Joyce Cooling, guitars and vocals,(composer and arranger), Jay Wagner, keyboards, background vocals (composer, producer and arranger); Gary Calvin, bass; Billy Johnson, drums; Peter Michael Escovedo III, percussion.
In the past few months, Joyce Cooling's second album release, Keeping Cool, has risen up the national smooth Jazz radio airplay charts. Bay Area Jazz fans have for many years been enamored with Joyce Cooling as one of the region's most dynamic and popular guitarists even before the San Francisco inspired hit "South of Market" from her debut record Playing It Cool took the international smooth Jazz world by storm in 1997 receiving numerous industry honors.
Cooling says: "Jay and I wanted the new project to be a true reflection of where we are right now, what we like, without any fear of some playful experimentation. The challenge is to find a way to push on the parameters of what we've done before and figure out a way to be unique, creative and true to ourselves without alienating the listener." Cooling and Wagner take pride in the fact that all of the tunes are original compositions.
Keeping Cool follows up on some of the key sounds from the debut record, offering more smooth Jazz gems with spirited excursions into many of Cooling's other longtime musical inspirations -- bossa nova and samba, funky blues, house music, film scores and a touch of acoustic folk music.
"Callie" is the first single with a unique and dynamic mix of Cooling's smooth Jazz guitar and Brazilian-influenced scatting set amongst the hustle and bustle of an uptempo, urban dance party of sounds filled with catchy keyboard organist riffs and rhythms. The tune is a tribute to the buoyant spirit of Cooling and Wagner's late friend.
"Coasting" has a happy, pleasant feel along a George Benson-like route in which Cooling's guitar sweetly glides, purrs and bubbles with grace accompanied by soulful scatting. The song also includes some complementary funky blues-oriented keyboard riffs and improvisations, with an occasional vibes influence. "Coasting" is aptly titled - a good choice to celebrate a ride along the coast, or to be in a coasting frame of mind! "Coasting" as well as the cheerful cuts "Before Dawn" (which contains a subtle bossa nova vibe with a modern groove) along with "China Basin" should be favorites for fans who enjoyed popular cuts from the debut such as "South of Market" and "After Hours."
"Ain't Life Grand" - which could have just as aptly been called "Cool Aires" - has a playful, confident air about it - it's funky, soulful and whimsical wrapped up all-in-one. Cooling's bright and bluesy guitarwork is smart-alecky, yet sweet and it's matched in attitude by Wagner's bouncy staccato keyboard artistry woven with hints of gospel in the rhythm section.
"Out of a Movie" is a unusual film noir ballad with new-age influences of classical piano and synthesizer string effects that softly sighs with the sometimes sardonic ironies of life.
"Simple Kind of Love," the only lead vocal tune, is also in a likeable, smooth Jazz Benson-type mode. Cooling combines her sweet vocals with some scatting and blues-tinged, soulful guitar. The chorus and pop melody are simple and straightforward enabling Cooling's charm to shine through. "Simple..." is the kind of tune an audience will enjoy listening to and singing along with, as well as the tune "Gliding By." On "Gliding By," a more intimate, quiet song, Cooling also shares dulcet vocals with an easygoing finesse, accompanied solely by her folk-influenced acoustic guitarwork.
Another unexpected, but welcome song on the new record is "Little Five Points" which was inspired by a visit to Atlanta's music clubs. Here, there is a mixture of traditional Jazz that nicely swings in conjunction with the melodic smoothness of a more contemporary Jazz outlook. "Little Five Points" includes some very tasty, blues-based, understated guitar licks (reminiscent of early Larry Carlton) and some stylish keyboards that include some more warm vibraphone-sounding touches to make things interesting.
Overall, Keeping Cool further expands the Cooling repertoire in very tasteful, charming and unexpectedly delightful ways for new and old fans alike.
Cooling continues to assert that her objective is not stardom, but rather making her mark as a composer of music which stands the test of time. "The goal is to touch people emotionally with the music that Jay and I write," she says. "The goal is to communicate with the listener, to make them part of our band experience whether they are seeing us live in concert or listening in on the radio."
By Valynda Voz
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