One of contemporary jazz’s most dynamic and in-demand guitarists, Chris Standring has always done his best to keep up with his fans and friends across The Pond via email. One of his good pals in London seemed a bit miffed, however, when he replied to her lengthy email with just a short sentence or two. Last year, when the British born musician was there doing his annual slate of gigs, she said, “You owe me a paragraph.” His response? Signing her CD, “With Love & Paragraphs, Chris”—a phrase that inspired Love & Paragraphs, Standring’s latest sensual chill, ambient soul and retro-groove driven set of infectious pop jazz fashioned around his trademark hip-swaying guitar.
Produced by Standring and mixed and mastered by his longtime musical partner, keyboardist Rodney Lee, Love & Paragraphs was 70% recorded at the guitarist’s newly completed home studio in Southern California. With Lee creating the old school harmonies and ambiences and featured performances by keyboard master Jeff Lorber and sax great Everette Harp, the collection keeps the seductive vibe of Standring’s Soul Express concept flowing. Standring’s 2006 album of that name featured the hit radio single “I Can’t Help Myself” helmed by Grammy winning guitarist/producer Paul Brown and led to two successful summer tours in 2006/2007. Both featured Standring and famed R&B singer Jody Watley; Lorber joined them in 2006 and Harp hit the road the following year. Standring’s other recent all-star tour association during this time was performing the music of Paul Hardcastle and The Jazzmasters with Gregg Karukas and Shilts as The Jazzmasters Tribute Band.
Love & Paragraphs also marks an important milestone in the entrepreneurial-minded Standring’s career—it’s the debut release on his newly formed indie label Ultimate Vibe, which he is hoping to develop into a label for niche compilations in the chill lounge arena and beyond. He is releasing it via a pass through deal with ARTizen Music Group and their distribution company Ryko. Standring is currently enjoying huge success with “RnR,” a track he co-wrote with two of ARTizen’s owners, smooth jazz superstars Rick Braun and Richard Elliot. The genre’s biggest radio hit of Fall 2007, the song was #1 on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz airplay chart for over two months.
While many artists in his genre are content to find a certain formula and stick with it, Standring likes to start from scratch each time out and let the vibe of the project emerge spontaneously from the writing process. Always in search of unique new sonic approaches, Standring puts aside his trusty longtime jazz axe, the archtop Benedetto, and digs into more earthy blues-rock territory on five tracks with two Fender Strats; he played the Strat back in the 80s until switching to the other guitar to better tackle the acid jazz grooves which caught his ear in the early 90s.
Standring brings his Strat fire first to the classic, horn-spiced funk soul-jazz flavored opening track “Qwertyuiop” (a sly reference to the keyboard where he writes his email), which features an easy thumping cool groove and Harp’s funky tenor solo. The other Strat-propelled tracks are “As Luck Would Have It,” whose moody chill ambience in the intro gives way to high intensity blues rock energy; the easily percussive, hypnotic “Have Your Cake And Eat It,” which features Standring on a fascinating chatty talk-box solo; and “Qu’est-ce Que Tu Fais,” which starts in a laid back reflective mode and builds to a colorful vocal chorus part led by singer Jeff Robinson. Co-writer Rodney Lee dazzles on a Fender Rhodes solo that would do George Duke proud. Standring also plays the Strat on the pure pop pleasure “CS In The Sunshine,” whose swaying, joyful uptempo vibe is balanced by some darker bottom edges.
Standring plays the Benedetto on the balance of the tracks on Love & Paragraphs, which includes the vocal and horn-enhanced, mid-tempo retro funk title track, the dreamy, ambient chill meditation “Liquid Soul”; the hypnotic and jazzy, trip-chill blues jazz pop jam “Ooh Bop” (highlighted by Standring’s own irresistible poppy vocals); the bright, rolling jazzy samba “That’s What I Thought You Said” and the lush and romantic, synth orchestra-enhanced “Reflection,” which closes the set in a cool and dramatic film score-like way.
Standring isn’t guaranteeing that everyone who picks up a copy of Love & Paragraphs will get a lengthy email from him, but he’s definitely committed to their musical enjoyment of his latest journey aboard the Soul Express.