Jay Soto- Stay Awhile  (Nu Groove)

Jay SotoJay Soto may have started his musical life on the drums at age 5 and switched to classical piano a few years later, but one listen to the crackling electric energy on his new CD makes us grateful that he stuck with guitar once he picked up his first "axe" at age 12. While just emerging on the smooth jazz scene, he’s grounded in a lot of unique activities outside this little universe. Soto is the musical director for St. Helen’s Church in Glendale, Arizona, has had songs placed on “Sex and The City” and “All About Us,” and lights up the vibe with much more than musical wallpaper on Music Choice and The Weather Channel. He’s also been lead guitarist for the acclaimed Christian group Vessel, and for Zum Zum Zum, a highly acclaimed Latin group based out of Phoenix.

His powerful guitarisma earned him recognition as a grand finalist in Guitar Center’s “Guitarmageddon” competition (the most respected in the country), and he blew the judges and over 15,000 audience members away in the final at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas. He wound up that competition as one of the top unsigned guitarists in the nation, but that quickly changed with his deal with NuGroove.

So solid are his credentials as a rookie in our genre that some of the top producers are working with him, from Jeff Lorber and Paul Brown to Darren Rahn, the saxophonist who has produced gems in recent years for Wayman Tisdale and Eric Darius. As solid as their contributions are, however, Soto creates a lot of excitement behind the boards himself, producing the energetic opening title track “Stay A While,” which bounces from the get-go with his bright electric playing and a fiery hook. Soto collaborated with Rahn on the cool, midtempo “Just Like That,” which features hypnotic percussion, the bubbly Fender bass of Mel Brown and shows off the more subtle, emotional side of Soto’s artistry. The unmistakable retro soul vibe and thick funk groove of “Make It Happen” means only one thing—Mr. Lorber is in the house, making a funky bed for Soto’s sharp string energy to fly high in; Soto’s strings are doubled by Gary Meek’s sweet flute sound, creating a wonderfully unique texture.

Soto and Rahn snagged a big R&B superstar voice, Jeffrey Osborne, to create the dreamy and romantic “Love Has Found A Way,” which is a sweet pop-soul oasis between the jazz/funk magic. Nu Groove chose the uplifting, perfectly titled “Slammin’” as the first single and no wonder—it’s loaded with high energy grooves, cool old school keyboards, snazzy horn textures (created by Rahn with his trumpeter/flugelhornist brother Jason Rahn) and some of Soto’s best blistering emotion. Lorber and Soto take the beat down just a notch on the super soulful, easy funk seduction “Grooveland,” which pairs Meek’s sax with Soto and gives the guitarist room to explore and improvise. “Midnight Drive” delivers just what it’s title promises—a low key, easily sensual and laid back ride under the moonlight, a sweet vibe which is echoed on the following track “Daydreamin’.” These ballad-oriented tunes allow Soto to dig deep and explore a subtle but searing passion that balances out the wild party tunes. Soto works with another well known jazz producer, Mario Mendivil (Nelson Rangell) on the mid tempo, thumping dance tune “Holding On,” which blends the familiar vibes of Norman Brown’s guitar style with Joyce Cooling’s unique, moody atmospheres. Paul Brown gets in the mix as the producer of a nice rendering of Stevie Wonder’s lovely “Send One Your Love,” complete with Michael Lington’s tender sax harmony off of Soto’s sharp, low key lead melody.

Lorber’s back on the simmering, mid tempo thick funk tune “City Slicker,” while Brown returns to helm the bubbly closer, the bouncy retro soul jam that is a play on Soto’s name, “Jaywalking.” Walking and soul-vibing with Soto’s punchy guitar is the unmistakeable “religified” sax presence of none other than Euge Groove. With loads of dynamics, a bright vibrant guitar tone and superstar talents behind and in front of the boards, how can Soto miss? Soto may be a new name to most smooth jazz listeners but he holds his own working with the genre’s best. In so doing, he creates the genre’s best indie release of the year!

 http://www.jaysoto.com/      -      http://thenugroove.com/

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- Jonathan Widran