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So Many Ways

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This twenty-something British composer/keyboardist who made his initial splash in the U.K. in the early 2000s as part of the duo Sugar & Silk, may have been a new face on the U.S. smooth jazz scene in 2006, but Oli Silk's solo debut perfectly summarizes what the genre is all about. He starts with a sweet blend of laid-back atmospheres and a beautiful acoustic piano melody on "Eve's Song," then goes slightly funkier and urban on "So Many Ways" (featuring the soaring chorus vocals of Yvonne John-Lewis). Like something out of the Jeff Lorber school of soulful keyboarding, the Fender Rhodes-driven "London to L.A. Express" captures the popular old school vibe the genre is often known for. And just when he's getting a bit too laid back, he grooves it up with guest saxman Jaared for the disc's most lively cut "Deuces." Sadly, that track was too adventurous for the "don't want to offend anyone" vibe of the modern format, so the lush but less remarkable "Easy Does It" was chosen as the debut single. Jaared makes a repeat visit on "Summer Fling," yet another song which fulfills a genre requisite, having a R&B-flavored vocal (by Bruce Parker) on the album. Ironically, while there are truly no innovations to be found and Silk seems the whole time to simply try to keep the smooth customer satisfied with stuff that goes down easy, So Many Ways is also one of the most likeable genre discs of the year and holds up after repeated listens. It'll surely give ammo to those who hate the genre, and probably won't overly excite fans of more entrenched keyboard artists (like Lorber or Silk's labelmate Gregg Karukas). But it's still a gem in its own way — and, in what almost seems revolutionary in the modern smooth jazz climate — it doesn't have a cover tune!

So Many Ways, Oli Silk
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