‘What’s Smooth Jazz?’ is the occasional feature designed to illustrate some of the most definitive examples of the genre and this latest example is Gerald Albright’s cover of the Tony Toni Tone tune ‘Anniversary’. Formed in 1987, Tony Toni Tone enjoyed a number of chart hits and good album sales for a considerable part of the nineties. The line up was a family affair with brothers Dwayne and Raphael Wiggins teaming up with cousin Timothy Christian. ‘Anniversary’ was written by Raphael Wiggins together with keyboard player Carl Wheeler. When they laid down the track for their 1993 ‘Sons of Soul’ project they looked around for a sax soloist and found none other than Gerald Albright. The end product was a sensation and gave Tony Toni Tone one of their very biggest career hits.
It was only a year later that Albright went into the Aire studios in Los Angeles to record his solo CD ‘Smooth’ for Atlantic. A phenomenal album, not least for the fact that it includes Albright’s own version of ‘Anniversary’, it is packed with a succession of great cuts and features guest performances from Will Downing, Vesta Williams and Lalah Hathaway. Lee Ritenour, Stanley Clarke and Paul Jackson Jr. are among the supporting musicians and a further interesting feature, at least for aficionados of liner notes, is that the comments on ‘Smooth’ were added by NBA superstar Magic Johnson.
Albright’s ‘Anniversary’ can also be found on the highly acclaimed 1994 compilation ‘Jazz Fusions One’.
It’s worth noting that although the Albright version is a mere four minutes thirty three seconds long the Tony Toni Tone original weighs in at a massive nine minutes and twenty four seconds. Shades of Isaac Hayes and no mistake! Although truncated forms abound this original length version can also be found on the 2000 compilation ‘Heart of Soul.
‘Smooth’ was Albrights fifth solo release for Atlantic. It marked the continuance of an association that began when an Atlantic executive heard Albright playing with Anita Baker’s touring band and which resulted in his 1987 debut album ‘Just Between Us’. In fact he had gained early credibility for his work as a backing musician with many top soul and R & B artists and this early stage of his career was perhaps best known for his eight bar tenor solo on the Patrice Rushen blockbuster ‘Forget Me Nots’.
The songs with which Albright has been most consistently successful have all been top-drawer covers of great soul ballads and, starting with his 1987 debut, the dynamic take on the Luther Vandross hit ‘So Amazing’ blasted him to #12 in the Billboard R & B chart. Those fans who began to anticipate similar covers on every album where not disappointed and Gerald has gone on to deliver great renditions of The Whispers ‘In The Mood, Johnny Gills ‘My, My, My’ and, most recently, another Whispers classic ‘And The Beat Goes On’. However it is with ‘Anniversary’ that Albright reached a pinnacle that, even if he records for another fifty years, he will find hard to surmount. Although now be thirteen years old its atmospheric urban vibe and sparing use of sensational vocals fit perfectly with the mood of today’s smooth jazz. Quite simply ‘Anniversary’ is a stunning example of ‘What’s Smooth Jazz’.