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Robert Lee Balderrama

The Great Hall of Smooth Jazz

Review by Gary Hill

You might not know the name Robert Lee Balderrama, but I bet you know one of his songs. The guitarist was a founding member of Question Mark and the Mysterians, who were best known for the tune "96 Tears." The music here isn't really like that song at all. This is a jazz album, and a nearly instrumental one at that. I've included this under progressive rock because that's where we put fusion, and I think that the guitar brings enough fusion to it to quality. Whether you agree with that categorization or not, this is strong disc.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2022  Volume 5. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2022.

Track by Track Review
Santa Cruz
This comes in with a groove that makes me think of George Benson to some degree as the guitar dances around the arrangement. This becomes quite a classy jam as it drives forward. It definitely lands in the smooth jazz zone.
Para Los Dos (For the Two of Us)
Although this is slower and mellower than the opener was, there is a bit of a suspenseful vibe that brings a sense of danger with it. Somehow this feels meatier. There is a magical, dreamlike quality to this in some ways.
El Camino Rio
This has more energy to it. The guitar work is positively on fire, and the whole tune is really elevated. This drives and brings both a Latin groove and some fusion vibes. There is some killer bass work on this later in the track, too. 
Sintiendo Tu Hechizo (Feeling Your Spell)
The Latin concepts are all over this, particularly in the guitar soloing. The tune has more of that dream-like quality in some ways, but it's also very energized.
On Beat Street
I really love everything about this tune. It's a bit more understated and slower moving, but it's also so classy. It's packed full of mystery and drama.
Happy&GoLucky
Here is another standout tune. The energized groove is just so tasty.          
JazDude
I love the guitar work on here. It's so stylish and tasty. The whole tune works so well, though.
Estrella
This is one of the most driving things here. It's also one of my favorites. In some ways it makes me think of Pat Metheny. It has a cool fusion energy and vibe to it.
Ronnie's Vibe
There is an old-school jazz sensibility here mixed with elements of fusion. The cut has some great grooves and classy jamming.
Out Of This World
Another highlight, this just oozes style and cool. There are some non-lyrical vocals on this, almost making this the one of only two non-instrumental tracks on the disc. I said "almost," though because I count non-lyrical singing more as an instrumental performance.
Any Moment
This cut has both non-lyrical and lyrical (just the song's title) vocals. It also has a smooth, soulful groove and lots of style and charm. The guitar work is so tasty.

 

 
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