by Val Vaccaro

If you are a jazz fan, the place to be this April is the 2015 Berks Jazz Fest to see a whole host of great smooth jazz, contemporary jazz, fusion, bebop, big band, swing, and blues concerts performed by music legends, favorite artists and talented newcomers from Wynton to Whalum and beyond. The 2015 Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest celebrates its 25th anniversary for ten days from Friday, April 10 to Sunday, April 19 in the Reading, Pennsylvania area. This year Berks Jazz Fest is sponsored once again by Boscov's - America's largest family-owned department store chain headquartered in the fest's hometown.  

The 2015 Berks Jazz Fest has 50 major ticketed shows and over 100 local free music events.    Here's an overview of the stellar lineup of artists performing at major concerts at the 2015 Berks Jazz Fest:  trumpeter Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, vocalists Dianne Reeves, Jeffrey Osborne, Will Downing, Phil Perry, Maysa, and Yolanda Adams, trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonists Boney James, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Everett Harp, Eric Marienthal, Andrew Neu, Najee, Marion Meadows,  Paul Taylor, and Elan Trotman, guitarists Chuck Loeb, Nick Colionne, Chieli Minucci, Marc Antoine, the Pat Martino Trio with Pat Bianchi and Carmen Intorre, bassists Gerald Veasley, Brian Bromberg, and Ron Jenkins, keyboardists Jeff Lorber, Alex Bugnon, Brian Simpson, Bobby Lyle, keyboardist/trombonist Brian Culbertson, Pieces of a Dream, Incognito,  Urban Jazz Coalition, Fourplay  with Bob James,  Nathan East, Harvey Mason, and Chuck Loeb, Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun, Peter White, Euge Groove and special guest Elliot Yamin, Mindy Abair & The Boneshakers featuring Sweet Pea Atkinson, Strings Attached with Larry Coryell, Jimmy Bruno, Vic Juris, Jack Wilkins and Joe Cohn, the Billy Cobham Spectrum 40 Band, the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia directed by Terell Stafford, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band featuring Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, The Berks Horns featuring saxophonist Mike Anderson. trumpeter Rob Diener, and trombonist John Loos (performing at shows with Mindy Abair, Nick Colionne, and the Dance Hall Docs featuring Brent Carter), Greg Hatza and Tim Price Organ Quartet, the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors featuring Eric Marienthal with the Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band, the Reading Pops Orchestra, and many more.

What We're Listening To ** March 2015

J E F F * D A N I E L S

Ola Onabule, Soul Town (Remixes) (Disco Soul Gold) (2015)

Joe Sample & NDR Band, Children Of The Sun (PRA) (2014)
Vail Johnson, Come Together (Swedesong Music) (2009)

James Lloyd, Here We Go (Shanachie) (2015)

Will Downing, Chocolate Drops (Will Downing) (2015)

P E T E R * B O E H I

Brian Simpson - Out Of A Dream (2015)
Keyboardist Brian Simpson released a truly great smooth jazz album that pushes all the right buttons, it features some excellent players, like saxophonists Grace Kelly and Dave Koz, Najee on flute, Norman Brown and Marc Antoine on guitar and Maysa on vocals. Quality stuff from beginning to end!

Vahagn Stepanyan - Moonlight (2015)
This keyboardist hails from Armenia and delivers a beautiful album straight out of the Brian Culbertson / Jonathan Fritzen school, he invited some top-notch players like Eric Marienthal on sax, Melvin Lee Davis and Leslie Johnson on bass, among others, on his debut record, an it is a winner. Sparkling piano, catchy melodies and excellent musicianship are the hallmarks of this album. Thumbs up!

Dr. Dave - Carefree (2015)
Guitarist Dr. Dave comes up with another picture perfect smooth jazz album with a host of guest players and his breezy guitar out front, that delivers the good stuff. Recommended!

Angela Puxi - Badapapapaa (2015)
This female saxophonist caught me by surprise with this funky, sax-led album, supported by her awesome band, she can keep up with the best. Don't miss it!

The Ice Man's Band - Introducing... (1972)
My nod to the past goes to this great instrumental R&B album featuring Jerry Butler's touring band, lots of nice instrumentals with guitar and hammond b3. Just beautiful!

