It's hard to deny that saxophonist Gerald Albright often gave up playing "jazz" -- at least the snob definition -- in favor of urban radio and smooth jazz radio acceptance. During his years on the Atlantic label (1987-1997), his full-lengths contained big hits surrounded by lackluster songs. The exception was the "real jazz" album (snob definition again) Live at Birdland West, which kicked up the excitement a notch. After leaving Atlantic his first record for GRP, Groovology, was freer and more fun. Maybe it wasn't "real jazz," but it was really good. Nothing was so sweet and staid that it made you wince and the excitement was certainly back. Kickin' It Up continues along these lines, and if it isn't as well constructed as Groovology, it will at least keep the Albright faithful coming back. Albright still plays the jazz-pop that's kept him in the money, but once again he adds little flourishes and playful embellishments that are the textbook definition of jazz. A rotating group of musicians keeps the album from having any honest live feeling (no one ever "responds" to any of the other musicians), and there's almost as much drum programming as there is real drumming. The various groupings at least sound tight, and whenever Albright is coupled with Jeff Lorber he's extra effervescent. Former Boyz II Men vocalist Shawn Stockman pillow talks his way through the Brian McKnight-penned "Condition of My Heart" better than Justin Guarini did, and Albright's inspired arrangement and performance of John Mayer's "Why Georgia" captures the wistful, wandering spirit of the original. A couple formulaic numbers keep the record from being a total success, but there's less of it than during his worst Atlantic days and every song has at least one eyebrow-raising passage. The jazz elite will refuse to recognize him until he delivers another Birdland West, but they're missing his new voice, and judging by how comfy he sounds here, he probably shouldn't go back. Since going with GRP Albright finally added comfortable and freewheeling to amiable, smooth, and relaxed. A fair album -- like this one -- from the new Albright beats a very good one from the old, controlled Albright.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries