Richard Elliott’s new CD, In the Zone, pulled me in at first listen. This doesn’t happen often. Usually I have to listen to something several times before I begin to get a feel for the music, and then decide how I feel about it. This one I liked right away.
To his credit and to my appreciation, this CD has all original music on it, except for Elliott giving us his take on the Marvin Gaye classic “Inner City Blues,” (made famous by the legendary Grover Washington, Jr.) which I’ll get into in a minute. I’ve heard enough covers, tributes, salutes, or any other way you can phrase a rehashing of previously released music to last me for quite some time.
This is mostly new music, yet, there is something just on the edge of familiarity on all of these tunes. I could not put a finger on it until I read the accompanying paperwork. This is a tribute CD; not a tribute in the sense of what we’ve seen before - covers of someone else’s music, but more of a spiritual tribute. This CD pays homage to the spirit of those artists who influenced Elliott as he was perfecting his own craft in the early days. He captures the spirit and essence of great musicians like Grover Washington, Jr., Bob James, and David Sanborn, while playing with all of the soul, funk, energy and passion we’ve come to know, love, and expect from Richard Elliott. It’s all in there.
This CD is collaboration with friend and fellow musician Jeff Lorber. They co-wrote nine of the ten tunes, except the aforementioned “Inner City Blues,” and produced the whole album together. Having Jeff Lorber on board, who is an incredibly talented musician, writer and producer himself, only makes this project that much better.
Elliot opens with “Island Style, “an easy going, laid back tune, but I don’t get an island vibe from this song. Nevertheless, it’s still a good song, and I can already picture him playing it at one of his concerts. “Boom Town” is the CD’s first single. It’s got an up-tempo danceable hook which overlays a guitar and keyboard groove provided by Jeff Lorber and long time Elliot band member Dwight Sills. “Metropolis” puts Elliot’s power and soul on display on this mid-tempo tune. As you listen to this song, you can hear the expert arrangements and layering of the horns. (Horn arrangements are courtesy of David Mann.)
“Inner City Blues” is a song that has been played many times and many ways by a lot of artists; some do a better job at it than others. Elliot’s version is one of the best I’ve heard. It’s got the recognizable underlying bass groove by another long time Elliott band mate, Nate Phillips. Once again, you should notice the layering of the horns and the horn arrangements. When you get to the heart of the song, this is where Elliot really takes off; the feelings, the emotions, the improvisation all come into play on this song. This is Richard Elliot at his best. “The Lower Road” is a somewhat mellow tune, but catchy nonetheless. “Bring It” is the essence of funk, as alluded to in the song title. “Just a Taste” is rich and full with a soft, easy groove. “In the Zone” and “Panamera” are party songs, very upbeat, funky with an infectious groove. The CD ends with the ballad “Golden Triangle.” This is a fine song to bring it all home with, the perfect wind down.
It being October when I listen to this CD for the first time means I’ve listened to a lot of CD’s over the course of the year. This is by far one of my favorites for 2011. This CD releases when Richard Elliot marks 25 years since the release of his first album as a front man, Trolltown. Has it really been 25 years since he stepped out on his own and became one smooth jazz’s favorite sax players? It’s not for nothing that Elliot continues to be a fan favorite. When you hear this CD, you’ll understand why.