BOB BALDWIN: The Brazilian-American Soundtrack (Red River)

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With the sweetest timing, genial keyboardist Bob Baldwin’s latest album is a warmly delivered homage to the music of Brazil. In some ways, the 2CD, 26 tracker continues where Bob’s 2004 set, ‘Brazil Chill’, left off but this time around he also decides to put an American spin on proceedings and en route to honour the memory of Maurice White.

Sounds complicated? Well, not really. You see Bob has divided the album into two movements. Disc 1 is entitled ‘Rio-Ipanema’ while CD 2 is headed ‘New York’ (though some of the music was actually recorded in Atlanta).

Smooth jazz fans will find myriad delights herein; they’d know that anyway from the dependable artist’s name, but sophisticated soul fans who may not be familiar with Baldwin’s work will find treasures too. First up for them would have to be ‘Lookin’ At Me’ with the most graceful of vocals from a lovely lady (well she sounds it!) called Gigi. It’s a gentle, insinuating affair that will captivate you after just one listen. Then there’s one of the album’s big covers – a version of Kool and the Gang’s ‘Summer Madness’. Here the vocal’s down to James “Crab” Robinson and between them, James and Bob do a great job on a familiar friend. That track is a highlight on CD 2 which is where you’ll find two Maurice White tributes too… the instrumental ‘Maurice – The Sound Of His Voice’ and the spoken word piece ‘The Message’ on which Baldwin articulates his respect for the man he calls “one of his childhood idols”.

Over on CD 1 the White influence can be heard on ‘The Greatest Lover’. With vocal from Zoiea Ohizep, the cut has all the feel of the best EWF ballads, particularly ‘That’s The Way Of The World’. Lovely stuff!

Then of course, there are the instrumentals…. Baldwin originals (like the jaunty ‘Funky Rio’ and ‘Ipanema Fusion) sit in perfcet sync with tunes from the Brazilian masters – Jobim (‘Corcovado’), Ivan Lins (‘Love Dance’, ‘Anjo De Mim’ and ‘The Island’) and Djavan (‘Eu Te Devoro’) . On some of those cuts, Bob handles everything (piano, Rhodes, keys, bass, drums, percussion, Moog, Melodica, clave … even vocals) himself while on others he draws on the artistry of players like the Brazilians Cafe Da Silva (percussion), Torcuato Mariano (guitar) and international stars of the calibre of sax man Marion Meadows and flautist Ragan Whiteside. Between them they mix a heady, intoxicating smooth jazz and modern soul cocktail that will last long after the Rio Olympics are a fading memory. Hugely recommended!

(BB) 4/5