CD REVIEW
OCT 2015

Southwest

Eric Shenefield

Southwest is a new jazz recording by keyboardist/composer Eric Shenefield. Stylistically, it's reminiscent of The Yellowjackets, The Rippingtons and Spyro Gyra, and Eric rises to the occasion, having produced an album of monster tunes and great playing that stands solidly alongside them all.

Southwest

Although some may be tempted to categorize Southwest as "smooth jazz," it is probably more accurately pegged as a jazz fusion work. Much in the same way as Chick Corea, Lyle Mays and Wayne Shorter have done, Eric has discovered the recipe for combining contemporary funk, latin, rock and shuffle beats with no-holds-barred jazz roots. Eric and I go back a long time to our college days, so it's great to hear that he's finally documented the great music he's been creating for so many years.

eric

The tracks feature sweet grooves and shine the spotlight on Shenefield's considerable writing and producing talents. Like all shrewd band leaders, Eric picked an ensemble of first-rate sidemen who not only rise to the level of musicianship demanded by the compositions, but also interpret with rock-solid precision the rhythmic and melodic intent of each piece. Eric's keyboard work is inventive, tasteful and precise, which is no mean task given the complex nature of some of the lines he's written. Other standout players for me include guitarist Tim Kobza and bassist Kyle Nix, who interweave dynamic melodies among complex chordal structures, and Todd Chuba, who lays down reliable and masterful drum grooves throughout.

kyle

There's so much to like in Southwest. From the outset, Eric's Siponee creates a beautiful laid back, jazz-rock feel and showcases some tasty Hammond B3 work. One particular highlight for me was Camelback Road, which features an intricate line over a very drivable groove and challenging chordal structure. Ironically enough, the tune was inspired by the iconic roadway along the signature mountain of the Phoenix skyline, so it's no surprise that this one gets my nod for classic "highway" listening.

The album includes two vocal tunes featuring Tim Turner, who gives an edgy soulfulness to originals Don't Know, a supremely funkified shuffle groove, and Modern Inconvenience, a tongue-in-cheek commentary about modern life held hostage by technology.

tim

The final track, Sonoran Mystery, is another one of my favorites. From a compositional standpoint, it has an epic tone poem kind of vibe and flows effortlessly through samba, orchestral, and even Brubeck-ian type motifs. Written in two movements, the composer states "it represents for me the way this land encompasses the unknown." Eric and crew weave through different musical landscapes, as if they're taking a musical journey through the southwest as it transitions from woodlands to chaparral to desert. todd Although it's one of the longer tracks, I was disappointed when it ended and would have enjoyed another five minutes of groovin' on this one!

Production work on the album is first-rate, and Eric isn't bashful about giving credit where it is due: "There are five engineers on this who all performed various tasks to create the sonic element for me and it is worth noting that what they did is equal to the contribution of the musicians themselves."

When all is said and done, however, a body won't stand on its own without good bones, and Shenefield's compositional and keyboard skills provide a structural integrity that is engaging and often surprising, combining solid, standard grooves with unexpected time signatures, harmonic substitutions, and interesting melodic lines. Highly recommended and good fun all around!

Available on efsmusic.com and iTunes.

timt joe dave vinny matt kurt