Monday, July 09, 2007

Steve Cole | "True"

Author's anti Smooth Jazz rantLet’s face it, the music genre(s) known as “Smooth Jazz” or “Adult Contemporary Jazz” or “Nu-Jazz” (if, in fact, they are different genres) demonstrate little critical appeal among those who consider themselves “serious jazz” enthusiasts. Elevator Music, Muzak, Weather Channel Music, whatever, Smooth Jazz gets precious little respect…as well it deserves. As a branch of jazz, Smooth Jazz is the music for listeners who can’t tolerate the real thing without something sweet. You know, listeners who would mix Knob Hill and Coke on ice rather than drink it properly, neat and at ambient temperature. Smooth Jazz tends to be over- homogenized, hyper-produced, and blended with the broadest possible audience in mind…as well it should; everyone has to make a living don’t they?

What the most popular Smooth Jazz lacks is organic-ness. Its highly processed nature makes it saccharine for some tastes. It is this fault line in the music that makes multi-instrumentalist Steve Cole so important to the Smooth Jazz/Mainstream divide. After entering the jazz scene in 1998 with his well-received Stay Awhile (Atlantic), Cole has sharpened his funk chops to a high glean. Through each successive release--2000’s Between Us (Atlantic), 2003’s NY LA (Warner Bros.), 2005’s Spin (Narada) and now True--Cole has almost achieved the perfection of compromise between the popular sensibilities of Smooth Jazz and the artistic sensibilities of the Mainstream.

True reveals Cole as the most logical extension of the Dave Sanborn school of jazz: music permeated with funk, R&B and soul. Perhaps a better description would be that Cole is the 21st Century Lenny Pickett. However one slices him, Steve Cole is redefining Smooth Jazz, adding just enough grease to de-homogenize it. True opens with the ultra-funky “Bounce,” where the saxophonist in Cole comes out swinging over a Commodore’s guitar-riff, supported by a popping bass-line. “Curtis” is a wanton ballad aching for a lyric. Cole’s playing is soulful and tender over Mike Logan’s Fender Rhodes. “Just a Natural Thang,” with both electric piano and Hammond B3, is downright wicked. This song comes closest to capturing that bright and happy R&B sound of Sanborn and Pickett.

”Take Me” employs acoustic guitars and a shimmering piano figure to set the stage for this forthright ballad, again certainly a song without words. “Something About You” is introduced with wah-wah guitar and burping electric bass, in a harmonic setting from a cross between Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire. Cole is in complete charge cramming the piece with so many hooks, the listener cannot hope to get away, nor should want to. “Metro” is much in the same vein. The least characteristic piece and therefore the most interesting, is “Closer,” introduced with an acoustic guitar and sporting some especially fine percussion by Lenny Castro.

Author makes an exception, sort ofSo, indeed there is hope for Smooth Jazz. His name is Steve Cole. It is hard to find too much to quibble with regarding True. It is completely accessible and enjoyable and should appeal to even the fussiest of jazz fans.


By C. Michael Bailey allaboutjazz.com
Visit Steve Cole on the web.
Steve Cole at All About Jazz.

Track Listing: Bounce; Cote Seine; Curtis; Just A Natural Thang; Take Me; Something About You; Metro; Closer; Come With Me.

Personnel: Steve Cole: acoustic guitar, tenor saxophone, keyboards, programming; Bernd Schoenhart: guitars; Jeff Golub: electric guitar; David Mann: tenor saxophone; Barry Danielian: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Levine: trombone; Mike Logan: Fender Rhodes piano; Ricky Peterson: Hammond B-3 organ; Richard Patterson, Dave Hiltebrand: electric bass; Khari Parker: drums; Lenny Castro: percussion.


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