Paul Brown & Friends - White Sand (Peak Records)

paul brownIt’s hard to imagine the smooth jazz genre being the urban influenced genre it is today without the behind the scenes influence of producer Paul Brown, who is quickly closing in on an incredible 50 #1 airplay hits for everyone from Boney James and Peter White to George Benson, Euge Groove and Norman Brown. All of his behind the boards success, however, couldn’t prevent the two time Grammy winner from grabbing his beloved Gibson L-5 guitar and emerging as a solo artist on 2004’s well received Up Front. In 2006, Brown found himself in the unique position of competing against himself, scoring #1 hits as both a producer (Norman Brown’s “Up And At ‘Em,” Groove’s “Get ‘Em Goin’) and White (“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”) and as an artist with his cover of Grover Washington Jr.’s “Winelight.” “Winelight,” the second single from his 2005 album The City, was ranked by Mediabase as the genre’s most spun track of the year.

On his Peak Records debut White Sand, Brown literally has the best of both worlds, keeping his crisp electric melodies tight while ensembling with many of his all-star friends on a collection that’s a true celebration of various eras of soul music—from 60’s soul-jazz through 70s “old school” and today’s funky hip-hop. Brown makes famed smooth jazz artists
Al Jarreau, Bobby Caldwell, Boney James, David Benoit, Euge Groove and Rick Braun—in addition to newcomers like soulful female saxophonist Jessy J and singer Lina—so much a part of the musical experience that the cover of the CD says “Paul Brown & Friends.”

Jessy J, a member of Brown’s live band, is featured here on two key tracks—the sexy, laid back, late night title track (which balances Brown’s cool electric melody with a prominent acoustic harmony line) and on the irresistible, horn drenched version of “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” rendered here with its infrequently heard lyrics, sung with an exciting emotional urgency by
Bobby Caldwell. Keyboardist and drum programmer CD, co-producer of The City, co-produced three tracks here, including the ambient and jazzy, hip-hop- driven slow jam “The Rhythm Method.” Al Jarreau works his inimitable vocal magic on the low key, sultry—and frequently witty, thanks to the legendary singer’s unique lyrical thoughts—ballad “Makes Me Feel So Good.”

Brown’s producing career hit the fast track once he started working with Boney James; the breezy, perfectly titled “O’ Skoolin’,” with James’s tenor doubling with Brown’s lead guitar--captures the cool, easy funk vibe and dual magic the two created on the saxman’s many gold selling projects. David Benoit engages in a fiery and percussive piano-guitar call and response moment with Brown at the core of the bouncy “R ‘n’ B Bump,” which is a throwback to the mid-60s repartee between Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Brown has no trouble comparing torchy newcomer Lina to Billie Holliday, and she starts fulfilling that promise on a samba-tinged take on the classic “I Say A Little Prayer.”

After
Euge Groove shows off his heartfelt side on the romantic, gentle hip-hop meets old school flavored  (and cleverly titled!) “More Or Les Paul,” Brown takes the listener in a whole different direction with his Lou Reed-like vocals on a hypnotic version of the socially conscious “For What It’s Worth.” After that colorful detour, he wraps White Sand with a quintessential smooth jazz moment on “Mr. Cool,” featuring the dreamy trumpet touch of Rick Braun.

As a bonus to this powerful set that’s guaranteed to be one of the biggest smooth jazz album events of 2007, Brown showcases on the album cover the tropical-flavored artwork of Maui based painter and guitarist Andrea Razzauitti; the visual artist’s sand meets the sea design inspired Brown to write the title track which kicked off the project’s fresh creative energy.

www.PaulBrownJazz.com

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-Jonathan Widran