The track we are using this time as another definitive example of ‘What’s Smooth Jazz’ is the outstanding ‘Love Is Like A River’ by that underrated purveyor of quality West Coast smooth jazz, Fattburger. It comes from their 1994 recording on the Shanachie label, ‘Livin Large’. Fattburger, whose music has been varyingly described as new adult contemporary, contemporary jazz, or smooth jazz, are identified by those who know smooth jazz as one of the most enduring bands around. Yet, perhaps due to inconsistent output, they have failed to match the impact made by some of their contemporaries from the late eighties and nineties. Who knows, given that the genre is by and large ruled by solo artists, it is possibly more difficult for bands, yet there is no doubt that over a period now spanning two decades Fattburger have been responsible for some fine examples of smooth jazz.
The San Diego-based unit has survived through many trends and still plays the same type of accessible funky music that was its original goal. Saxophonist Hollis Gentry was still in high school when he led a group that played under the name of Power. In 1972 the band opened for Cannonball Adderley at a college concert and later, after Gentry graduated from San Diego State University, he toured with various R&B groups. During the late 70’s he played straight-ahead jazz with Bruce Cameron.
Finding himself ‘between bands’ Gentry got together with musicians he had worked with previously to form Fattburger. That original line-up featured keyboardist Carl Evans, Mark Hunter on bass, drummer Kevin Koch, guitar player Steve Laury and Tommy Aros on percussion. It is interesting to note that Joe McBride, who went on to carve out a great career as a solo artist, also played with Fattburger in those early days.
Their first album, ‘One Of A Kind’ from 1985, sold well and the band has been together ever since although Evan Marks took over on guitar when Laury left to pursue a solo career. Throughout that time they have been variously signed to three labels, Golden Boy, Intima and, their current record company, Shanachie.
‘Love Is Like A River’ is a stand out smooth jazz track that serves well as a benchmark for the genre. A driving beat, great guitar work and top notch backing vocals all contribute to what is a really special piece of work. Indeed it’s hardly surprising that we have selected a Fattburger tune to exemplify smooth jazz. To quote from the bands own website www.fattburger.com ‘were an uninitiated, curious listener to pose the question, "what is the essence of smooth jazz?" the appropriate response could be to simply hand over the Fattburger catalog in its entirety’.
Whether or not this is completely true is something that listeners must decide for themselves. However, it is certain that ‘Love Is Like A River’ is one of the greatest examples of smooth jazz to be recorded in the last fifteen years.
As well as being on the ‘Livin Large’ CD the track is also included on the outstanding 1996 compilation ‘JazzFusions Three’ where it is in the superb company of such tunes as ‘Goodbye Manhattan’ by Pieces of A Dream, ‘Between The Sheets’ by Fourplay and the exceptional ‘Don’t Get Any Better’ by Tom Scott, a track that features the sumptuous vocals of Maysa Leak.
Check out ‘Love Is Like A River’ wherever you might find it.