Based on Special EFX's eclectic artistic output since switching from GRP to JVC in 1996, longtime followers of veteran pop-jazz/worldbeat duo Chieli Minucci and George Jinda are no doubt wondering what happened to the classic sound they knew and loved. First, percussion madman Jinda put out two solo albums with his own band, World News. Then he meets hip hop-drenched saxman Mark Johnson, produces his two discs, and lets him take over the soundscapes of Special EFX's urban-bloated latest release, Catwalk. Minucci's response? Jewels, an amazing voyage into the furthest recesses of the guitarist's heart, covering paths once traveled in tandem with Jinda, as well as edgier areas which don't fit into the band's street vibe. The art of the Jewels is that Minucci doesn't have to settle on one particular mode, like so many contemporary instrumentals feel they have to. Confident in his ability to master fiery Beck-like roaring rockers ("Dig the Dirt") as well as blues, funk, and tough-spirited acid jazz, Minucci weaves across every dimension of emotional import. A few tunes will please EFX fans with their breezy, midtempo energy, but more often than not, his acrobatic strings fly without benefit of a comfortable net. Cases in point: the ethereal "Mountains" (written by his father), the jamming reggae cover of "Sitting in Limbo") featuring a bouncy vocal by Johnny Kemp), and the four-part, nine-minute title extravaganza, which takes Minucci down a highway of burning passion and detours into the wayward expanses of a soul raised on '70s rock radio. In so doing, Minucci reaches higher evolutionary ground than does any of his fine work in his years collaborating with Jinda.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran
feat: Jenny Burton