Marcin Nowakowski, Shine
Although Marcin Nowakowski’s hit 2009 album Better Days wasn’t the Polish born saxophonist’s debut recording, it seemed to come out of nowhere, like an instantly infectious shot of grooving adrenaline, to capture the hearts of contemporary urban jazz fans. Just as that collection lived up to its sunny, optimistic title, the versatile musician—who alternately uses tenor, alto and soprano as his lead melodic voice—finds dynamic and exciting ways to embody the name of his similarly brightly titled, eclectic latest collection Shine. Interestingly, the song that title comes from—the mid-tempo old school blues/R&B flavored “Shine Shoes”—is far from a mainstream, radio friendly instrumental. Featuring a lead vocal by the tune’s co-writer Dax Reynosa, it’s a down home story song, a declaration of one man pledging love to someone whose shoes he would shine if that’s what it takes. As with several of the other vocal tracks here, Nowakowski plays tenor harmony behind the hardscrabble story to underscore its emotions; the legendary Jerry Hey horns kick in later in the track for colorful emphasis. The other writer on the tune is Paul Brown, one of the genre’s top guitarists, artists and producers who inspires Nowakowski to dig to new emotional depths on the six tracks he helms. Working with Brown is a perfect complement to the four songs the saxman creates with Jeff Lorber, who continues the fruitful, funky and retro-soul jazz driven relationship the two started on Better Days. The Brown collaborations begin the easy grooving tenor driven “Nobody But You” (featuring horn doubling sizzle, Brown’s crisp wah-wah and Billy Mondragon’s rich vocals); the passionate, caressing soprano ballad “Tell Me Why”; and the high energy drive time tune “Give & Take,” which cruises along towards a soaring, horn textured chorus featuring rousing, choir like vocals and handclap percussion. Brown and Nowakowski’s truly shining moment is “Out of Time,” a spirited, bluesy vocal tune sung by Brown and featuring a tasty swirl of powerful alto harmonies and solo and old school keys by Marco Basci. Nowakowski’s work with Lorber is similarly crafty and soulful, starting with “Snow Lion,” which includes some of the saxman’s most muscular alto lines and fiery horn textures and the spirited guitar of Michael Thompson. “Coming Home” and “March On” find Nowakowski playing pure silk before soaring string textures conducted and arranged by Adam Sztaba, leading the Atom String Quartet. “March On” offsets this sweet flavor with Lorber’s elegant piano and darker, edgier keyboard touches. Just as he’s growing as a player, Nowakowski is emerging as a notable composer as well, with co-writing credits on six songs. It’s just another area where his talents truly shine on this incredibly well played and produced, multi-faceted set—an obvious choice for one of the best works of 2011.
--Jonathan Widran, Jazziz Magazine, All Music Guide