Soul Ballet, the alter ego of keyboardist and computer sound-wiz Rick Kelly, satisfies a niche in smooth-jazz. His seductive and mellow hip-hop sensibilities create a sonic wash of sound that plugs a gaping hole in the gap between chill music’s esoterica and smooth-jazz’s groove. It’s a genre he pretty much owns, as true chill artists generally shun smooth-jazz and smooth-jazz artists don’t seem capable of incorporating the hypnotic qualities of chill.
Kelly scored a big radio hit with “Cream” from his last CD, and all indications point to Lavish satisfying radio programmers’ needs again. Take “Smooth Vegas,” with its intoxicating blend of keys, orchestration and female background vocals. But what separates Lavish from past Soul Ballet projects is the big assist from smooth-jazz hotshots Rick Braun and Richard Elliot, who signed Kelly to their ARTizen Music Group. The two superstars add a solid blast of memorable playing that shakes Kelly free from his oft-limiting sound. Braun, most memorably, has never sounded better on his trumpet than on “Smooth Vegas” and the equally compelling “In the VIP.” The distinctive growl of Elliot’s sax drives the moody title track, which also features the pensive acoustic guitar soloing of John Pondel. It’s Pondel’s rock-guitar soloing, meanwhile, on “Luv’ll Find a Way,” “da da Diamonds” and “Platinum Life” that bring a new angle to Soul Ballet’s sound. Borrowing heavily from hip-hop and dance, with a few computer-altered vocal choruses thrown into the mix, Lavish’s aural landscapes will make you close your eyes and bob your head.