Songs, Sequencing Are Saving Graces For Steve Cole’s Latest LP

Courtesy: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group

Jazz saxophonist Steve Cole is scheduled to release his latest album this week.  Smoke + Mirrors is scheduled for release Friday through Artistry Music and Mack Avenue Music Group.  His 10th album, the 10-song collection will appeal to Cole’s established audiences.  That is due in no small part to the record’s featured arrangements.  They will be discussed shortly.  While the arrangements do plenty to engage and entertain the noted audiences, the lack of any background on the songs in the record’s packaging detracts notably from that appeal.  It will be discussed a little later.  The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements and will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, they make Smoke + Mirrors a still mostly solid new album from Steve Cole.

Steve Cole’s latest album, Smoke + Mirrors is a mostly successful new offering from the veteran saxophonist.  The 41-minute record will appeal to its audiences largely because of its featured musical arrangements.  From beginning to end, Cole offers audiences more of his familiar late 80s/early 90s style, saxophone driven jazz.  Right off the bat, the celebratory ‘Living Out Loud’ gets things moving with that familiar, upbeat style.  Cole’s performance on the sax alongside bassist Mel Brown, drummer Brian Dunne and the rest of the other musicians (three others in whole) creates a positive sense of happiness and joy.  According to information provided about the song, the late great NBA star-turned-bassist Waman Tisdale played a role in the song’s arrangement years ago before his passing.  Little else is offered in the way of background, nor is that background offered in the packaging in any liner notes.  This will be addressed later.  Keeping that all in mind, only assumptions can be made as to the overall role that Tisdale played in the song’s creation.  Regardless, the positive vibes that the arrangement evokes are certain to have audiences on their feet and smiling.

Of course, for all of the familiarity that Cole offers audiences in this record (as shown in the album’s opener), he also makes sure to switch things up along the way.  Case in point is one of the album’s later entries, ‘It’s a House Party.’  This song stands separate from the rest of the album’s works because it blends Cole’s more familiar approach (and its resultant sound) with an infectious, funky song that will appeal to fans of Parliament Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, and even Stevie Wonder.  That is made clear through the balance of the guitar, keyboards, drums, horns, the bass, and saxophone.  Again, no liner notes are available to offer any background on the arrangement, but considering the song’s title, one can assume at least somewhat safely that this celebratory song is meant to echo the joy of…well…a house party back in the day.  Ironically, the arrangement would fit just as well for any house party today.  The way in which Cole’s familiar style and sound is balanced with the more funky elements makes the song a great break point for the record and more proof of the importance of the album’s arrangements.

On a completely opposite note, ‘Justice,’ the record’s closer, does its own part to show the importance of the album’s featured arrangements.  This subtle, subdued arrangement is so rich in its simplicity.  Cole’s own work on the saxophone pairs perfectly with the performance of keyboardist David Mann and bassist Mark Egan to make the whole so rich.  The layering and balancing of this instrumentation and the rest of the song’s instrumentation makes the whole such a powerful work.  It lends itself so easily to comparison to works from the likes of Yellowjackets.  Not ironically, Yellowjackets is a label mate to Cole on Mack Avenue Music Group and Artistry Music.  Information provided in a press release about this arrangement is that it was meant as a reflection of the killing of George Floyd only miles from Cole’s home last year in Minneapolis, MN.  Considering all of the outrage and fury that followed Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement, the subdued, contemplative nature of this arrangement makes for so much engagement.  It really serves to show another side of the reaction to Floyd’s death, making for even more interest.  When this arrangement and the others examined here are considered along with the rest of the album’s songs, the variety that they collectively show makes clear, the importance of the album’s musical content to its presentation.  It forms a strong foundation for the record.

While the musical content that makes up the main body of Smoke + Mirrors does much to make the record appealing, the lack of background information on the songs anywhere in the album’s packaging does just as much to detract from the record’s presentation.  It has already been noted in the discussion about the songs that the only background provided was in a press release for the media.  That background information, even brief, would have helped enhance the listening experience even more for audiences.  Again, media personnel can vouch for that, considering everything noted in the addressed press release.  The notes in the press release about ‘Covent Garden’ are even more support for that argument.  While very brief – they explain that Cole wrote the song in response to the lockdowns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – the notes would have helped audiences understand and better appreciate such song.  The album’s midpoint, ‘Coven Garden’ is an old school laced song that also incorporates Cole’s familiar stylistic approach.  AS difficult as life under lockdown was, understanding that the song was meant to convey a sense of hope and optimism throughout it all would help listeners (again) better appreciate the arrangement.  Much the same can be said of the brief notes on ‘Trust,’ another of the album’s late entries.  According to the notes in the provided press release, the R&B-infused work is meant to present a sense of gratitude for those closest to Cole throughout everything in life.  Without that information available, audiences would be so easily led to think this song is just some slow jam for lovers.  That is because the arrangement is that style composition.  To that end, it is more proof of the importance of the liner notes.  It is just too bad that all of this information was not provided in the packaging.  Now the lack thereof is not enough to make the album a failure, but it certainly would have helped add to the listening experience.

