If there is one thing that enhances great music then it’s a great back-story to support it and that’s what we have with the CD ‘Friends’ from Austin, Texas based keyboard player Kirk Fischer. When Kirk sent one of his compositions to legendary arranger and trumpeter Greg Adams for his comments he could not have imagined that the result would be a ten-song collection that blends interesting covers with outstanding new music. Not only that, with luscious string arrangements, the brass driven power of Greg’s all conquering East Bay Soul and Adams’ sublime production, ‘Friends’ has instantly emerged as one of the surprise contemporary jazz packages of 2017.
Take for example the mellifluous title cut that is lifted to another level by a lilting orchestra and an injection of velvety horns while in terms of covers Fischer does a nice job with an innovative take on the Hall & Oates classic ‘Kiss On My List’, a decidedly moody version of Bruce Hornsby’s ‘The Way It Is’ and a high octane rendition of Chi Coltrane’s ‘Thunder and Lightning’ that gets some real balls courtesy of Fischer on B3 and Greg Vail on sax. Yet it is with his own numbers that Fischer really hits the spot.
The easy grooving ‘Bast Majority’ makes impeccable use of East Bay Soul’s trademark vibe and although ‘Open The Eyes Of My Heart’ is wonderfully built around another sax master class from Greg Vail it is with ‘Blame It On Your Own Self’ that Fischer’s machine gun piano riff lays a platform for the mighty horn section to well and truly blow the doors off.
In terms of personal favorites the expansively melodic ‘Shades Of Gray’ is right up there with the best that ‘Friends’ has to offer. In this respect it is in the good company of ‘Dis Sup’, the first single to be serviced to radio and the tune that got this amazing story started but all things considered the Smooth Jazz Therapy top track is ‘Reach Into Your Heart’. Edgy in the extreme and with an urgency that simply builds and builds this one is a certainty for my top twenty of the year.