Rafael Aragon

Passion

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Throughout the '90s, the smooth jazz/NAC field took a lot of verbal beatings from jazz's hardcore, and in many cases, the barbs were totally justified. A lot of the smooth jazz that came out in the '90s was boring, unimaginative, and disposable; how many Kenny G clones were listeners expected to put up with? But if Rafael Aragón's Passion is smooth jazz, it's smooth jazz with a difference. This 1993 release demonstrates that laid-back pop-jazz doesn't have to sound like it was recorded with an elevator or a dentist's office in mind; most of the time, Passion is fairly interesting. Aragón's forte is a soft, mellow blend of pop, jazz, and Latin music, and in the case of Passion, soft and mellow doesn't mean wimpy or gutless; the guitarist wants listeners to chill out, but he isn't trying to put them to sleep. Although Aragón plays acoustic Spanish guitar, flamenco isn't his only Latin influence. The instrumentalist is obviously hip to nuevo flamenco -- the modern flamenco that has been incredibly popular in Spain since the '70s -- but he has also been influenced by Afro-Cuban, Peruvian, and Brazilian music. In fact, one of his sidemen on this CD is Rique Pantoja, a talented and lyrical keyboardist from Brazil. Is Passion as challenging as it could have been? No, and Aragón is probably capable of a lot more. But Passion is a generally decent and pleasant album of mood music, and it proves that smooth jazz and NAC-oriented recordings don't have to be devoid of a brain.

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