Release Date:
March 4, 2008

Reviewed by:
Shannon West
When it comes to smooth jazz sax with a Latin vibe put your money on the newcomer. Jessy J's debut CD, Tequila Moon, is an impressive set of songs from a musician who gives the genre's "old and stodgy" image a shakedown both on stage and in the studio. Plus she's not bandwagon jumping, she has Latin music credentials coming in. From her childhood in a Mexican-American household where her parents threw parties with live Latin music to a current gig as part of Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi's band. So who is this sudden star whose emphasis track rapidly flew into the top 10 of the notoriously slow radio chart within a month of release? She is yet another working musician who has been doing sessions and touring with other artists since she graduated from USC, where she was named "Most Outstanding Jazz Student," but had been deeply into music for years before that, winning honors as a pianist and young jazz musician since she was in elementary schooll. While she was building a career doing sessions and touring she was cutting demos and preparing to go solo. She wanted Paul Brown to produce her but at the time he was only working with artists who were established or signed. Her work lit a spark, though, and they hooked up. She started playing in his backup band and when he saw her blow the audiences away at a series of live gigs he reneged on his policy. They began collaborating on the songs that would become the nucleus of the CD that he would produce for her.

With Brown at the helm it was inevitable that Tequila Moon would be a collection of radio-friendly songs. Fortunately, these songs are radio-friendly because they are catchy and structured, not because they fade into the background. The surprise element is that there is also good amount of instrumental showmanship, even some improvisation, sneaking into the mix. She co-wrote five of the 11 songs with Brown, who also plays guitar on most of tracks. One of the other originals was written by keyboardist/vocalist Kiki Ebsen, whose early 90s solo album was one of Brown's early production projects. There are two familiar Latin nuggets restyled and modernized, both are vocals - a Gregg Karukas arrangement of "Mas Que Nada" and a version of "Besame Mucho" that would fit nicely into a chill/lounge mix. The core group of musicians is consistent through most of the songs: Brown, Ebsen, Karukas, Ricky Peterson, Oscar Seaton (drums), and Roberto Vally (bass). Keyboardist Donald Hayes, drummer Dave Beyer and percussionist Richard Gagate Garcia also appear on multiple track.  On the title songshe wraps her sax around an irresistible melody line and even side trips into a little bit of improv. She really shows her range and skills in the middle of the bossa nova tinged "Sin Ti" when she trades licks with Peterson and on "Fiesta Velada" where her tone resembles Boney's (one of her heroes) at times but she spins it all her own growling the low notes and delivering some firey improvisation  during a percussion driven jam in the middle. Ebsen's "Turquoise Street" is moody and textured, a simple melody that she spices up with a series of fast-paced runs then plays the core melody clean and pulls emotion out of every sparse note.  The demo she originally handed to Brown was more straightahead than smooth and her take on "A Song For You" is rooted in an acoustic jazz vibe, which is what makes it work so well. It's a jazzer improvising on a familiar melody, as jazz players have always done,  rather than an obligatory smooth jazz cover. She works it, wrapping up the album in fine style.

Oh, the record company seems to want to make a big point of her being sexy and most press coverage has put that upfront before they get to the music. But I'm a female fan who doesn't even care if male musicians are sexy, much less female ones, and the video clips I've seen of her show her as the excellent musician she is, not pouting and posing all over the place (something I've seen male musicians do too). I do think Mindi Abair should help her pick out some stylin' clothes for her next photo shoot though. When you're a performer you get the chance to really have fun with fashion, so why waste it showing skin? Those things aside, the music is what matters and her artistry is obvious.