Bob Baldwin

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Well-traveled keyboardist Bob Baldwin has been on way too many major and indie labels since his stirringly funky, gospel-influenced 1990 Atlantic debut, Rejoice, a harsh indication that great talent and brilliant output in the smooth jazz world is no protection from corporate realities. Always thinking ahead, Baldwin boldly asserted the power of Internet marketing when he called his 2000 release -- and he gets back to that concept (while ostensibly creating a new subgenre of smooth jazz) by calling his spirited, melodic, slightly old-school, coolly funky 2008 disc It's somewhat amusing reading his liner notes that proclaim that title as something new, when it's been clear that smooth jazz has been heavily urbanized (incorporating vast contemporary and retro R&B sensibilities) since at least the mid-'90s. So it's a simple difference in semantics, really. The good news is that Baldwin puts his money where his mouth is, keeping that old-meets-new vibe going on easy groovers like "Jeep Jazz" (a very poppy cut featuring singer Zoiea), "Third Wind" (with Baldwin capturing the Norman Brown vocal scat vibe over segments of his happy sunlit piano chordings), and the seductive, laid-back "Take My Hand." Baldwin never forgets that the word "jazz" is in the title, too, infusing catchy, melodic uptempo gems like the brass-tinged "Too Late" with bursts of bright improvisations. No less than Quincy Jones gave a thumbs up to one of the disc's most unique tracks, the smokin' and heavy-groovin' old-school jam tribute "Joe Zawinul" (though the constant repetition of the legend's name is slightly unnecessary -- the vibe is enough!). Another striking feature of Baldwin's "new" sound is his collective approach that includes key contributions by familiar and new names on the urban music landscape. So while there are names that every smooth jazz fan knows (Najee, Marion Meadows, Phil Perry) and a few famous soul singers (Freddie Jackson, Jocelyn Brown), the keyboardist also introduces listeners to versatile newcomers like Frank McComb and rapper Della Croche. Baldwin's front- and back-end bumpers explaining the concept of "New Urban Jazz" are unnecessary in light of the soulful energy that happens throughout.

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