Saxman Kim Waters in Concert at Scullers Jazz Club
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The last date listed for Kim Waters in Concert was Thursday March 5, 2009 / 10:00pm.
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Anniversaries are about love and urban jazz fans know where to turn when they’re in the mood for love. Judging from the titles of saxophonist Kim Waters’ string of hit albums—Love’s Melody (1998), One Special Moment (1999), From The Heart (2001), Someone to Love You (2002), In the Name of Love (2004), All For Love (2005) and You Are My Lady (2007)—which have collectively spawned over 10 #1 hits—Kim Waters understands a thing or two about love and romance. The critically acclaimed saxophonist celebrates his 20th anniversary as a recording artist with the ultimate love collection, I Want You: Love in the Spirit of Marvin, paying homage to one of his musical heroes, Marvin Gaye. The saxman tapped into the Marvin vibe last year with his vibrant, party-ready cover of “Got To Give It Up” (from You Are My Lady), which Jazz Times called “downright infectious.” On I Want You, Waters mixes old school R&B textures and contemporary hip-hop with his trademark, sensual as always, playing to fashion a unique kind of tribute. Rather than simply doing a set of Marvin covers, he uses his dreamy, candlelit twist on the title track (featuring the hypnotic vocals of Vivian Green) and a soaring, passionate take on the classic “Distant Lover” as a springboard for nine originals that, as the album subtitle promises, spread true love in the spirit of Marvin.
The musical essence of Marvin via sax takes Waters back to his childhood in Maryland, where his father, a Marvin fanatic, turned the young saxman on to Gaye’s albums even as he was absorbing the jazz influences of Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins (later influences included David Sanborn and Grover Washington, Jr.). Waters can’t specifically remember the first Marvin song he ever heard, but he thinks it very well might have been “Let’s Get It On.” He throws a knowing wink to that romantic benchmark hit—dubbed one of the “Top Ten Sexy Songs” of all time by Virgin Media—with his cleverly titled “Let’s Get On It,” whose catchy, free flowing sax melody rides smoothly over crunchy, hand clap percussion.
“The concept that I and (Shanachie Jazz A&R Director and album executive producer) Danny Weiss had was to create memorable original R&B/jazz songs that answer the question, ‘What would Marvin do if he was in the world today, in terms of groove and melody?’” says Waters. “Responding to that challenge, I put my own spin on his sound, incorporating his unique melodic flair and conveying the emotional power of his voice through my saxes. I’ve always believed that the saxophone is the closest instrument to the human voice, and I tried to bring my tone as close as I could to how I think he would tackle these tunes vocally. While it’s true to my romantic side overall, there are a handful of uptempo songs and a very urban vocal flavor with Vivian and Timmy Maia (“Distant Lover”) on the two Marvin songs. One of the more subtle things I admired about his records was the intricate production. There were always so many different things going on sonically, cool parts you could barely hear and subtle voices that came together to create powerful atmospheres. That’s the spirit and feeling we were aiming for.”
The first single from I Want You shipped to radio was “Take Me Away,” whose silky verses give way to a more emotionally intense, horn textured chorus over a blend of moody atmospheres and percussive synths. After kick starting the set with a coolly soulful invitation to “Groove With Me” (a song Waters refers to as “that happy feeling song”), he goes retro on three key tracks: the late night romance “Come With Me,” which starts with an old school Fender Rhodes intro; the bouncy shuffle funk tune “Some Dreams Come True,” which mixes a hypnotic clavinet (think Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”) with colorful sax improvisations; and the trippy and playful “Cosmic Love,” whose wistful soprano melody is balanced by quirky and spacey old school keyboard sounds. “She’s The One” and “Thank You” are vintage lovelorn Waters mixtures of passion and eloquence, while the seductive closer “Smooth Sailing” lives up to the rhythmic flow that inspired its name.
As emotionally compelling as Kim Waters is with sensuous soprano driven ballads, he has been amping up the funk in recent years, producing and performing on Shanachie’s best selling hip-hop cover series Streetwize and Tha’ Hot Club. In 2006, he gifted his fans with In The Groove, a 5.1 Surround Sound DVD that captures one of his supercharged performances at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto. His upscale grooving with The Sax Pack—Waters’ triple threat touring and recording ensemble with fellow horn greats Jeff Kashiwa and Steve Cole—took him to the top of the Radio & Records chart earlier in 2008 with “Fallin’ For You,” the kickoff single from their self titled disc that stayed at #1 for two months and is one of the biggest smooth jazz tracks of the year.
Growing up in a musical family, he picked up his first instrument, the violin, at age eight, but eventually switched to alto and soprano saxes at 13 because “the violin didn’t go over too well with the fellas.” His switch to the horns led to playing in a band with his brothers James and Eric and his old friend Cyrus Chestnut, who later became a well respected pianist and artist in his own right. While the former all-star high school basketball high point guard could have pursued a career on the courts, Waters focused on music and began his career as a sideman to a wide variety of jazz and R&B acts, from Alex Bugnon and Isaac Hayes to Phyllis Hyman and Teddy Riley.
Waters launched his solo career with a series of R&B recordings on the Warlock label (beginning with 1989’s Sweet and Saxy), and has sold hundreds of thousands of units of both his original material and thematic projects like his sax tribute to The Platters. He recently relocated to Sacramento, California from his longtime home in Aberdeen, Maryland but continues his affinity for recording in the home studio setting. He and his handful of guest musicians—including guitarist Rohn Lawrence, Chris “Big Dog” Davis (co-producer of “Distant Lover”) and guitarist Randy Bowland—recorded all of the backing tracks at Waters’ new Waterfalls Studios; the saxman then flew to New York City, where he recorded all of the sax parts on first takes in one day at Bass Hit Recording.
“Besides the opportunity to further explore and build creatively upon the wonderful legacy of Marvin Gaye,” he says, “the coolest part of recording I Want You was doing most of it in my new studio and being able to do so much of it myself. Even if it’s got some old school qualities, to me it sounds really fresh…and that’s what making music is all about, whether I’m doing my latest CD or performing live at my own shows or these past few years with The Sax Pack. The most rewarding thing is to be able to contribute something of value to the world which affects people positively and makes them happy. Music has that ability like nothing else in the world.”