Before there was smooth there was contemporary, which encompassed
the music that would become smooth jazz, but allowed a wider
range of influences and more stylistic roaming. Along with
the jazz influences and R&B flavor, there was a strong
thread of pop/rock influence. The Rippingtons were the most
high profile example. T-Square and Vital Information were
too, and it showed up in specific songs on a lot of other
artists' CDs. Over the years the rock driven guitar
solos, energized beat-driven funk, and more complex Latin/world
flavors have been phased out. You won't know how much you
missed them until you hear them again. They are all present
in abundance on Turning Point's Matador.
Based in Phoenix, Turning Point has developed a rabid regional
following over the last decade. Their fan base has spread
through live performances, word of mouth, and their five previous
indie releases. I discovered them through the "if you like
the Rippingtons, you'll love these guys" buzz, as did a lot
of other fans that are outside of their touring realm. Airplay
has been sporadic because, at a time when most similar bands
began to tone it down and streamline it, Turning Point continued
to record music exactly the way they wrote and performed it.
Matador is indeed their finest hour.
All their CDs have a lot of bright moments, but this one has
some in every song. They have added a sax player, which brings
them more into the smooth jazz realm, but the electric and
acoustic guitars are still the foundation of their sound.
"Lickety Split," the lead track, starts with a big dose of
funky attitude and a horn section that recalls the soul funk
bands from the ‘70s with some fusion tossed in. Their take
on Chick Corea's "Spain" is both original and breathtaking
with the flamenco guitar intro and Charlie Bisharat's soaring
violin solo. "Matador" expands that theme with a driving guitar
lead. "Gospel Brunch" starts with a deceptively smooth groove,
then breaks into a rock tinged guitar lead with Jeff Beck
overtones. "Turn Down The Night" opens with a Rippingtons/Kilauea
groove but also travels a more adventurous path with some
sneaky, tasty guitar riffs. The island flavored "Despues De
Manana" at times recalls an updated, stretched out take on
Spyro-Gyra's early hits. There are an equal amount of moments
of absolute beauty; songs that are mellow or romantic, but
never fade into the background. "Rhapsody for Priapus"
is a rhapsody with a lyrical guitar lead. "Quisiera Ser" is
an elegant acoustic ballad. "Suburban Safari" layers a bouncy
guitar melody over a fusion driven keyboard line. Two powerful,
heartfelt tracks wrap up the CD: "Soldier's Lullaby" and "Here
Today, Gone Tomorrow," an anthem-like tribute to the crew
of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
A lot of these songs have elements that are an integral part
of other artists' live performances that don't get recorded.
Rippingtons similarities stand out, especially with the stylistic
overlap between the equally Latin flavored Wild
Card. But where the Rippingtons' went for subtlety,
Turning Point has gone no holds barred. The cut-loose keyboard
work Lorber and Ricky Peterson deliver onstage shows up here,
as does a good dose of Jeff Beck/Jeff Golub styled guitar.
In lesser hands, mixing this many influences, keeping the
rock and funk elements intact, and allowing quite a bit of
soloing could create an album that was too progressive to
be accessible. Because of their songwriting skills, musicianship
and creative discipline, that doesn't happen here. Part
of the magic of this one is in the sequencing of the songs.
The musical diversity is showcased as the songs segue from
uptempo to mellow, rock to pop to smooth to Latin/Flamenco.
This allows the quality of the musicianship to be what leaves
you breathless, rather than a stylistic roller coaster ride.
This is a project that doesn't just push the boundaries. It
kicks down some walls, and does it in the most appealing way
- Shannon West