It’s always so heartwarming to sit back and reflect on how we smooth jazzers have always embraced the wonderful musical delights and talents of international artists (England’s Peter White & Oli Silk, France’s Philippe Saisse, U-Nam, & Marc Antoine, Croatia’s Igor Gerzina, and, of course, the lovely and mega-talented Japanese princess of World and smooth jazz music Keiko Matsui for starters). Now enters Russian keyboardist/pianist/drummer/composer Valeriy Stepanov with his impressive debut release entitled New Beginnings. Sporting smooth and funky rhythms and melodies, the album makes one marvel at how easily our genre fits into the soul, style, and psyche of artists like him. His style is very fluid and almost second nature, fitting so comfortably in the folds of the both soothing and exciting allure of our beloved music.
The generous 13-track New Beginnings brings together light & airy and funky in a cool manner that should have listeners’ heads bopping, feet tapping. and faces smiling through each track. There’s an enveloping sweetness, confident swagger, and soulfulness to Stepanov’s sound, and each track brings some form of that to the forefront, regardless of the tempo or mood he sets on each offering.
Helping out with this debut is the dazzling guitarist/producer U-Nam and saxman extraordinaire Marion Meadows. Their contributions shine like their respective characters.
There are lots of meaty, groove-filled tracks here to really admire. There’s the kickin’ up-tempo, hook-rich lead track “Happy People” (with its hard-to-pronounce parenthetical translation, by the way), the tantalizing mid-tempo “Tonight” featuring U-Nam, the soulful mid-tempo “Walk in the Park,” the romantically-charged “Look at the Stars” featuring the seductive Meadows sax, the funky “No Doubt Now” (a track that begins in a really decent smooth and evenly paced vein then explodes with a dose of funk to be reckoned with), and so much more. In a nutshell, a CD full of treasures you’ll enjoy uncovering.
Stepanov’s musical skills and knack for tapping into the soul of this music are far beyond noteworthy. Listen. I’d say that we should stand ready for more from this up-and-coming promise. Great stepping-out effort. – Ronald Jackson
01. Happy People (Irkutskrasnoyarsk)
02. Tonight (feat. U-Nam)
03. Walk in the Park
04. Twilight Sky
05. Look at the Stars (feat. Marion Meadows)
06. No Doubt Now
09. In Common
11. Half Moon
12. Happy People (Radio Edit)
13. Tonight (Radio Edit) [feat. U-Nam]