Under Your Spell

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Smooth jazz presents something of a marketing quandary for both its practitioners and the labels that market them. On the one hand, it positions itself in the marketplace as a subgenre of jazz; on the other hand, serious jazz fans tend to look down their noses at its shiny surfaces, smooth textures, and harmonic simplicity. You could argue that smooth jazz is jazz for people who hate jazz, but the fact is that many of those jazz fans who affect a public attitude of snobbish superiority do get off on this stuff privately, especially when it's got a certain amount of depth and complexity to it, which it sometimes does. Shakatak is a good example of a smooth jazz outfit that makes music even jazz snobs can get behind. Yes, the keyboards and vocals are layered sumptuously and the chord progressions unroll with blissful predictability; yes, the bass and drums lay down a barely funky groove that keeps things upbeat without making you feel like you have to dance. But on songs like "Falling" and "Running Back to You," those chord progressions have a pleasing tendency to slide a bit sideways from time to time, and even the cheesy vocoder bits are more cute than annoying. And vocalist Jill Saward is never anything less than an utter treat to listen to. If it bothers you to call this jazz, then call it pop music for jazz fans who think they're too sophisticated for pop music.

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