Chieli Minucci

Night Grooves

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This immensely versatile guitarist was creating smooth jazz and worldbeat with his late partner George Jinda as Special EFX 20 years ago; years before both genres were known by their current names. A popular force back then and still going strong, Chieli Minucci is in that rare position of being both an influential elder statesman and a modern innovator, and he's big with a wide variety of pop singers too (including Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony). He's been in the mellow, radio-friendly mode more than ever before with his current label, Shanachie, which specializes in picture perfect airwave hits, and for the most part, those hard to resist, melodic funk gems are what this latest disc is about. The opening track, "Kickin' It Hard," lives up to its billing, with the guitarist trading his percussive and aggressive lines back and forth with Jay Rowe's jumpy ivories and David Mann's scorching sax lines. The title track and "Foolin' Around Again" aren't quite as taxing on Minucci's jazzy improvisation ability, but the bounce is irresistible and the hooks (especially the guitar-horn blend on the latter) are captivating. Fortunately for fans who know what Minucci is truly capable of, the label lets him do some exploring away from commercial considerations on two tracks that top out at over seven minutes -- the Pat Metheny-flavored "Behind the Veil" (which begins as an acoustic mood piece before evolving into a crackling electro- fusion jam) and the mystical "Behind the Veil." A real melody emerges, but this one is more about Eastern atmospheres, soaring electricity, odd sound effects, and voices and creative percussion patterns. Special EFX fans will most enjoy "Nasir di Nuevo," another somewhat experimental ambient piece which features Minucci musing over dense percussion patterns and floating textures.

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