JOHN NOVELLO: ‘Good To Go’ (529 Music)

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                            John Novello is an American pianist, composer  and author who boasts an impressive CV as a sideman. He’s worked with an array of diverse artists, from disco acts such as Donna Summer and Taste Of Honey to jazz vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer and albino blues maven, Edgar Winter. He also was a member of the noted ’90s fusion trio, Niacin, which recorded for Chick Corea’s Stretch imprint, alongside bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer, Dennis Chambers. But it’s as a solo artist that Novello has enjoyed much acclaim. His fifth solo album, 2016’s ‘Ivory Soul’ – helmed by noted songwriter/producer Andy Goldmark – was a big seller on Billboard’s US smooth jazz charts. It featured saxophonists Tom Scott and Eric Marienthal and yielded three charting singles.

Now, three years on, Novello is back with another Goldmark-produced set, ‘Good To Go,’ and its leadoff single,  the upbeat and infectious title song, featuring the mellifluous tenor saxophone of the returning Eric Marienthal, has already made its presence felt in the US smooth jazz charts. In fact, at the time of writing it sits at the very summit of said chart, cementing Novello’s place as a new master of the smooth jazz genre. In its wake comes the highly-anticipated parent album, a cohesive yet varied ten-track set which show the full range of Novello’s talents.

Many of the tunes are propelled by a toe-tapping funk undertow, such as the breezy ‘Happy Place’  with its catchy hook line, the more atmospheric ‘Thanks (For Being You),’  and the percussive, piano-driven ‘Busted,’ highlighting German-born/Florida-based rising saxophone star, Jazmin Ghent. Elsewhere, the skanking ‘Skin In The Game’ is a head-nodding reggae-infused groove with synth horns and mellow Rhodes piano while the jaunty ‘Alma Feliz’ digs into a Caribbean-tinged Latin jazz vibe.

Demonstrating that he can do ballads as well as uptempo material are the gentle ‘Love Affair,’ spotlighting the guitar of noted fretboard practitioner, Chris Standring, and the shimmering, mid-tempo ‘Give You My World,’  featuring a cameo from saxophonist, Jeff Ryan.

Novello also includes a couple of covers, both of which are tastefully executed. His version of the evergreen, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ – Charles Mingus’s homage to jazz tenor saxophone legend Lester Young – is rendered as an intimate piano piece with bass and string synth accompaniment.  Another jazz classic, the Coltrane-associated tune, ‘My Favorite Things,’ is the album’s closing cut and is rendered as a delightful solo piano piece.

With its fluid grooves, infectious melodies and feel-good factor, ‘Good To Go’ is an archetypal smooth jazz album. That fact alone might serve as ammunition to the genre’s detractors but there’s no denying that the many thousands of people that love smooth jazz music will readily embrace John Novello’s sixth solo album. It’s a classy affair that shows that the keyboard maestro originally from Eerie, Pennsylvania, is at the top of his game right now.

(CW) 3/5