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Smooth Jazz Therapy
April 8, 2008
"...full of melodic beauty..."
Smooth Jazz Therapy
by Denis Poole
Jessy J- Tequila Moon
Rarely has a debut CD been more anticipated and more hyped than that from sax player Jessica Spinella, aka Jessy J. ‘Tequila Moon’ hit record stores across the USA on March 4 and with the title track already riding high on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio has become an instant success. Although there is no doubt that the buzz surrounding ‘Tequila Moon’ is due in no small part to the influence of the Svengali like Paul Brown, (he co-writes four of the songs with Jessy, plays guitar on seven, and produces throughout) it is also an indication of the thirst within the genre for another female player to follow in the footsteps of Candy Dulfer, Pamela Williams and Mindi Abair. That notwithstanding ‘Tequila Moon’ is an interesting blend of overtly Latin rhythms and ‘in the pocket’ smooth jazz vibes.
Born in Portland, Oregon and raised in Hemet, CA, Jessy J draws musical inspiration from her Mexican-American heritage. Her Mexican born father and mother filled the family home with festive, live Latin music and on graduating from USC with a degree in jazz studies (where she was named “Most Outstanding Jazz Student” of her class) she enjoyed instant success as a session player. In 2005-06 Jessy toured with both The Temptations and Jessica Simpson but when she decided to focus her talents on contemporary jazz, she immediately knew she wanted to work with Paul Brown. Although he liked the straight-ahead jazz oriented demo that she sent to him he was not disposed to change his normal rule of only working with signed artists. However, Jessy’s persistence eventually paid off and Brown invited her to his studio to work on a few tracks. This led to her getting the nod to tour with Brown’s live band and after she blew the fans away at her first show in Fresno, CA, on Valentines Day 2006, he finally decided to help develop her as a solo artist.
‘Tequila Moon’ is characterized not only by the participation of Paul Brown but also by the choice lineup of supporting artists that include the outstanding Roberto Vally on bass and keyboard duties shared between Ricky Peterson, Kiki Ebsen and Greg Karukas. In addition, when Jessy briefly puts down the sax to sing the Latin classics ‘Mas Que Nada’ and ‘Besame Mucho’, she utilizes the album for a nostalgic glance back to her roots. However, Jessy quickly regains an instrumental groove for her take on Leon Russell’s ‘Song For You’ to which Ebsen makes an excellent contribution on piano. The Paul Brown – Jessy J written ‘Running Away’ is replete with the smooth jazz production touches for which Brown is famous and there is more of the radio friendly same with the equally smooth ‘PB ‘n’ J’. This mellow yet engaging number is a worthy showcase for Jessy’s talents and when for ‘Fiesta Velada’ the mood reverts to all things Latin, Jessy supplements her melodic yet spicy sax with a splash of flute. In fact the multi talented Jessy played flute on Paul Brown’s 2007 hit ‘The Rhythm Method’ as well as Blake Aarons wonderful ‘Desire’ of the same year. In her teen years she also drew attention for her keyboard skills and at age 15 was named Piano State Champion at the Bela Bartok Festival in California.
Talking of keyboards, Ebsen is again on board for J’s tranquil interpretation of Phoebe Snow’s 1974 hit ‘Poetry Man’. It’s a track full of the melodic beauty that distinguishes much of the album and in this respect there is none more so than the Latin infused yet splendidly understated title cut. Jessy remains in turned down mode for the atmospheric ‘Spanish Nights’ where Brown’s input on guitar is huge while perhaps the best of the Brown - J compositions is ‘Without You’. This ultra smooth tune has the added bonus of a cool keyboard solo from Ricky Peterson but, that said, a real Smooth Jazz Therapy favorite is ‘Turquoise Street’. Written by and featuring Kiki Ebsen this uplifting song possesses a hypnotic quality that might just get in your head and not go away.
‘Tequila Moon’ is proving to be something of a whirlwind for Jessy J. As well as her current work with two of Mexico’s most popular artists, Gloria Trevi and Armando Manzanero, she remains as the touring saxophonist and backing vocalist for Michael Bolton. In addition she has been named as part of the house band for this year's multi city Guitars and Saxes tour. Although this may all serve to place her solo career on temporary hold, with a hit album already in the bag and the heavyweight exposure that her busy schedule is sure to bring, the future would indeed appear to be bright.