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Review: Play from Jeff Kashiwa

Play by Jeff KashiwaIn the liner notes to Play, the latest Jeff Kashiwa release, writer Brian Soergel writes “a new creative direction in contemporary jazz – a shaking free of abundantly creative talent in a genre sagging under the weight of yesterday’s rules – is forcefully redefining a style desperately in need of fine tuning.” With a little altering, that could be the motto of this site! In this case, he’s referring to the saxman’s desire to simply have a good time recording Play. Mission accomplished. Kashiwa lets it rip with a 14-track template for what a smooth jazz recording maybe should be. Kicking off with a one-minute improvised prologue, he immediately follows with two uptempo compositions – the joyous “The Lucky One” and jamming “Movin’ Up.” The album’s fun vibe only slows for the melancholy “Fall,” the lazy weekend flavor of “Blue Jeans,” and the ballad “Once Again” (the latter two feature guest Russell Ferrante). Kashiwa says “I think I’m conveying that I’m beyond playing it safe and keeping the spectrum limited to one color. I wanted more of a group vibe.” True – there is little programming. Almost all of the tracks are played by his Coastal Access band. Of special note, Play does not have one single vocal track or cover song.

I haven’t paid close attention to smooth jazz in the last few years but when I did tune in (to XM’s Watercolors station), the catchiest tracks were usually Jeff Kashiwa’s. He has emerged as one of the top pop-jazz composers. His use and arrangements of horns makes a good track great. I recall his assistance with the memorable horn arrangements on the Live In L.A. release by his former band, the Rippingtons. I’m happy to hear him employ that talent in his solo recordings.

Play is a fitting title. As Kashiwa says, “The word was like a mantra throughout the process of making this album. The red light went on and all of the musicians gave incredible performances straight from the heart.” It is out now on the Native Language label.

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