As if from no-where, and courtesy of her brand new project ‘Groove With Me’, singer, songwriter and woodwind player Paula Atherton has dramatically emerged as a major player on the contemporary jazz scene. This sensational collection features eleven of Atherton’s original compositions plus one well chosen cover and, with the perfect blend of instrumental and vocal cuts, oozes quality throughout. The production of Lou Gimenez (who also makes significant contributions on acoustic and electric guitars) is never anything short of top-notch and with some fantastic guest musicians to lend a hand the entire recording is a total delight.
New York based Atherton has opened for the likes of Chuck Loeb, Patti Austin, Tito Puente and saxophonist Najee. In 2004 her debut CD ‘Let Me Inside Your Love’ made its mark on the national contemporary jazz charts while in 2006 a cut from this album, ‘I Long For Your Love’ was included on the compilation ‘Ladies of Jazz’ that also featured Natalie Cole, Candy Dulfer and Eliane Elias. Her television work includes appearances on the Today show, Good Morning America and, as bandleader, for the Lifetime network show, ‘Girl’s Night Out’. In addition, Paula performed at fundraisers during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and in 2002 wrote the score for the independent film ‘The Definition of Insanity’. She has crammed this musical pedigree into every note of ‘Groove With Me’ which opens with the zesty ‘Marimba Island’. It’s a track that evokes white crested waves breaking over warm white sand and shimmers with Atherton’s wonderful flute playing. This terrific example of textbook smooth jazz is in the good company of the funky yet melodic ‘Block Party’ which is blessed by Chieli Minucci on guitar and the outstanding Dave Delhomme on keyboards. Atherton on alto sax is tremendous and she stays with alto for ‘There Ain’t Nothing’. Opening with a clear hint of those killer chords from the Boz Scaggs classic ‘Lowdown’ the tune drips with all the rhythm and melody you will ever need and finds Atherton delivering on every conceivable level.
When, later, she reprises the song with her own picture perfect vocals the result is just as good and, given Atherton’s prowess as a vocalist, it’s surprising that she sings on only three other tracks. The first, ‘Whenever You Come Around’, is a breathtaking example of smooth R & B that has the added benefit of Darin Brown on keys whilst the heartfelt ‘Send Down An Angel’ allows Atherton to demonstrate another side of her myriad talents. The equally romantic ‘Falling’ provides more of the pleasing same but when Paula is joined by former Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams for the ultra funky ‘JB’ they together crank up the volume for a high octane tribute to the great James Brown. Baron Raymonde on tenor and baritone sax adds extra horsepower while the whole piece fizzes with a horn driven frenzy. This same energy is a key component of the aptly titled ‘Funk It Up’ for which Atherton calls on noted keyboard player Oneje Allan Gumbs and it is a feature of the CD that she is able to move seamlessly from the up tempo to the tranquil and all points between. For the tender ‘Winds Of Change (Yes We Can)’ she is at her melodic best on soprano sax and whereas ‘Light As Air’ is jazzy, interesting and beautifully performed the album’s only cover, the Ashford & Simpson composition ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’, is big, brassy, and thanks in no small part top more great trumpet from Adams, funky too.
To select a favourite from a collection replete with riches is no easy task but, all things considered, this accolade goes to the edgy mid tempo ‘Say It Baby’. Lionel Cordew on drums and bass-man Schuyler Deale lay down a massive foundation; Brown is again immense on keys and, between blowing up a storm on sax, Atherton still finds time to combine with Naomion for some high calibre backing vocals.
‘Groove With Me’ is a real gem and comes highly recommended. For more on Paula Atherton go to www.paulaatherton.com