Album Review: Chuck Loeb’s “Unspoken”

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by Ernest Barteldes

On  Unspoken (Shanachie, 2017) , legendary  Fourplay and Steps Ahead lead guitarist Chuck Loeb explores various sonic  textures over a collection of ten originals he either –except for one –  wrote or co-wrote. He kicks off the album with the up-tempo “Cotton Club,” a funk-driven tune that he dedicates to the staff of the eponymous Tokyo venue, which he describes on the liners as “my favorite jazz club in the world.”  The track was co-written with Jeff Lorber, who also contributes piano – including a dexterous solo – to it.

Loeb plays various instruments throughout the track – on tunes like “Natural Light” and Way Up High” he performs virtually everything except drums.  Though the arrangements to these tunes are relatively sparse, he uses them as a fodder to improvise more freely – on the former, Andy Snitzer contributes a mellifluous solo, while Loeb adds interesting textures on acoustic guitar.

The title track has a more downtempo feel, and features fellow Fourplay member Nathan East on electric bass and Brian Culbertson on piano. It’s the kind of track that makes you appreciate light jazz – accomplished, beautifully written and accessible.

“Si Se Puede” – which he dedicated to Barack Obama – has more of a bossa feel, with a more subtle arrangement that gives guest trumpeter Till Brönner plenty of space to stretch.  Way Up High (written by his daughter, Lizzy Cuesta) also has a bossa feel, featuring gentle vocals by his wife Carmen Cuesta, who also appears on the samba-driven “Voramar” and the trippy  “Via Verde,” which also includes daughter Christina Loeb on vocals and ukulele (the only appearance of the instrument on the album).

Unspoken is a great offering from Loeb – a concise and yet intriguing album that feels fresh after multiple plays – which this writer recommends to any fan of smooth jazz guitar.

 

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Live Review: Leslie DiNicola, Lee DeWyze & Wakey Wakey at The Cutting Room

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Leslie DiNicola, Lee DeWyze & Wakey Wakey

Cutting Room

February 12, 2016

New York, NY

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On the CD release event for folk/rock singer Lee Dewyze at the Midtown Manhattan music venue, Leslie DiNicola opened the evening accompanied by guitarist Greg Neal, playing a short set comprised mostly of original tunes. I had never heard of her music before, but I was impressed by her strong voice and honest delivery – on the sole cover (a song by Demi Lovato), she made it sound her own, departing from the original version and giving it her distinctive feel.

Next up was Wakey! Wakey! (the stage name of singer-songwriter and actor Michael Grubbs), who accompanied himself on the electric piano, playing songs from his upcoming album “Overreactivist” (Family) and other tunes from his catalogue. It was a lively set in which he cracked jokes about his being a longtime fan of Harry Connick Jr.  and other personal stories. Among the highlights was a tune about New York in which he was critical of religious piety and small town life versus the way he was brought up. He also played “Heartbroke,” a tune he performed on the TV show “One Tree Hill,” where he got one of his big breaks.

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Wakey Wakey

Wakey! Wakey! is clearly inspired by jazz and musical theatre – his vocal chops and delivery seem fit for musicals, and his piano skills have strains of jazz without being exactly improvisational. The set was highly entertaining and the music was quite interesting to hear.

After a short break Lee Dewyze came on, backed by his own acoustic guitar and an electronic bass drum pedal, which he used to mark some parts of the tunes. He mostly showcased music from “Oil and Water,” (Shanachie) but also included a handful of older songs, including a very personal cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” that focused mostly on his guttural vocals and accomplished guitar strumming.

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He had the stage set up with book-like lights around him, and there were also several books scattered around him – there was no explanation what it was about, and concentrated instead on speaking about his music and approach to songwriting.

Dewyze used several guitar tunings, including open and drop D (a technique famously used by Brian May on Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”). He made little reference to his time on American Idol (he was the winner of season 9), stating once between songs that he’d prefer to be remembered for his own songwriting than his time on the TV contest.

I was impressed by how much control he has of his voice – he goes from singing in an almost whispered tone to a stronger, throaty voice – this was mostly evident on “Stay with Me” and the music on the new album.

It was a memorable evening of musical discovery – I don’t often get to hear independent pop artists, but I definitely would like to hear more from these three performers in the near future.