Just Around The Corner

Eric Marienthal

Peak Records, 2007


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the ways I know I’m not a serious jazz critic: if I were, I’m pretty sure I’d be contractually obligated to dismiss and/or disrespect this album.  And I’m not going to do either one.

Eric Marienthal, who cut his teeth playing in Herbie Hancock’s Elektric Band 20 years ago, is a smooth jazz saxophonist and in-demand session player.   Chances are you’ve heard his work at some point on an album by Elton John or Billy Joel or Stevie Wonder or Barbra Streisand.  If you’re thinking that means he’s got a full, clean, not-particularly-innovative tone, and dependably mainstream contemporary jazz-pop sensibilities, you’re right on target.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What it really comes down to is what you’re looking to get out of the music.  If you approach this disc looking for mind-blowingly unpredictable improvised solos over time signatures that make your vision blur, you’re guaranteed to be disappointed.  But if your thing is melody, if you enjoy a good hook well-played and are open to the possibility of the label “background music” NOT automatically being an insult, this disc is worth giving a chance.

Just Around The Corner features a series of Marienthal collaborations with three different producer-players – Brian Colbertson (keys), Stephen Lu (keys) and Jeff Lorber (guitars & keys).  You might think this would create some disconnects, but the shifts from producer to producer between tracks are barely noticeable.

The key here is that, while these tunes are indeed smooth and melodic, they also manage to showcase the considerable instrumental skills of Marienthal and his collaborators.   Favorites included the energetic opener “Blue Water,” where Marienthal and Culbertson trade licks and phrases; the appropriately urban-themed “Times Square” with its multi-layered soprano, alto and tenor saxes; and the snappy “Dance With Me,” which features pleasantly funked-up guitars and keys.

It was Larry Carlton who first taught me that mainstream contemporary jazz could be just as entertaining, albeit in an entirely different way, as hardcore bop.  Guess I’ll just have to settle for not being a “serious” jazz critic, because to me Just Around The Corner is an easy listen -- and that’s no dig.  This album might not change your world, but that doesn't mean it can't improve your evening.

Rating: B-

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© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Peak Records, and is used for informational purposes only.