Sometimes you can really sense when an artist is bound for the mainstream spotlight of this genre. Saxophonist Greg Chambers, no stranger in the music industry (having worked as a freelance musician and private woodwind instructor), in my opinion, is one of those artists. His latest release, After Hours (due on the streets on March 26), is only 7 tracks long, and each and every track is a bonafide, competent, on-the-money groove. It comes on the heels of his self-titled CD, which charted on the Jazzweek Top 50 Smooth Singles Chart and made the Most Added/Increased Airplay lists for Billboard Magazine, Smoothjazz.com, and RadioWave.
This most appealing project and Chambers’ talent and ability to deliver it effectively has forced me to go out on a pretty sturdy limb here with a prediction. In short order, this talented, smooth artist with a true grip on the contemporary jazz groove, will be a firm fixture in this genre and one able to pack venues with excited and enthusiastic jazzers everywhere he plays.
To place an exclamation point on my prediction, luminaries like Paul Brown, Darren Rahn, and Jonathan Fritzen have lent their talents to the making of this CD in one way or another. I hardly think that artists with reputations to protect would get behind an artist who’s lacking the sheen and potential to produce musical dividends. With one listen, you will hear why Chambers caught the ears and enthusiasm of these artists.
The material on this album is solid, well-arranged, and packed with infectious melodies and irresistible charm. Deciding to venture out with only seven tracks indicates the saxman’s confidence in the content and quality, not the quantity, of the tracks. What he’s managed to do is create a project that will keep you listening from track one’s “In the Pocket,” featuring guitarist/producer Paul Brown until the last note of the final track, a cool offering of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
There’s an interesting swinging piece that he tosses in at track 5, “Groovin’ High,” that demonstrates his mastery of jazz outside of the so-called “smooth jazz” circles. The runs and tempo on this one are as riveting as any of the other pieces on this album.
Also among this collection of serious grooves is the sweet & slow, almost melancholy, track called “Chelsea’s Song,” again featuring Paul Brown. Heavenly. If you’re looking for strong, solid contemporary jazz that’s played with authority and from someplace deep in the soul, Chambers’ After Hours will be waiting for you with open arms on March 26. I don’t think you’d want to stand it up.
Saxophonist Greg Chambers develops his creative work in the San Francisco Bay area. With a strong will to reach the peak he released his debut album City Lights in 2006, his self-titled album followed in 2011. Both albums are available at CDBaby.
This year he offers an EP with seven songs, partly written by Greg himself. Beside his band Shahien Shahkar (bass), Paul Neal (guitar), Glenn Osur (keyboards) and Kevin Lewis (drums). He invited to this project Paul Brown on guitar, Jonathan Fritzen on piano, Ross Bolton, Louis Fasman, and saxophonist/producer Darren Rahn. When a musician invested so much in his project, he wants to know which side one’s bread is buttered on.
The starting song In The Pocket presents Paul Brown at his best on his electric guitar. Greg accompanies the guitar with great enthusiasm on the saxophone. Swedish pianist Jonathan Fritzen has in the last two years made great strides in his awareness. A clever move to elect him as a sideman for the title song.
With Ryan Tapley’s distorted guitar the piece On The Move gets a wonderful depth. The slow burner Your Place or Mine? shows Greg’s elegance in different nuances. Groovin’ High is a different matter. In the beginning, with strong jazz impact the character changes over the course. Louis Fasnacht on muted trumpet and flugelhorn leaves a lasting impression.
On Chelsea’s Song Greg and Paul Brown vie to be the most romantic instrumental language. Human Nature was produced by Quincey Jones for Michael’s mega-seller album Thriller (1982). Written by John Bettis and composed by Steve Porcaro of Toto, this song inspired a legion of musicians. Greg also manages a brilliant interpretation.
Greg Chambers’ After Hours is a great album, which appetites for more.
With the 2007 CD ‘City Lights’, and his 2011 self-titled follow-up, sax-man Greg Chambers has been carving out his own niche in the annals of contemporary jazz. Of course Chambers is far from being your regulation smooth jazz musician. With a resume that includes a parallel project with his own jazz quartet plus work with the Aspen Festival Orchestra he remains well equipped to ring the changes. However, his latest release, the seven-track EP ‘After Hours’ (that will hit the streets on March 26) puts him unequivocally back into smooth jazz territory. Not only that, with stellar input from Jonathan Fritzen, Paul Brown Darren Rahn, Roberto Vally and Ross Bolton, ‘After Hours’ proves to be something of a musical tour de force.
Take for example Chambers’ own composition ‘In The Pocket’ that features both Brown on guitar plus Brown’s old sparring partner Roberto Vally on bass. It is very much smooth jazz on the mellow side and when Brown stays around to mix the jazz classic ‘Groovin’ High’ it affords Chambers the opportunity to indulge his penchant for a straight ahead groove. Elsewhere Darren Rahn’s work at the mixing desk makes the most of Greg’s edgy interpretation of the Michael Jackson blockbuster ‘Human Nature’ and he does much the same with one of Chambers’ own tunes, the romantically inclined ‘Your Place Or Mine’, that is right up there with the best that ‘After Hours’ has to offer.
