by Warren Hill – reviewed by Chris Mann
Warren Hill grew up in Toronto listening to Led Zeppelin, Rush, The
Who, and the Rolling Stones. As a teenager he led his basement rock
band as guitarist and vocalist, gigging in local clubs.
had also played the saxophone since age 11 and it became his principal
instrument during a summer spent in New York studying jazz at the
Eastman School of Music. He
was exposed to the music of David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Grover
Washington Jr., Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane.
a year of studying physics, Hill enrolled at the Berklee College of
Music in Boston, quickly becoming their star player, and realised that
music (and the sax) was his true calling.
His commitment to practising hard every day led to a graduation
performance so good that he was approached by producer Russ Titelman
to play on Chaka Khan's record “Baby Me”.
graduation, Hill moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and immediately his demo
tape began to circulate. In 1991, signed to Atlantic Records, Hill's
debut album “Kiss Under the Moon” rose quickly up the charts and
caught the attention of Natalie Cole. This led to Hill's first big
break when Cole invited him to be the opening act on her
was just the start of a string of successful albums, songwriting
awards and high-profile film and TV work.
One of his major projects for late 2005 is the production of
yet another Smooth Jazz Cruise. The
most recent cruise provided the launch pad for this, his tenth solo
release, his first for the Native Language label.
great brassy intro to the opener Toronto is very much a teaser
as the intensity of the rhythm builds.
This is a really funky number and Hill’s alto blowing on here
reminds me of some seriously funky moments from 1990’s albums by
Sanborn and Candy Dulfer. This
is good-time music. The
chugging intro to Play that Funky Music doesn’t immediately
tell you what’s coming up. This
is rhythmically heavy and you only momentarily miss the vocal.
Heck – everyone knows the song so well, you hear the lyric in
your head anyway!
love the contrast between the ethereal, reverbed sax and the upfront,
meaty bass on Under the Covers.
On this midtempo song, there are some nice changes of mood
created by subtle rhythm guitar licks and a breakdown where the sax
sounds almost like it’s under water.
This is very classy with some fine blowing.
The Interlude, a solo steel-strung classical guitar
piece is exotic and haunting. The
acoustic guitar on the intro to Still in Love is also very
pretty. The song sounds
instantly familiar and though the arrangement sounds formulaic, this
won’t harm its radio play.
strangely-titled Virgin Gorda opens with a radio bleep/morse
code sound effect over a chunky beat.
The synths on this song are very atmospheric and that soprano
sax is as sweet as can be. In
fact only the sound effects and the occasional strange backbeat stand
in the way of this being the perfect chillout jazz instrumental.
I’ve always loved War’s cruisin’ summer funk anthem Low
Rider and here Hill grabs it by the scruff of the neck and it ends
up somewhere between Santana, the Fania All-Stars and, well, Warren
Hill. Funky, sassy and
with some great percussion
from Ronnie Gutierrez. Ain’t
nothing but a party!
love “bass ninja” André Berry’s churning lines and the
rock-solid drum track on Renewal.
It’s moody and there’s lots of space in that rhythm track
during the verse sections for Hill to drop in some phat sax lines.
It’s head-nodding, finger-popping boogie.
Brian McKnight’s lovely Back at One receives an
instrumental treatment, with the soprano sax taking the lead line.
This dramatic ballad really builds in intensity and Joey
Diggs’ background vocals work well.
and McCartney’s rousing Come Together is taken to another
realm here. The horns
just blaze on this funky
number. There are no
vocals – they’re not needed – and you find yourself singing the
chorus anyhow. Live, this
must be completely awesome!
There’s more wild funk on Bridgin’ the Gap,
which sounds like one of Candy Dulfer’s pumped-up jams.
The vinyl “scratch” noise on this track hints that “this
is how it used to be”. Well,
Mr Hill, I wish this is how it could always
be. The horn licks are
Maceo Parker tight and the rhythm cooks and cooks.
Is it a drummer or a drum machine?
I don’t know and after two bars I gave up caring.
My favourite song, this will be blasting my stereo for weeks to
bought Warren Hill’s debut CD several years ago and really enjoyed
it and I also saw him at Washington’s Capital JazzFest in 1999 where
he sounded fantastic. Even
so, I didn’t have any expectations when I put “Popjazz” in my CD
player, maybe it was the title. However,
Hill has put together a great band including luminaries such as Norman
Brown, Jeff Golub and Brian Culbertson and their talents have been
turned to some well-chosen covers and very strong original
compositions. If you read
the notes on Warren’s
website, it sounds like this project was recorded and mixed in a
very unorthodox way while he was touring.
All I can say is that if he delivers the same energy on stage
as he has captured on this disc, his audiences must be having a fine, funky
Native Language Records/Popjazz – PJZ0951
Producers – Warren Hill, André Berry, Executive Producers -
Warren Hill & Tamara Van Cleef-Hill