Valarie King

Anytime, Anyplace

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From Tim Weisberg on, the smooth jazz radio format spotlighting contemporary instrumental music was never very friendly to the unique timbre of the flute. Even saxophonists who had unique voices on the instrument like Nelson Rangell were often discouraged from doing too many cuts with it. It's always encouraging from a creative standpoint when a brilliant standout performer on the flute gives it a go in spite of this foolish reality, and there was none better in the later 2000s than Valarie King. King was hardly a newcomer to the industry, with a mile-long résumé boasting performances and recordings with an impressive list of legends, from Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Ray Charles to Barbra Streisand, Seal, Annie Lennox, Babyface, and Elton John. All of the tunes on her third solo project Anytime, Anyplace fit into the grooving, urban jazz vibe that defined the genre. "I Can Tell You Love Me," featuring the soothing backing vocals and stellar electric piano of jazz/R&B great Patrice Rushen, is sensual, cool, and shimmering showcase for King's melodic and inventive playing. She gets edgier and more aggressive on a trippy rock/soul/electronica twist on Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady," then chills back down into a steady R&B groove for "Airwave" and an ethereal reading of Janet Jackson's "Anytime, Anyplace." In the mid-2000s, there was a glut of smooth jazz cover songs (mostly sax driven) hitting the radio, but King chooses hers well, from her wistful trad jazz meets old-school soul and fusion turn on the traditional "Zombra" to a lightning quick twist on the original John Coltrane solo of "Giant Steps" -- complete with some of the original tracking. She also includes a funky smash-up of Ronnie Laws' "Always There." This kind of spirited flute playing showed the vast creative potential of the instrument and its adaptability. Contemporary jazz fans with any true sense of adventure -- and who realized the coolest stuff is coming out independently -- were the lucky ones who gobbled this disc up.

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