Anyone who has been anywhere near live smooth jazz will know the name of Tom Braxton. He was Wayman Tisdale’s touring saxophonist for seventeen years and, after Tisdale’s untimely death in 2009, went on to perform similar roles with Kirk Whalum, Keiko Matsui and, more recently, Earl Klugh. Yet throughout that time Braxton was patiently building his own discography. Three albums of Christian based music, in 1992, 1998 and 1999, led to his 2001 Christmas collection, ‘Comfort & Joy’. In 2005 his first fully fledged contemporary jazz CD, ‘Bounce’, hit the streets and was followed in 2007 by ‘Imagine This’. The highly acclaimed ‘Endless Highway’ was released two years later and now, brand new for 2014, he is back with ‘The Next Chapter’.
‘The Next Chapter’ opens with the upbeat and entirely catchy title cut that Braxton writes in tandem with longtime collaborator Jay Rowe. It is one of five songs written or co-written by Braxton and another is the easy grooving ‘Tuesday Morning’ for which Braxton’s cool playing affords a delightfully relaxed veneer. Kim Hansen on keys and Darrell Crooks on guitar join Braxton for the dazzlingly jazzy ‘New Horizons’ while elsewhere a storming version of the Thom Bell classic ‘I’ll Be Around’ (complete with vocals from Gianna and Arthur Dyer) really hits the spot.
In fact a feature of Braxton’s previous CDs has been his ability to select and then re-image some of the best R & B numbers of the past forty or so years. This was certainly the case with the job he did on Patrice Rushen’s ‘Haven’t You Heard’ from his 2007 ‘Imagine This’ project and here, in addition to ‘I’ll Be Around’, he delivers a horn drenched rendition of the timeless Gamble & Huff blockbuster ‘I Love Music’.
Perhaps the most intriguing cover is a beguiling take on Bread’s ‘Make It With You’ that comes complete with a sprinkling of magic from the one and only Peter White. Certainly, it is a measure of the esteem in which Braxton is held within the smooth jazz community that a bevy of superstars have gathered around to lend a hand. Take for example the legendary Bob James who adds his trademark keys to the bossa nova sway of ‘Nuevo!’ or the distinctive input of Earl Klugh for Braxton’s own tune ‘Sunrise In Malawi’. It was inspired by a recent trip to Africa that Braxton made when touring with Klugh and, as Braxton returns to his sacred roots, they connect once more for the mellow ‘Contemplation’.
A contemporary jazz interpretation of the traditional hymn ‘It Is Well’ closes out the collection although there is still time to squeeze in a radio edit of ‘I Love Music’ that is sure to light up the airwaves in the months to come.
All things considered this tight ten track offering has enough going on to demonstrate that, for Tom Braxton, this really is ‘The Next Chapter’.