Bob Shimizu – First & Monroe – Signal Strength ssbs20111, 56:34 ***:
(Bob Shimizu – guitar; David Garfield – keyboards; Bill Moio – backing guitar; Todd Chuba – drums, co-producer; Mario Mendivil – electric bass; Mike King – acoustic bass; Joey DeFrancesco – organ (track 11); Lenny Castro – percussion; Eric Marienthal – soprano & alto saxophone; Dominick Farinnaci – Flugelhorn; Matt Williams – vibes; Lamar Gaines – synthesizer)
Guitarist Bob Shimizu’s new album of all original material, First & Monroe, is readymade for those attracted to George Benson’s late-1970s mellow jazz heyday, when Benson produced radio-friendly music with heavy dollops of R&B and pop, tastefully and melodically interwoven into a light jazz template.
Shimizu calls Arizona home (verified by titles such “Yavapai Lullaby” and “Sycamore Canyon”) but his approach is a distillation of the famed Los Angeles studio style, with soft-focused funk elements, suitably melodic themes and a polished professionalism. Doing a blindfold test, a listener might think this music emanates from 1977 not 2011.
Shimizu utilizes backing musicians with extensive pop/jazz-oriented studio/stage backgrounds. It’s a wise decision, since they escalate the commercial stance Shimizu obviously intends. There is keyboardist David Garfield (whose credits include Larry Carlton, Keiko Matsui and The Rippingtons); drummer/producer Todd Chuba (his résumé includes plenty of Arizona musicians), electric bassist Mario Mendivil (no stranger to smooth jazz) and acoustic bassist Mike King, another Arizona-based pro. The ringers on select tracks include saxophonist Eric Marienthal and percussionist Lenny Castro, while organist Joey DeFrancesco is a special guest on the closing live cut.
While there is a certain sameness which flows through Shimizu’s 11 pieces, the consistent regularity also provides an amiability which gives the hour long program continuity and cohesiveness. There are several likeminded tributes infused with a restful perspective. Opener “Her Gentle Touch in Moonlight,” dedicated to Shimizu’s wife, showcases Shimizu’s less-is-more solo attitude, while Chuba and Castro’s light groove offers a warm pulse. Matt Williams’ occasional vibes lend a slight Spyro Gyra-esque flavoring. Thanks to Marienthal’s pleasant soprano sax, a Spyro Gyra-ish feel also permeates the relaxed “Easy to Be With,” another homage to Shimizu’s lifetime partner. Shimizu also devotes two tunes to his daughters. “Trace of a Nordic Blonde” (written for Shimizu’s eldest child) has agreeable chord changes, a softly funky rhythm, a catchy melody and a pop sensibility. There’s also a percolating prance—again highlighted by Chuba’s percussive affability and Williams’ convivial vibes—which runs through “L-Ski,” a bright, glossy piece which evidently echoes the personality of Mariel, Shimizu’s younger daughter. The other compositions follow a parallel path with minor variations, with the lively “Yavapai Lullaby” an exception: this is anything but a soothing number to put children to sleep. A soulful, mid-tempo groove is laid out while Shimizu and Garfield (on electric piano) deliver some animated solo apogees.
The record’s peak comes at the end with a live rendition of the title track, where for about three and half minutes, Shimizu and his band really open up and create a striking soul-jazz atmosphere. Shimizu displays his chops and DeFrancesco illustrates why he’s one of the newer kings of the Hammond B-3. This is just a sample of what Shimizu seems capable of and hopefully he’ll clear his schedule to replicate more of this bluesy post-Jimmy Smith type of material.
Her Gentle Touch in Moonlight; Easy to Be With; Trace of a Nordic Blonde; Padrone; Above the Clouds; Yavapai Lullaby; Flying Home; L-Ski; 1235 Moio Way; Sycamore Canyon; First & Monroe
– Doug Simpson
Mack Avenue Records released a stunning live album!