Photo credits Cary Gillaspie
Contemporary jazz saxophone icon Dave Koz released his first CD for the Concord Music Group entitled Hello Tomorrow in 2010. Two decades of recording and touring extensively (on many occasions billed as “Dave Koz and Friends”) helped lay the requisite groundwork for this superb masterpiece. Superlatively and exactingly produced by the renowned duo of Concord Music Group veteran ace producer John Burk and Grammy winner Marcus Miller, Dave followed the doctrine that he conveyed in his liner notes. Said doctrine being: Music has a particular ability to awaken and stir the soul. Dave Koz assembled a select arsenal of his many awe inspiringly talented musician friends to rally round the maestro and embrace his dream of presenting one powerhouse album that profusely awakens and stirs the soul from commencement to finish.
The opening track, “Put The Top Down,” emphasizes some of the most funky rhythm environment of Koz’s illustrious career. Co-written by Dave Koz and Brian Culbertson, this outstanding song features alluring primo lead guitar work by Lee Ritenour teamed with the esteemed guitar duo of Ray Parker, Jr. and Jonathan Butler. Marcus Miller, ever the Renaissance man, in addition to adding his genius plucked bass guitar, provides a becoming horn arrangement to the deep groove. Koz’s stellar alto saxophone and Ritenour’s emblazoned guitar lead the charge on a winning melody with their call and response frolics.
The sublime signature tenor saxophone of Boney James makes a clearly identifiable guest appearance on “When Will I Know For Sure.” Koz magnificently harmonizes on soprano sax, teaming with an all-star cast to make this song a prime single on Contemporary Jazz radio. Koz and James are a naturally potent combination; two true greats expertly feeding off each other’s energy.
The richly romantic “It’s Always Been You” is the second of the five Koz/Culbertson compositional treasures found on Hello Tomorrow. Unmistakably their shared/co-billed concert tour of 2009 was extremely fruitful in this artistic regard; a logically predictable and abundantly sweet side-effect to the wonderful rousing shows they staged. “It’s Always Been You” is tender and absolutely beautiful; a waltz for lovers affectionately presented soft as the touch of a velvet glove.
“Getaway” features silky-smooth guitar work by Jonathan Butler and Ray Parker, Jr. to enhance Koz’s mellow work on both soprano and tenor sax. Butler and Sheila E., both of whom accompanied Koz on his most recent concert tour, unite with a duo of background singers to provide augmenting airy vocal interjections that float feathery on the melody like frangipani fragrance on an island breeze.
Dave Koz is continually gently pushed beyond his customary comfort boundaries on Hello Tomorrow by producers Burk and Miller, as exemplified by his emotive and particularly competent lead vocal on a rendition of the Hal David/Burt Bacharach penned classic “This Guy’s In Love With You.” This earnest tribute to the venerable Herb Alpert, whose resplendent trumpet appears here, tugs firmly on the heart strings.
Another Culbertson/Koz composition, “Anything’s Possible,” allows Koz ample opportunity to get funkified on his tenor sax. The energized horn section intensifies the musical stew pot that continually hotly simmers just below boiling stage.
Keb’ Mo’ knowingly inserts his slide guitar twang against the strong alto sax of Koz on a tune that has the relaxed feel of a Southern back porch filled with friends and family. It’s entitled “There’s A Better Way.” While Keb’ Mo’ provides a world-weary half-spoken vocal, Bobby Sparks II on Hammond B-3 and Tim Carmon on Wurlitzer cozily flavor the song.
The vocal highlight of the disc is provided by Dana Glover on her own composition entitled “Start All Over Again.” She is a rising young star with a beautiful and distinctive voice that echoes past greats, but remains uniquely her own. Koz refers to the song as a moving musical poem, which describes it suitably. The lyrics match the positive confident tone of the CD, but her vocals would be charmingly exquisite even with less relevant lyrical content.
The joyous good-timey jaunt “Think Big” is a union of Contemporary Jazz with New Orleans Jazz spirit. The swinging beat of drummer John “JR” Robinson with tidy percussion by Lenny Castro blend with bright festive horns along with the ebullient guitar of Keb’ Mo’ to liberate a melody that builds to a chorus crescendo and includes a hook sharp enough to grab any listener’s attention. The fabulous horn section on this song consists of Christian Scott on trumpet, Brian Culbertson on trombone, and Dave Koz wielding soprano and tenor saxophones.
“The Journey,” written by Marcus Miller is an elegant slow dance with a dreamy sway. It provides the perfect plush vehicle for Koz to glide effortlessly on alto sax. Miller has plenty of experience with musical soundtracks, and the quality of this song bears witness to his expertise. It is also worth mentioning that written in the Hello Tomorrow liner notes beside the listed personnel of each and every song, Koz waxes poetically like a wise sage imparting his wisdom and uplifting philosophies. It’s a spectacular idea that hits home like a thunderclap bringing his perceptions of life into sharp focus.
The wizardly Jeff Lorber paired with Koz to write and perform the up-tempo delight “Remember Where You Come From.” Together they combine to concoct my most beloved song on a CD full of noteworthy songs. Lorber provides additional production, his singular keyboard magic, and a prominent piano solo as Koz struts on soprano and alto sax. Tim Carmon on Fender Rhodes, Ray Parker, Jr. on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass, the always meticulous percussionist Lenny Castro and drummer Omar Hakim all further the excellent groove. Miller also arranges the killer horns led by Koz, and including Dan Higgins, Gary Grant, Chuck Findley, and Alan Kaplan.
The CD closes with “What You Leave Behind,” a soft lullaby that would have fit perfectly on 2002’s Golden Slumbers: A Father’s Lullaby; Dave & Jeff Koz’s exceptional multi-artist collaboration that affectionately gently rocked the cradle for babies and grown-ups alike. Koz is firmly in his element on this soothing and luxuriant gem on which he plays divine alto sax while being tastefully joined solely by Greg Phillinganes on Fender Rhodes, David Delhomme on keyboards, and Marcus Miller on guitar. This song, written by Dave Koz, is dedicated in admiring memory of Hal Gaba and Wayman Tisdale.
The move to Concord, a record label founded on the principal to make love of music a priority, fully revitalized the creative genius that is Dave Koz, and fulfilled the lofty expectations of his legion of devoted fans. Dave Koz is an intelligent musician who genuinely feels each note he plays. The unparalleled consistency on Hello Tomorrow with its overall optimistic theme and impressive melodies, coupled with the esteemed assemblage of prestigious blue-chip musicians proves to be the defining moment of Dave Koz’s distinguished career.