Treading firmly in the hip-hop, neo-soul and jazz idioms, Grammy nominated guitarist Doc Powell's Cool Like That is his highly anticipated follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2003 Heads Up International debut. Cool Like That combines the funkiness of Inner City Blues (1994) and the coolness of Laid Back (1996, his biggest hit to date) with an affinity for classic rock (via a modern twist on The Beatles’ "Let It Be"), a taste of East Coast jazz fusion ("To the East") and a spiritual, African-flavored journey ("Hatujambo").
A true innovator on the pop/R&B scene, Powell’s recordings have always featured exciting ensembles. Cool Like That features saxmen Michael Lington and Ron Brown, keyboardist Kevin Toney, trumpeter Mark Ledford, bassist Reggie Hamilton and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. The opening track, "Push," features Grammy Award winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum.
"My goal was simple this time," says Powell, "Just make a groove-oriented record that people could snap their fingers to. The title track was the first song I worked on and it set the tone for the entire album. There are some classic songs from what I call the finger-poppin’ era of soul-jazz – like ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy,’ ‘Street Life’ and ‘Grazin’ in the Grass’ – and I wanted to compose material that recaptured that era. On ‘Push,’ I’m coming out of the box showing that this is a guitar record." The track starts with an easy and seductive kick-back rhythm, with Whalum’s sax adding harmony behind Powell’s crisp and cool melodic lines. Whalum’s explosive tenor solo spices up the groove a few notches, and both players jam and improvise like wild jazz cats on the prowl. "The title comes from the attitude I think is necessary to succeed at any endeavor," says Powell.
The sensuous title track, which features Ron Brown on tenor sax and bass clarinet, is Powell’s idea of "what Wes Montgomery might be playing today. Powell straps on a Martin classical guitar for the acoustic and gently rhythmic "Sweet G," a dedication to his mother ("the sweetest person in the world") highlighted by the punchy interplay of Powell’s guitar, Kevin Toney’s piano and Ron Brown’s dreamy soprano sax.
Powell’s hip-hop version of "Let It Be" features the soulful vocals of newcomer T.C. Bereal. "To the East" mixes the scratches of hip-hop with classic R&B textures, along with the muted trumpet of Mark Ledford. Ledford later reappears with Michael Lington’s sax on the brassy, energetic "Listen Up." The African rhythm-driven "Hatujambo (We Are Well) follows, featuring the Moroccan drums of Munyungo Jackson. "The title is in the Kenyan language, and the tune reflects the story of a slave ship coming across the ocean, with drums as the means of personal communication," Powell says. Despite the melancholy elements of cello and voices, the drums usher in a message of hope.
Born and raised in Spring Valley, New York, and educated both by the studio life and formal studies in composition, guitar and piano at the University of Charleston (West Virginia), Doc Powell first gained international exposure in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, recording and touring for over a decade with R&B superstar Luther Vandross. His session resume quickly grew to include Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, Jeffrey Osborne, Ashford & Simpson and Dionne Warwick, as well as contemporary jazz giants Grover Washington, Jr., Bob James and McCoy Tyner.
His first solo venture, 1987’s Love Is Where It’s At, spawned the Grammy nominated Marvin Gaye cover, "What’s Going On." He further established his smooth jazz credentials throughout the ‘90s, scoring his biggest hit with Laid Back, which reached #2 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart and was in the Top Ten on the Radio & Records chart for four straight weeks.
Since releasing his Heads Up debut, 97th & Columbus, in early 2003, Powell has been touring as bandleader for contemporary gospel great Kirk Franklin (as part of a show which included Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams). The success of 97th & Columbus (an album dedicated to the famous New York night club Mikell’s) put him back in touch with Pat and Mike Mikell, the former club owners. The reunion inspired Powell to participate in an all-star fundraising concert for Mike Mikell, who is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. January’s show at Symphony Space in New York City also included performances by Michel Camilo, Will Downing and Chaka Khan.
"My favorite part of being a musician is being able to pick up my guitar and start creating music that tells my own personal story," says Powell. "The theme of Cool Like That is about enjoying life and staying strong and steadfast in our determination to push right through our obstacles. It’s easy to be consumed by the little things in life which take away our joy, but at some point it’s okay to just lay back and let it go."