Pop Jazz/Crossover

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You can't blame a jazz musician for trying to make a buck now and again, even Charlie Parker made an album or two full of ballads backed by strings. In this genre, pop jazz refers to jazz artists who play 'dinner jazz', 'smooth jazz', 'quiet storm' or whatever else they call it these days. Crossover refers to pop artists, such as Sting, who combine jazzy aspirations with caviar dreams for multi-platinum success. In this genre the two artist types come together as they often do on recording dates when the crossover artist shells out some big bucks to enlist the skills of the pop jazz soloist, such as the always in demand David Sanborn, for that authentic jazzy sound.

pop jazz/crossover top albums

Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm

STING The Soul Cages Album Cover The Soul Cages
STING
4.67 | 8 ratings
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MILTON NASCIMENTO Clube da Esquina Album Cover Clube da Esquina
MILTON NASCIMENTO
4.79 | 3 ratings
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STEVE WINWOOD Roll With It Album Cover Roll With It
STEVE WINWOOD
4.75 | 3 ratings
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HERB ALPERT Rise Album Cover Rise
HERB ALPERT
4.90 | 2 ratings
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PAUL SIMON Graceland Album Cover Graceland
PAUL SIMON
4.75 | 2 ratings
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DONALD FAGEN The Nightfly Album Cover The Nightfly
DONALD FAGEN
4.13 | 7 ratings
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CHICAGO Chicago VII Album Cover Chicago VII
CHICAGO
4.11 | 7 ratings
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PAUL SIMON Paul Simon (aka Mother And Child Reunion) Album Cover Paul Simon (aka Mother And Child Reunion)
PAUL SIMON
5.00 | 1 ratings
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CHUCK MANGIONE An Evening of Magic: Live at the Hollywood Bowl Album Cover An Evening of Magic: Live at the Hollywood Bowl
CHUCK MANGIONE
4.15 | 5 ratings
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STING Ten Summoner's Tales Album Cover Ten Summoner's Tales
STING
4.00 | 8 ratings
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DONALD FAGEN Sunken Condos Album Cover Sunken Condos
DONALD FAGEN
4.17 | 3 ratings
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STING Bring On the Night Album Cover Bring On the Night
STING
4.00 | 5 ratings
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The Complete Columbia Singles
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pop jazz/crossover Music Reviews

WES MONTGOMERY Greatest Hits

Boxset / Compilation · 1970 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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js
Despite having a fairly short career, Wes Montgomery was one of the most talented and influential jazz guitarists ever. After a promising start as a soulful and bluesy hard boppist, Wes began making pop oriented albums in the early 60s and then suddenly died of a heart attack in the late 60s before he had a chance to get back to recording jazz albums again. “Greatest Hits” on the A&M label is a collection of the pop tunes Wes recorded for that label from the mid to late 60s. The tunes on here are a mixed bag, some are fairly cheezy while others give Wes a chance to show what he is capable of. To Montgomery’s credit, the cheeziest moments never come from him, but from the heavy handed arranger(s) who gets carried away with the strings and other window dressings (no credits are given, but that is probably the talented but sometimes excessive Don Sebesky handling the orchestra). On the other hand, Wes’s playing maintains its integrity and his blues roots never yield to the candy coated orchestrations.

The best tune on here is “Scarborough Fair”, which has little orchestra clutter, therefore allowing Wes to state the melody in free abstract form and then head straight for a cool flavored modal jam, sort of Coltrane-lite if you will. “I Say a Little Prayer” has sophisticated chord changes and one of Wes’ most energetic solos on the album and “Road Song” is a classic soul jazz groove with some good horn kicks. The rest of the cuts on here vary from okay to a couple that are not that great. Still, on every tune, Wes never drops the ball and remains creative and very much himself.

Even amongst Wes Montgomery’s pop tunes, this may not be the best collection, buts its not the worst either, sort of in-between. If you like Montgomery’s pop covers, or 60s pop jazz in general, then this may make a worthwhile purchase. Its not too hard to find it at a very reasonable price too.

