Jazz albums round-up

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The Independent Culture

You can imagine the modus operandi behind Ronny Jordan's At Last (Sony Jazz) all too well. First, the man with the crane comes and winches Ronny out of his bed at 3am and delivers him to the studio on a trolley. The technicians slip a guitar into his hands, while the producer whispers quietly into his ear, fearful lest he wake him up: "Funky, but not too funky, Ronny. Smooth, but not too smooth." At last they're ready, the backing track begins to roll, and Ronny comes in right on cue, not easy from a prone position. In the control booth afterwards, they all compliment the guitarist on another job well done, but Ronny is already back home in bed, dreaming of quavers.

It's 11 years since Ronny Jordan reached No 32 in the UK chart with his debut single, "So What", and in the interim nothing whatsoever has changed. The trademark sound is still one-part Wes Montgomery to two-parts George Benson, with Jordan's multi-octave thumb-strokes decorating easy on the ear, hip hop lite, backdrops. The new album sounds perfectly pleasant too, and if you heard it in a hairdresser's or a bar (and you probably will), you'd tap your foot quite happily. Good luck to him, you might say, if there wasn't something so insidiously soul-destroying about following a formula for more than a decade without even the teensiest sign of wanting to buck the trend: a wish to record with Derek Bailey, say, like Pat Metheny. You can hear the original model on The Very Best of George Benson: The Greatest Hits of All (Warner Bros), a great new 20-track compilation. It's another formula, but a better one.

It's 10 years since US 3's brilliant if overplayed hip-hop adaptations of classic hard bop hit the charts, and whether in celebration of the anniversary or not, the company has commissioned Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note by the artist known as Madlib (actually Otis Jackson Jnr, nephew of the jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis and son of the soul singer Otis Jackson). From tracks by the likes of Donald Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Reuben Wilson and Ronnie Foster, Madlib creates radical, vibrant and funky new soundscapes. Remarkably successful for a remix project.