Ragan Whiteside

Evolve

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If versatile vocalist and urban jazz flutist Ragan Whiteside had emerged about two decades earlier, her soulful melodies, pocket grooves, and spirited improvisations would have been huge in the emerging smooth jazz format. But somewhere along the way, even during the time when the genre was at its peak, the flute fell out of flavor as a lead instrument and artists like Whiteside and Althea Rene could only find traction going the independent route. Timing aside, Whiteside -- who picked up steam as a solo artist after winning the New Artist Competition at the Capital Jazz Festival in the mid-2000s -- delivers a hot mix of infectious R&B-funk-jazz tunes on her sophomore disc. Though there's little doubt that her strong songwriting and colorful playing style (and her ability to weave in dreamy backing vocals) could have made this collection an artistic triumph on its own, it make sense to namedrop because a few of the genre's biggest names are vibing with her. The lighthearted, easy grooving "Feelin' Free" (featuring an inspiring lead vocal by Whiteside) features the snazzy retro-soul keys of Bob Baldwin. The crunch retro-funk piece "Off Kilter" has one of the flutist's brightest performances, backed by the electric guitar snap and a spirited solo by Chieli Minucci. She also pairs beautifully with the dreamy soprano sax harmonies of Marion Meadows on the lyrical ballad "Until Next Time." Those "all-star" assisted tracks are just the springboard for one of the most solid indie urban jazz sets of 2012.

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