Kevin Toney


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Keyboardist Kevin Toney is a superb contemporary jazz instrumentalist and composer who can perform a range of styles -- including jazz, blues, and R&B -- with equal dexterity, and his album, Strut, is a good example of his remarkable facility. For this collection of primarily upbeat compositions, Toney combined his trademark memorable melodies with a variety of grooves to create an album on which his accomplished jazz and blues stylings are spiced with a strong urban flavor. Generally, this combination works; on "Karizma" Toney layers bright, chirping keyboards over a funky rhythm, and on "Secret Agent" his irresistibly catchy melody rides atop a rapid-fire dance groove. Toney and saxophonist Ronnie Laws enjoy a little give-and-take on "Passion Dance," and the two create a haunting, gracefully grooving mid-tempo number. Toney has a way with a romantic composition, and his talent for communicating tenderness without becoming saccharine is amply in evidence on the lush and elegant "Special Occasion." On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, "Aunt Mary" is a bouncy, buoyant, completely infectious blues-flavored jam that is enhanced by quirky harmonica, courtesy of Tetsuya "Weeping Willow" Nakamuru. On a couple of tracks, the intricate arrangements might be just a little too intricate; the title track, for example, is a strong opening number and certainly sets the tone for the album, but the pulsing, bass-heavy groove and wordless vocalizing threaten to overpower Toney's delightful melody and fluid improvising. On Toney's remake of the Gap Band's "Yearning for Your Love," disco star Evelyn "Champagne" King turns in a strong vocal performance, but Toney's delicate piano fills and solo nearly get lost amid the vocals and the arrangement's powerful funk rhythm. Overall, however, Strut is a solid, richly varied, and highly engaging collection that is sure to appeal to -- and lift the spirits of -- music lovers of virtually every stripe.

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