Steve Oliver - One Night Live (Nu Groove Records)

late night rendezvousYou hear it all the time from those folks outside our community who don’t “get” smooth jazz: it’s too bland, too predictable, not exciting enough, it all sounds the same. These cynics, who no doubt wonder why thousands of us passionate genre fans spend our hard earned money every year on the genre’s many tours, festivals and cruises, just listen to the radio too much. As happy as fans and artists are to have these terrestrial outlets, what these stations play is just scratching the surface of what our favorite artists can do.  And no matter how catchy the songs are, the airwaves just don’t capture the potential magic and fire of a live performance.

That truth goes for most of the format’s big artists, but few have been as compelling onstage as the multi-talented Steve Oliver, whose vibrant melodies, soulful vocals and snappy guitar lines are just the beginning of what is essentially a one man orchestra capable of numerous sonic delights. These include wild and crazy vocal percussion, breezy wordless “vocalese” joys, and as we see and hear on the Guitar Demonstration” segment of this exciting live CD/DVD package, a synth guitar that can simulate everything from a grand piano to bass, flute and orchestrated strings. In the strained economic climate of the late 2000s, a dual package like this might seem like a calculated commercial risk. But as wildly compelling as Oliver’s instantly infectious songs are on the ears, the visual entertainment he provides and the way his grateful audience responds--at any of his 200 plus performances annually-- makes a DVD of one of his classic performances (this one, at the State Theatre in Modesto, CA) a must.

Oliver doesn’t go crazy finding new twists on instrumental hits like Magic World, High Noon, First View and Chips and Salsa, but they are still some of smooth jazz’s best songs and are always fun to listen to. On classics like I Know and new tunes like Fearless, he also shows his penchant for romantic lead vocals. The title of one of the package’s later uptempo tracks, the breezy top down Feeling Good sums up the charms Oliver offers happily throughout both the audio and video portions of One Night Live. Beyond the thirteen live performances, the guitarist adds two new studio tunes, the catchy vocal This Fire and a cheerful new instrumental called On The Upside, which is just that. The DVD features a behind the scenes segment and a lighthearted explanation of the artist’s “guitar orchestra” that shows his truly “Radiant” personality in all its joyful exuberance.

Several years ago in Jazziz, I made mention that the good cheer Oliver projects live is not just an act—he’s the genuine article, a truly uplifting spirit as a person as well as a musician. Smooth jazz and the world in general needs more of that, and One Night Live is the perfect way to experience the full and always smiling Steve-O vibe. If this blisteringly happy disc doesn’t make you feel all Disneyland, no music released in 2008 will.



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- Jonathan Widran