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Release Date:
April 6, 2010

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

One of the reasons adult music fans tend to default to the music we grew up with is that we associate it with a point in time that was special to us in some specific way. The other is that it recaptures the feeling that you get from the discovery process itself and the process of sharing it with your friends, which was a lot easier in bedrooms, dens, apartments and dorms before real life commitments and demands intervened. What if you came upon some new music that brought that same feeling into the present moment- the buzz of discovery, the way the music touched you, transported you, and even changed you in some way? Wouldn't that make you look at where you are now and see that the present has as many gifts to offer and doors to open as the past. I can hear you saying "Yeah, but music was so  much better then. Now everything is sterile and sounds formula anyway." It is to find the good stuff but it's worth the search. For me as a kid it was Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, Led Zeppelin, a certain Judy Collins album, and It's A Beautiful Day (violins! instrumentals!). Then Pat Metheny, Joni, Return To Forever, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Aja, and Jarreau's debut that stopped me in my tracks." Now a group of artists who could have fallen into the generational nostalgia trap are instead creating music that will pull you out of it and Chieli Minucci is on the frontlines showing exactly how to do it.

Minucci has always been a forward thinking musician and he has laid it all on the table this time in Without You a multi-stylistic showcase that runs rampant from fusion to funk to crystalline chill. He began with Special EFX, a band that created a wholly original sound by mixing world beat flavors and contemporary jazz and even during the height of the smooth jazz era he never abandoned that originality. He brought it to the smooth stuff and pushed the tracks that didn't fit the sound towards the end of his CD’s (check out "Without You" and "Behind The Veil" from his high-charting Night Grooves CD). Now he's an independent artist with his own label and he doesn't have label executives or radio programmers looking over his shoulder - he's making this music totally for you, the listener!

Without You combines a celebration of Special EFX's 25th anniversary as a touring band. the cut-loose-and-do-it mentality that comes when the only record company you have to answer to is your own, the synergy he has developed with Lao Tizer's World Fusion band as he mentored, produced and joined Tizer onstage, and of course Minucci's keen ear for the captivating and ability to play out of any genre. He is joined by long-time Special EFX collaborators Jay Rowe (keyboards), Lionel Cordew (drums), Jerry Brooks (bass) and Phillip Hamilton (vocals and percussion) as well as Tizer, Karen Briggs (who plays with Tizer and was a part of Yanni's band during his heyday), Jeff Lorber, and vocalist/keyboardist Will Brock (Marion Meadows, Gerald Veasley). This lineup just scorches every piece of music on the album, which kicks into high gear from the get-go with Minucci trading jazz-rock guitar licks with violinist Alan Grubner on a flamenco-fusion romp called "Quivering."   Minucci wrote "Wonderboy" with his son, bassist Gianluca Minucci. They've come up with a piece that brings 70's fusion influences into 2010 – it's noisy*, energized and powerful. Then there's the pure rock lead in "Mountain Jameroon" driving Jeff Lorber into long passages of the muscular fusion that he brings to his live shows. Want to take a breath? There's plenty of space for that too. “Lakeside” is spacious and joyous, recalling the band's early work, "Gathering Wind" is a meditative soundscape, as is "Twilight" although in a fiercer manner, and "Electraglide" has Minucci soloing over chill grooves and sonic effects. He also threw new spins on some Special EFX standards. "Ballerina" reemerges with reggae rhythms and Allmans-tinged guitar, "The Night Is Ours" originated with 1982's "Sambuca Nights" and comes out of the spin cycle as a complete rewrite based around the original melody line. As Minucci says in the liner notes this is Special EFX at its purest. "Love Your Smile" from Play (my fave EFX CD) gets a blues-rock treatment as "You Make Me Blue."

Then there are the vocals - two original and very commercial songs that could breathe some fresh flavor into smooth jazz radio music libraries if brave ears were trusted. Will Brock's "HushABye" adds lyrics to 2007's "Sweet Surrender" and comes up with an irresistibly catchy ballad that reminds me of "More Than Words" with a little R&B flavor and delicious harmonies. "Love's Lost In Translation" features Phillip Hamilton singing jazzy lines over Brazilian flavored backing and breaking into some tasty improvisation at the end.

There is so much music here and so much going on within each song that it would take pages to even scratch the surface and you should be listening more than reading anyway but the extra gift in this package is for those who like to read about the music they love. Minucci literally wrote a small book that is included in the package. These expanded "liner notes" include pieces about the background and inspiration for each song and a behind the scenes look at the history of Special EFX from their beginnings to now that is a basic summary of how a band lived, played, and survived over a period of time that brought rapid and radical changes to every aspect of the music business.

Listen to the music, read the booklet. This album is a brilliantly executed compilation of contemporary instrumental music in all its sounds, shapes, and colors, and it's all about now!

Without  you is available from Minucci's website www.chielimusic.com, iTunes, Amazon.com, CDBaby.com and other online retailers.