Paul Jackson, Jr.

The Power of the String

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Five years ago, one of R&B and pop's most popular and versatile sidemen released Never Alone/Duets which featured his crisp guitar lines amidst the performances of a handful of his R&B and jazz buddies, from Kirk Whalum and Joe Sample to Jeff Lorber and Gerald Albright. The album didn't fuel his smooth jazz career as expected, so he spent the next five years -- in between tours with Whitney Houston and others like the Backstreet Boys -- doing some soul searching. And the result is pretty simple, and one of smooth jazz's best releases of the year -- focus on the powerful emotional possibilities of the guitar. Jackson produced the throbbing and funky opening track, "On Eagles Wings"; the lush and graceful ballad "Pour Noelle" (which features the wistful sax of Boney James, the lone smooth jazz star appearance); the moody, ambient "You Don't Have to Tell Her"; and the album's most unique piece, "Waltz for Wanda," an acoustic quartet piece featuring Jackson's gentler guitar work with Patrice Rushen's tender ivories. Jackson tapped top genre producer Paul Brown for "Bounce Wid It," an atmospheric shuffle groove piece featuring Jackson on electric and wah-wah guitar. There's also a Deniece Williams vocal ("You Always Satisfy"), which is nice but distracts a bit from the vibe Jackson seems to be conveying elsewhere. Still a welcome return and hopefully a disc that will relaunch his solo presence in contemporary instrumental music.

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