Considering the overall impact of its arrangements and lack of background information, Smoke + Mirrors still proves to be worth hearing at least once.  The sequencing of the record’s featured songs adds to the album’s appeal when it is considered along with the songs.  That is because the sequencing takes into account, the energies in each of the album’s songs to keep the album moving fluidly from one song to the next.  From start to end, audiences’ engagement and entertainment is ensured because of that fluid progression.  This is especially important to address because of the placement of the album’s slower and more upbeat works.  All things considered here, the album’s sequencing brings everything full circle and completes the record’s presentation.  When the sequencing is considered along with the songs, the two elements join to give audiences plenty of reason to hear Smoke + Mirrors.

Steve Cole’s latest album, Smoke + Mirrors, is a positive addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums.  Additionally, it is a welcome addition to Cole’s own already extensive catalog.  That is proven in part through its featured songs.  The songs give audiences plenty of familiarity in their sounds and stylistic approaches.  At the same time, they also offer audiences a little something new.  That balance of old and new ensures audiences’ engagement and entertainment in its own way.  While the songs featured in this record make a strong foundation for the album, the lack of any background information on the songs noticeably detracts from the album’s appeal.  That is because it can so easily lead to misinterpretation of the messages that the songs are working to translate.  Luckily this shortcoming is not enough to make the record a failure, but it certainly would have been nice to have had that element for audiences.  The sequencing of the songs featured in the record works with those songs to complete the album’s presentation.  It ensures the songs’ moods and energies are stable from beginning to end.  The result is that the album leaves listeners fulfilled.  It ends before audiences realize, but in the best way possible.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, they make the album a positive addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums.

Smoke + Mirrors is scheduled for release Friday through Mack Avenue Music Group and Artistry Music.  More information on the album is available along with all of Steve Cole’s latest news at:

Website: https://stevecole.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stevecolemusicpage

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.  

Brian Bromberg’s New Album Is More Than A “Little” Enjoyable

Courtesy: Mack Avenue Music Group/Artistry Music

Veteran producer and bassist Brian Bromberg has made quite the name for himself over the course of the past four decades.  He has worked on records from the likes of Stan Getz, Arturo Sandoval, and Billy Cobham as well as others while also adding his work to various soundtracks and compilations, and working on his own records.  The records overall, are notable in their own right.  Each record has cemented his place within the jazz (and overall music) community in its own right.  Now Friday, Bromberg will continue to cement his reputation when he releases his new album, A Little Driving Music.  Set for release through Mack Avenue Music Group and Artistry Music, the 13-song record is a wonderful presentation.  That is proven in large part through the record’s musical arrangements.  They will be discussed shortly.  While the album’s content does plenty to make it so engaging and entertaining, it is not a perfect presentation.  The lack of any liner notes offering any background on the compositions detracts from the presentation to a point.  It is not enough to make the record a failure, but cannot be ignored, either.  This will be discussed at more length a little later.  The sequencing of the record’s songs works with the compositions to make up for the shortcoming of the concerns raised by the lack of background information on the songs.  When it is considered with that one negative and the positive of the songs themselves, the whole makes the album still a presentation that Bromberg’s fans and music lovers in general will appreciate.

