Various Artists: Smooth Jazz Grooves: The Mellow Side of Acid Jazz


By Ben Varkentine

This Music Club collection of Acid Jazz records is equal parts the sort of instant-mash covers of popular songs one hears in supermarkets, vibe-heavy instrumentals, ‘70s-style keyboard solos, fusion grooves, derivative melody lines and space-rock keyboards. It’s the kind of music that’s popular in many workplaces, actually, not just supermarkets, precisely because it is so nonintrusive—if your mind wanders or you are otherwise distracted while listening to it, you can return without fearing that you’ve missed a thrilling moment, because there are none. Acid Jazz is defined by some as a hybrid of jazz and hip-hop. On this collection I’d say it more accurately occupies a middle ground between the haunted church of Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis—both of whom are covered here, Davis to better effect—and the repetitious, there-is-no-there-there quality of John Tesh or Kenny G (What’s the difference between Kenny G and an Uzi? An Uzi only repeats itself 500 times.) The results must be counted as more success than failure on their own grounds, but it’s not the kind of music you can see anyone becoming a “believer” in. More than one of the tracks is a bit anonymous—without reference to the track listing, I defy you to tell “Rubbernecking” by The Whole Thing from “Sphynx” by Brand New Heavies.

The kind of music that does inspire the devotion I spoke of above is, of course, mainly subjective—it’s just whatever kind is there when you call for it; that makes you feel that wherever you are in your life, someone understands. The music on this CD is the kind of music that will go on whether you’re there or not.

As the title indicates, the focus here is soft—the most aggressive beats here would be cowed by a Pet Shop Boys drum machine, let alone a Gene Krupa. In it’s way, it is pure luxury music. I’m glad to have it and to have heard it, but I can’t imagine ever “needing” to hear one of these records in the way that I periodically need to hear some Gaye or even, at another part of the spectrum, Stan Freberg.

The bottom line is, though this album is not at all without merit, it gives the most likely reaction to itself in the Miles Davis cover by Vibraphonic: So What?

The above has been a portrait of the critic in mixed feelings.

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