Higher Octave Music, 2003
Album Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
CD Design / Art: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Only a few select smooth jazz CDs have the highest honor of earning a spot in the sleeves of my booklet for my car.
Radio Contact by Acoustic Alchemy is one such staple for any of my long commutes.
I enjoy this CD album because the tracks feature what I consider bona fide smooth jazz. After experimenting with eclectic sounds from other music genres in the band’s previous two albums (The Beautiful Game in 2000 and AArt in 2001), Acoustic Alchemy produced 13 more traditional-sounding tracks. A. A.’s signature guitar sound continue with Greg Carmichael playing the nylon strings and Miles Gilderdale playing the steel strings. Because of this album’s relaxing sound, I would often play the CD during my three-hour drive to college after a break home from classes.
Major changes to the English ensemble in 1998 lead up to the making of Radio Contact.
Ever since Carmichael and Nick Webb founded Acoustic Alchemy in the 1980s, songs typically featured elements of contemporary jazz and some new age here and there. However, the band endured major transformations after the release of Positive Thinking in 1998.
One major change came with Webb’s untimely death during the production of the ’98 album. The band would play on with Carmichael and his former understudy, Miles Gilderdale. With other changes to personnel, A. A. experimented with other sounds in their next two albums on the Higher Octave label. Dance beats, pop rhythms, and samplings from Latin and Middle Eastern music shaped these albums in 2000 and 2001.
Some of the band’s new style is also found in Radio Contact, but I still hear mellow and pleasant low-tempo melodies that define the core sound of smooth jazz. The first five tracks exemplify the genre’s sound and A. A.’s signature guitar arrangements.
Of the first five songs, I’ll point out three.
First, “No Messin‘” starts the album with an upbeat sound. “Milo” follows as a softer song that features a nice guest improvisation by Chuck Loeb on the electric guitar. (Loeb also produced the first four songs.)
Then, there is the fifth track, titled “El Camino del Corazon.” If my four years of high school Spanish has not yet failed, I believe the title means “The Path of the Heart” in English. For some reason, this is my favorite track on the album. I like how the song opens up soft in the first minute. Between the first and second minutes, the song builds up to a nice improv with Gilderdale on the electric guitar. The track slows down to a calmer mood again until the 2:40 mark. At this point, the track builds up again with a Latin-inspired improv by Carmichael, followed by Jamie Norton on the keys. The song plays out soft again for the final two minutes. Overall, I find the track to be one of those relaxing songs I might listen to when I’m cruising on a long ride (like my current one-hour commute to work).
Another typical A. A. song I enjoy is “Shoestring.” The track features a soft melody with Gilderdale adding some accompanying vocals (with no distinguishable words).
A. A. reached a milestone with their sixth track, “Little Laughter.” At this time, the song features the only vocals with lyrics in the ensemble’s vast discography. Jo Harrop is the singer.
Finally, the album ends with the band continuing its sampling of dance beats on “Venus Morena.”
• Next week, look for a special post on Brian Culbertson.
I recently got his Secrets. Now that I finally own each of his 15 CD albums, I’ll be ranking several of them, beginning with my favorite. This also comes in anticipation of his new funk record, due out near this coming fall.