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  • Writer's pictureLuke Wolk

Ghost Jazz Trio "Groovin Smooth" Album Review:

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Artist: Ghost Jazz Trio

Album: Groovin Smooth

Released: 2023

The new Ghost Jazz Trio album Groovin Smooth is titled absolutely perfectly. It is the smoothest of smooth jazz guitar playing and production. The band consists of founder/guitarist/composer and producer James Morgan. On this new release James is joined by guitarist and producer Dean Brown, who co-wrote many of the songs and plays guitar, keys, synth and percussion. All the songs on the album are produced and arranged by Dean Brown. Joining James and Dean on the album are bassist Nathan Brown, pianist Chase Pado and drummer Tres Hodgens. It was recorded by Grammy winner engineer Alan Sanderson at Pacific Beat Recording Studio in San Diego. The album is slick without being overproduced, which is a breath of fresh air in the smooth jazz genre. It is a throwback to a time when there were real musicians playing real instruments. It is reminiscent of the genre's heyday when every city had a smooth jazz station where we could hear the virtuosity of Lee Ritenour, Chuck Loeb and Larry Carlton on the airwaves. Track One and the first single, On The Groove, is a standout track that jumps right off the speakers with a crisp drum sound and a memorable melody, played with octaves reminding me of the great Wes Montgomery. The piano adds wonderful splashes of color while the deeply pocketed band grooves and twists with maturity and taste. The guitar and piano solos are executed perfectly showing both chops and restraint. The second single from this fine release is Sound of Wood. This cut is as smooth as it is chill. The guitar tone and playing are simply perfect for the track. The mix somehow brings all the musicians to the forefront. The bass line is sexy and funky, the drums are subtle yet popping and the piano and guitars play off one another like two dancers in sync. This song is truly an ensemble effort wrapped into a wonderful composition that came together on every level.

Cool Hand is another track that I really enjoyed. It has a slinky and hypnotic quality. The song is a slow burn with clever hits and stops. Again, the guitar and piano dance off of one another while the rhythm section provides a rock solid foundation for all to shine. This one is quite unique and well written, reminding me of something that Sting would write. This ten track contemporary jazz album is a must listen for fans of the genre. One of my favorite things about this record is the band is clearly centered around the guitar player while still creating interesting interplay that pleases more than just guitarists. The songs and melodies are represented as deeply as the solos and musicianship. The rhythm section is locked and grooving throughout the set. The band is stacked with mature seasoned musicians that are comfortable in a supporting role and able to display significant chops without ever stepping on the song. I hope this record finds the listeners it deserves!

Check out this interview with James Morgan as well!

Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career. I grew up in northern California and as a teen in the 1970's and started listening to Return to Forever, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, inspiring me to take up the guitar. In the late seventies I was fortunate enough to take guitar lessons from Bill Connors of Return to Forever fame, studying technique and how to let the instrument and music lead the way for your musical journey. I lived in Santa Cruz, CA and drove to Half Moon Bay weekly to take lessons whereby I formed a close friendship with Bill. I went on to become a bandleader throughout the following decades, writing my own compositions whilst forming various jazz Fusion bands along the way, including my band Absolute Black which was the opening act for singer Mickey Thomas's band Starship. My jazz fusion band Dialog Project, achieved quick acclaim in 2013 being nominated for best jazz album 'Artistry of Jazz Fusion' and opened for such acts as Allan Holdsworth, Dokken, bassist Stu Hamm and others. My current band, Ghost Jazz Trio was formed in 2017 with 4 total albums in four years including my forthcoming album Groovin Smooth to release in March 2023. My 2020/2021/2022 albums were nominated for best jazz album of the year. I am excited to have had legendary guitarist Dean Brown produce and arrange all the songs on my forthcoming album, as well as play on the album and co-write many of the songs. My accolades are listed below. James Morgan, Guitarist, Bandleader, Founder, Composer, Producer and Recording Artist with 7 albums released in total and three 'Best Jazz Album of the Year" 2013, 2021, 2022 and 2023 nominations with 40+ years performing. Who are your musical and non-musical influences? My main influences were the jazz fusion bands of the 1970's including Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and of course the album Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. The guitarists that I listened to as a teen were John McLauglin, Bill Connors, Larry Coryell, Icarus Johnson, Al Di Meola, Allan Holdsworth and John Abercrombie. What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician? Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, Inner Mounting Flame by Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hymn to the 7th Galaxy by Return to Forever. These albums helped to form my approach to playing and composing. Just like the movie Cool Hand Luke, those bands taught me there are rules and then how to break those rules in regards to playing and composing music. Is there a particular song that has resonated with you for a long time? There are a couple songs that I still enjoy listening to this day; Black Queen by Stephen Stills and Captain Senor Mouse on Hymn to the 7th Galaxy by RTF to name two. What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far? That would be discovering my own sound and voice in a sea of many voices in the music and guitar world. Finding your own voice, sound, tone, style and ability to tell a story with your instrument, to me is what being an artist is all about. If you lack any one of those, you are not there yet. Tell me about your favorite performance in your career. I would have to say it was opening for the great and late Allan Holdsworth at Brick by Brick in San Diego, CA back in 2012 on January Friday the 13th. It was amazing to open for an artist I admired since I was a teen. What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you? Take your time when playing a solo, starting slow and build to a definite point of repose, and tell the best story you can with your instrument. What's new in the recording of your music? I would have to say the concept of new album Groovin Smooth is about playing a box of wood with strings, stripped of most artificial effects to allow the listener to hear the wood of the instrument. To me, this is new, because so many guitarists use effects that overpower the organic sound of their instrument to where the instrument itself becomes secondary to the effects. On this album, the guitar wood sound comes first and is very much present in the recordings. Dean Brown, my producer on the album was adamant about capturing the natural sound and clean tone of the guitar, with string inflections and all, and I think we accomplished that. How has your music changed over the years? My composing has simplified in form, to allow the instruments to be the focus rather than the intricate changes and dynamics being the focus. To me, this makes listening to the song more relaxing. My style has also changed, in that I am playing more melodic and compositional when soloing. What inspires you to write the music you write? Rhythm inspires me. I tend to work off rhythm when writing a song. I find some harmony in the chords I come up with based on a rhythm I like. I then playback the song and jam with it until I find a phrase or phrases I like, that then become the melody. I always allow the solo part of a song to be different than the song form, if that makes sense. What made you want to play the instrument you play? At first playing guitar was a refuge for me to step outside the turbulent childhood I found myself in. Later it became and still is a tool I can use to create my own reality based and filled full of joy, and happiness. It is also a language I can master and use to commune with other artists when improvising and playing songs. How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past? This latest album allows my guitar playing to be more showcased than the ensemble formats of my past albums. Thanks to Dean's genius when it comes to arranging compositions, this album delivers the perfect accompaniment by the supporting musicians to showcase my playing style and tone of the guitar. It is my best work yet. How are you continuing to grow musically? Playing music, like being human, is a lifelong journey of growth, development and mastering the art of living music. I allow the music to lead the way. It creates the path for me to follow and explore. Being a musician is not just about playing an instrument, it is about living the life of music. Dedicating yourself to that life like a monk dedicates his life to spirituality. If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be? The way music artists that are not part of the corporate run part of the industry are compensated for recordings and performances, and how royalties are paid out by the streaming platforms. The digital approach to recordings that take away 99% of the organic sounds of the instruments and lack of real instruments in today's music recordings. What are your biggest obstacles as a musician? It used to be finding other musicians that can tell a story with their instruments. I have been fortunate to have overcome that obstacle. What do you think the best aspects of the music business are? The ability to create a brand and market that brand as a band or solo artist. An artist can build a fan base, record and market and sell their music without giving up all control to a third party entity. You do need to partner with other online music entities to build your brand, but it's in a fair and complimentary way that benefits both parties. If you had to choose one... live performance or studio work, which do you prefer and why? Live performance is the best, because you are present in the moment with other musicians when playing jazz. You are having a spontaneous dialogue within the framework of an ongoing music piece designed to that end. It's exciting and comforting at the same time. It allows you to create in the moment from the energy and stories the other musicians are telling. It allows you to explore new ideas that come to you in that moment with the full support of the other musicians. What is your favorite piece of gear and why? My current combination of gear gives me the tools I need to communicate my story as a guitarist. I play an Ibanez PM2 Pat Metheny Signature Hollowbody Electric Guitar that is no longer in production. This, combined with my Roland Blues Cube Artist Series Combo Amp and my Zoom G3X effects unit, give me the tone I look for to allow me to express myself musically. What does your practice routine consist of? I practice according to the Kobe Bryant approach. Get up at 5am, practice two hours, break for life stuff and come back to practice from 10am to noon, break for life's obligations then come back 3pm to 6pm and break for rest and food, then practice 8pm to 10pm, then sleep. I do that 4 days a week now, but I used to do it 7 days a week. What do you like most about your new album? The raw unadulterated natural sound of the guitar and the amazing song arrangements by Dean Brown. His ability to hear so much more in the basic recordings I sent him, and see him bring them to their full potential musically on this album is amazing. I am fortunate to have him part of this album. Each song tells its own unique story in a short time. Also having Dean play on the album is amazing. What artists do you enjoy listening to nowadays? I listen to a few really good guitarists on Youtube; Guitarists; Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tom Guarna, Ricardo Grilli, Matteo Mancuso, Tom Ollendorff and a couple others. How do you promote your band and shows? I use all the free platforms to add content; Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and am always soliciting for performance work, mostly corporate as venues don't as well. I also partner with global radio and of course my new album on Guitar One Records. Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums? I am currently recording my first jazz fusion solo album titled "A Soul in Time Morgan/Husband/Feraud" featuring 5 original songs written by James Morgan and Dean Brown, with 2023

Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year Award winner (APPJG 2023) Gary Husband on drums and keyboards and Hadrien Feraud on bass. All music produced and arranged by Dean Brown and to be released on GO Records in late 2023 or early 2024. Anything Else You Would Like to Include? I am happy to be going into my second year with Guitar One Records, and would like to thank them for their support of my upcoming solo album.

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