Red Arrow Highway by Playtime Ė reviewed by Chris Mann

 

 

 

Playtime is a smooth jazz project founded by Detroit area session pros Brian Brill (who can be heard on piano and keyboards throughout the album) and Robert Tye (whose talent on electric and acoustic guitars is such a feature of this set). 

Guest soloists featured include Mark Kieme on soprano sax and Rich Illman on trumpet.  "Red Arrow Highway" was mixed at Hinge Studios in Chicago by Craig Bauer.  Bauer has mixed and recorded many prominent smooth jazz artists, including Dave Koz, Brian Culbertson and Steve Cole. 

I just did some reading and found that Red Arrow Highway is otherwise known as US 12 and runs through Harbor County, Michigan.  So these guys are flying the flag for their stateÖ 

A strong keyboard bass grabs you from the start on The New Boss.  The keyboards are great all the way through the song but here that lovely semi-acoustic guitar carries all before it.  You even get a George Benson-style guitar/vocal scat.  Itís tight, funky and just the bomb!  Thereís a straighter disco beat on Paris Nights, the keyboards are still good and space-y and thereís that tough backbeat.  That Peter White-style acoustic guitar floats over the top and I can feel the summer heat.  I canít repeat the word I wrote in my rough notes Ė letís just say itís gorgeous.  Even the breakdowns in this song donít disturb the lovely atmosphere. 

The tempo drops for the dreamy Ways of the Heart, which has a seductive synth bassline and Mark Kiemeís pure-toned soprano sax.  I hear a mechanical rhythm but when songwriting is this good and you have the smooth jazz Holy Grail Ė groove and melody Ė going on, it doesnít matter.  So coolÖ  The Promise is a gentle acoustic guitar led ballad.  The whole accompaniment is lovely, especially Brillís piano.  The song has immaculate structure and the strongest of melodies. 

Wake up Ronny Jordan fans!  Colorful World is as gorgeous a slice of mellow acid jazz as youíre gonna hear this year!  The taut acoustic bassline and the crazy dancing cymbals mean you canít keep still to this.  Great guitar and vibes too Ė rewind!!  This version of Todd Rundgrenís Can we Still be Friends takes you somewhere very special and cosy.  Maybe this is one song which could have benefited from the touch of a human drummer.  Still, the way the notes from that acoustic guitar and that flute hang in the air make any negative slant from me seem very petty.  A bass clarinet sneaks in and delights you just over halfway through.  Mesmeric. 

Wake up Incognito fans!  Tight drums, deft percussion, Rich Illmanís trumpet and an old skool jazz-funk feel truly wow you on this killer title track.  Iím due to be driving through the Nevada desert a week or so after writing this.  Itíll either be playing in my stereo or in my head.  Still awake Incognito fans?  The semi-acoustic guitar gets serious and low down over a funky bassline and a drum track that really means business.  Tough but mellow Ė funky and jazzy.  Lost in Nice.  Iím in heaven.  Rewind!!  I guess you worked this out, but years of hearing music on tape means I have to rewind to the start of any song I really love Ė thank God for CDís. 

Cityscape is totally original and again the sound of that jazz guitar is dark.  These guys bring out the best in guitar and keyboards and every line belongs and complements every other line.  The Indian percussion sounds top off an already delicious mix.  The closer, Bedtime Stories, is a smooth urban gem.  The muted trumpet is sexy, the Marcus Johnson-style piano stays this side of predictable and the chords played on other backing keyboards are perfect for a last song.  What do I mean by that?  On this sort of CD Ė a top-class contemporary jazz CD Ė the last track should remind you of everything you liked about the album, it should make you want to start over on track 1 and it should leave you with a warm glow.  Three out of three, guys! 

What can I say?  Iím glad that Brill and Tye got together and  found a guy like Craig Bauer to get it all down on tape.  This is an outstanding CD, which contains the most consistently good music Iíve heard in over two years.

  

   

You can visit CDBaby.com to find out a little more and order the CD.