Gregg Karukas

Blue Touch

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Sure that Gregg Karukas had reached the point where his lighthearted approach to smooth jazz was instantly recognizable, the keyboardist titled his last Positive Music release, You'll Know It's Me. Though he adds dashes of hip blues textures and Crusaders-flavored twists with the Fender Rhodes (hence the title, Blue Touch), Karukas' debut is another typically high-spirited effort, a reminder as to why his albums are always perched for months in the upper reaches of the radio charts. For him, it's always about lilting, instantly memorable melodies and gentle funk. There's the spring in your step on the '70s soul-meet-'90s hip-hop of "Cruisin' Your House at Midnite" followed by the gentle piano graces of "Fly Away (Thinking of You)." He's always open to throwing in a few surprises, and on "Cruisin'," he gets a little more down and dirty with the B-3. Likewise, borrowing a lick or two of inspiration from Dave Samuels, he creates a lively, tropical playground on "Club Havana." The tendency of well-connected genre artists is to use the contributions of all-stars up front, let their flash dominate. Karukas, however, is more interested in letting big shots like Boney James, Eric Marienthal and Peter White simply harmonize with him or fill in a few blanks. White's lush acoustic touch -- an instantly recognizable sound if there ever was one -- is surprisingly restrained on the slow grooving "Azure Dreaming"; until a late solo, you really have to perk up your ears to hear it. Karukas uses a killer horn section only where appropriate on "Snakey Shoes," too, letting a simple trio carry the main melody and rhythm. He's changed labels, but the familiarity Karukas offers assures you that you'll know it's him again.

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