Club 1600

NCoded Music

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Some of the best music labeled as smooth jazz really qualifies as great vocal or instrumental R&B, and this multi-faceted collection shows us just where the wonderful gray areas are between genres. Veteran producer Rex Rideout -- who plays piano and/or keyboards on every track -- hosts an all-star party where the moods swing wildly from straightforward easy funk to retro-soul and beyond to more traditional jazz concepts. And yet somehow he makes it all flow. His choice of guests is interesting, ranging from hardcore veteran jazz cats like Randy Brecker and Roy Ayers to sultry voiced R&B singers Will Downing and Maysa. Not surprisingly, the most interesting tracks are the jazzy ones that go on imaginative, often improvisational jaunts (while cuts like "Spend the Night" sound like a million other fine R&B vocals). On "Where You Want to Be," Ayers' legendary vibes glide dreamily over a chunky funk groove as Michael Campbell's wah-wah guitar clicks happily in the background. Rideout joins Ayers for a note-for-note duet on the second verse, and Downing's airy vocals fill in the gaps between instrumental passages. "So Not So" begins with a brooding atmosphere rising over a thick bass and drum groove, which provides the foundation for a Miles Davis-like cool muted trumpet melody and improvisation. Rideout provides gentle piano harmonies. The track heats up when tenor saxophonist crashes the party and challenges Brecker and Rideout to keep up with his explosive jazz sensibilities. Another favorite track is the seductive "Stay," which finds David Mann's textured sax creating a horn section rising brightly over a crisp, Wes Montgomery-styled guitar melody by one of smooth jazz's best players, Chieli Minucci. Rideout shows his romantic side while leading with a cool acoustic melody on "Whisper Goodnight," but this pleasant track is just filler compared to some of the brilliance around it. Hopefully Club 1600 will stay open for a long time, with great new artists from both genres visiting on each album.