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Various Artists

Smooth Jazz Café

Review by Gary Hill

When I hear the term “smooth jazz,” I tend to think of the elevator music variety of jazz. This isn’t that. There is a lot more going on here than one would think given the title. In fact, I think this is a great, and often exciting, jazz album. It’s not freeform or extreme jazz by any means, but it’s far from ho-hum or boring. This is a great set, really. There is enough rock and fusion in the mix here, to land this in progressive rock, as that’s where we usually put fusion.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at

Track by Track Review
Zoot Suit featuring Chuck Loeb

There is a bit of a funk vibe to the guitar sound on this tune. The horns lend a lot here. Some full on funk mid-track gives way to some of the most fusion oriented and adventurous jamming of the whole piece.

Peg featuring Chuck Loeb
I’m a big fan of Steely Dan, so this instrumental take on their song is a sure winner in my book. The Dan have always had a lot of jazz in their sound, so it’s not a big stretch. Again, we get a little funk in the mix on this. The rhythm section somehow feels just a little rigid to me. It doesn’t get in the way of the enjoyment, but I notice that it doesn’t seem to groove as much as I’d like. It’s a great tune either way, though. We do get some awesome funky bass soloing, though.
Swift Kick featuring Chuck Loeb
This one rocks out a bit more. The funk is pretty much gone. What we’re left with is a smoking hot modern jazz cut with a lot of nods to classic jazz. I love the guitar soloing on this.
Yorkville featuring Chuck Loeb
Although the funk does return here, there is a bit more of a crunchy edge to this number. It’s got a great groove, too. Funk is firmly entrenched at the core of the piece, really. We get some killer guitar soloing.
The Big Sleep featuring Hal Lindes
There is a lot of magic and drama in the main jam driving this. The soloing is tasty, but the horns are really what shine the most sometimes here.
On the Brick feat. Brian Tarquin
There isn’t a huge change here, but this piece just really works well. It’s one of my favorites here. The horns and the guitar both drive it really well. The funk delivered at times is classy.
Hiptster featuring Denny Jiosa
Here’s another that somehow seems to exceed much of the music aroundn it. It’s another great jazz jam that is just very effective.
Frolic Room feat. Brian Tarquin
Although this does seem to have a bit more energy, it doesn’t really stand out from the pack. Still, everything here is good, so it takes a lot to shine beyond the brightness of the surrounding pieces. It’s still quite good.
Birdbrain featuring Hal Lindes

There is more energy yet on this one. It’s a killer slab of fusion that’s among the best here.

Boogie Man feat. Brian Tarquin
Another energized jazz jam, this is also another that lands in the upper echelon of pieces here. It has some great soloing over a great groove. I love the horn soloing in particular. Everyone seems to get a chance to shine here.
Chrome Dome featuring Denny Jiosa
I really like this one a lot, too. The soloing (and at times interplay) between guitar and horns is great. The rhythm section isn’t as full as on some of the other pieces, but it definitely drives the cut.
The Dutchess feat. Brian Tarquin
More of a traditional jazz cut, I love the energy and flow of this piece. It’s a smoking hot tune with some great melodies. It’s a lot of fun.
Spanish Harlem featuring Frank Gambale
The guitar definitely brings a lot of hard rock here. This one is clearly fusion, with no question about it. It’s also far from smooth jazz. It’s a real screamer with a lot of energy. It’s a killer groove that provides variety and passion to the set.
Drugstore Cowboy feat. Brian Tarquin
This jazz jam doesn’t really stand out, but when it’s this good, who cares?
Nowheresville feat. Brian Tarquin
I really love some of the melodies on this number. Both the guitar and horn soloing on this cut are noteworthy.
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