In four short years, contemporary/smooth jazz tenor saxophonist Jessica Arellano (Jessy J) has made quite a splash. Hot Sauce, her Heads Up International debut -- and fourth album overall -- was produced by Paul Brown, and includes guest appearances from heavyweights Joe Sample, drummer Harvey Mason, guitarist Ray Parker Jr., and vocalist Saunders Sermons. Arellano wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's ten compositions. Its finest moments include the opener, "Remember the Night," which channels Grover Washington Jr.'s Kudu era; the bluesy "Rio Grande," on which her tenor is beautifully balanced by Marco Brasci's keyboard work and Brown's guitar playing; and the title track, where she branches out to showcase some fiery Latin grooves. "Rainbow Gold," written with Sample and including Parker and Mason, is a solid funky jazz track save for Arellano's vocals. She is a plaintive singer who hasn't mastered being able to stand out in front of a big instrumental mix. The pop tune "We Kissed" is marred by the same trait. These are minor annoyances, however. The surprise reading of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" as a jazzy soul number showcases Sermons' satin-finish vocals in an original arrangement with compelling snare work by Josh Guinta. Sample, Parker, and Mason also appear on set closer "Last Night," which is such a groove-laden number that Arellano's vocals get in the way because they are primarily a briefly sung refrain. Parker's guitars, Nick Sample's bassline, papa Joe's elegant acoustic piano, and Mason's breaks are an excellent supporting cast for Arellano's in-the-cut soloing. The bottom line on Hot Sauce is that it's a more mature and realized record than what she's done before and takes some chances -- even when they don't pay off. It's tightly arranged, well produced, and beautifully played.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek