Steve Cole

Between Us

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Fast becoming one of smooth jazz's hookiest songwriters, Steve Cole scored two number one radio hits off his 1998 debut, Stay Awhile. No doubt that program directors will continue to favor those tunes, but hopefully it won't be at the expense of the takes-one-listen-only-to-hum craftsmanship of many of the tracks on the follow-up, Between Us (Atlantic). He has the notion of "quick verse, get to the brassy hook" down to such a science that it may take a few listens to realize that the opening two tracks, "Got It Goin' On" and "From the Start" are two different songs. On both, producer Brian Culbertson provides the simmering retro-keyboard atmospheres beneath a silky, laid-back tenor lines but only for brief respites between the perfect choruses, on which Cole textures tenor with multiple alto-backing tracks. Cole sticks with this approach while varying rhythms throughout the disc, as if holding back on us throughout the verse sections and then making sure his hooks are brass-amplified so that we keep wanting him to return to them. He and Culbertson take this technique to new and exciting levels on a slow-simmering cover of TLC's "Waterfalls," texturing a horn section lead melody with another multiple horn harmony section; every few beats, Cole jumps out of the pattern to blow a cool tenor improvisation. Cole is a muscular tenor player by trade but will no doubt attract the mush lovers with his very tender soprano beauty on "For Your Love."

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