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Paul Hardcastle: Jazzmasters III

Not quite so relentlessly electronic and slick-urban as his self-branded solo work, Paul Hardcastle has used his occasional Jazzmasters project as grounds for more earthy experimentation. Jazzmasters III (Hardcastle 64494-90506-2; 55:20) is no exception, working in welcome acoustic textures; building full-blown melodies, rather than relying on samples and loops; and adding the inspired soulful vocals of Helen Rogers to bring out the best in Hardcastle’s electronic workbench. Highlights here include album opener “London in Springtime,” with a lush, densely layered arrangement dancing around Rogers’ romantic vocal; and a bassy, lithe dance mix of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” with Rogers playing Sade over sinewy rhythms. There’s always lots going on in a Hardcastle arrangement, evidenced on the bouncy “Nightcrawler,” with its elemental acoustic piano, solid sax riff and walking blue bass vibe; and “Ventura Highway,” which offers brassy twinkles of guitar texture as a tonic mix with Rogers’ vocal, providing contrasting colors in an open soundscape. Only the laboriously layered, murky “Lost in Space” and tingling slow-paced “Starchild” distract from the action here.

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