Many smooth jazz fans are so passionate about their favorite genre that it's hard for them to fathom that there are people in the world who don't consider Peter White and Warren Hill household names. This type of sampler is the perfect introduction to this popular instrumental realm, but there is an even higher purpose for this collection: it celebrates 15 years of the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival, which has become the premier international showcase for contemporary and smooth jazz. Promoter Art Good selected each track personally to give a cross section of some of the most popular artists who have graced the stage at the Casino Ballroom over the years. Though he includes popular mainstream artists like White ("Autumn Day") and Richard Elliot ("Who?"), Good also keys in on performers whose music goes slightly beyond the borders of what is considered smooth jazz -- most notably, rhumba flamenco great Jesse Cook ("Rattle and Burn"), Keiko Matsui (the classical-influenced "Mediterranean Eyes"), and popular new age pianist David Lanz ("Cristofori's Dream"). Though the music is generally buoyant, a few tracks are bound to be poignant for other reasons. Acoustic Alchemy is represented by "Catalina Kiss," featuring the late Nick Webb. Daniel Ho & Kilauea ("Avalon Sunrise") put on some amazing shows at the festival, but are no longer an active unit. And of course, the late Grover Washington, Jr. is sadly missed, even if Good's choice of a vocal track ("Monte Carlo Nights"), featuring only a solo by the legend, is curious. Spyro Gyra is one of the most exciting genre performers and perhaps their energy could be better-represented by a song other than the mostly laid-back "Del Corazon." Also included are tracks by Bob James, Chris Standring, and Candy Dulfer, with a live performance of Warren Hill's "Mambo 2000" conveying the essence of the festival's musical excitement.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran