John Klemmer

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Hush Review

by Thom Jurek

Hush was John Klemmer's second album for Elektra, following the commercially successful Magnificent Madness recorded a year earlier. While the previous album focused on covers and vocal tracks, Hush moved back toward the silkier sounds of his soft-sounding electric jazz. While Grover Washington, Jr.. is often credited as being the father of smooth jazz, his records were far funkier and reflective of raw emotions. Beginning with 1975's smash Touch, Klemmer began making records that went for atmospheric vibe and slick production values, rather than troubling himself with the ins and outs of composition or improvising -- with the exception of his two solo saxophone offerings, Cry and Solo Saxophone II: Life. As an album, Hush is more realized, sophisticated, and satisfying than any of post-Touch offerings for MCA, his own Nautilus imprint, or Magnificent Madness. While still drenched in icy production (courtesy of Gary Borman) Klemmer focused on actually writing and arranging for this one rather than just blowing his Echoplex tenor over a rhythm section. For starters, there's the hit single from this set, "Let's Make Love," with Clint Holmes on vocals. It's a great quiet storm track and reflects Klemmer's obsession with romance while still focusing on a serious groove. On Magnificent Madness he collaborated with Danny O'Keefe on two tracks but the great singer and songwriter's beautiful hook, poetic lyrics, and signature voice were buried under layers of saxophone and production gimmicks. That's not the case here, the song is a natural single, with a memorable refrain and slightly funky backbeat not unlike some of Rodney Franklin's better numbers from the period. Another winner is "Hot," with its Caribbean flavored backbeat, the backing vocals of Maxine Anderson and Phyllis St. James, and the killer pianism of Russell Ferrante. Klemmer's own blowing has some nice raw touches, especially when playing the lower register. In other words, it's a track with a number of parts that shouldn't add up but do. "Taboo" has a rubbery funk bassline by Abe Loriel and some very tasty guitar work by Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. Klemmer also doubles on alto flutes on the cut, something he hasn't made a practice of in years. While there is a tendency for some of these cuts to bleed into one another, the sense of musicianship and sweet '80s soul comes through nicely and doesn't get bogged down in repetition. It should also be noted that the title cut that opens and closes the album has some of Klemmer's more subtly nuanced blowing. It's smooth, but there is real feeling in the lyric line and in the way he plays off Lenny Castro's hand drums. Ferrante and Carlton fill spaces beautifully with nocturnal, minor-key flourishes, and Klemmer actually allows for the gift of his melodic improvisation to make its way into the tune. While Hush is not a classic by any stretch, it is a satisfying and very consistent entry in his catalog. Along with 1983's funkier Finesse, it is his best effort for Elektra.

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