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Release Date:
December 15, 2009

Reviewed by:
Anne Aufderheide

Of Smooth Jazz’s founding fathers, Alex Bugnon has created one of the most recognized styles in today's contemporary jazz piano.  It is a intoxicating mixture of jazz, funk, and R&B with hints of gospel.  A new release from Bugnon is always a highly anticipated event, and his new disc, Going Home, is a welcome addition to Bugnon’s illustrious discography.  In fact, this is his 10th solo recording and is probably the best CD I’ve heard from Bugnon…ever!  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grooved to his phat funk like the best of them.  But this new CD shows another side of Bugnon, a really good new side. It is warm, sophisticated, intelligent, acoustic, and so magnificently performed. Quite simply, it’s refreshing and, I believe, it will have broad appeal with many listeners.

For the concept, Bugnon began working with an idea for a ‘60s inspired record, with a vibe like Les McCann & Eddie Harris, or like Herbie Hancock’s recordings from his Blue Note era, you know, an acoustic trio with guitar and two or three horns. To prepare for the recording, Bugnon practiced many hours every day and listened to copious amounts of music, especially Ahmad Jamal, mostly the album The Awakening, Hancock's whole Blue Note catalog, Les McCann, Horace Silver, Wynton Kelly, Miles Davis,  Bill Evans, and Dave Brubeck. From his practicing and listening, Bugnon realized he didn’t need synthesizers and drum machines to be marketable.

Bugnon plays a Steinway grand piano throughout the recording.  That is, literally, one of the hardest pianos to play.  It takes a lot of strength in the arms and hands to play it well.  Wait until you hear how Bugnon makes that Steinway sing! Oh! My! The energetic runs and intricate fingering are phenomenal.

Joining Bugnon for this live session recording are seasoned veterans, many of them have toured extensively with Bugnon: Vincent Henry (co-producer and horn player - sax, flute,) Victor Bailey (bass,) Poogie Bell (drums, percussion,) Keith Robinson (guitar,) Greg Boyer (trombone player,) and Barry Danielian (trumpet, flugelhorn.)  Much of the album was recorded on the first take.

Opening with Herbie Hancock’s “Oliloqui Valley,”  Bugnon makes it his own in this full, lush, and highly improvisational rendition.  He beautifully captures the spirit, the essence, of the song.  Next comes an original, “Silverfinger,” whose title is a play on words, “Goldfinger” and Horace Silver.  The first line of  piano is a take on “Señor Blues.” Bugnon’s fingers are all over the keyboard throughout this song!  It is produced in a huge band sound with lots of horns - saxophone and trombone, sometimes two tracks of trombone, doubling this part, to create another voice in the mix.  Most smooth jazz audiences will be familiar with this next track made popular by George Benson from his In Flight album, “The World Is A Ghetto.”  The horns add to this arrangement, carrying the melody, with Bugnon’s piano freely improvising around the melody.

Bugnon first heard the next song at his father’s funeral, “Nouthra Dona di Maortsè” by Father Bovet, who was one of the most prolific church and popular music composers of Switzerland.  Originally a chorale, Bugnon rearranged it for the album and it includes some tight ensemble work with a great horn section.  It has such a beautiful melody which Bugnon initially carries then improvises around.  The percussion and drumming are really exceptional here.  Next comes the very hip “Jersey Jump.”  Producer and horn player Vincent Henry is the composer.  Comingling Bugnon’s signature gospel influence, here’s an interesting, strident melody and a strong bass line that repeats prominently.Along with Poogie Bell on drums and Victor Bailey on bass, Bugnon worked out this track right in the studio. They rehearsed the song three or four times and hit a vibe, then recorded it, just like that, one take. There’s some cool horn work at the close.

I hope you’ll enjoy the next original song, “Another Love Season,” as much as I do.  You’ll probably be reminded of the title track of Bugnon’s first album Love Season.   On this new offering, there’s very  tight ensemble work going on, some really great melodic piano and the standout acoustic guitar of Keith Robinson.  Worth noting, this is Victor Bailey’s recording debut on acoustic bass.  He’s been studying with Ron Carter for a few years and it shows!  Well done, Mr. Bailey!  Conjuring a New York City jazz club, Bugnon’s original composition, “Ahmad's Apple,” is just so lyrical. Between the drums and the bass, and Bugnon’s lush Steinway piano, it conjures all-time great piano players like the song’s namesake, Ahmad Jamal. Again, some really stand out bass work and a tight band that really cooks.  

My favorite track on the CD, “Going Home,” closes the set. The music itself “brings it home” – it is highly improvisational, with a full bodied melody, and a great bridge.  The composition is like a journey.  One moves through the piece, with its changing textures, a surprise at many of the turns. As Bugnon notes, “It blossomed like a flower in the middle of the song.”  The horn work here is delicately subtle, slightly melancholy, played with intriguing harmonies.  Stand outs are Greg Boyer’s trombone and Barry Danielian’s flugelhorn. Bugnon’s fingering is so nimble, so fluid. The piece is rendered beautifully, achingly emotive and romantic. I like the ending, with its fun flourish, then horn interplay. It gives the impression the players didn’t want it to end.  And neither did I.

This album has everything I wanted to hear - and then so much more - from Bugnon’s trademark funk, R&B, and gospel stylings to a myriad of jazz influences. The beauty, the romanticism, and yes, even the melancholy, performed to such perfection, in an acoustic jazz setting, captured in the moment – it embodies everything that Alex Bugnon is made of, deep heart, tender soul, and oh so much talent.   I highly recommend repeated listening.

Going Home has been released on Bugnon’s own Xela Productions label.
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