Monday, 9 February 2009

North '2Unes' Woodall - Straight @ You

It's fair to say that I, personally, am not too keen on the "Jazz" scene in America today. I feel that this “Smooth Jazz” stuff has gone beyond polished to the point of being featureless and unremarkable. The European and British take is one I am far more excited about, but I have to say this set is from the US, but is one that I thoroughly approve of. North “2Unes” Woodall does not fall into the mind-numbing trap that befalls so many of today's Smooth Jazz heavy hitters. North is a passionate guitarist who certainly knows how to mould the instrument to the tunes he has laid down. The album also succeeds due to a healthy mix of styles and tempos with a heavy vocal presence.

As with many sets these days, the album contains a number of covers, but these are approached in a truly jazzy and innovative way. The Whispers' excellent “Rock Steady” is still recognisable and has been masterfully crafted into a very buoyant and cheerful number, as has a more recent song, “Find Your Way” by Kem. North’s style is a tasteful blending of the smoother side of Dennis Coffey – think “Under The Moonlight” from 1989 – and the blues edge of the late, great Eric Gale. I think that the Earth, Wind & Fire cover is my least favourite but the horns are spot on and the guitar playing is easily on par with Norman Brown. I was really impressed with “Sweet Baby” which is really top-quality. The quality, I have to say, is easily on par with what we would expect to hear from the likes of Verve or Heads Up.

If you enjoy the sax blowing of the superb Kenny Blake then the solo performance on this song is simply excellent and will definitely be to your liking. The soulful appeal is always forefront and no more than on this song; this is an easily accessible track. Eric Gale comes to mind with the brassy, bluesy and laid back saunter of “Going In Circles”, and is nicely balanced against the preceding vocal cut, “All I Need Is You” with its vibrant arrangement and strong piano-led rhythm. I am easily bored with today’s jazz, but gladly this CD kept my interest up and has more than kept me company of the dreaded journey to work and the mad dash home! Better than most of the releases, I hope that North maintains this momentum and manages a second release along the same lines, hopefully with a firm foundation in soulful vocals. Highly recommended and definitely a refreshing listen!

Barry Towler