The phrase Smooth Jazz is practically an anachronism nowadays. What originally started out as a transitional phase in the overall development of the art form has become a marketing term for any easy listening music with jazz somewhere in its roots. Still, there are those who still create smooth jazz that qualifies as the vibrant form that it can be. Quebec quartet Groove 55 are one such group, bringing decades of collective experience performing at the apex of the Montreal and international jazz scenes. Groove 55’s album, Á La Carte, is proof positive that smooth jazz can be appealing to the connoisseurs of popular jazz and still have relevance in the deeper sense where nearly a century of jazz tradition still matters.Á La Carte opens with “Skyline”, a predictable Smooth Jazz paean that’s apt to generate some spins on like-minded stations but slides out of the mind as easily as it slides in. Next up is the mildly funky “Desert Moon”. Born of a traditional improve progression, the song is somewhat cyclic and repetitive, but shows off an incredible blend of musicianship and craft. The keyboard work of Jacques Mignault particularly stands out, and the horn section matches him step-for-step. In spite of the repetitive nature of the song, Groove 55 keeps it, and you, jumping. “Tie Silk” is a pretty piano-based ballad that’s sonically appealing and refined. The song shows off the band’s lighter sound in a blend that’s bound to be commercially appealing. “Hip Trip” introduces some progressivism into Á La Carte, while embracing a highly danceable sound that’s occasionally a bit over the top but does not harm.
“Live That Dream” helps to further establish the radio credibility of the album, but is somewhat bland. “Double Click”, on the other hand, is full of verve. Even as the song mellows a bit as the horn section kicks in, bassist Yves Nadeau keeps it driven with the funkiest bass line to be heard north of Memphis. The song is very danceable without giving over to the penchants of commercial pop jazz, and Vintage Blue has built a tremendous sense of movement into the song that will catch you up and sweep you along for the ride. “Changing Lanes” keeps that vibe going in generic tones, and leads into the sly and slinky Latin Jazz sounds of “Balladero”. Yves Adam takes center stage here on saxophone, over an almost martial rhythm that is appealing. In spite of the mellow presentation there is tremendous energy in the arrangement.
Adam stays front and center on “Cat Games”, but does trade riffs with Mignault in a conversational jazz piece that’s fresh and vibrant. Mignault’s work is very reminiscent of Kenny Kirkland here, and he keeps the song moving along with a sense of creativity that borders on genius. Groove 55 leaves off with “Riverside”, an affable aperitif with a soulful edge and soothing sound. It’s the perfect closer for a dynamic album; cooling down the sound without letting up on the energy that pervades the album.
Á La Carte has a few quiet moments, but it stands out as one of the most consistent and viable pop/jazz albums you’re likely to hear in 2012. Groove 55 knows what sounds sell, on Á La Carte they manage to imbue that sound with originality and energy that is too often lacking from smooth jazz. Don’t be surprised if you hear Groove 55 on your local Smooth Jazz station in 2012, but take some time and listen beyond the likely singles. The depth here will surprise you.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Groove 55 at www.groove55.com. Á La Carte may be ordered through the e-tailers below.
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