So it is that in the new generation of jazz musicians, we're starting to see some serious infiltration of the grooves and harmonies, even some of the textures that have become de rigeur in "smooth jazz." Two recent records come to mind. Kendrick Scott's debut, The Source (World Culture Music), is the most striking. Scott has drummed with the Crusaders, Joe Sample, and David Sanborn, in addition to Kenny Garrett, Dianne Reeves, and Terence Blanchard. All of those influences come to bear on The Source - so much so that Scott can't quite shake free of them - but even though this is an acoustic jazz record of the finest Young Lion form, Scott's apprenticeships in "smooth jazz" blare forth from the mix. "View from Above," the gorgeous opener, is dripping with Sanborn's style.
The other is Robin Eubanks & EB3's Live Vol. 1 (Kindred Rhythm), a record that I've already gone on the record as thinking perhaps the best of '07 so far. Trombonist Eubanks has the ambiguous distinction of being the brother of Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks, and he also toured with Stevie Wonder in the '80s. Nonetheless, he's the strongest pure-jazz exponent on the record, and one of the most sophisticated and challenging of our day. Orrin Evans, the keyboard player on the record, is unquestionably a jazz player as well, but he plays with a synthesizer that insists on voicings from the "smooth jazz" universe.
I've heard a number of other recent records that are breaking in sounds of "smooth jazz," but these are fairly prominent and are by artists who have a long future and, perhaps, a vast influence coming to them.
I admit right here and now, there's a good chance I'm stretching with this proposal that "smooth jazz" (and yes, I've used it in quotations consistently, both to distinguish it from the term jazz and to support those, including me, who can't bring themselves to identify the form with what I'll snobbily call "real jazz" here) was the major development of the 1990s for the jazz universe.
But I think there's something to it, something that merits further exploration. More to the point, it gives a real definition to jazz in the 1990s, an era that really lacks definition in the jazz department. I'll keep working on a more cogent definition for them in future columns, and see if I can develop something involving this loose "smooth jazz" thesis too.