Sound Travels

Jessie Allen Cooper

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Sound Travels Review

by Alex Henderson

The back cover of Jessie Allen Cooper's Sound Travels describes this release as "world jazz fusion," but once you get past the soprano saxophonist's occasional hints of world music, Sound Travels is, for the most part, an album of by-the-book smooth jazz and instrumental pop in the Kenny G./Dave Koz/Najee/Richard Elliot vein. Clearly, Cooper isn't going after jazz's hardcore -- not that every instrumentalist who comes along is obligated to cater to jazz purists and bop snobs. Pop-flavored jazz does have its place as long as it's well done; if one thinks of Grover Washington, Jr., David Sanborn, Joe Sample, and Ronnie Laws as artists who have contributed to smooth jazz, then some smooth jazz does, in fact, have substance and artistic merit. So instead of making sweeping generalizations about smooth jazz, it is best to evaluate it on an album-by-album basis -- and while Sound Travels tends to be lightweight, the disc has its moments. "Groovin Out Back" has a likable blues-rock influence, while the mysterious "Rain Dance" suggests Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter's collaborations in Weather Report. And "Walkin the Park" has appealing hints of Miles Davis thanks to Jim Hale's muted trumpet. But most of the time, Cooper is content to play unimaginative background music and emulate the Kenny G./Koz/Najee crowd. Of course, emulating those saxophonists can be quite profitable; the play lists of smooth jazz/NAC stations are full of talented musicians who seriously lowered their creative standards because they grew tired of struggling -- people who decided that if selling out meant the difference between having health insurance and not having health insurance, they would sell out. So from a marketing standpoint, one can understand why Sound Travels and similar albums take so few risks. Nonetheless, Sound Travels' formulaic nature is regrettable because Cooper is capable of much more.

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