“Regardless of what you play, the biggest thing is keeping the feel going.” ~ Wes Montgomery.
The foremost thing that really stands out about Nils is his pleasing amalgamation of technical brilliance and amazing feeling. An uncanny, joyous feeling consistently emerges in his songs; a feeling which pervades the listener with deep blissful emotions throughout his 2009 release Up Close and Personal. It’s a classic of smooth jazz guitar.
“Soul mates” begins the satisfying musical listening adventure with some smooth guitar and a melody that is as breezy and beautifully as a Caribbean sunset. Influences of Wes Montgomery, Chet Adkins, Earl Klugh, Peter White and numerous other great jazzy guitarists are readily apparent. But, Nils has an elegant style of his own; and its one that goes far beyond just playing beautiful notes. The title track “Up Close & Personal” follows and features another most enjoyable melody set to a slightly more brisk tempo. The song features a catchy rhythm and is brilliantly contemporary, with Nils using his guitar to literally sing the lyrics. By allowing his R&B and soul roots to surface, he achieves truly rewarding results.
Nils rocks a bit harder with a Brazilian dance beat on “Jazz Cruise,” and is accompanied by some fine sax work by guest star Paul “Shilts” Welmar. It’s a persuasive tuneful journey taking the listener beyond Brazilian landscapes of calm contentment, with enough hooks to land a prize marlin. Soft background female vocals repeat the refrain “having a party,” as Nils gently wafts along merrily in celebration.
Nils capably covers one of the most beautiful songs in the Carlos Santana catalog with his delightful rendition of “Europa.” His version doesn’t stray far from the original, but then, why tamper with perfection. In this Nils version, the guitar is full center, and the fiery Latin outburst at the end of the song is somewhat shortened. Still, all the graceful beauty of the Santana original is present. And, just as is usually achieved by the great Santana, Nils can rouse boundless emotions with his expert play. As one listens to this track it is quite easy to envision a bronzed setting sun dimly illuminating a tranquil ocean beach, with palm trees lightly swaying in the breeze.
Nils offers sage advice with “Never Let Go (Of The One You Love),” with his tasteful guitar blending the soulfulness of Chris Standridge with the divine cool of Peter White. The unforgettable melody flows along effortlessly with delicate shimmering guitar and keyboard notes provokingly placed along the path. “60 10 29” has a funky flavor that will get heads bobbing as Nils weaves his silky airy timbre like a viscous liquid around the beat that is steady and solid, but not hard-edged. The background vocal refrains are subdued, yet still insistent.
Nils slows it down a taste with the beautiful “Until I See You Again,” a song as uplifting as a stroll through a park’s blooming flower garden bathed in light amid birds chirping sweet melodies. Against this tranquil setting, aided by Larry Dunn’s unrushed keyboard complement, Nils’s velvety glistening guitar tones gleam through like radiant rays of sunlight. Exquisite is the word that comes immediately to mind regarding this outstanding track, my personal favorite on this record.
“East Bay” sounds like it could have been plucked from George Benson’s iconic Breezin’ album. Its melody is fresh, buoyant and exceptionally infectious; hence the comparison to Benson’s most pleasing album. “Happy to C U” admirably conveys the joy of its title, and is another real treat, with all the band members bouncing the tune along its idyllic way. “Getting Hooked” contains light funky scat vocals (also reminiscent of Benson’s Breezin’) as well as snappy drums and percussion by Ricky Lawson and Oliver Brown adding to the cheerful vibe. In fact, the bulk of the songs on the CD incorporate this optimistic “good times” theme.
All through Up Close and Personal Alex Al and Reggie McBride split the bass responsibilities adeptly as they anchor the bottom end stylishly with classy sophistication.
If you’ve ever visited the lovely island of Santa Catalina, immortalized by the erstwhile song “26 Miles,” you’ll appreciate the unrushed ambiance that Nils captures perfectly with his appealing “Catalina.” The serenity communicated herein is unmistakable. The song imparts the mood of a faultless vacation from life’s trials and tribulations, with total relaxation and contentment realized that one wishes would eternally last.
The closing song “Winter Rain” is the most introspective song on Up Close and Personal, yet, nonetheless, is another very beautiful song. Nils may have been well served had he added another song in this somber vein earlier to provide added diversity, but that is a very minor cavil. This collection of songs is first rate.
Up Close and Personal is definitely a smooth ride with a nice, glossy sheen, and one that smooth jazz listeners will greatly enjoy. Nils possesses an unbounded imagination when it comes to composing soothingly beautiful and infectious melodies. Sit back, listen and become intimately acquainted with one of smooth jazz’s most endearing guitarists.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com