Various Artists

Smooth Africa, Vol. 2: Exploring the Soul

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The follow-up to the first Smooth Africa album, this one also aims to merge South African pop with American smooth jazz in the interests of creating a third stream musical force, better musical understanding between cultures and all that. Fortunately for the groove-oriented listener, the irresistible force (South Africa) overpowers the immovable object (smooth jazz) -- and the result is a very enjoyable album that is anything but bland. Most of the leaders of this collection are South African artists, and while their tracks might have a high grade of polish on them, they usually seem virtually unaffected by the American influences that they are supposed to merge with. Guitarist Jimmy Dludlu triumphs on the very first track, "Walk of Life," the distinctive township chord patterns and jiggling groove setting the pace. Later on, guitarist Prince Kupi takes off on a typical revolving South African pop chord pattern on "Botsotsi" and Ladysmith Black Mambazo stamps its mellifluous vocal presence upon "Abezizwe." Only Moses Khumalo's "Hymn for Taiwa" tries to lean overtly in the other geographical direction toward a smooth gospel-jazz fusion of sorts. When Heads Up's smoothie artists actually do appear -- Joe McBride's "Adderley Street," Andy Narell's "Punch" -- their styles are obviously affected and uplifted by their South African cohorts, and in the case of McBride's "Yebo," transformed. The CD closes, oddly enough, with the Spyro Gyra track "Cape Town Love" from the album Original Cinema; though it doesn't quite fit stylistically, its joyous spirit is simpatico with the rest of the recording

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