We have all been in situations where we have brought up the subject of the music we love only to be asked ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ It is a question not always easy to answer and one that forms the motivation for this occasional feature unremarkably called ‘What’s Smooth Jazz?’ Designed to illustrate some of the most definitive examples of the genre, the tracks that have been included previously have all been instrumentals. Despite that, the use of guest vocalists has long been a facet of contemporary jazz. One notable protagonist of the art, who went on to pioneer the now popular vehicle of ‘duets’, is Kenny G. His discography is generously scattered with vocal contributions from Chaka Khan, Smokey Robinson, Aaron Neville, Michael Bolton, Peabo Bryson, Lenny Williams and Earth Wind and Fire among others yet his greatest triumph in this respect comes courtesy of his 1996 album ‘The Moment’ and the track ‘That Somebody Was You’ featuring Toni Braxton.
It was in 1975 that the then Kenny Gorelick played with Barry Whites Love Unlimited Orchestra and later the Jeff Lorber Fusion. When he performed ‘Songbird’ on the Ed Sullivan show he captured the imagination of a nation and in so doing found the road to international stardom. By 1996, and the release of ‘The Moment’, Kenny G was at the very pinnacle of his career and with the status to attract top notch collaborators to his projects. None more so in this respect was multi Grammy winner Kenneth Edmonds, aka Babyface, with whom G co-wrote ‘That Somebody Was You’.
At that time, in the mid nineties, the career of Babyface was also on fire. As writer, performer and producer for a ‘who’s who’ of R & B stars he could do no wrong. With his long time colleague L A Reid he had also started the LaFace label that became responsible for breaking many artists who went on to become huge stars. Among the labels glittering roster was Toni Braxton. She and her sisters had signed with Arista Records in 1990 as a group simply named The Braxtons. That same year The Braxtons released a single called ‘The Good Life’ and although not a hit it did catch the attention of Reid and Babyface who made her the first female artist to be signed to their new label. She was introduced to the listening public the following year with a high-profile appearance on the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy's Boomerang. Not only did her solo cut ‘Love Shoulda Brought You Home’ become a substantial pop and R&B hit, she also dueted with Babyface on ‘Give U My Heart’. Anticipation for Braxton's first album ran high and when it was released in 1993 it was an across-the-board smash. Her equally successful follow up ‘Secrets’ followed in 1996.
Quite simply her performance on ‘That Somebody Was You’ is stunning. Rippling with the Babyface hallmarks of rich melody, gorgeous chorus and subtle, clever lyrics the song is a modern day masterpiece. Throughout, Braxton’s sumptuous vocal blends seamlessly with the playing of Kenny G that has arguably never sounded more emotionally charged.
There is no doubt; ‘That Somebody Was You’ is an outstanding example of great smooth jazz.
Photographs that accompany this review come courtesy of Rob Yarmo.