Friday, August 10, 2012

Jonathan Fritzen Magical Nordic Nights 2012

Let us get the blatantly obvious out of the way first. Packaging is everything in the music business. From cover art to the last note on the release, Jonathan Fritzen also has the looks that will most certainly have the ladies eating him up with a spoon. The cover art is somewhere between contemporary and dramatic, photographed and without a ounce of the pretentious latte driven smooth jazz vibe that is like nails down a chalk board for me. Last note? Oddly enough, I want to hear more!

To begin, Fritzen gets by with a little help from his friends which include Boney James, Jackiem Joyner, Paul Brown, Vincent Ingala, vocalist Malene Mortensen and finally one of the hottest tickets in the smooth jazz sub genre / radio format ( depending upon the person you ask ), Darren Rahn who also handled the mixing duties which accounts for the pristine sound and virtually flawless ebb and flow of Magical.

This is Fritzen's fourth solo release and easily his best to date and not just because of some stellar guests. There is an easy and some what loose Bob James type vibe here that is absolutely captivating. Normally releases on the smoother side of the street don't hold my interest but Fritzen sidesteps all the common pitfalls and pet peeves most people have with smooth jazz to turn out one of the better releases of the year. Programming is used by Fritzen but with an artistic intent, not a production crutch. There are two vocal tracks and they are perfectly placed and perhaps two of the stronger tunes on the release. "Can't Get You Out Of My Mind" is a gorgeous ballad with flavor and the deceptively subtle groove carried throughout Magical. Malene Mortensen shines because the vocals are dialed back as more lead background vocals and her voice is spot on for this tune. Fritzen's melodic sense and harmonic develop push the smooth jazz envelope a little further than most artists which is refreshing. Camll Lundstedt handles the vocal duties on "Nordic Night" which is another slow groove that allows Fritzen's playing to shine with a nice harmonic development that is again a tad out of the ordinary for most smooth jazz artists. Lundstedt's vocals are a smoldering back drop and add tremendous texture and depth to a stellar tune. This may be the key to the success of this release, everything is well thought out and done with a lyrical sense of purpose. The opening tune and title track features a cameo from Boney James and also includes a rising bass star in Mel Brown and the great Randy Jacobs on guitar. Paul Brown does indeed hit the sweet spot on a tune of the same title and turns in an inspired performance. While Darren Rahn plays saxophone on "Lullaby" his true excellence behind the mixing board may just be hitting its stride if not surging ahead of his instrumental ability. The overall mix is virtually flawless.

Fans of the smoother side of jazz should delight in this release. A steady groove, outstanding cameos, no lame vocals and the incredible instrumental talent of perhaps the finest young contemporary pianist on the scene today. Impressive from start to finish and leaves you longing for more, Magical may well be the break out release for Jonathan Fritzen and deservedly so!

Tracks: Magical; Love Will Overcome; Sweet Spot; Electric; Nostalgia; To The Top; Can't Get You Out Of My Mind; Turn Back Time; Nordic Night; Lullaby; Angels.

Personnel: Jonathan Fritzen: piano, keyboards, percussion, drum programming; Boney James: sax; Mel Brown: bass; Randy Jacobs: guitars; Alexander Kronbrink: guitars; Andreas Ekstedt: percussion; Jackiem Joyner: sax; Alex Al: bass; Michael Thompson: guitars; Eric Valentine: drums; Paul Brown: guitar; Darryl Williams: bass; Conny Lindgren: strings; Vincent Ingala: sax; Malene Mortensen: vocals; Carl Morner Ringstrom: guitars; Camilla Lundstedt: vocals; Darren Rahn: sax; Erik Arvinder & Friends: strings; Andreas Ekstedt: wind chimes.