|Howard Isaacson Blue Skies|
Atlantic City saxophonist Howard Isaacson has just released his newest CD Blue Skies. The slick and smooth release further solidifies Howard’s place among the those making a name for themselves in smooth jazz.
Isaacson began his career in Philadelphia and like many or that area, migrated to Atlantic City for plentiful work in the Casino lounges and showrooms. Blue Skies features an impressive array of some of A.C’s finest along with Isaacson on saxophone and woodwinds. The list of personnel includes Frank Strauss on keyboards, Vince Colella, John Mulhern, Kit Worton, Phil Polsinelli and Alex Domshot on guitars, Andy Lalasis and Rich Kurtz on bass, Matt Curran on drums, Bob Ferguson on trumpet and bassist Bob Fowler programming and mixing. In addition to Isaacson’s better-known woodwind playing, he is credited with keyboards, drum programming, trumpet and trombone.
Right off the bat Kickin’ Back caught my attention with the opening guitar riff. My initial thought was, “Is that the best guitar sample in the world or just a great studio guitar sound?” As I should have guessed it was the sound of Vince Colella, longtime Atlantic City guitarist. Isaacson is featured on soprano saxophone here as well as additional woodwinds filling in the background.
Street Smart features Isaacson’s tenor on this smoothed-out hip-hop groove. The soprano and other saxophones add a nice touch to the background as well.
Special Delivery features multi-instrumentalist Isaacson on flute. He demonstrates here that he is a formidable flute player as well a saxophonist – something I know first hand from our work together in Atlantic City.
Beaches opens with another familiar sound to these ears – Frank Strauss on synth. Howard Isaacson, in addition to being a fine musician himself, has enlisted the aid of Atlantic City’s finest on Blue Skies. Andy Lalasis and John Mulhern lend their talents on bass and guitar respectively. The alto solos without any rough edges following Strauss’s recap of the intro synth solo.
The aptly titled First Snow captures the mood and spirit felt by many during the holidays. Isaacson’s soprano sound is his own but this pop ballad setting is “Gorelickesque” – not a bad thing at all.
Blue Skies heralds the inclusion of the remake of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Fantasy. For the third time I was hit by a familiar and very dear sound to me on this CD. This time it was the voice of Kathy (Wilson) Fowler, another veteran of the casinos in A.C. Isaacson takes the soaring alto lead opposite Kathy Fowler’s – perfect as always – vocals.
Howard switches back to tenor for the melody and solo on Block Party. The sax section interlude and following solo is reminiscent of Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. Strauss stretches out again here on his signature synth sound with Isaacson having the last word on the vamp out.
About midway through this journey Isaacson offers one of the nicest tunes on Blue Skies. Summers Past reminds this writer of many Atlantic City summers gone by. Thanks to co-writers Isaacson and Lalasis for bringing back the memories.
Saturday Night features Howard on tenor with Strauss setting up the solo with a rhythmic piano vamp. Worton, Lalasis and Curran groove hard all the way on this one.
The title track Blue Skies shows off Isaacson’s signature alto sax sound – arguably his favorite voice. Alex Domshot stretches the smooth jazz sensibility with his harmonically provoking guitar solo.
When I first heard Getting Closer and the opening bass solo I thought, “That’s Andy.” Andy Lalasis shows his true colors with the chorused (I think it’s chorused) bass intro. Solos by Isaacson and Domshot follow the catchy melodic vamp.
The final cut entitled Desert Sun, complete with slap bass and hand claps sets up the party atmosphere for the way out on this one. The tune meanders through several feel changes with the final statement being Howard Isaacson’s alto saxophone soloing above the band. This seems a very fitting end to this journey through Blue Skies.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that I am envious of Howard Isaacson’s recent collaboration with Vince Colella, Kathy (Wilson) Fowler, Frank Strauss and Matt Curran. Kathy Wilson had one of THE most smokin’ bands in the Atlantic City Casino Lounges during the 1980s. I am proud to have been part of that. It is wonderful to hear Howard along with other great talents from Kathy’s old band and beyond on Blue Skies.
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