Stay With Me

Norman Brown

Peak, 2007

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Something about smooth jazz rubs me the wrong way.

I guess I expect jazz to be an art form, a way to express true emotion in a highly musical way. Blues can use voices and guitar solos to get its point across, but jazz has always relied on following strict musical rules in the interest of legitimacy.

But even the greats of the past were able to get emotion out of their instruments, making discs like Kind of Blue and Giant Steps fresh and relevant even in 2007. The music then was as organic and emotional as blues could ever be.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Smooth jazz crosses over into corporate culture, the mindset of the politically correct '90s where this sort of blandness became acceptable. Jazz ceased to matter except among a select crowd, but those who had never heard the real music were buying Kenny G and David Sanborn and fancying themselves jazz fans, sort of like listening to John Mayer play the blues on Try! and thinking you understand the blues. For the record, I loved that record, but I'm bright enough to know that playing the music doesn't make you understand it.

So anyway, this sort of smooth jazz is what began to grace dentist offices and Muzak everywhere, and it's still going on. And although he may have won the Grammy for best pop instrumental in 2002, Norman Brown's entry into the smooth jazz canon, Stay With Me, is yet another collection of songs that could easily interchange with any other contemporary jazz piece released since 1980.

Brown, however, gets a pass because of his fluid, kinetic guitar playing, which is both rhythmic (in keeping with the ever-present grooves here) and articulate, a surprise given the amount of notes he likes to fit into a bar.

Some of these songs sound like backing tracks to middle-period Steely Dan records, but even the ones with great grooves ("It Ain't Over BWB") falter under the processed saxophone and Brown guitar leads. As is the case with this sort of music, playing any three tracks will give you the same experience. A bit of R&B pops up when Brian McKnight stops by on the title track, but on the whole the music is very reminiscent of George Benson.

The music is more jazz than pop but far more on the pop end of the jazz spectrum. Just this side of bland because of its grooves and the occasional excellent guitar leads, Stay With Me is perfect music to listen to when you're getting a root canal or wanting to appear like you're hip to jazz. Otherwise, stick with artists making real jazz and steer clear of this sort of pop-friendly pablum. Coltrane would thank you.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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