Phil Perry - A Better Man

As vocalist and composer the flawless falsetto and keen musical sensibilities of Phil Perry have made him one of the greatest voices in the long and illustrious history of R&B. Once dubbed as "The Pavarotti of Jazz" by Down Beat Magazine, Perry remains one of the most in-demand singers on the scene with a list of enviable credits that include Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Peabo Bryson, the late George Duke, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Dave Koz, Bobby Womack, and Rod Stewart. Now he is back with his 11th solo CD, A Better Man that was released January 20th on the Shanachie label.

What We're Listening To ** January 2015

D E N I S * P O O L E

'Broke Down' by Eric Darius from the CD Retro Forward. This is the album's outstanding track and one with all the attributes to become an authentic dance floor filler.

'Lip Service' by Richard Elliot from the album of the same name. Some albums just fit with the mood of the moment and this is certainly the case with Elliot's latest release. Not only does it satisfy the thirst smooth jazz fans currently have for big horn driven extravaganzas but also revisits a couple of old school classics of the sort that have enjoyed something of a resurgence in the recent past.

'Split Decision' by Gerald Albright from the CD Slam Dunk. No one does lusciously smooth R & B like Gerald Albright yet in terms of personal favorites, the groove-drenched splendor of this wonderful tune is very hard to beat.

'Pocket Full Of Funk' by vocalist and powerhouse saxophonist Paula Atherton from her latest project, Ear Candy. Heavily influenced by classic funk and Philly soul, this fine collection finds Paula in the star-studded company of Nick Colionne, Cindy Bradley, and Gail Jhonson all of who add icing to what is a very tasty cake.

'A New Beginning' by composer and keyboard player Jonathan Fritzén from his brand new project, Fritzenized. This masterpiece of rhythm and melody finds Fritzén at his excellent best and seems all set to accelerate his already meteoric assent to the very top of the smooth jazz contemporary jazz.

"Among the most beautiful jazz albums ever made.. from one of the smooth jazz pioneers!"

Camarillo, CA - Jazz aficionados and high end audio enthusiasts alike are excited about the forthcoming release of jazz legend Grover Washington, Jr.'s Winelight album on 5.1 Hybrid SACD from Audio Fidelity in association with ETrain Records. With Winelight, Grover Washington, Jr. produced a magical collection of jazz and soul with a touch of pop. He set the standard for the smooth jazz genre - the band is tight, the solos terrific and the arrangements understated and tasteful. The 1980 double-Grammy award winning album was Washington's most successful album and remains one of the smooth jazz masterpieces.

Top to bottom Winelight is superb, masterfully recorded and perhaps best-known for the hit "Just the Two of Us" sung by Bill Withers, but it is the five instrumental tracks that find Grover Washington, Jr. (on soprano, alto, and tenor) really stretching out. He was joined by percussionist (and producer) Ralph MacDonald and also the incomparable Steve Gadd (drums) and Eric Gale (guitar).

Grover Washington, Jr., had long been one of the leaders in what could be called rhythm & jazz, essentially R&B-influenced jazz. The music world lost a great musician when the late Grover Washington Jr. passed away in 1999. Fortunately, he left so many classic albums to cherish and "Winelight" is one of those time-honored works that must be included in any worthy music collection.

Let It Flow (For "Dr. J")
In the Name of Love
Take Me There
Just the Two of Us
Make Me a Memory (Sad Samba)

Album and Surround Sound Remix Produced by Ralph MacDonald
Surround Sound Remix Engineered & Mixed by Elliot Scheiner
Stereo mix mastered for this release by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio

For more information:

What We're Listening To ** December 2014

P E T E R * B O E H I

Reggie Codrington - Always In Motion (2014)
Saxophonist Reggie Codrington is one of the best kept secrets on the smooth jazz scene. I am following his career since his debut release Never Let You Go on TBA Records in 1990 and have been enjoying all the music he has put out over the years. This latest release features guest artists like Jeff Lorber, Nils and the late Ricky Lawson, which translates into a fine slice of smooth jazz by a truly underrated player. Thumbs up!

