In smooth jazz, a number one radio hit is all it takes to turn an emerging talent into a bona fide genre star who gets all the best festival bookings. Raised on Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and lots of funk, Munich-born guitarist Nils was the big genre story in 2005, breaking through with the lively title track from his in-the-pocket debut, Pacific Coast Highway; the song was number one on the Radio & Records airplay chart for seven weeks and was dubbed the most played song in the format for the year. Inspired by this success, Nils offered no big surprises but still engaged his fans just as much on Ready to Play, a disc that kept his sleek, crisp electric axe front and center while further exploring his pop, jazz, and R&B-driven options. Almost as if it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, he titled the first single "Ready to Play," which was one of those immediately infectious, grooving, and percussive tracks that radio and listeners could gobble up. Also perfect for another drive down PCH are the sensual "Just Smile"; the dreamy and ambient wordless vocal-enhanced "Catnap" (which taps into a trippy electronica sound); the old-schoolin' funk of "Sunrise on Sunset"; and the hardest-grooving track of all, "Hi Five." Rather than rely on much machinery, Nils made a great decision to let the music reflect the seamless ensemble energy of his live performances. His whole touring band is featured: bassist Alex Al, keyboardist Leon Bisquera (who also plays Fender Rhodes), drummer Donnell Spencer, Jr., synth player and singer Clydene Jackson, and percussionist Oliver Brown. Other featured first-call sidemen include bassists Roberto Vally, Dwayne "Smitty" Smith, Reggie McBride, and keyboardist Larry Dunn.
Ready to Play Review
by Jonathan Widran