Listening Station


Rick Braun/Richard Elliot, RnR   ( ARTizen Music Group)

rick braun and richard elliotTruly the most highly anticipated smooth jazz event of 2007, the seeds of this incredible collaboration between genre superstars Rick Braun and Richard Elliot were planted in 2005 the minute they announced that they were creating the indie label ARTizen Music with their manager Steve Chapman and industry veteran Al Evers. They whetted everyone’s appetite by scoring hit airplay singles from their first solo projects for the label--Braun with “Shining Star” (from Yours Truly) and Elliot with “People Make The World Go Round” (from Metro Blue), a track co-produced by Braun which spent an incredible 11 weeks at #1 on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz chart. In 2005 and this year, both solidified their incredible chemistry on the popular Jazz Attack summer tour with Peter White and Jonathan Butler. 

The trumpeter and tenor saxman drew upon their pre-solo stardom roots to create an exciting dual horn section vibe on some of the tracks. Fans who are up on these guys know that back in the 80s, Braun played with War and Elliot honed his soulful chops with Tower of Power. But they wisely balance some of those in your face brass sections with other songs and passages that focus on single trumpet or single sax lines, creating an intimacy that reminded them of classic jazz recordings from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Braun says they approached the arrangements and recording process as if their lead instruments were vocals engaged in some serious duets—and the magical rapport is clear from the start.

Besides collaborating with each other, Braun and Elliot worked with some of their favorite genre cats to add groove and harmonic textures. Guitarist Chris Standring and keyboardist Greg Karukas contribute to the jumpy, in your face soulful funk of the opening title track, which features a bright dual chorus and some sly echoes by their individual horns on the verses. It’s clear from the sly, sensual opening strains of the romantically inclined “Sweet Somethin’,” however, that RnR isn’t going to be all about blasting horns and fiery grooves; co-producer Rex Rideout helps them create a graceful, old school seduction that lives up to the song’s title. What smooth jazz album can truly be retro-soulful and funky if Jeff Lorber doesn’t participate? His energetic keyboards and percussive rhythms help drive the mid-tempo curve ball, which brings the Braun/Elliot horn intensity together on the punchy chorus, but allows some silky back and forth conversations between the hooks. The fascinating moodswinging continues, as the next track “The Stranger” rolls along into a gentle hypnosis, with some of their more restrained and sexy, emotionally compelling individual melodic lines. Lorber co-produced “Da JR Funk,” a simmering mid tempo seduction driven by Nate Phillips’ easy throbbing bassline, whose playful chorus brings Braun and Elliot together after individual statements on the verses. You sense that the song is always about to explode, and then it does! Another old pal, Philippe Saisse, wrote the charming and tender Que Paso, and his sweet piano lines provide an irresistible harmony beneath one of RnR’s more subtle yet hummable hooks; this is mid-tempo romantic smooth jazz at its best, and would be a good choice for a second single. The two are also at their dual melodic best on the easy grooving Braun composition “Better Times,” in which everything breezes along in meaningful dialogue, in anticipation of another sensual but heart-tugging hook. The bass-thick and breezily melodic “Down and Dirty” has what Elliot calls a “stinky groove,” courtesy of Lorber, which drives the horns into some feisty interplay with Nick Lane’s trombone. The title “Two Heart Tango” implies a Latin influence, and while it’s low key, there’s definitely a balmy, cool atmosphere behind some of Braun’s lyrical muted trumpet playing and Elliot’s restrained tenor. Even when they hold back, they’re still in the pocket here! None other than Down To The Bones’ Shilts (a solo artist on ARTizen) contributed to the British funk vibe and sizzling horn fire of another funk-infused gem “Q It Up,” which is bright, vibrant and rolls a bit like a low key DTTB jam. After a sensuous, and relaxing “Sunday Night,” Braun and Elliot wrap things up with a soothing sojourn to “Sao Paulo,” which wraps RnR with a velvety closing vibe.

Aside from hard to resist melodies, exciting horn conversations and sizzling sections and impeccable grooves of all tempos and moods, the most dynamic aspect of RnR is that Elliot and Braun are as much interested in winning us over with subtlety and heart as with scorching horn sections. There’s the brightness of a daytime party, the sweet cooldown of balmy evenings, and fire and romance to spare. It’s the perfect combination for a smooth jazz event that truly exceeds all expectations.



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- Jonathan Widran