As the smooth jazz format has evolved over the past 20 years, various record labels have at different times had rosters that boasted some of the best and the brightest artists in the genre. In the early 90s, it was GRP, the late 90’s Windham Hill Jazz and in the 2000s, the all-star rosters have been at Narada Jazz, Peak Records and Rendezvous Entertainment. Currently celebrating its fifth anniversary, Rendezvous was launched by sax superstar Dave Koz with industry veterans Hyman Katz and Frank Cody, and the label has featured releases by some of the genre’s top chartbusters and live performers: Wayman Tisdale, Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, Brian Simpson, Marc Antoine, Praful and Michael Lington. The label also boasts the legendary Patti Austin, progressive jazz bass virtuoso Kyle Eastwood and some exciting European chill artists like Adani & Wolf and Camiel.
True to its simple title, Smooth Ones celebrates a total of 11 #1 chart successes of many of these artists, in addition to others from different labels whose sounds have helped define the excitement of the smooth jazz experience in the current decade. Joining Rendezvous artists like The Philippe Saisse Trio, Praful, Antoine, Simpson, Whalum, Eastwood and Tisdale on the compilation are Koz, Peter White, Mindi Abair and Rick Braun. People who don’t “get” smooth jazz sometimes say it all sounds the same, but one listen through these tracks and it’s clear that each artist has a unique stamp that they bring to the mix.
Smooth Ones kicks off with one of 2006’s biggest, most unexpected hits, a rousing cover of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” by the Philippe Saisse Trio, and continues with Koz’s irrepressible, horn section spiced “Let It Free” (from his 2003 megahit Saxophonic). Rendezvous began integrating the Euro chill sound into its roster with Amsterdam based sax/flutist and soundscape master Praful; “Sigh,” which hit #1 in 2003, made him a genre star. One of the two pre-2000 tracks on Smooth Ones is Peter White’s graceful cover of the classic “Walk On By,” which is followed by the similar vibe of Marc Antoine’s warm, soulful and slightly exotic title track from Mediterraneo. The other cut from the 90s is Rick Braun’s sly and sensuous “Notorious,” featuring Boney James.
If you had to pick one track that completely sums up what smooth jazz is all about these past four years, it would be Mindi Abair’s “Lucy’s,” which is as infectious today as when it hit #1 on Radio & Records’ Smooth Jazz Airplay chart in March 2003. One of the most exciting artists to emerge on Rendezvous is Dave Koz’s longtime musical director, keyboardist Brian Simpson, who established himself as a hot solo artist in his own right with the buoyant, piano driven title track from his first label album, It’s All Good. Kyle Eastwood’s edgy, super-funky and jazzy sounds are a bit too progressive for the American smooth jazz charts for the most part, but that didn’t stop his explosive jam “Cosmo” from rising to the top as part of Cosmo, a #1 Jazz Album in his adopted home country of France in 2005. Kirk Whalum hit the top spot in January, 2006 with his lively, mid-tempo take on Luther Vandross’ classic “Give Me The Reason,” from the popular tribute disc Forever, For Always, For Luther, Vol. II. Smooth Ones closes with one of the biggest genre cover songs of the past few years, Wayman Tisdale’s bouncy jam of the classic disco hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”
This kind of sampler works in a lot of different ways. For those just getting into smooth jazz, it’s a great introduction to what our genre is all about. And for longtime fans, it’s a reminder that these radio hits are just the tip of the iceberg, and these artists have many other amazing tracks that a true fan must experience. Sometimes, in fact, smooth jazz radio, plays it safe and doesn’t pick an album’s best tracks. So as amazing as these songs are, going deeper with each of these artists is a journey of discovery you don’t want to miss!