With an A-List of collaborators and ten self penned songs, the excursion by keyboard player Mark Etheredge from his new age roots to leading edge smooth jazz is nothing short of remarkable. Indeed Etheredge made his recording debut in 1990 with ‘As Dawn’ and although his 2012 project ‘Change Coming’ was slanted toward adult contemporary vocals his latest offering, ‘Connected’, (that is due for release on February 26) makes one wonder what took him so long to find his smooth jazz instrumental groove.
In fact, the interest of contemporary jazz fans everywhere will be piqued as early as the very first number by the deliciously smooth ‘Groovin’ With My Baby’ and, given it is followed by the bright, breezy and decidedly feel good ‘Be Who You Are’, the jury on if Etheredge is the real deal is unlikely to be out too long.
The jazzy yet accessible ‘Roger That’ shimmers with trumpet and horn arrangements from the always-excellent Lee Thornburg and he is joined in the venture by fellow East Bay Soul band member Greg Vail. Not only that, with the likes of bass player Roberto Vally, percussionist Richie Garcia and drummer Gordon Campbell also in the line-up the result is a smooth jazz master class of the highest standard imaginable.
This is due in part to the presence of Paul Brown who, as well as producing all ten tracks, contributes on guitar throughout. The wonderfully in the pocket title cut is one where his playing is particularly notable and much the same can be said of ‘Lost In The Shuffle’ where Thornburg and Vail again combine to add a sumptuous brassy veneer.
Later Etheredge utilizes ‘Cherry Cha’ to apply an appealingly Latin twist and although ‘Bing Bang Boom’ turns out to be a superb showcase for Etheredge’s edgy playing it is ‘Soul Clap Honey’ that provides an easy grooving conclusion to what is in every respect an outstanding collection. Here Andy Suzuki adds some horsepower on sax while elsewhere another big contribution comes from the ubiquitous Chuck Loeb who features on and co-writes ‘For Your Love’. It is arguably the album’s best track yet right up there with it is the mellifluous ‘Rain’ that cold easily be described as beauty personified.
It might only be January but this is a CD destined to be one of the best of 2016. - Smooth Jazz Therapy