Brian Bromberg’s forthcoming album A Little Driving Music is a widely appealing presentation that audiences will enjoy whether they are out for a drive or at home simply relaxing.  That is proven in part through its featured arrangements.  The arrangements are diverse in their stylistic approaches.  Bromberg does not limit them to just jazz compositions.  The 72-minute record opens with an infectious, old school funk style work in ‘Froggy’s.’  That funk vibe continues in ‘Quarantine,’ which Bromberg wrote (along with the album’s other songs during lockdown – this will be addressed later).  From there, Bromberg takes things in a different direction in ‘That Cool, Groovy Beatnik Jazz’ with a more reggae-tinged stylistic approach and sound.  That paired with the easy listening jazz style sound also present here, the pairing makes the song in whole so enjoyable in its own way.  The tropical feel continues on in ‘Bado Boy!,’ but eventually gives way to the more pop style approach to Bromberg and company’s cover of ‘Walking on Sunshine.’  The unique approach here, complete with a subtle soprano sax line, bass, and funky drum beat, makes for so much enjoyment.  The addition of the easy listening jazz influence to the mix makes for even more enjoyment.  The diverse sounds and styles continue on from there.  The bluesy approach and sound of ‘A Rainy Day in Paris’ holds is own against the more active body of the record.  It also makes for a great break point in the sequencing, which will also be discussed later.  If that is not enough for audiences, the album’s title track gives audiences a little bit of a John Denver/Jimmy Buffet sense while ‘Jedediah’s Gold’ conjures thoughts of Dave Matthews Band.  ‘Baton Rouge,’ the penultimate entry in Bromberg’s new record, clearly pays tribute to the music of New Orleans with its laid back sound and stylistic approach.  Bromberg’s cool, relaxed bass line alongside the subtle horns and solid time keeping makes this song one of the record’s most notable works (at least in this critic’s ears and mind).  It should be clear at this point that this album’s musical arrangements offer audiences a wide amount of diversity.  They are not just jazz tunes.  Rather, they keep things interesting in their own right, as do the performances thereof.  Keeping that in mind, it creates a sold foundation for the album’s presentation.  While the diversity in the arrangements goes a long way toward making this record successful, the lack of background information in the liner notes does detract from the record’s presentation.

This critic has noted many times in the past that when it comes to instrumental jazz, the songs are interesting.  However, without some kind of background to help explain the songs’ inspirations, it lessens the overall listening experience.  Unlike mainstream music, which follows generally well-known themes of relationships, politics, personal matters, etc. instrumental jazz does not have lyrics to follow.  To that end, the need of some background is important.  That is even if given songs follow the noted themes.  Having background information can heighten the enjoyment because it helps listeners to understand and appreciate the moods in given arrangements, and even the instrumentations, etc.  So to that end, the lack of any background on this record’s songs, which are already enjoyable in their own right, does detract from their enjoyment.  Luckily that detraction is hardly enough to make the album a failure. It just would have been a great final touch to the record’s presentation. 

Getting back to the songs featured in A Little Driving Music, their sequencing rounds out the record’s presentation.  As already noted, the songs feature a wide range of sounds and stylistic approaches.  From the funk and R&B sounds presented early on to the reggae influence also exhibited early, to the more pop approach of the album’s one cover, and the easy listening and even pop rock sounds, the album offers audiences much to appreciate.  Those sounds and stylistic approaches are themselves spread out across the album’s body.  At no point does Bromberg stick to one style and sound.  The result is that with this aspect alone, audiences will remain engaged and entertained throughout.

The album’s sequencing also plays into its pacing through the songs’ energies.  As noted prior, the album’s run time is 72 minutes.  That means it is anything but a short presentation.  What is so interesting here is that even with that run time in mind, the sequencing takes into account the songs’ energies and styles together.  There are plenty of up-tempo works featured here alongside some slightly more relaxed works, and even some even more cool, relaxed works, such as in ‘Baton Rouge,’ ‘Peace,’ and ‘A Rainy Day in Paris.’  The placement of those three songs along the more moving compositions featured throughout the record keeps the energy flowing fluidly throughout.  The result of that and the constantly changing styles and sounds is that even at 72 minutes in length, the album moves seamlessly from one song to the next.  By the time it ends, listeners will be left feeling fulfilled.  When this finalizing element is considered along with the positive impact of the album’s varied musical sounds and styles and even the slightly detracting lack of liner notes, the whole makes A Little Driving Music more than a little enjoyable.

Brian Bromberg’s forthcoming album, A Little Driving Music, is a positive new offering from the veteran producer/bassist.  Its success comes in large part through the variety in its arrangements.  The variety is in relation to the songs’ sounds and stylistic approaches.  The songs are enjoyable in themselves, and would have been even more engaging and entertaining had they had some background information (even something brief) to accompany them in the album’s liner notes.  That is not to say that the lack thereof makes the album a failure.  Rather, it just would have been nice to have had that as part of the record’s overall presentation.  The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.  It takes into account the diversity in the songs’ arrangements and the diversity in their energies to ensure listeners’ engagement and entertainment.  The result is that the 72-minute presentation moves fluidly from beginning to end, never leaving listeners feeling left behind or bored.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of A Little Driving Music.  All things considered, they make the album enjoyable whether audiences are listening while driving or at home.  A Little Driving Music is scheduled for release Friday through Mac Avenue Music Group and Artistry Music.  More information on the album is available along with all of Brian Bromberg’s latest news at:

Website: https://BrianBromberg.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BrianBrombergBassist

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.