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This Week at Café

October 23rd, 2011
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This Week at the Café: Timeline Series - Wayback in '96!
… as part of a continuing adventure in the timeline series, we present Wayback in '96 courtesy of the incomparable Wayback machine. We've set the controls and there on the sign post up ahead are some of today's highlights - these include Richard Elliot, Chieli Minucci, and Art Porter Jr., while also appearing are Brian Culbertson, The Rippingtons and Peter White. 1996 was also the year for a release by George Benson that still rates among his best. From an effort entitled That's Right, and a cd that peaked at #1 we're turning on our Benson burner with the title track - as we hurtle Wayback to '96!
In This Issue:

That's Right - George Benson
Flirtation - Herb Alpert
Pacific Coast Drive - Doc Powell
Venice Beach - Blue Knights
A Cat on the ... - Keiko Matsui
Talk 2 Me - Thom Rotella

AFTER HOURS: Wayback (contd)
PLAYLIST: Playlist for Ed#630

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Highlights Hour One
That's Right - George Benson:
George Benson stands uniquely as one of the most gifted jazz guitarists in history, but in addition he's an incredibly versatile musician and performer. As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, Benson actually started professionally as a singer, performing in nightclubs when he was just eight but as his career unfolded, he enjoyed the opportunity to play with 'some of the baddest jazz cats on the planet' as he puts it. In 1964, Benson released his debut as The New Boss Guitar, a play on Wes Montgomery's Boss Guitar, which he considered one of his finest records. Hooking up with the CTI label in 1970, there was a series of releases that further fuelled his reputation, but after a while, he wanted to try out something new. It wasn't until Benson connected with Tommy LiPuma that he received any encouragement or support - the result was Breezin', the first jazz record to attain platinum sales. Released in 1976, the disc provided the instantly recognizable title track as well as Benson's soulful take on Leon Russell's "This Masquerade", which unveiled the guitarist hallmark scatting style. After a string of hit records in an R&B-flavored pop mode, Benson's work had became a bit formulaic so it was that the '96 That's Right cd came as a pleasant surprise to long time fans. It saw the reunion of Benson with producer Tommy LiPuma and signified a return to a jazzier vein - from that effort which peaked at #1 for the year, we have the title track!

CD: That's Right (1996)
Label: GRP

George Benson - That's Right

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Herb Alpert - Second Wind
Flirtation - Herb Alpert:
After stints in the US Army and at USC, Herb Alpert set up a small studio in his garage, where he recorded The Lonely Bull, a project that he backed financially. A few stations began playing the track and the tune became a Top Ten hit for 1963; by the end of the following year, Alpert found himself hiring a bunch of musicians to satisfy live appearance requests. The Brass debuted in 1965 and during their peak they were one of the most popular acts of the day selling well over 11 million records within a span of 3 years. After 15 albums with the band through until 1972, Alpert turned his attention to running A&M Records, which he had started a few years earlier with his partner Jerry Moss. The company grew to become the largest independent label in the world and in 1990 A&M was sold for $500 million. Meanwhile as a performer, Alpert continued to record. He shifted to a more contemporary sound which found a welcome fit with the emerging smooth scene. In 1994, Alpert and Moss were back at it, this time launching a venture that they called Almo Sounds. Second Wind issued in 1996 was Alpert's 33rd release in his career but was well named as it was his first on the new label! The project, produced in collaboration with Jeff Lorber, remains one of Alpert's best and rates highly as recommended listening!

CD: Second Wind (1996)
Label: Almo Sounds
Doc Powell - Laid Back
Pacific Coast Drive - Doc Powell:
As a struggling New York musician, Doc Powell was selected for a session in Italy in about 1982 for a group called Change. The lead vocalist was the late Luther Vandross and this chance encounter led to an affiliation that would span 15 years and involve hundreds of live dates. Powell played with Vandross on his 10-day record-breaking gig at Wembley Stadium in 1989 and was soon on his way to becoming one of the most sought after guitarists in the big apple. In 1987, Powell landed a record deal that led to the release of his debut, "Love Is Where It's At," and a project that was nominated for a Grammy. In spite of that success, it was 5 more years before the issue of The Doctor Powell's somewhat eponymously titled follow up. Even so, it was only Powell's 1994 Inner City Blues release on his own West Coast Records, and an effort that he was willing to pedal door to door, that eventually became his break-thru. A couple of years later, backed by the likes of Stan Clarke, Gerald Albright, Patrice Rushen, and Sheila E, Doc enjoyed his biggest commercial success with Laid Back. By tear end, the cd had comfortably nestled in among the top records for 1996, and from it Doc takes on the musically scenic Pacific Coast Drive!

