Archive Archaeology
Smooth Jazz Roundup

Smooth Jazz Roundup

Smooth Jazz is a catch-all term for commercially-oriented jazz. Smooth Jazz dominated the airwaves from the 1970s through the 1990s. For better or worse, it edged out “easy listening” as the radio format for inoffensive background music. This led to some controversy between jazz purists and those who wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible.

While the Smooth Jazz format has faded in popularity, there are still plenty of musicians making jazz that is easy on the ears and melody forward. Today, I’ll round up some recent releases that could possibly fit the Smooth Jazz format.

• •

Albare, Beyond Belief
Albare, Beyond Belief

Albare, Beyond Belief

Albare (no first name) is a fine guitarist in the mode of pre-pop star George Benson. His leads are clean and lyrical. He plays off the light and melodic piano of his long time collaborator Phil Turcio. The songs have Latin highlights and easygoing rhythms. “Sailing Away” has an electric sitar sound. It’s nice music that won’t stir up a fuss with the neighbors.

• •

Ellie Lee, Escape
Ellie Lee, Escape

Ellie Lee, Escape

Ellie Lee is a classically trained pianist from Seoul, South Korea, who got the jazz bug when she moved to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music. She found Classical music lacked the freedom of expression she was looking for. Escape features seven original songs and an arrangement of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not.” Her delicate and melodic piano playing is complemented by Steve Wilson’s lithe saxophone lines.

• •

Benji Kaplan, Untold Stories
Benji Kaplan, Untold Stories

Benji Kaplan, Untold Stories

Benji Kaplan plays Brazilian-inspired songs on his nylon string guitar. Although playing solo here, there is still a lush feeling to the pieces. There is a little bit of Egberto Gismonti in his playing. Some tracks, like “Xaxado and Alegria,” have an almost New Age flair. “Stream, Hills and Forests” reminds me a bit of Django Reinhardt. This set is pleasant and calming. A perfect chillout album for after a hard day at work.

• •

Ron Reider, Latin Jazz Sessions
Ron Rieder, Latin Jazz Sessions

Ron Rieder Latin Jazz Sessions

I don’t have much information on Ron Rieder. Like many of us, in his college years, Ron had to choose between his passion for music or his love for the natural sciences. Ron took the natural sciences route and after many years of contemplation has circled back to music. Latin Jazz Sessions is Ron’s first recording. For this date he’s assembled a crew of seasoned Latin Jazz musicians to bring his compositions to life. The sounds are primarily drawn from Afro-Cuban and Samba influences. All in all, this is a pleasant collection of songs that shimmy and shake just enough to tempt you to dance at Starbucks.

• •

Smooth Jazz isn’t really my bag, but I have to respect the players who embrace the style and do it well. The world would be boring if we all liked the same thing.


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