While we are celebrating the new found freedom to move beyond the boundaries of smooth it's important to remember that there is a place for tight melodies, glossy production, and subtle sounds. There are albums that stay in that pocket but are quite delicious because of the quality of the musicianship and a tangible emotional connection. Hot Sauce
, Jessy J's newest adventure, has that LA smooth sheen but it is wrapped around strong playing, captivating melodies and just enough out of bounds elements to give it an identity and make it fun.
Paul Brown has gained some critics due to his streak of format formula hits and the fact that more than a few big name artists morphed into snooze when they flew under his wing, but he also co-wrote and produced some fabulous sounding songs. He and Jessy J have been collaborating since her first album went into production and they seem to bring out the best in each other. As a writing team they avoid the elements that “blandified” some of Brown's other work. There are no smooth jazz shuffles or random riffs over loops here – these songs never drag or fade into the background and she embellishes them with some fierce nuances without getting indulgent or shrieky. Even the gentle ballads have some meat on their bones. Brown produced the CD and co-wrote six of the 10 songs. They wanted to stretch it and go deeper than they did in the first two albums so they brought in Joe Sample, Harvey Mason, Ray Parker Jr., Gregg Karukas, bassist Nick Sample, Joe Sample's son (who also plays in a killer band with the sons of fusion legends Larry Coryell and Brian Auger) and a fired up group of session heavyhitters.
The opening track, “Remember The Night,” reminds me of “Tequila Moon.” It has that funky Brown guitar going on and some tight sax and guitar interplay. The thing that will really perk up your ears is that Joe Sample co-wrote two songs in the set and delivers some seriously funky Crusaders-style piano licks, especially on “Rainbow Gold,” a title that will remind long time Sample fans of “Rainbow Seeker,” one of his early songs. “Last Night” is an eight minute showcase that starts out as a vocal then breaks into a killer sax-Hammond B3 jam with some bluesy guitar chops delivered by Ray Parker Jr. “Meant To Be” has her shifting from flute to sax over an infectious riff that will get stuck in your head. The two pop instrumental ballads, “Till You Make Up Your Mind” and “Leave Right Now,” are things of beauty. Think about the titles and how you would feel when you were in that place with someone. Her playing captures those feelings perfectly. Then there's the straight ahead jazz showcase, a take on Duke Ellington's “In a Sentimental Mood.” This is where you will discover vocalist Sanders Sermons. He has worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige but his solo forte is interpreting standards. It's hard to bring an extremely contemporary perspective to these songs without sounding like you're trying too hard but he pulls if off.
She plays tenor sax on all the tracks, that in itself sets it apart sonically. Her tone is incredibly clear and her voice both instrumentally and vocally, is totally her own. She has shown some real growth with this set, and I feel like Brown has too. There are parts of the old formula that work really well – the emphasis on melody and keeping it tight. They've worked that angle and stepped beyond it a few times too. Yeah, it doesn't replicate the energy of a live performance but it's getting closer. Besides, you can push the envelope without tearing it to shreds. She's done that and delivered a tasty, thoroughly enjoyable set in the process.