In a 1994 profile for “Ebony Man,” the saxophonist Kirk Whalum said, "The music I like to play and write encompasses the four elements I grew up with: Memphis R&B, gospel, rock, and jazz. The emphasis, though, is on melody, period.” And throughout his career, one that is strewn with top selling recordings, he’s pretty much stuck to his guns. A passionate improviser, Whalum combines a potent tone with an easy-going style that often escapes the attention of listeners who shudder at the sounds of smooth jazz.
Whalum is among the many contemporary musicians and singers who’ve found inspiration in Donny Hathaway’s music. Though he died in 1979 at the age of 33, Hathaway’s legacy as a soul singer and composer endures and provides Whalum with opportunity to blow the sweetest of sounds.
Whalum’s take on Hathaway’s civil rights anthem, “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” has a laid-back finger-popping lilt, punctuated with light strings, over which sails Whalum’s clean, clear tone. His horn provides lush fills on “We’re Still Friends,” a slice of neo-soul and R&B pop carried by vocalist Musiq Soulchild. The percussive backbeat and bass lifted from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” creates the hook for “Love, Love, Love,” featuring trumpeter Rick Braun, and it’s got that open-hearted positivity that flows from Whalum’s horn.
Philly’s own Christian McBride plays both electric and acoustic bass on the album, laying down elastic grooves where necessary and a touch of class on “A Song For You.” Robert Randolph brings some Texas grit on his pedal steel guitar to “Trying’ Times” and Donny’s own daughter, Lalah Hathaway takes the spotlight on the affecting ballad, “You Had To Know.” Whalum’s status as a power hitter among smooth jazz fans shouldn’t prevent others from giving this a listen. What you’re really hearing on “Everything Is Everything” is honest music without the usual calories. (11 tracks; 59:42 minutes) www.kirkwhalum.com
Labels: Christian McBride, Donny Hathaway, Kirk Whalum, Lalah Hathaway, Mack Avenue Records, Musiq Soulchild