Say what you will about smooth jazz, but when you're in a receptive mood and it's being performed by talented musicians, it can be a very nice listening experience. Contemporary jazz guitarist Norman Brown provides that feeling with ease in his new album, Stay With Me, just out on the Peak Records (Concord) label, but it would be short-changing him to classify his music too narrowly.
It's his first release for Peak but seventh overall, in a career dating back to the early 1990's. His 2002 album, Just Chillin', earned him a Grammy for best pop instrumental album, and that release, along with his earlier recordings for the MoJazz division of Motown Records, forms the basis of an impressive resumé.
He's inevitably been compared to Wes Montgomery and George Benson, and lists both as inspirations, but he's been able to forge a solid career with his own style. If we have to give it a name, let's call it soul jazz — a lush combination of inventive guitar sounds and occasional soft and selective vocal interludes, mostly furnished by Brown – and in one case (on "You Keep Lifting Me Higher") – guest soloist Nikkole.
Although Brown is the real star on this album, he's given strong support. In addition to a number of talented sidemen, he's joined on at least one tune, "It Ain't Over BWB", by his partners from the former group BWB, trumpeter Rick Braun and saxman Kirk Whalum. It provides some nice sounds and a magical feel as the old friends are obviously enjoying being together again.
Brown's vocals deserve some special attention, as they range from soft and smooth ballads such as "So In Love" and "Stay With Me", to the playful scat-singing of "Let's Take A Ride". There are plenty of pure instrumental sounds among the cuts too. These include my favorites, "So In Love", a sweet but vibrant song that really shows off Brown's guitar virtuosity, and "Soul Dance", which features some smooth and funky sax work by Sam Riney.
I enjoyed quite a lot of this album, and I think it will find a wide audience — and maybe win a few more awards for Mr Brown.
Norman Brown – Stay With Me – Peak Records (Concord)