September 2006


New York keyboardist John Smatla’s Ultra Blue project is probably going to get lost in the shuffle of the hundreds of instrumental pop CDs of 2006, but it’s a classy and vibey disc that’s worth numerous spins. Following the group’s Dusk 2 Dawn debut in 2004, this 10-song collection has a sophisticated, late-night feel to match the nighttime Manhattan scene on the CD cover. A cross between hip, mellow music and dreamy smooth jazz, you can easily imagine a trendy New York City club piping in this stuff.

The languid “Shiver” is the most “smooth jazz” song here—and it’s the CD’s weakest song. But after that it’s all sublime, especially Philip Hamilton’s floating wordless vocals in “One Night With You” and the light-Latin vibe combined with Hamilton and Giovanna Moretti’s Portuguese singing in “Guilty Pleasures.” Other highlights: Pete Belasco’s smoldering sax in Michel Legrand’s “The Summer Knows” from Summer of ’42; Randy Brecker’s trumpet and the vocals of R&B group Allure on the samba-ish “Soul Candy”; Nestor Torres’ flute in the funk-filled “Jungle Fever”; and Gabriela Anders’ sweetly hushed vocals in “Destiny.”

Smatla closes the CD with the beautiful “The Sound of Goodbye.” A string section enhances the soundtracklike soaring.

Originally published in September 2006
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