“Groovalicious!” sounds like just the sort of thing Austin Powers might say if he heard the deliciously funky, ultra-hip and vibey, retro-jazz-soul flavors on Chris Standring’s long awaited follow-up to Hip Sway, his hit 2000 recording which defined the urban-minded contemporary jazz experience as we crossed millenniums.
Since the release of Velvet, his 1998 debut as a solo artist, The British born guitarist has titled his discs as a way of defining the places his creative muse has taken him. Velvet, whose single “Cool Shades” went Top 10 for over three months on Gavin/Radio & Records’ airplay charts, came at a time when Standring was into the ambient European phenomenon known as the “chill out movement.” The seductive moniker of Hip Sway, whose title track featuring sax great Richard Elliot peaked at #2 and was one of 2000’s most played songs, captured the retro-flavored, dance floor ready, funk-soul-jazz 60’s mindset explored by Standring with his bandmates Rodney Lee (keyboards), Dino Soldo (sax), Andre Berry (bass) and Dave Karasony (drums). The title of the 2001 U.K. and Europe only compilation release Shades of Cool is obviously self-perpetuating.
That fresh, hipswaying coolness and heavy pocket grooving seduces us into the Groovalicious experience as well, but with a mini time-traveling twist—its retro tastes move up a decade from Hip Sway, firmly into the deeper funk elements of the 70’s. With the exception of “Say What!”, a locomotive blues-oriented track reminiscent of Lee Morgan’s classic “Sidewinder” that recaptures that 60’s train of thought, the tracks on Groovalicious take the hottest retro sounds of the Me decade and fuse them with a very contemporary drum and bass foundation. Add to those some of Standring’s best compositions ever and the cool yet edgy string style he and his trademark Robert Benedetto arch top jazz guitar have become famous for, and it’s clearly time for some finger snapping, fast and slow dancing, and…whatever comes next with your dance partner.
“I try to make every record I do cohesive in a slightly different direction,” he says. “There’s always an overall vibe in what I’m trying to do. The 70’s vibe is the reference point here, but the fun was that we didn’t set out to make it that way, it just happened as I got together with the guys and started writing. We played the new tunes live and they just started moving in that direction. Many of them were written in a real old school fashion, beginning with me strumming chords on an acoustic guitar, humming melodies and writing them down on manuscript paper. I’d bring them to Rodney’s studio, and if he liked what he heard, he’d get working on the groove and we’d demo it. He’s a huge influence on my sound. All the guys in the band are part of this sonic architecture.
“The feel for the bass and drums is a bit thicker and deeper and the groove and horn arrangements show the inspiration of a lot of our favorite 70s funk acts like Parliament, Cameo, Ohio Players, Average White Band and, of course, Earth, Wind & Fire,” Standring adds. “We’re creating environments where I can develop my own playing style, and it’s great being open to new ideas each time out. I’ve never been interested in hashing the same things as I did the last time. Conventional wisdom says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but I say, break it! It’s important to push the envelope and myself to the far edges while also keeping things accessible. It’s exciting to think of my fans out there, wondering where I’m going to go next. That keeps me inspired as well.”
Standring complements his tight ensemble on Groovalicious with standout guest stars on three key tracks. The easy moods of “Snowfall” feature the emotional duality of Standring’s lines with the smoky trumpet cool of smooth jazz superstar Chris Botti.
Lee creates gorgeous synth-symphonic textures for the vocal tune “Come Back Home,” a thumping R&B gem featuring 22 year old breakout talent Ashely Ta’mar’s dreamy and soulful declaration of love. The trippy and moody “All in Good Time” blends Berry’s hypnotic bassline with expansive atmospheres and the plucky flute energy of Katisse Buckingham.
Elsewhere, Groovalicious gets tasty from the get-go, opening with the snappy guitar seduction, simmering soul-blues and punchy brass accents of “I ‘Aint Mad Atcha” before strutting into the throbbing party retro-jam atmosphere of the Marvin Gaye influenced “Miss Downtown Sugar Girl.” The first single “Hypnotize” lives up to its title, featuring some of Standring’s most crisp and sexy guitar lines in a sonic space that ventures from laid back to funky, with wordless vocals and smooth brass accents. “Fat Tuesday” is all sweet, old school brassy soul and mystical ambience, while the title track is a crazy, spaced out, dreamy slice of 70’s wah-wah heaven featuring unique synth-vocal effects. Rounding out the set are the soundscape and atmosphere heavy “Ray of Sunlight,” the trippy moods of “Shadow Dance” and the thoughtful closing ballad “Do What You Do”.
Based on his amazing fusion of pop, soul and jazz influences, Chris Standring’s fans often assume that he grew up listening to all the hippest musical trends, but his early years were spent studying classical guitar on a farm in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. He started exploring rock guitar in his mid-teens, but his first college experiences were spent mastering classical music. Moving to L.A. for a year at age 20, he started hanging out at the famed Baked Potato club, listening to guitar masters like Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. Ford advised the young musician that if he wanted to work in the studios, he should start a band when he returned to England. Standring did just that while enrolled at the London College of Music, using his classical studies as an excuse to play jazz every free hour of the day.
After years of immersing himself in London’s studio scene, he moved back to L.A. and started an edgy local band with a fusion leaning. Hooking up with Rodney Lee when both played with singer Lauren Christy (now part of the powerhouse production team The Matrix) introduced Standring to the funkier side of jazz. The two clicked immediately, releasing the well-received acid jazz project SolarSystem on Sonic Images in 1996. Standring also plugged heavily into the smooth jazz scene and started gigging with genre stars Rick Braun and Marc Antoine. He joined those two on the annual Guitars & Saxes tour in 1998 just as Velvet was hitting the charts. It hit #9 on the Gavin and R&R radio charts and was a Top Ten pick from Jazziz Magazine.
Since Hip Sway cemented his status as one of smooth jazz’s top stars in 2000, Standring has appeared regularly at top festivals (including the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival) and was a regular performer at The Wave’s Smooth Jazz Nights at the Garden of Eden in Hollywood. He’s also traveled back to London each winter to perform shows at the popular Pizza Express jazz club. The guitarist has also appeared on numerous jazz and R&B recordings, including dates by Braun, Bryan Savage, Jody Watley and Bebe and Cece Winans.
Standring’s desire to help up and coming talent has led to his owning and operating the popular website, A&R Online (aandronline.com), to promote unsigned artists. Musicians from all genres can send in music, and Standring picks three artists to feature each month in hopes of connecting them with record companies looking to sign new acts. His commitment to educating young musicians extends to his writing a handful of popular e-books, including the recent Street Team: A Killer Promotional Strategy for Independent Artists.
“I always get a kick out of helping people who want to get to the next place in their career,” he says. “We’ve all been in the place where we needed guidance from some of the artists who have been in our shoes. While I count guys like Larry Carlton, Jeff Beck and (Dutch rock-fusion legend) Jan Akkerman as enormous influences on me as a guitar player, I think my success in contemporary jazz has come from learning how to connect with audiences. I learned so much from the guys on the Guitars & Saxes tour, because they were not only great musicians but also knew how to perform. In England, it’s about being the best player you can be, but here, I’ve learned the importance of how to communicate with the listeners. That has made all the difference.”