After Hours

Hulon

Premier Musique Group, 2012

http://hulon.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/02/2012

Whether the jazz is free or modal or nightclub or urban or -funk or -pop, if it’s going to catch my interest, it’s gotta have one thing: it’s gotta have groove. After Hours, the sophomore album from rheumatologist-turned-saxman Dr. Hulon E. Crayton II, might not win any awards for adventurousness—it’s firmly in the smooth/contemporary jazz genre—but it has most definitely got groove. 

Hulon’s 2010 debut album First Impressions (2010) spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Jazz Chart, peaking at #25, and featured the single “Sax On The Beach,” which reached #16 on the Smooth Jazz.com Top 50 Indie Chart, in addition to receiving national and international airplay. Once again teaming with producer/co-composer/mentor Jeff Kashiwa of The Rippingtons, Hulon this time around features a pair of vocal tunes obviously designed with airplay in mind. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Kickoff cut “Two In The Morning” is indeed a tasty track, an r&b tune with genuine swing, well-arranged background vocals behind guest vocalist Howard Hewitt, and Hulon’s sax lurking and accenting. It builds into a slow jam—the lonely guy alone in his bed late at night—that’s mostly superb, though it’s undercut by what sounds like an electronic rhythm section. (Sorry, but this is a pet peeve; in the entire history of recorded music I’ve never heard electronic drums that sounded better than regular acoustic drums—not once, not ever.)  Later on, Geoff McBride turns in a terrific guest vocal performance on the classic Heatwave ballad “Always And Forever,” wringing every ounce of soul out of this gorgeous Rod Temperton number.

Highlights from the remainder of this primarily instrumental album include “Takin’ My Time,” which has a kind of Philly soul sound to it, a sweet groove that also reveals Hulon as a generous bandleader when guitarist Allen Hinds takes a long, nimble solo. Another standout, “Sticky Trickuation,” features some of Hulon’s finest soloing, especially on the fade, while “Backstep” is a finger-snapping blues shuffle that also lets the man wail wonderfully on his horn. Late in the going, Hulon returns to “Always And Forever” for a run at it without vocals, starting out all silky elegance before the sax comes in with a slow, smoky line. On its heels, “Do You Feel Me” features a full horn section and more sweet soloing from Hulon’s players.

A few missteps crop up along the way—the lounge-y electric piano on the title track feels a little cheesy, and a couple of numbers (“Second Opinion” and the closing “You’re Beautiful”) rely too heavily on synthesizers for my tastes—but overall this album is a consistently enjoyable ride. Unlike so many albums that start off strong and fade in the second half, here Hulon keeps right on bringing it.  After Hours might be on the smooth side of the jazz spectrum, but it’s got plenty of soul, too.

Rating: B+

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© 2012 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Premier Musique Group, and is used for informational purposes only.