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Just Groovin

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Album Review

Smooth jazz has not only been defamed, mocked, insulted, and ridiculed by jazz purists and bop snobs — there are also plenty of fusion enthusiasts who have a very low opinion of all the vapid, soulless "elevator Muzak" that smooth jazz/NAC radio stations are known for playing. But even though many of the musicians, program directors, and A&R people associated with smooth jazz have had appallingly low standards, smooth jazz isn't all bad. Ronny Smith's Just Groovin', in fact, is one of those albums that could be called "smooth jazz with a brain." Although the guitarist's melodic blend of jazz, pop, and R&B emphasizes groove-oriented accessibility, this 2009 release isn't mindless fluff or mind-numbing schlock. Smith does a lot of improvising, and easy to absorb originals such as "Forever Friends," "Ticket to Miami," and "Here We Go Again" demonstrate that he is aiming for substance as well as commercial appeal. Equally noteworthy is Smith's enjoyable interpretation of Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," which ends up sounding more Afro-Cuban than Brazilian and more salsa than bossa nova. Wes Montgomery (whose mid-'60s recordings with Creed Taylor were arguably the beginning of what came to be called smooth jazz) and George Benson are obvious inspirations on this 39-minute CD, and Smith has also claimed Pat Martino and Joe Pass as major influences. Just Groovin' isn't without its flaws and shortcomings; the album is somewhat over-produced at times, and Smith would have been better off without the unnecessary electronic programming that is added to some of the tracks. But all things considered, there is no question that Just Groovin' is among the more substantial smooth jazz releases of 2009.

Just Groovin, Ronny Smith
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