There is an elegant sophistication that transcends the ordinary smooth jazz release when listening to the Woodward Avenue debut from Italian guitarist Andrea Razzauti. Unlike the lyrical ear candy that is seemingly pumped out on a continuous basis, Razzauti plays with a textured approach, colors you can hear. While far from a newbie as a performing artist this Woodward Avenue debut is a wondrous hybrid that shows a masterful command of traditional classical Italian to R & B and further on to the smoother side of contemporary instrumental jazz without the overt pretentiousness that seems to beg for cross over attention. The logical question as Razzauti may be somewhat new to American audiences would be, "So who does he sound like?" While artistic comparisons are inherently unfair there is a case to be made for the lyrical movement of a George Benson combined with the technical proficiency of an Earl Klugh...Yes, he is THAT good.
A distinct advantage for Razzauti would be having multi Grammy winner and ace guitarist Paul Brown as producer. To sweeten the deal we find Patti Austin carrying the vast majority of the vocal load along with cameo appearances from Darren Rahn, Ricky Peterson and even Paul Brown joins in the fun on guitar. Brown has grown exponentially as a lyricist with Patti Austin as the perfect vocalist to convey the unabashedly romantic flair that surrounds this release. Austin shines on "Not Just Another Love" penned by Brown and with her own lyrics on "Lover's Kiss." Programming is kept to a bare minimum giving Front Street a warm organic sound allowing talent such as Elan Troutman (another Woodford Avenue artist) to excel on tunes such as the previously mentioned "Not Just Another Love." Of the ten tracks listed, six are instrumental with Razzauti's crisp classical guitar work adding flavor and a harmonic base that is on point every step of the way. Razzauti is joined by Brown on "Black Sand" as well as on the title track "Front Street" with Darren Rahn. Roberto Vally who is an incredibly under rated bassist is the soul pumpkin of the bunch that helps tie all the loose ends together along with Alex Al. The subtle nuances of percussion legend Luis Conte add just the right amount of panache to keep the vibe fresh and vibrant throughout the recording.
The smoother side of contemporary instrumental music has hit some bumps in the road over the last couple of years and I have never hesitated in pointing that out. I also believe in celebrating the artist that takes a simple conceptual idea such as romance and pushes the music to a new level. There are a lot of labels given to this type of music...Smooth jazz, Chill and a host of others that for me are essentially meaningless. Labels are for cans of soup, this is simply great music played by a virtuoso talent who has a wealth of experience and an artistic soul that is indeed the real deal! Razzauti helps create that three dimensional sonic depth of field that allows the disc to give up something new with each subsequent spin.
A perfect release? Taste is of course subjective but there is simply nothing to grind on about here. One of the finest contemporary releases for 2013...Smooth jazz is alive and well.
Tracks: Front Street; Not Just Another Love; Black Sand; Absolutamente; Arancio Bossa; Lover's Kiss; Mediterraneo Sunrise; "Cafe Montmartre..."; We Kissed; Once In Barcelona.
Personnel: Andrea Razzauti: classical and electric guitar, synthesizer, drum programming, electric piano and string synthesizer; Paul Brown: electric guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, vocals, percussion; Darren Rahn: saxophone; Alex Al: bass; Ricky Peterson: b3 and string synthesizer, keyboards, rhodes, grand piano; Patti Austin: lead and background vocals; Elan Trotman: saxophone; Roberto Valley: bass; Emilio Buffolino: keyboards; Sergio Gonzales: drums; Luis Conte: percussion; Greg Karukas: vibe & string synthesizer, keyboards; Paulinho Da Costa: percussion; Pat Daley: additional piano; Giorgio Dari: accordion; Ria Razzauti: additional drums.