CD: Laid Back (1996)
Label: Discovery

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Highlights Hour Two
Blue Knights - Tropical Night
Venice Beach - Blue Knights:
In the 90s Germany's Blue Knights was just one of three creative projects spearheaded by keyboardist and producer Curtis McLaw. The others, Dancing Fantasy and Colors in Motion, traversed similar styles and even shared some of the same supporting cast. However, in Blue Knights McLaw found a creative equal in keyboardist and producer Jan-Heie Erchinger who, for English audiences, was identified as Jay Heye. From an early age, Heye had studied classical piano before falling in love with jazz and boogie-woogie. Spurred by the success of a string of DF releases, McLaw matched his talents with Heye in 1992 for the Blue Knights debt and a cd that was inspired by the world of fashion. The album featured light jazzy piano, simple, yet beautiful melodies and rich layers of sound, and proved a major success at smooth jazz radio. By the time 1996 had rolled around, Blue Knights were already into their third studio project with Heye assuming the majority of the main writing credits. Following their first two cds in Blue Night and Red Night, that motif was extended to include Tropical Night. Augmenting the sound of the Blue Knights on the disc were guitarist Bill Joseph Flynn, saxman Mr. P.T. and brother Dirk Erchinger on percussion and drums. From the effort we have Heye's nifty piano work on a long-time favourite!

CD: Tropical Night (1996)
Label: Innovative Communications
Keiko Matsui - Dream Walk
A Cat on the Chimney - Keiko Matsui:
Over the course of a three-decade career, Keiko Matsui has attained a level of artistry that's unparalleled in contemporary jazz. Having begun piano at the age of five, by junior high Matsui was already performing her own compositions. She graduated majoring in children's culture, but also continued with her musical studies. After earning top honours at the Yamaha Foundation when she was just 17, Keiko was selected as a Yahama recording artist. Later that same year, she composed her first major film score, all while fronting a jazz combo. After recording 4 albums in her native Japan, the newly married Matsui used her honeymoon money to help fund the release of her critically acclaimed North American debut in 1987. Inspired by artists as diverse as Rachmaninoff and Maurice Jarre, Matsui's '96 Dream Walk release shows a unique confluence of influences - this is nowhere more apparent perhaps than upon the dark, and almost foreboding, A Cat on the Chimney, featuring Derek Nakamoto on keys and Bernie Dresel on drums!

CD: Dream Walk (1996)
Label: Countdown / ULG
Thom Rotella - How My Heart Beats
Talk 2 Me - Thom Rotella:
A top studio player and veteran musician, Thom Rotella grew up in Niagara Falls NY as part of a musical family. Early on, he set his sights on a career in music, and after some formal training at both Ithaca and Berklee, Rotella earned his stripes as a highly regarded session player on both coasts. Looking for a creative outlet, he embarked on a solo career in the late 80s - his first 3 releases established Rotella as a favourite in the emerging smooth jazz format. Even so, for the most of the 90s, he couldn't land a label deal and didn't record for 6 years. Re-emerging after this lengthy hiatus in 1996 with How My Heart Beats, here at long last Rotella presented a project that fully captured the vibrance & energy of a live performance. From a well written, well produced, and exceptionally well played effort that has withstood the test of time we have a dazzler called Talk 2 Me, a tune that received some great airplay and one that signaled Rotella's welcome return to the smooth arena!

CD: How My Heart Beats (1996)
Label: Positive Music

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After Hours ~ Exclusive to our Site and Select Affiliates :
Wayback in '96 Continues: ...the time travelling continues with more of Wayback in '96. Included are Steve Laury, Ronny Jordan, and Spyro Gyra and those are just some of the tracks that set 1996 apart as one of the golden years for smooth jazz … and to begin we're flashing back to that very year for a tune from Norman Brown. From Better Days ahead we have the title track, as we zing Wayback to '96 on After Hours and Café Jazz! Playlist for Ed#630

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