You would think an artist who has performed for Donald Trump, Sting and Sir Paul McCartney, has toured with Maxi Priest and is a regular visitor to NBC’s Today Show should already be a household name. The fact that guitarist JJ Sansaverino does not yet have that level of fame is something of a mystery but with his debut solo release ‘Sunshine After Midnight’ he taking steps to put that right.
New York City native Sansaverino was playing trumpet and violin at the age of eleven and had picked up the guitar by age 13. With a style moulded by the influence that the likes of Hendrix and Santana had on him he took a break from his musical education to tour Europe with rock band Heads Up but, on his return to the USA, attended Berklee College Of Music where he majored in commercial arranging.
Back in New York City JJ was soon performing nightly and gaining a reputation as one of the hardest working musicians on the scene. He appeared and recorded with artists such as George Clinton, Shabba Ranks, Monty Alexander and Toots and the Maytals as well as recording TV jingles for clients that included Mercedes Benz, Citibank and 1-800-flowers. In 2000 he settled in as lead guitarist for Maxi Priest with whom he performed on several world tours.
In terms of getting noticed, his time with Soul Sensations, who were voted the Today Show’s ‘Band Of The Year’ in 2002, was significant. Not only did it provide him with welcome television exposure, the band got the chance to perform at Sir Paul McCartney’s wedding in Ireland and also at the Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts by invitation of the White House. In 2004 JJ was appointed Musical Director of top notch corporate band GDO Soul but it’s as a solo artist that he now wants to be taken seriously.
From the first track of the CD, ‘Sunshine’, a tight piece of laid back, melodic yet funky smooth jazz where less is always more, that mission is clearly accomplished. In fact ‘Sunshine After Midnight’ is something of a triumph for JJ who, together with Alex Valenti, writes and produces all twelve tracks.
The experience JJ has gained through performing with some of the worlds top reggae acts is put to good use on ‘Victory Of Righteousness’. It starts out with a solid beat that suggests ‘Stand Up For Your Rights’ and then weaves in melodic guitar that has a kind of Jamaica meets Southern California thing going on. Also in the reggae groove is ‘Rejuvenation’. Here the beat underpins cool piano from Earl Appleton with the whole held together by JJ’s skilful playing.
Sansaverino also shows he can turn it down with tracks like the mellow yet bluesy ‘My Lover’ and the Latin spiced ‘Mother’. ‘Fallen Heroes’ is another gentle track but one that develops a haunting lilt along the way while ‘On The Avenue’ is another laid back and funky number with outstanding production, a killer bass line throughout and handsome sax from Ze Luis Oliveria.
The production of Sansaverino and Valenti continuously dares to be different and the way they use turntable effects courtesy of DJ Charm puts both ‘Just About Everybody’ and ‘Swing Easy’ among the highlights of the entire collection. The first of these starts out rock solid urban before a fulsome brass section carries it along and blends with the guitar of JJ who, much in the style of Jeff Golub, allows himself to rock within the constraints of the tight up temp beat. The latter is a striding little tune with stellar brass again to the fore. It’s a foot tapper of the highest order.
With ‘Sunshine After Midnight’ JJ Sansaverino is serving up a heady and atmospheric mix of soulful smooth jazz that is as good as anything I have heard all year. Check it out if you can.