Last year marked an exciting milestone in the extraordinary career of English composer and synthesizer master Paul Hardcastle’s career. For the first time ever, the incredibly popular, sensuous dance-jazz fusion music he creates with his studio group The Jazzmasters was performed live on a unique all-star summer tour featuring top smooth jazz stars Shilts, Gregg Karukas and Chris Standring.
Long before becoming a staple of the format with his ongoing series of self titled and Jazzmasters recordings—which have sold over 11 million records and spawned seven #1 contemporary jazz hits since 1991—Hardcastle was performing in the early 80s dance groups Direct Drive and First Light. While he received acclaim for his early singles, notably the instrumental “Rainforest,” he broke through to global prominence in 1985 with the groundbreaking “19,” a dance record featuring samples of television narrator Peter Thomas from the 1984 television documentary Vietnam Requiem. The song hit #1 in 13 countries and sold four million copies around the world.
After some years behind the scenes remixing for everyone from Barry White to Luther Vandross and Hiroshima, he introduced Jazzmasters to the world with the help of the seductive vocals of Helen Rogers. The first release received the NARM Bestselling Jazz Recording award and remains one of the best selling independent jazz records of all time, remaining on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart for over a year. Throughout the 90s and 2000s, he’s alternated his output between five electronic inflected Jazzmasters recordings and four albums released as Hardcastle, Hardcastle 2, etc.
Hardcastle 5 is, naturally, another cool and low key, sexy urban pop jazz delight whose melodies, atmospheres and easy grooves make it perfect background makeout music. There are a few touches of deeper exotica, which create a nice balance that catches the ears between moods, most notably “Marimba,” which finds the versatile artist approximating the sound of that instrument. The track “Lucky Star” continued Hardcastle’s streak of charttoppers, rising to #1 on Radio & Records’ Smooth Jazz airplay chart and becoming one of the most played tracks of late winter.
The disc is also notable for introducing to his global legion of fans two new and important performers. Soulful, ethereal vocalist Beki lends her dreaminess to the four tracks she co-wrote with Hardcastle, including the thoughtful, slightly melancholy “Don’t You Know” and the super-dreamy “Closer,” which fans of the similarly toned Robin Thicke could surely eat up. Curtis Mayfield would be proud of this one!
The last track proudly introduces 16-year-old saxophonist Paul Hardcastle, Jr. into the mix with the younger musician’s first recorded composition, “Take 1,” which sounds incredibly sophisticated for a track recorded as a demo in his bedroom! The younger Hardcastle keeps the flow sweet and seductive, carrying on his dad’s musical legacy beautifully and offering major promise for an eventual solo career as a smooth jazz artist. While Hardcastle 5 isn’t breaking any real new ground for Paul Hardcastle, it’s still a splendid and worthwhile addition to the catalog.