Jazz is a fractured genre of music. Paralysis by analysis is killing jazz. While other artists and even some labels continue to churn out the same prefabricated instrumental easy listening for those in the forty something crowd that simply can not deal it, Gary Honor along with producer/arranger Oli Silk and the Trippin N Rhythm label are reinventing the sound of jazz that walks on the smoother side of the street. Honor's debut release on the Trippin N Rhythm label is perhaps one of their finest releases to date. One key reason to the success of the label is the creative freedom they allow their roster of talent and Heads & Tales is no exception.
Kicking off with a more open throwback fusion sound finds Honor in fine form on the title track "Heads & Tales." Honor leads a nice lyrically driven harmonic charge with improvisational chops to spare and the ever intoxicating retro sound of perhaps a Grover Washington Jr. meets David Sanborn. The overly pretentious focus on vibe, chill or anything else that has little if anything to do with the incredible music is gone. No pretentious latte driven vibe here, just music. "Under The Influence" is a deceptively subtle funk oriented tune. A groove you can use as this is the kind of tune you feel with your hips and hear with your feet. While the tempo is dialed back the nuances of percussion along with the syncopated pop of vitality pushes a more soulful sound highlighting Honor's versatility and his chameleon like ability to shift dynamics on the fly. The number one pet peeve of most listeners of jazz from the smoother side of the street are vocals that are totally out of place. The 1990 Maxi Priest hit "Close To You" is the only vocal track on this gem with the vocals finding the musical happy place between a slight urban vibe and a more contemporary pop sound. The tune holds up well over 21 years with the cover outshining the original - a rare jazz feat of artistry! This tune may be the closest Honor gets to what the smooth jazz sound used to be but this tune in particular shows producer Oli Silk's skills are on par or exceed virtually any other producer working this side of the street. "Rock The Jazzbah!" is an infectious dance oriented number and herein lies another key to the success of this release. Variety while never losing vitality or tripping those pretentious self indulgent landmines similar artists seem to find with ease. A nice tight ebb and flow played with a lyrical sense of purpose. All the stars were in perfect alignment for this recording and there is a virtual three dimensional sonic depth with a captivating organic texture. Too much compression in the studio and the end result is a release that sounds as though it were run through a sonic soul press.
Similar releases and not necessarily from Trippin N Rhythm can die a quick and merciful depth in post production but not here. Heads & Tales has not been sanitized for your protection as most smooth jazz recordings tend to be. Honor and Silk allow this release to develop an organic pulse unique to each tune while maintaining an open, warm and all most old school live in the studio recording sound to push Heads And Tales to the front of the pack. As part of the "bag it and tag it" crowd when it comes to the sub genre formerly known as smooth jazz which is in fact a radio format not a sub genre of music, I look at releases such as this and let my inner cynicism loose. Not here.
Gary Honor's Trippin N Rhythm debut is easily their finest release for the year and with it goes 5 stars!
Some releases you have to listen to multiple times before you "get it." Heads & Tales will make most fans listen multiple times simply because the release is that good!
Tracks: Heads & Tales; Juan Step Ahead; Under The Influence; Southern Exposure; Close To You; Don't Push It; Chatswood Chase; Way Back When; Island Pearl; Leave Tomorrow Behind; Rock The Jazzbah!; Cor Blimey!; Dreamweaver.
Personnel: Gary Honor: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone, flutes (all tracks); Oli Silk: piano, keys and programming ( all tracks), didgeridoo (13); Orefo Orakwue: bass (1,3,4,6,7,8,12); Andrew Small: drums: (1,3,4,6,7,8,12); Mark Jaimes: guitar (1,3,5,7,8,9,10,11), all solos except (6); Matt Park: guitar: (2,6,12); Neil Youel: guitar: (4,6,9,12), solo (6); Briana Cowlishaw: vocals (5); Troy Anthony Smith: vocals (5); Craig Mitten: trumpet (1,6,7,8,12); Gary "Big G" Stanionis: percussion (1,3,7).