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Album Review

The British saxophonist whose real name (Paul Weimar) just isn't cool enough for superstardom has had a joyfully steady day job over the past decade as one of the key melodic, grooving ingredients in the post-acid jazz/smooth jazz jam band Down to the Bone. Still, it's borderline criminal that his 2001 solo debut, the funk masterpiece See What Happens — which earned him a Best New Artist nomination at the now defunct National Smooth Jazz Awards — didn't shoot him to solo stardom. Hopefully that will change with this similarly jamming debut for ARTizen, a label partly owned by fellow smooth funk masters Richard Elliot and Rick Braun. True to its name, HeadBoppin's ten tracks — some featuring off-the-wall titles indicative of Shilts' cheeky personality — will get you dancing, and if you're driving, at least your head will move and groove (which is his intention). Co-produced by the saxman and Braun, the collection is a powerful showcase for his multitude of performing and composing talents, focusing not only on his lead alto and tenor brilliance but also his instantly infectious melodies. Throughout the nine originals and a playfully thumping romp through the magic of Stevie Wonder's "Tuesday Heartbreak," he keeps the explosive upbeat tempos and brassy textures he's famous for with DTTB but incorporates more vibey old-school soul textures, moods, and atmospheres that create an inviting past-and-present soul-jazz experience. The vibrant and heavily soulful first single, "Look What's Happened" — whose title is a riff on the title of his first album — features Braun on trumpet and flügelhorn over a groove established by veteran sidemen Ricky Lawson (drums) and Lenny Castro (percussion). Shilts also enjoys working with Freddie Washington (bass), Ricky Peterson (Hammond B-3), Ross Bolton (guitar), and guest artists Chris Standring (whose crackling guitar solo electrifies on "Tuesday Heartbreak") and singer Siedah Garrett (the soaring, sensuous, and dreamy "Got Love"). Keyboardist Jeff Lorber was one of the saxman's first contemporary jazz heroes, and his beautiful piano work adds a touch of elegant grace to the easy-rolling, sweetly soulful "Good Evans." Easily one of the hardest-hitting and irresistible smooth jazz dates of 2006.

HeadBoppin, Shilts
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