MARIAN MCPARTLAND With You In Mind

Album · 1957 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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js
Although we tend to think of the best jazz artists as trailblazing mavericks, there are actually many top tier musicians who played their share of crowd-pleasing pop music. Guitarists like George Benson and Wes Montgomery come to mind, as well as the piano virtuoso Marian McPartland. During her career, Marian put out enough serious jazz records to satisfy the critics, but also quite a few pop and easy listening records to satisfy the bill collectors. Coming early in her career, “..with You in Mind” is one of McPartland’s first efforts in a more commercial direction and finds her walking a nice balance between sophisticated easy listening and lite jazz. The premise of this record is to have McPartland play a standard jazz set, but to have that set backed with a string quartet and harp (the set list also includes some very non-jazz popular ditties). The addition of the harp is bound to attract the kitsch exotica crowd, and “You in Mind” gets close to being a collectable ‘exotica’ record, but not quite.

McPartland’s playing on here is excellent and her refined classical touch mixed with a bluesy sensibility recalls Oscar Peterson. The make or break on this record though are the string arrangements. Subtle strings can work well in jazz, and some of these tunes are handled well, but more often than not the strings on here can be heavy handed and overly dramatic, much like the soundtrack to a sappy melodramatic US movie from this same time period. On the more successful side, “I Remember You” brings the strings down in volume and drama as they play a simple melody that gives Marian something to interact with. On the one McPartland original, title track “With You in Mind”, the strings are given an ambitious score as they interact with the piano in an almost concerto like fashion. Towards the end of the album, “A Ship without a Sail” allows the band to get down a little bit with a swingin, bluesy groove, this is probably the ‘uptempo’ number that the almost apologetic liner notes refer to. All through jazz history, the people who write liner notes try to convince you that a pop jazz record is something much more than that. Its strange that they should predictably display this collective guilt because there should be no shame in an artist producing a good pop jazz record.

I’d be surprised if this was ever put out on CD, the domain of this record is thrift stores and the 50 cent bin at the used record store. As an easy listening/jazz record, “You in Mind” is okay, with some tunes holding up well, while other tunes are undermined by the loud cheezy strings, plus the inclusion of folk tunes like “Greensleeves” doesn’t help. As a collectable exotica record, once again it comes close, some exotica collectors might find the syrupy strings to be a plus that is unique to that time period, while the harp glissandos mixed with McPartland’s light touch are bound to please. If the idea of a ‘jazzy’ version of “Fur Elise” doesn’t horrify you, then maybe this record is for you.

QUERCUS Quercus

Live album · 2013 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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J-Man
Drawing from both the spontaneity of jazz and the lyricism of contemporary folk, the British trio known as Quercus can be tough to pigeonhole into a specific genre description, but their self-titled debut proves that an improvisational approach to folk-inspired composition can work really well. Featuring the brooding vocal work of June Tabor accompanied by Huw Warren's detailed piano arrangements and Iain Ballamy's subtle saxophone melodies, this 2013 release leaves plenty of room for the compositions to breathe, while still feeling "busy" enough to grab its listener's attention. Although some folks may still feel that Quercus is too dynamically stagnant to feel fully engaging, I think this qualifies as a good "rainy day" album. Fans of atmospheric music should have no trouble appreciating this one!

AHMAD JAMAL Jamal at the Penthouse

Album · 1959 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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js
When Ahmad Jamal hit the jazz scene he represented a whole new fresh approach to the piano. Jamal championed a light style based more on clever nuances and the unexpected, rather than the more virtuoso powerhouse traditions of Art Tatum and his many followers. Critics didn’t take to Ahmad right away as they saw his lighter approach being more akin to lounge and pop pianists rather than a serious jazz musician. Undaunted, Jamal carried forward with his new style and picked up some serious admirers along the way, including Miles Davis who encouraged his pianists to play more like Jamal. After releasing a couple excellent jazz albums, Jamal seemed to almost taunt his critics by veering more into pop territory when he recorded “Jamal at the Penthouse”, with his old friend Joeseph Kennedy supplying string arrangements. String arrangements are usually seen as a death blow to the hardcore jazz fan, consider all the grief Parker received for going that route, and although “Penthouse” may not be a serious jazz album, it is an excellent artsy semi-pop album that should appeal to fans of exotic lounge music and creative ambience.

The first side of “Penthouse” centers around four popular tunes that feature Kennedy’s strings and Jamal’s always witty fills. Kennedy proves to be a good match for Jamal as his arrangements have a similar light-hearted wit and casual nuance. These tunes on side one are nice, but things get more interesting on side two when Jamal opens with a couple originals that display his strengths as a composer. These compositions are unique enough that it is hard to find a comparison except possibly the equally original work of Herbie Nichols. Another possible description would be a combination of Ravel, George Shearing, Martin Denny and the quirkiness of Stravinsky. Two more pop tunes follow these openers and the album closes with another great original, this time composed by Jamal and Kennedy together.