Later Brown returns on guitar for another of my personal favorites, the seductively smoky ‘Chelsea’s Song’, and although the splendid ‘On The Move’ glides along with a tasty streetwise swagger, it’s the wonderfully easy grooving title cut that steals the show. With Fritzen on keys at his hugely immaculate best this one is a gem.
Those that roll with me in my cultural inner circle, my musical mafia as it were know when it comes to smooth jazz then I normally take a cordial pass. I have gone so far as to limit my reviews of this radio format/sub genre by trying to focus on the more Independent artist with some more to offer. Let me tell you my friends that all that aside - Greg Chambers is the real deal!
Although listed as a seven track EP, there is a distinct and complete album and working band feel to After Hours. Combine Chambers prolific talents on saxophone along with Paul Brown on guitar, Jonathan Fritzen on piano and synthesizers and some mad mixing skills from Darren Rahn and you wind up with one of the most righteous contemporary instrumental releases from an Independent artist one could find which begs the question - Who will be the major label smart enough to sign this guy?
There are some pet peeves when it comes to taking a walk on the smoother side of jazz which are probably inherently unfair and perhaps take hypercritical to a new level. Sound quality is an issue for some people including myself as some releases sound as they have been sanitized for your protection. Not here, an open and slightly ambient quality plays off the warmth and lyrical sense of purpose that Chambers brings to the table. Programming is another issue but could perhaps be lumped into the overall issue of sound quality. Some producers ride the compression as tight as they can get it and programming turns into a sonic crutch instead of adding a layer of texture to the melodic intention of the piece at hand. Vocals...The number one complaint would be lame vocals on what the listener is expecting or at least would prefer to be an all instrumental release. Simply put, people want to hear Greg Chambers play and not necessarily Chelsea Chambers or Kevin Lewis sing and here they would be dead wrong. The vocals complete the off the charts vibe with an ebb and flow as tight as anyone is laying down today. I must confess as a saxophone player I found myself hitting repeat several times.
Opening with "In The Pocket" featuring a classic Paul Brown guitar solo the table begins to be set and it is full of flavor and just the right amount of texture to keep things interesting. Chambers is as good as any of the players coming out of what often seems to be the assembly line of smooth jazz players yet he has developed a unique artistic voice and command of his horn some more established players are still looking for. Chambers and trumpet player Louis Fasman crush their own version of the classic Dizzy Gillespie tune "Groovin' High." Paul Brown is once again featured on "Chelsea's Song" along with Chelsea Chambers on vocals. Chambers has some dynamite chops and a pristine voice for the classic chill vibe without the pretentious overkill some artists are known for. "Human Nature" aside from being perhaps the only Michael Jackson song I am not totally burned on at this point is reharmed into a soulful groove that the King of Pop would be proud of. Kevin Lewis has some mad vocal skills and bring an R&B crossover appeal to the iconic Jackson song.
Greg Chambers slays the release. This is one of those smooth jazz releases that doesn't try too hard, the music does all the work. It would be easy to overlook this release given the new releases coming out from other talent right now but that would be a crime against music. I rarely do this for a smooth jazz release but Greg Chambers deserves his props.
Back in 2007 I described ‘City Lights’ by sax-man Greg Chambers as an album different enough to get him noticed. It was a rarified blend of the classical with the contemporary and now he is back with another innovative (and this time self titled) offering. In fact Chambers is far from being your regulation smooth jazz musician. With a resume that includes a parallel project with his own jazz quartet and work with the Aspen Festival Orchestra he is well placed to push the musical envelope. Indeed, with six of his own compositions, plus covers of Richard Elliot’s ‘Sweet Dream’ and the Keane hit ‘Try Again’, this is exactly what he has done.
His sensitive handling of the stunningly beautiful ‘Try Again’ is really quite special while ‘Ocean View’ (which incidentally is the first single to be serviced to radio) makes an early nod to classical undertones before luxuriating in a rock steady beat that still affords Chambers adequate room to experiment. Elsewhere the paradox that is Greg Chambers is further compounded the compelling techno vibe of the feisty ‘Sapphire’ which sits in magical contrast to Elliot’s ‘Sweet Dream’ that Chambers uses to tenderly tug at the heartstrings.
‘Interlude’ builds a mellow yet totally absorbing bridge to ‘Street Noise’ which for a player who does not routinely do funk comes pretty close. However, in doing so, the tune never looses the essence what Chambers playing is really all about and, although ‘Here With You’ proves to be a mellifluous charmer, he closes out this fine collection with ‘Studio 8’ where a thumping bass line and engagingly quirky production will live long in the memory.
The final work on the program, a suite from Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet," got stellar contributions from bassoonist Steven Dibner, clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas, saxophonist Gregory Chambers and hornists David Wakefield and John Zirbel. Conductor James DePreist brought tremendous verve to both of these works and got marvelous playing from the orchestra.