Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tom Schuman Designated Planets JazzBridge 2013

Designated PlanetsI have to admit when I saw the album cover and Tom Schuman's name a was thrown for a minute. For those handful of people that don't take the time to read liner notes, Schuman is the co-founder of Spyro Gyra and of course one of the key ingredients to their iconic sound. The godfathers of Smooth Jazz despite the fact origin of the radio format is still credited to the fantastic Jeff Lorber, have a sound that no one has duplicated so my curiosity went through the roof on spying this dynamic yet contemporary cover which is in fact a mirror image of the sound on this release which drops 02/05/13.

Designated Planets has some special guests including Steve Oliver, Jeff Kashiwa and Kevin Whalum. While I love Oliver as a guitarist, his vocals have never really knocked me out. A phenomenal instrumentalist with enthusiasm and a zest for life unmatched in the industry, Steve Oliver's vocals are at times forced and somewhat out of place. "A Piece Of Me" is a unique hybrid of smooth jazz with a dash of funk added for flavor and the vocals are spot on. No complaints! Steve Oliver's vocals actually give this tune a more than reasonable chance at cross over potential and Schuman's playing is spot on as he welcomes you to the land of rhythm and groove. I dig it...A lot! "Look In My Eyes" features Kirk Whalum's brother Kevin who may be the most over looked vocalist in contemporary jazz. A little jazz nasty smoothed out with Whalum's vocals and Rocco Prestia throwing down a funked out jam on bass. "Ear Candy" features Skip Martin on trumpet and vocals on an infectious tune dialed down with an R & B flavor which only highlights the versatility of Tom Schuman.

Diversity and lyrical direction are the keys to making this monster jam perhaps the sleeper of the year in the instrumental contemporary adult field. I say instrumental out of habit as there are 4 out of the 12 tunes with vocals but the wealth and interaction among the participants is so well spread out that Designated Planets comes across as a working band as much as it does a solo release for Schuman.

Tom Schuman has come full circle from classical piano at age 7 to funk infused contemporary jazz and the possibility of some thoughts on an acoustic trio doing their riff on some jazz standards and even music for the big screen. Schuman is an artist in the process of coming full circle while staying true to his artistic sense of self. When it comes to contemporary jazz, I am often far more critical than I need to be but I do consider each artist on their own merit.

4 out of 5 Stars and an absolute must for any contemporary fan.

Tracks: Designated Planets; A Piece Of Me; Against The Odds; Sweet Surrender; Then You Walked In; Inevitable Changes; Look In My Eyes; You're The One For Me; Ear Candy; Last Confession; Fusion; Because Of You.

Personnel: Tom Schuman: piano, keyboards, drum programming, percussion, bass; Steve Oliver: guitar, vocals; Taylor Moore: drums; Skip Martin: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Julian Tanaka: tenor sax; Kevin Marshall: drums and vocals; Jeff Kashiwa: alto and soprano sax; Boney B: drums; Scott Ambush: bass; Joel Rosenblatt: drums; Sarah Brooks; backing vocals; Vinny Valentino: guitars; Kevin Whalum: vocals; Rocco Prestia: bass; Lee Pearson: drums; Serena Henry: backing vocals; Austin Pooley: drums.