Terje Lie's Urban Vacation has a strong funk/jazz groove from beginning to end. The whole album brings images of 70s funk with vibrant and crisp R&B styles. Lie is an expert with his saxophone skills and brings confidence in each of the tracks. The album Urban Vacation is enjoyable from beginning to end, leaving you wanting more.
Most of Urban Vacation's groove comes from the way the whole band worked together to give the album a well rounded sound. In the song "Bail Out" the saxophone and flute meld together really well. While all tracks have a clear arrangement, the songs still feel organic, letting the different instrument solos do their own magic however they feel fit. "Crazy Groove" has a very smooth groove to the song. "Dance on the Water" has a notable keyboard solo, proving that Terje Lie isn't the only talented person working on the album. The whole ensemble does a great job working together to create harmony. The guitar sections in both "Sedona" and "Red Black and Green" are applaudable as is the breakdown in "So Retro."
The only cover is the Roy Ayers' track "Red Black and Green." The song stays faithful to the original, with the marimba taking more of a back-up position in lieu of Lie's saxophone's playing skills; also notable is the solid piano solo. The back-up singers do a decent job, but the lyrics and the words also take a back seat.
The album does a good job balancing the funkier tracks with smoother ones. The pace of the album is perfect. "Sedona" is one of the slowest tracks, but fits right in with the arrangement and the placing in the middle of the album. The track "Coral Dream" is probably the fastest, but fits right in positioned as the eighth track of the album. The album closes with "Tonight" which is slow and smooth, a very careful and calculated way of ending the whole album. Terje Lie's saxophone playing is the last thing that is embedded in the listener's mind.
While sounding organic, several of the songs disappoint me for one reason: they fade out. The whole album gives off vibes of a funk/jazz club, the fade out stutters the image. I feel like I was in a dream that started to dissipate while it was happening. The fade outs occur in "Crazy Groove," "Red Black and Green," "So Retro," "Parlophone," and "Tonight." Notably, in "So Retro" the song ends off with an interesting saxophone solo that just fades out making the listener wonder how the saxophone solo ended. It's true that there isn't a set way to end a song and fading out is a viable option, but by doing so, one wonders what could have been next in the song.
If one wants to compare Lie's album to other acts out there, there are definitely elements of an Earth, Wind, and Fire to several of the songs. Similarly, the vibe on Urban Vacation feels like an intimate version of Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band's last album Act Your Age. The album is different from Lie's previous album Traveler which is more varied and slower jazz. The closest track on Traveler to match the mood of Urban Vacation would be the first track, "Pier Avenue" mostly due to its tempo.
Urban Vacation is funky, well produced, strong listen from beginning to end. "Parlophone" is a favorite track, combining the all the best of Urban Vacation's elements: strong saxophone playing, funky arrangements, and great ensemble work. It overcomes the fact that it also fades out. There is one unsung hero of the album: keyboardist Jeff Lorber does a marvelous job playing the piano and keyboards to accentuate Lie's saxophone playing. Terje Lie shows his years of experience with the compositions, arrangement, and masterful saxophone playing skills.