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Soul Providers: Soul Providers

This CD has the unnecessa-ry designation “SMOOTH URBAN GROOVES” on its cover. Unnecessary because the pouty and sexy woman on the cover and familiar songs let you know this is another in the smooth jazz-meets-R&B-and-hip-hop genre popularized by the Hidden Beach and Streetwize collections. That easy cynicism aside, Soul Providers can rightly take its place among its competitors, although the tunes aren’t consistently as compelling as the Hidden Beach efforts. The emphasis here is the groove only, for the most part, while Hidden Beach’s reworked tunes offer some of the most risk-taking playing in smooth jazz.

Pianist Bob Baldwin is the mastermind behind Soul Providers, and it’s easy to see why it was an easy sell. Baldwin is an underrated pianist whose last two CDs have pretty much been better than 90 percent of the stuff out there. But they haven’t been flying off the shelves, and projects like Soul Providers do much better-not Mariah Carey numbers, of course, but the diva would probably dig what Baldwin and Co., including Will Fulton’s funky surf guitar, have done to her slow-jam groove “We Belong Together.”

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