The L.A. Chillharmonic featuring Richard Smith
The L.A. Chillharmonic
By most measures, Los Angeles-based guitarist Richard Smith has had a successful solo career. During the past two decades, he’s helped define the urban vibe of smooth jazz on his own recordings and while working with the likes of Dan Siegel, Richard Elliot, Rick Braun and Kirk Whalum. Now Smith’s newly formed, all-star L.A. Chillharmonic updates the energetic and influential ’70s funk-fusion of Tom Scott and the L.A. Express.
To complement his own infectious melodies and a style that draws from Wes Montgomery by way of George Benson, Smith flipped through his Rolodex and corralled a wild bunch of cats for this engaging debut: bassist Brian Bromberg (who produced many of the tracks); sax players Gary Meek and Eric Marienthal; drummer Vinnie Colaiuta; keyboardist Jeff Lorber; trumpeter Greg Adams; percussionist Alex Acuña and pianist/vocalist Patrice Rushen.
No doubt, Smith’s smooth-burning leads, which recall onetime Express member Larry Carlton, drive the action. But while the Chillharmonic is clearly his baby, this set returns to much appreciated old-school musical values. Creativity and blowing trump individual ego, and high-spirited creativity rules the day. The 10 tracks blend catchy hooks with more-intense and improvisation-spiced explorations like “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” “Ultimate X,” the rock-blues-influenced “Back in the Day,” and a barnburner, “Alvinator,” co-written by Siegel. As for the chill in their moniker, check out Brian McKnight’s sensual soul tune “What We Do Here,” the breezy “Gift” and the dreamy, ambient “Agrigento.”
Sure, the L.A. Chillharmonic consists of smooth-jazz stars, but it also shows that the genre can go deeper than the light, pleasant fare for which it’s often maligned. With any luck, the Chillharmonic won’t be just a one-time party, but a new, progressive musical movement.
- Jonathan Widran