Music Review: Kenny G, "Heart and Soul"
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Label: Concord Records
· Official Site
by Paul Schultz
Published: June 29, 2010
Kenny G and his trusty Selmer Mark VI soprano saxophone have been fluttering over instrumentals since his self-titled debut in 1982. Heart and Soul marks his 13th studio album, and not much has changed from those beginnings, and that's just what the G-Man intended.
A special note in the CD booklet recalls his youth attending an inner city public high school in Seattle, Washington, while grown up mainly on R&B music. His intent with the all-original material on Heart and Soul is to pay tribute to these roots. With that goal in mind, Kenny G has succeeded in getting reacquainted with the Grover Washington, Jr. influence that introduced him to his instrument of choice, while retaining the pop stylings that have earned him scorn and adulation over the years.
"Songbird" in 1987 began a decade of dominance that saw Kenny rack up over 25 millions units sold of Duotones, Silhouette (1988), Breathless (1992), and The Moment (1996) that established him as the #1 instrumental artist over that period of time. But then he lost his way a bit and started getting gimmicky. He did a slew of holiday albums (Miracles, Faith, or Wishes... take your pick), an album of all-star pairings (At Last...The Duets Album) and a couple of cover albums (Classics in the Key of G, I'm in the Mood for Love...The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time).
His last album, 2008's Rhythm & Romance, was a collection of Latin jazz, mixing classic favorites with original songs, indicating a direction toward fresh writing beyond reinterpretation. Heart and Soul finds Kenny writing, producing and arranging with longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff, with a slight shift away from the straight adult contemporary of his recent outings and toward the R&B groove of his earlier works.
Déjà Vu: You've heard this music from Kenny G before, and that's okay.
The opening title track is every bit as melodic as "Forever in Love" or "The Moment" with a memorable hook. The next track is aptly titled, but you will experience déjà vu often throughout the course of this record. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the songs are well-written and ear-pleasing. It's just... nice and safe. There is no bold experimentation to be found here.
The only approximation of an out-of-the-box moment comes on the penultimate track. Afanasieff busts out the Hammond B-3 organ and gives the track an insistent drum beat that stands out amid its mid- to slow-tempo brethren. Even Kenny sets aside his soprano sax to pick up the tenor solely for "Encore," though his playing remains firmly in the altissimo register. Otherwise, you get a digital drum backbeat laying the foundation for the music, and Afanasieff on light and airy keyboards, with occasional orchestral accompaniment ("The Promise," "One Breath") and flourishes like a nylon string guitar ("Letters From Home").
The album's first single is one of two vocal guest appearances. Fruit of the loins of Canadian actor Alan Thicke and Days of Our Lives actress and singer Gloria Loring, Robin Thicke delivers a minor-key R&B delicacy on "Fall Again." Less impressionable is "No Place Like Home" featuring Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, though there is nothing inherently wrong with it.
|Kenny G, "Heart and Soul"
|01. Heart and Soul
02. Déjà Vu
03. Fall Again (featuring Robin Thicke)
04. Letters From Home
05. The Promise
06. No Place Like Home (featuring Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds)
07. My Devotion
10. One Breath
12. After Hours
"G-Walkin'," co-written by Adrian Bradford, who also programmed the tracks, provides a smidgen of sassiness, while "My Devotion" strives to be a new contestant for a couple's "our song" with strings joining with sax in emotive crescendo. "After Hours" closes out the disc with typical smooth jazz finality.
As expected, Heart and Soul is impeccably produced, with a precision that dissuades full potential soulfulness from being achieved. It makes me nervous when the Pro Tools engineer and orchestra contractors are credited. It signals a lack of organic creativity, to my mind.
But for millions of fans, that is not what Kenny G's "heart and soul" is all about. It's exceptional sax playing in a pop arrangement that can equally be embraced by jazz and R&B crowds. With that in mind, the music is almost incidental, and nothing on Heart and Soul will convince detractors, nor alienate devotees.