Dutch sax superstar Candy Dulfer was grooving heavily along, making the funkiest recording of her life when an interesting and ultimately irresistible job came up for her and her sizzling band. They were asked by Dutch filmmaker Fred van Dijk to record the soundtrack for “Kissed By A Grape,” a documentary exploring the world of organic winemaking. Musically, that’s a world away from Dulfer’s wild touring experiences and sessions for Prince, but she took the gig and created what are decidedly ambient vibes for the film.
Digging into this atmospheric experience after most of the jamming tracks on her new album were done helped create a coolly unexpected balance between the sizzling and the laid back. Calling it “almost like a best of album representing my funky and softer sides,” Dulfer complements the energy of energy of slamming pieces like the high octane horn-drenched opener “First In Line” and hip-hop seduction “My Funk” (which features Pete Philly, one of the most prominent rappers in the Netherlands), with lush, wistful romantic gems like “Still I Love You” and the pure liquid soul of “Bliss 2 This.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since Dulfer broke onto the contemporary pop/jazz scene with the Dave Stewart penned “Lily Was Here” (also a soundtrack tune!), but she’s still going strong, handling the shifting dynamics between barnburners and subtle tracks well and conquering the world with one of the genre’s wildest live shows. As with her last album and Heads Up debut Candy Store, Dulfer and her ensemble (led by keyboardist Thomas Bank, bassist Chance Howard and drummer Kirk Johnson) likes to add stylistic and rhythmic variety. They mix sweeping electronic with jangling acoustic guitar behind her mid-tempo sax melody on the infectious “Don’t Go.” That track is tame compared to “Step Up” and “True and Tender,” their ventures into a provocative fusion of techno and reggae (the first hot like reggaeton, the second soulful and lilting) that are sassed and spiced by vocalist Leona. Dulfer calls Leona “a force to be reckoned with, a very talented singer and performer and entertainer. Before she put the vocal track down on ‘True & Tender,’ it was just a jam, and we didn’t even know if it would end up on the album. But she really made it her own.”
Genre fans who lament the downsizing of the once thriving smooth jazz format will appreciate the sentiment behind the nostalgic “CD 101.9,” a tasty tribute to the former New York radio station that gave Dulfer and her band a lot of airplay love around the time of their first U.S. visit in 1991. Between the snappy solos and chorus breaks are sound bytes from an original broadcast by DJ Russ Davis hyping Dulfer’s gig at The Bottom Line. Dulfer discovered these snippets on a cassette tape that her saxophonist father Hans had saved for many years. When Candy Store came out in 2007, it seemed like Dulfer had reached another career peak that would be hard to top, but she actually ups the ante on Funked Up! It’s not always in the crazy groove, but a little cool vibin’ never hurt anyone. Truly one of the genre’s best discs of 2009.