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Nightshift

Gregg Karukas

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Album Review

It may have seemed presumptuous for Gregg Karukas to call one of his most popular recordings You'll Know It's Me in 1995, but back then his sugary, ultra-melodic, kick-back-with-a-dash-of-funk keyboard style was truly identifiable from the first few notes of any song. Since then, however, he's pushed the rhythmic and stylistic envelope in so many exciting new directions that the Karukas of 2000 isn't quite the same guy; 1998's Blue Touch lived up to its title by going in what he calls a "bluesy, funky, greasy, and organic" direction, and his NCoded debut, Nightshift — named, like his 1987 debut, The Nightowl, after his propensity to work vampire-like in his studio all night — moves even further in that direction. His melodies are still as instantly hummable as ever, but he varies their surroundings to include Crusaders-inspired retro-soul elements, snazzy horn sections, and more Latin and Brazilian percussion patterns than ever before.

As always, Karukas chose to work with sidemen whom he feels a magical musical rapport with. Pat Kelley's snappy, high-tone electric guitar blends perfectly with Karukas' own upper-registering melodic dabblings on "Chasing the Wind," while Michael O'Neill's gritty wah-wah clicks prove the perfect foil for Karukas' soulful Fender Rhodes (combined with Jim Reid's sly alto) on the brooding "Silent Promise." O'Neill offers the same punchy retro sizzle on the jamming "Club Hopping."

Karukas trades off a light-hearted synth vibes melody with a Rhodes solo and an acoustic piano interlude on "My Favorite Season," and Paul Jackson, Jr.'s subtle rhythm guitar jangling is perfect for the Polyanna-ish cheer the tune conveys; Dino Soldo's robust tenor fits the growing emotional energy as well. Karukas pays homage to one of his greatest influences on the silky electric piano ballad "Stevie (Wonderful)," and Soldo is right there with the perfect lazy chromatic harmonica solo. And when the keyboardist needs crazed Brazilian jungle effects on the percussive, brass-tinged "Small World," who else could he call but Luis Conte. Karukas has always been hit and miss in the vocal tune department, but his pairing with new labelmate Jonathan Butler on the floating textures of "Time Could Pass" is perfect.

Biography

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

A talented keyboardist, Gregg Karukas has mostly worked in the commercial side of jazz. Although he noodled on the piano from age six, he did not start studying music seriously until he was a teenager. Karukas often played organ in R&B bands early on and at 17 he began a five-year stint with Tim Eyermann's East Coast Offering. After a period working as a studio musician in D.C., he moved to Los Angeles in 1983, where he became a major part of the pop-jazz scene, playing with (among others) Richard...
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Nightshift, Gregg Karukas
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