Heath Andrews:

A fantastic approach!

Otherwise known as MrR, keyboardist/composer Russ Smith brings his loves of jazz and Latin percussion together on his 2011 debut album, Sonoran Sunset.

The album’s opening track, “On Valparaiso” showcases a lot of what makes MrR’s music enjoyable.  Immediately he establishes a smooth yet forceful groove…the arrangement is filled in by several different keyboard tracks…the music is gorgeously played and everything else MrR presents on his album is fantastic.  The second song, “Funkin’ Sandia” continues on what the opening offered up but throws in a great guitar solo and an organ that pulses in the back of the arrangement.

 “Me ‘n Able” enters into the genre of acid jazz and it’s a fantastic piece to take in.  Thanks to the prominent use of keyboards on other songs, the transition to acid jazz feels completely natural.  The electronic beats and distorted guitar solidify the sound MrR establishes this song is exciting.

The title track continues to cross the realms of jazz and acid jazz through its use of atmospheric keyboards, guitar, and trademark percussion. The opening atmosphere evokes images of the titular sunset before throwing the listener into … tight bass lines, thudding drums, the whir of the guitar, the piano, it all works wonderfully.

Jazz and acid jazz fans are going to be thrilled with what MrR does on Sonoran Sunset.  There are a lot of wonderful elements to the music he creates.  Even the longer tracks that go on over six minutes don’t feel that way thanks to the dynamic arrangements and excellent performances across the board.  MrR has taken a fantastic approach to the jazz genre and is a percussive force to be reckoned with. 

 

P. Baldwin:

Pleasantly surprising debut…

After several passes through this collection, I hav ecome to seriously enjoy the lively, quality compositions. The foundatoin or mind-set is straight jazz, but venturing at same time into the temptations and satisfying indulgences of blues, rock and funk. – PHB

 

MeanDean:

Nice Sunset!

Superior home studio production!
I hear more rock and R & B feel in these tracks than jazz and all very pleasing to listen to. Nice tight arranging as I would expect from composer/ keyboardist Russ Smith.

 

Nathaniel Wiggins:

Smooth Blend
The arrangements were on point, easy to follow as I meditated.

 

Matthew Warnock: 

Kudos for taking the risk

Throughout jazz and other improvised music history, many artists have written, recorded and released solo albums of their own work, from Bill Evans, to Joe Pass, Pat Metheny and others, countless artists have used the solo album as a creative vehicle at one point or another during their careers. West-Coast writer and performer, MrR, has taken this idea one step further with the release of his solo album, Sonoran Sunset, but he isn’t performing solo in the traditional sense. The record features one musician, MrR playing every instrument on the album on a keyboard, and using plug-ins, making his fingers sound like electric guitars, horns, drums, bass and all sorts of keys. By choosing to record an album in this way, MrR has taken the solo, improvised-based album in a new direction, adding his own personality to the genre.

There is a strong jazz influence, from different eras and subgenres in MrR’s writing and performing. The song “Armageddon”, written by jazz legend Wayne Shorter, fits firmly into the swing-based jazz genre. The tune features several different timbres of melodic instruments, mostly horn based, played by the artist on the keyboard.

One of the most interesting tracks is “Laid Way Back.” The harmonic material is indicative of a lot of MrR’s tracks, where there is a one or two-chord vamp. This is a technique that has served well for John Scofield, MMW, Miles Davis and others. Here, MrR does a good job of staying within the harmonic framework, playing lines that fit within the harmony, which leads to a nice “inside” sound. What is missing is a bit more of a sense of melodic adventure during the solos, taking the opportunity provided by the harmony to stretch out and take things a bit more “outside” to create interest and keep the listener guessing as to what is coming next. The rhythms, while usually solid in the backing instruments, can sometimes be a little loose in the melodic playing. MrR does a good job of using different timbres and textures, but the keyboard plug-ins sometimes sound a bit too processed and artificial. Some listeners may like this, but it may not appeal to fans of traditional, acoustic instruments.

Sonoran Sunset is an interesting release, performed and recorded in an unorthodox manner. Kudos goes out to MrR for taking the risk of releasing an album in this fashion. The overall quality is OK, but there are a few ingredients missing from lifting it out of OK and into the realm of great.