Nils (Neels) is a German-born guitar player, who became a "native son" when he moved to southern California in the mid-80s. He's primarily a session player who has played with a diverse group of smooth jazz musicians, from the up-and-coming, to the heavy hitters. His lists of credits include Gabriela Anders, Marcus Johnson, Rick Braun, and George Benson. Pacific Coast Highway is his second solo CD.
Nils opens the CD with an ode to a familiar sight in his adopted hometown, the upbeat and radio-friendly title track, "Pacific Coast Highway." His guitar leads with a sound and style that is familiar to most lovers of smooth jazz music. His style is largely reminiscent of Lee Ritenour, with perhaps a touch of Nick Colionne. The title track is good enough to keep you tuned in to listen and hear what’s coming next. Most of the tunes are original; however, Nils includes a cover of "Georgy Porgy." He's joined by noted smooth jazz sidemen Steve Ferrone on drums and Alex Al on bass. This rhythm section provides the funk for an upbeat, smooth jazz version of this song.
One of the more noteworthy songs on this CD is the original tune, "Sneakin'." Alex Al joins Nils again for this song and Nils matches Alex's playing with some interesting guitar work. Kathryn Bostic sings background vocals, which further enhance the sound of this song. She can also be heard singing background vocals throughout most of the other songs on this CD. "Summer Nights" would also play well on the radio. It's got an easy, mellow groove and would fit in well with most smooth jazz radio play lists.
Another tune of note on this CD is "Hey Ya," an up-tempo tune in which Nils really gets to put his playing on display. With this tune, he steps up, and one gets a better sense of just who he is musically. A live version of this song would definitely be worth hearing. "Keep Rollin" is another tune designed for radio. It is not as high energy as the previously mentioned song, but it will keep your feet tapping.
Overall, I enjoyed Pacific Coast Highway. It's got a familiar sound, so it will please most people who enjoy smooth jazz radio. Nils is capable of holding his own against other guitarists in the genre, and he should generate good airplay with the tracks on this CD.
- Mary Bentley