Nelson Rangell,
Soul to Souls
(Koch, 2006)

Nelson Rangell is a talented and versatile young pro. He's in demand as a studio musician and has released more than a dozen albums as a leader. This one is meant to appeal to the smooth jazz crowd, but pays more respect to jazz history than most in the genre. Although the radio audience has priority (older jazz buffs beware), the solos of Rangell and guest artists are feistier than the arrangements.

Things kick off with the leader on tenor sax in Joe Samples "Free As the Wind." The arrangement is a synopsis of the entire album as smooth jazz synthesizer and background vocals are tied to funky solos by Rangell and guitarist Chuck Loeb.

A languorous, sexy "City Lights" by Rangell and David Mann comes next. Half the 10 songs on the album are originals, and this is one of the best. It features Rangell on alto with a tone that reminds us of the debt he owes David Sanborn, the earliest practitioner of a certain soulful, crying R&B alto. Like Sanborn, Rangell can groove with the best, when he's not playing down to the audience. That's most evident on this release on Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia." Once we're through the intro, he shows us it's not just Sanborn he owes, but Charlie Parker as well. This solo is close in spirit to those he's recorded with the GRP Big Band. It has a joyous, show-off freedom not often found in his more commercial work.

Chuck Loeb and Earl Klugh, the second guest guitarist, are both respected musicians and leaders in their own right. Klugh's popular "Vonetta" includes solos by the composer and by Rangell, this time on flute. Elsewhere on the album, Rangell proves he's equally adept at wielding a soprano sax and, on Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love" -- a piccolo! I told you he was versatile.

Alex Nekrasov is another key musician here. He collaborated with the leader on three of the originals and is featured on keyboards. His contributions are the "smoothest" of those of the composers and participants. That means I wish he hadn't been part of the action, but he will make other ears feel more at home. Even I agree that "A New Avenger" (Rangell and Nekrasov) is pretty cool, but mostly because of Rangell's intense, screaming alto.

If you are a smooth jazz fan you'll like this one. Just know that Rangell is a Trojan horse. Once he infiltrates, you may begin to acquire a taste for even more fiber in your listening diet.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Ron Bierman

17 November 2007

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