoine's better, more substantial studio efforts; the material is surprisingly decent. This time, Antoine (who is heard on both acoustic and electric guitar) gambles with inspiration instead of resorting to cheap formulas — and while the tunes (which combine jazz, pop, funk, and world music) are melodic and accessible, they aren't Muzak. This 2005 release is fairly unpredictable, drawing on everything from Brazilian music ("Samba Hood") to African pop ("Antilles"). While Modern Times is dominated by instrumentals, one of the best things on the disc is "Cantar Al Amor" — a vocal offering with an appealing Spanish/Arabic flavor. Also vocal-oriented is Antoine's arrangement of Sting's "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets," which is in French but includes a reggaeton section (how often do listeners hear reggaeton in French?). As far as melodic guitar albums go, Modern Times isn't in a class with, say, George Benson's Breezin'. But it isn't bad, and those who equate the name Marc Antoine with schlock will be pleasantly surprised by how decent he sounds this time around.
Alex Henderson - allmusic.com
Technorati tag: Jazz