Gregg Karukas - Soul Secrets (2014)
A new release by keyboardist Gregg Karukas is always an occasion to celebrate, especially when it is as star-studded like this one. Guesting on this album are Vincent Ingala, Rick Braun, Euge Groove, Ricardo Silveira, Charlie Bisharat and others, each one adding his own flavor to the catchy compositions of the leader. This CD is a true smooth jazz gem by one of the veterans of the scene. Very recommended!

Michael Lington - Soul Appeal (2014)
Saxophonist Michael Lington is still going strong with his latest album Soul Appeal featuring his gutsy saxophone playing over a funky, organic backdrop, this time paying tribute to the greats of the 70ies, with his cover of "Memphis Soul Stew" indicating where his heart lies. A very nice change of pace and a definitive winner in my book. Don't miss it!

Gabriel - Open Invitation (2014)
Trumpet player Gabriel Mark Hasselbach - currently calling himself just Gabriel - comes up with an awesome album full of memorable tracks and tons of first-rate guest players, like Bob Mintzer, Bob Baldwin, Greg Manning and many others. The music is groovy and offers a lot of variety, the musicianship is on a high level, and the smooth trumpet and flugelhorn playing of the leader holds it all together. Great stuff!

Kenny Pore - Inner City Dreams (1984) and You Don't Know Me (1985)
My nod to the past goes to these first two albums by Kenny Pore, featuring his compositions and a top cast of L.A. session players like Pat Coil, Vinnie Colaiuta, Brandon Fields, Robben Ford, John Patitucci, Paul Jackson Jr., Harvey Mason and more. Stylistically, those albums fall in part in the west coast genre, in part they are a precursor to smooth jazz with their melodic instrumentals. This music stood the test of time well and gained classic status. Bliss!

Eric Darius - Retro Forward

Retro Forward from soulful sax-man Eric Darius is his sixth studio project and the second on the Shanachie label. Yet Darius has always been a man in a hurry. In 2001, at age 17, he independently released his debut CD Cruisin, a venture for which he had been writing music over the previous four years and when in 2004 he secured a deal with Narada Jazz it enabled the follow up, Night On The Town to be unveiled on the Higher Octave label. Significantly, following an impromptu meeting in Los Angeles, he got the chance to join Brian Culbertson's touring band and has also collaborated with such diverse talents as Prince, George Benson, Mary J. Blige, Wynton Marsalis and Brian McKnight. He has even appeared on the US version of Simon Cowell's hit TV series, The X Factor but now, in 2014, Eric Darius is very much his own man and with his own unique sound.

What We're Listening To ** October 2014

P E T E R * B O E H I

Mariea Antoinette - Straight From The Harp (2014)
Harpist Mariea Antoinette - who also plays with the all female smooth jazz band Jazz In Pink - comes up with a really nice solo album featuring her harp playing and a bunch of great songs, my favorite is her cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love" that really evokes the spirit of the original. The album is very well produced and destined to win her some new fans. Good stuff!

Caté Musiq Group - The Style Lounge, Vol. 1: The 80's (2014)
This cover album delivers some of the greatest songs from the 80's in a laid-back, jazzy and easy flowing manner, two outstanding singers (Nina Vidal and Fil Straughan) take the songs to the next level, the instrumentalists are top notch with lots of good solos. Very recommended!

Randy Singer - Harmonica Dreams (Deluxe Edition) (2014)
Harmonica player Randy Singer who has a long resumé as sideman for the industry's finest comes up with a very nice, Brazilian tinged solo album that boast lots of great smooth jazz harmonica tracks, plus a few pop songs. He reminds me a bit of Lee Oskar. This "Deluxe Edition" offers two additional bonus tracks. Joyful stuff!

Threestyle (feat. Magdalena Chovancova) - Get It (2014)
This funky smooth jazz band from the Czech Republic features Magdalena Chovancova on sax and twin sister Gabriela on drums, plus Robert Fertl on guitar, this album was produced by Paul Brown and recorded in the US, and the result is pure smooth jazz bliss. Thumbs up!

Dianne Reeves - For Every Heart (1984)
My nod to the past goes to this early release of singer Dianne Reeves on TBA Records, it features some top players like Tom Scott on sax and Noel Pointer on violin, it shows already what outstanding singer she is, the music stood the test of time well. A star in the making!