Vernon Neilly & G-Fire - Still Burning Bright
Those who remember G-Fire will recall a bit more than just the coolest smooth jazz on the planet. The self-titled previous album gave an interesting twist to the marketing angle of music. These days, everyone from Mandy Moore to an ever-expanded ocean of indie bands can be on top if they can raise a thousand bucks and find the link to DiscMakers. Like self-publishing, this tends to beat quality control repeatedly on the head until the industry is dumbed down into submission.
What the G-Fire experiment has latched onto is album sharing. Find three musicians with a similar feel for the music, form a band, then square the CD into four corners, with each composer/player taking one each. Well, it's what supergroups like Queen used to do. For G-Fire II, the latest jazz-infested treat features the works of Vernon Neilly, Mark Whitfield, Kevin Chokan, Miguel Mega.
|Vernon Neilly |
2. Por Mi Amore (radio edit)
6. Afternoon Drive
9. Don't You Cry
11. Por Mi Amor (long version)
|Mark Whitfield |
1. LFO (radio edit)
3. Smoov Soul
10. LFO (long version)
|Kevin Chokan |
4. Twinkle Toes
7. Unconditional Love
|Miguel Mega |
12. Lumi's Song
As usual, the fellows mesh perfectly, helped by the fact that the supporting talent is so soulful. Without looking at the CD track info, you'll find yourself never noticing that "Don't You Cry" bleeds in so well to the long version of "LFO" that they are two separate songs.
"Don't You Cry" fills in your 2 a.m. night drive with a positive outlook that can't possibly have you falling asleep at the wheel, even though this is technically smooth jazz on the adult contemporary side, layered with steady and nearly total Neilly control. The only thing the man didn't do on the lyric-less song is the bass, cool credit going to Charles Glen, who blends like charcoal on a blackboard. Neilly's high plucks in the electric lead guitar only show off the night, not the man, making it as sweet as love, hold the pain and heartache.
The killer tune on the disc might be the opening "LFO" from Whitfield, which also comes back with an extra minute at the end. George Fontanette's muted trumpet matches moves with Whitfield's taintless guitar lead via mirror-like precision. The effective and never overdone drum programming shakes steamily into Neilly's "Por Mi Amor" (twice, once for an extra minute at the end, as well), which blends an R&B color into the mix with a slight female vocal. Sifting blues with jazz, the experience simply allows Neilly to shine with a seemingly improvised performance while oceans sway in the mind and lovers embrace.
As Neilly admits, "The first G-Fire release had a whole different purpose than the new G-Fire II project in that G-Fire was a showcase of some of the most traveled touring and session guitarists in the music industry today as solo artists, instead of their regular situations as sidemen. It was my way of giving some very talented guys a shot at being heard on a major global level. With G-Fire II, it was planned to be more of a commercial, radio friendly contemporary jazz project, and that's how we went about recording the songs for it."
The response to the first release was incredible, with reviewers still asking for it. Neilly says that it was so well-received "it opened up some very significant doors for me personally as an artist, and for my record label Boosweet Records. We won a Smoothie Award for G-Fire, which is an award given to an independent jazz project for placing in the top 20 of most radio spins on commercial radio from nationally reporting radio stations. G-Fire actually placed #13.
There were songs picked up and licensed from the project that are appearing on other smooth jazz compilations, like Carzino Entertainment's 1st Annual Smoothie Awards Winners CD, distributed by Navarrre Distribution, and TM Century's Choice Cuts smooth jazz compilation. Both of these compilations feature the top artists in the genre such as the legendary George Benson, Michael McDonald, pop stars Hall & Oats, contemporary jazz stars Norman Brown, Peter White, Spyro Gyra, The Rippingtons, and more. So when you are put on a disc with these kinds of names, you have made an impact.
"G-Fire II at this time has only been out one week on radio, and we came in as the #2 most added single the first week, so it's off to a tremendous start. Directly from the Boosweet site consumers can still pick the CD up for $8.99, and you know that's a steal in today's retail business world. I just wanted to make a point that companies can make money at these prices if they sell their products directly to the consumer, and the consumers do appreciate it."
But if you don't like, you don't buy. Any supergroup has to have the dynamics of collaboration. G-Fire has it. Neilly: "All of us know the formula for this genre of music, and because there are a few different artist on the CD, it still had to sound like a cohesive project, which it does. Well, the G-Fire series is my conception, and the word G-Fire means guitars on fire, so basically what I have done is assembled some of the best guitar talent in the world and put the package together.
"Both Kevin and Miguel were on the last G-Fire CD, but we have a newcomer this time, and he just happens to be one of the best and most recognized young jazz talents in the world today. I am speaking about Mark Whitfield. I first contacted Mark last year to be on the G-Fire project, but both of our timings were off to connect to get him on the CD. But he liked the project and wanted to be a part of the second one, and he is. We have found that we have a lot in common about our passion for music, jazz, and the guitar."
Needless to say, marketing-wise, having more than just yourself playing means the others in the band are gonna spread the word. Neilly agrees. "The fact that our press releases can read that we have performed with legendary artists such as Dizzy Gillispie, Herbie Hancock, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Wynton Marsalis, George Duke, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Teena Marie, Phillip Bailey, Jimmy Smith, helps to peak a writer, programmer, or consumer's interest. But you have to remember that it puts more pressure on us to deliver nothing but top notch, top quality recordings, because we know that people are going to be expecting that.
"Although we are independent artists by title because we record for an independent label, I would describe us as independent artists with pedigrees because of our tenure and accomplishments individually and collectively as a group. I am seeing more and more teaming of artists in the pop and urban worlds these days, but this is something that has been going on in the jazz world forever, artists collaborating on projects together.
"I do think that across all genres we will see more and more of this. It makes it interesting for everyone involved, and brings a whole new level of creativity and performance. You are getting the very best of each individual who is associated, so quite naturally the content of project is going to be stronger."
Neilly describes his music as "a direct reflection of who I am as an individual, and because I have traveled the world extensively, my music is diverse and filled with different elements of many different genres. What I like about smooth jazz the most is that it is R&B based music, and I have a strong R&B as well as jazz background. I have always loved great melodies, and that element in smooth jazz is very, very important, creating catchy melodies to perform instrumentally or vocally. Also because it is still a form of jazz, I get to be expressive on my instrument as well, which is what I love to do.
"Sometimes it is easier to say more with no words because with just instrumental music you can create such a perfect mood for the listener, that words would only get in the way. It has always been my thought that if you have a vocal song and you play it instrumentally, it has the same impact. Once again, having a great melody will do that for you, especially if everything has been put together solidly around the melody. Stevie Wonder is a master at that, and that is why whether vocal or instrumental, his songs sound great. His music is always being redone by jazz artists, and other artists. It is a testament to how great a writer and composer he is.
"Music has been a very integral part of my life, all of my life. At times when nothing else was right in my life, music has always been a source of comfort and solace for me, and being able to play an instrument proficiently, I could always feed myself by playing. It truly is my blessing from God!"
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