Leif Shires

What a Wonderful World

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It isn't hard to understand why so many jazz critics have an incredibly low opinion of smooth jazz; a great deal of it has been soulless, robotic, bland and unimaginative. But not all smooth jazz is without merit. If one believes that David Sanborn, Ronnie Laws, and the late Grover Washington, Jr. have been a part of smooth jazz (although their work has had just as much to do with soul-jazz), then it's easy to make the argument that some smooth jazz is worthy of praise. And parts of Miles Davis' 1985 release You're Under Arrest found the trumpet icon dabbling in smooth jazz with worthwhile results. That brings us to Leif Shires, whose What a Wonderful World has one foot in smooth jazz and the other in cool jazz. It isn't hard to figure out who his main influences are; Shires' lyrical, introspective trumpet playing owes a lot to Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Chris Botti. What a Wonderful World is easy listening, but it's respectable easy listening rather than flat-out elevator muzak -- and Shires' playing is consistently likable whether he is getting into cool jazz (which is basically a subtle, understated approach to bop) on Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" (the song producer Orrin Keepnews called "the national anthem of jazz"), "Autumn Leaves," and the Nat King Cole-associated "Unforgettable," or favoring more of a smooth jazz outlook on Sting's "Fields of Gold," Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." Davis played those Jackson and Lauper hits on You're Under Arrest, and Shires' versions were clearly inspired by Davis'; however, Shires is smart enough to improvise instead of trying to play every single note that Davis played on his interpretations back in the 1980s. There is no getting around the fact that What a Wonderful World is quite derivative, but it's tastefully derivative -- and while this early 2009 release isn't remarkable, it is still a pleasant demonstration of Shires' melodic lyricism.

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