Overall this is a good album for collectors of artsy pop, but the three Jamal originals definitely stand out above the other pop tunes, making this an album that most Jamal fans will want to own after they pick up his more essential releases. Also, like most mood albums from that era, it comes with a beautiful album cover.

JORGE PESCARA Knight Without Armour

Album · 2012 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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progshine
Jorge Pescara it’s a Brazilian bass player that has been playing with many renowned musicians from that country such as Eumir Deodato, Luiz Bonfá, Zero, Arthur Maia, Terra D’Água and recently he has joined the band Dialeto that will release a new album in June through Moonjune Records.

8 years ago Jorge released his first solo record, Grooves In The Temple (2005), and after that he decided to revise his career and to study his instrument even more, so he went to Portugal. There, he decided to try new approaches to the bass playing. That’s how his second solo album, Knight Without Armour (2012) was born!

On the album Jorge Pescara plays the Megatar, an instrument inspired by the Chapman Stick and built by the Mobius company. The Megatar has 12 strings and has the functions of both guitar and bass at the same time. It is played with the ‘touchstyle technique’. As he likes to claim in the booklet of the CD: “No guitar, no bass, no pick, no pluck. Only Megatar with touchstyle technique!”

Knight Without Armour (2012) was composed to be a soundtrack to a ‘non-existent’ movie and try to tell a history of a man that perceives life in a wide way. Because of that, this man feels the need of travelling and discovering himself. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Marduc Studio, Portugal, in 2011 and released in June 2012 by Voiceprint.

Produced by the German Marc Jung, Knight Without Armour (2012) has Jorge Pescara playing the Megatar, percussion and keyboards. With him he also has the helping hands of Marc Jung (samples, loops & drums), Glauton Campello (piano, keyboards and synths) and a couple of extra musicians playing flutes, sax, bouzouk and percussions.

Knight Without Armour (2012) is an enigmatic album from beginning to end. The oriental musical influence can be heard in many tracks, especially in ‘Meteor’. ‘Net Virus’ has voice samples and it’s pretty much an electronic song with the Megatar playing an intricate rhythm pattern.

‘The Reptilian Song’ shows all the Megatar power and ‘Maya’s Pyramid – Morphing I’ is a delightful mix of oriental music with great riffs and flutes. Closing the album we have ‘Infinitum’, which is the most Prog song on the album with a lot of synths and ‘World New’ that is more Fusion but with a nice almost pop melodies.

Besides being an instrumental album, Knight Without Armour (2012) tries to tell a history, to follow that the booklet brings, a track by track resume of what’s happening (in Portuguese). Knight Without Armour (2012) is a great piece of music that walks the Jazz Fusion/World Music path that can be heard as a relaxing and introspective album. Recommended!

(Originally posted on progshine.net)

pop jazz/crossover movie reviews

STING Bring On The Night

Movie · 2005 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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Slartibartfast
The concept here is a documentary of a band forming, The Blue Turtles Band, rather than a band at their peak or breaking up. Fortunately it is heavier on the music than the documentary.

The first half takes place in a French countryside chateaux and consists of presentable songs from nine days of practice sessions for what was to be their first show. Everyone in the band seems to be having a good time. The chateaux provides nice a nice backdrop to the sessions. The second half is the show itself.

Since this was Sting's first post Police effort, there's a lot of reworked Police songs mixed in with tracks from the first album. It's sort of like the Police meets jazz with Andy Summers ejected so Sting could play guitar. The band line up is primarily younger jazz musicians that already had a good reputation for work they had done before hooking up with Sting.

There are interview excerpts between the songs. One of the more interesting ones was Miles Copeland, Sting's manager and Stewart's brother going on about negotiations with the rest of the band. He was extremely dismissive of the band in relation to Sting when it came to monetary compensation. I suspect that was more about himself getting a bigger piece of the pie than a reflection on Sting, although I do recall him guest appearing on a Saturday Night Live show with Steve Marting and Steve introducing him as Stin-gy.

I originally saw this one in a theater and was really pleased to see it released being reworked with "high definition digital anamorphic picture transfer and digitally remastered surround audio." It actually does look a little sharper than I recall and I think the orginal sound was just stereo.

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