Since making his solo debut in 1994, Gypsy guitar wiz Marc Antoine has established himself as one of the most well-known and liked smooth-jazz musicians. His latest, Mediterraneo, released on Dave Koz's new Rendezvous label, is a gift for longtime fans whose devotion to CDs such as Classical Soul and Madrid helped lift him out of cult-hero status. Those CDs concentrated on Antoine's flamenco and Gypsy acoustic sound, wrapped around tasty hooks and delicious pop moments. On his last two CDs, however, Antoine-born in France and now living in Spain-strayed into more urban flavors of jazz, ambient, hip-hop and dancehall while keeping an eye on his Gypsy roots. Mediterraneo, however, harkens to the earlier stuff. He opens with "Cubanova," taking a Cuban sentiment and combining it with a tempting Brazilian bossa nova beat. It's a classic, enhanced by orchestral strings and Lulo Perez's trumpet.
After the piazza-strolling radio hit "Funky Picante," Antoine delivers with "Mediterraneo," the sort of anthemic, heartwarming song he includes on every CD. "Señor Groove" is maximized for dancing with its shuffle groove, while "Gotham" floats a late-night ambience and the background vocals of Antoine's wife, Rebeca Vega. Antoine doesn't do many covers, but he tries Everything But the Girl's "Lady," which works because he makes it his own and enhances it with Michael Mishaw and Samantha Murphy's Manhattan Transfer-like vocals. Antoine veers off track on the frolicking "Gringo," but it's no train wreck. It includes a hip-hop sample and Fred Gaillardet's bluesy organ. He closes with the gentle "Alejandro's Lullaby," which is dedicated to his young son. The CD, recorded by Rafa Sardina and mixed by Mike Pela at Antoine's home studio in Madrid, borrows the talents of local musicians and some old friends, including percussionist Luis Conte and bassist Jimmy Haslip.