Sweet Surrender is the 18th release from contemporary jazz super-group, Chieli Minucci and Special EFX. Its release may mark Special EFX’s Silver Anniversary, but the album is pure gold. All 13 of Sweet Surrender’s tracks were written and arranged by Minucci, and display an impressive array of musical moods and styles from jazz to world to rock to pop. No sonic wallpaper here.
“The concept for Sweet Surrender was to capture the intense energy we strive for at a live concert, but in a studio setting. I also wanted to showcase the eclectic styles we've explored over the last 20 plus years,” says Minucci.
The band consists of Minucci on guitars, keys, vocals, and bass; Jerry Brooks on electric bass; Lionel Cordew on drums; Jay Rowe on acoustic grand piano and keys; Philip Hamilton on percussion and vocals, and David Mann on sax and flute.
Sweet Surrender kicks off with “Guitarzz,” a lively rock-laced contemporary jazz piece written for the group, Guitarzz (Minucci, Chuck Loeb and Paul Jackson, Jr.). Up next is “Mystical,” a spin-off of an old Special EFX tune from 1985. This is the kind of track we’d like to hear on today’s radio stations if only they would indulge in some good, upbeat music that demands your attention.
No slowing down yet! “Astralcats” brings on the fusion (no, it’s not a bad word). This is a really fun piece that will take you on a great ride. The title track shifts into a mellow acoustic mood. Beautifully executed, “Sweet Surrender” was inspired by guitarist Eric Clapton, and features some really sweet interplay between David Mann and Minucci. You’ll find some loose and live electronica/jazz on “Ascension.” A standout track, everyone in the band performs awesomely on this one, but I have to give a special nod to Lionel Cordew’s percussion.
“Chant” is one of my favorite pieces on this album. This is another track that will carry you away on an inspiring musical journey. It features Philip Hamilton on the vocal/chant, and embraces elements of both Eastern and Native American chants, along with its strong Southern Spiritual root. Add that to a strong bass underpinning and well-placed guitar and percussion accents, and you have an amazing track. “Cry of My Soul” lets Minucci’s expressive electric guitar sing and cry on this slow, but definitely rock-infused track. Shifting gears, “Play With Me” is a more light-hearted melody with a lot of nice sax/guitar doubling. It just feels good!
“Rush Hour (Dawn)” / “Rush Hour (Rush)” was often heard as part of Special EFX “jazz fusion medley” in their live shows. Minucci decided it was time to commit this one to a recording. Another standout track, this one lets the bass out to play, and gives us another great guitar/bass duet that we’ve come to love from these guys. “Children’s Day” was written in honor of Minucci’s hometown’s “Children’s Day” neighborhood celebration, and he really captures the feel of such an event in this playful, upbeat, rhythmic romp. David Mann’s flute is a very nice touch. And now it’s time for some “real” jazz! The band gets to cut loose and strut its stuff on “New Bop.” Special hat-tip to Jay Rowe and David Mann on this one, but the whole band rocks here.
Closing it out is “Au Naturale” an impressive acoustic guitar/upright bass duet – no effects, no dubbing, just the pure thing. Dave Anderson is the man working that bass.
Sweet Surrender is a well thought-out, well executed project that demands some serious play time in your CD player… Highly recommended.
- Elizabeth Ware