On The City, his second solo project, Paul Brown has taken a different path. Instead of the high gloss atmospherics that have been his trademark as a producer or the mellower grooves of his debut CD, he has opted for a live sound and upbeat approach. High-tech embellishments are noticeably absent. The result is a looser, warmer sound and an abundance of catchy melodies. What we have here is either a Paul Brown CD that doesn't have the Paul Brown sound or a glimpse at the artist and producer expanding the boundaries and stepping out of the box. After Upfront was released, he started doing live gigs and noticed that the fun, upbeat songs were the real crowd pleasers. That's the direction he took with this one.
There is a lot of great music on this CD but the title track is the project's defining moment, the song that makes it a must-buy. "The City," originally recorded by Mark Almond in 1970, was an 11-minute song from an album that blended progressive rock with jazzy grooves. Produced by Tommy LiPuma, it was arguably the precursor of the jazz-pop hybrid sound that became popular in the mid- to late-70s, nurtured mostly by LiPuma during Warner Brothers' progressive era. This new version stays remarkably true to the vibe of the original. It's shorter, tighter and a little bit faster, but Brown's vocal has the same tone and attitude. Boney James' bluesy sax and the loose, fluid guitar lines from Brown recall the atmosphere of late-night freeform radio back in the day. This song was a benchmark for a lot of future contemporary jazz fans and Brown has made it an essential for another era.
"Cosmic Monkey," the current radio hit, is one of those songs that is so different and alluring you sit in the car and wait for it to be back-announced. It's a trance-y, slow-burner featuring a Golub-ish guitar lead over a haunting and instantly hummable vocal chant. "Hello Again" is a gentle Bossa Nova reminiscent of mid-70s Benson and Montgomery. The CD really kicks in with the third track, a breezy, spirited romp with some Benson/(Norman) Brown style scatting. "Las Vegas" was a collaboration with Chuck Loeb, originally written for a series of live gigs including a New Year's Eve party. "Smooth Jazz fans like to dance," Brown said, and he gave them a song with some bounce and strut.
- Shannon West