It’s been a few years since Marion Meadows moved from New York City to Phoenix, and to hear him tell the tale, he’s enjoying the crisp, clear air and the opportunity it’s given him to indulge year round in his passions for outdoor activities like hiking and biking. Yet on the musical side, the saxman’s heart has never strayed far from the Big Apple. His two previous Heads Up recordings, Another Side of Midnight (1999) and Next To You (2000), reflected different aspects of his experiences in that city, from the uptown R&B to the Latin rhythms. On In Deep (enhanced CD HUCD 3070), he blends elements of those vibes with a seductive mix of retro-soul and modern hip-hop influences.
Firmly established as one of smooth jazz’s most distinctive voices on the soprano saxophone, Meadows shakes things up a bit by incorporating the rich tones of his tenor — which he played all through his formative high school years — on four tracks: the trip-hop flavored, funk inspired; “Show Me, Show Me,” which features sensual sax lines breezing over a thumping, house beat; the intense, percussive and brassy jam title track "In Deep"; and the bluesy, old school soul-inspired “Slow Motion,” which features Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3.
“I started playing soprano just out of high school and fell in love with it, so it was natural to make that my voice when I started recording my own albums,” says Meadows. “I started incorporating a little tenor in my live shows, and the fans and guys in my band loved what I was doing and encouraged me to dust it off in the studio, so to speak, and play it more on the records. It’s just time to try something new.”
Meadows also shakes things up on the production end. The hypnotic, funk-driven “Soul Food” and the whimsical “South Chicago” were produced by longtime Meadows collaborator (and Madonna's musical director) Michael Bearden (who also plays keyboards), while Bob Baldwin helmed the cool, gently throbbing track “Don't Wanna Know,” which features background vocals by Will Downing. Fully immersed now in the musical scene of Arizona, Meadows collaborated on eight tracks with Phoenix-based writer/producer Michael Broening, a longtime keyboardist for one of the city’s most popular singers, Khani Cole.
“I was really impressed with his playing in Khani’s band and his production on her albums,” says Meadows. “We finally got together and started co-writing in the last year. Things really clicked, and I decided to create the new album with Michael’s material as the core. He’s got a strong jazz/R&B background and plays a lot of B-3 and Fender Rhodes piano. He’s raw, coming out of the box with a lot of fresh ideas, and had a good sense of how best to mix up a lot of the styles I wanted to have on this project. I think he’s going to have a tremendous future in this genre.”
While Broening handles the bulk of the keyboard tracks on his tunes, Meadows also enjoys surrounding himself with old friends and well-known jazz performers, most notably Spyro Gyra’s guitarist (and Heads Up labelmate) Julio Fernandez, who adds an exotic flamenco guitar touch to the sensuous “Treasures,” and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who doubles with Meadows’s soprano on the retro-flavored, NYC-inspired “Soul Food.”
In Deep also features guitarists Ray Obiedo (one of the producers of Next To You), Thano Sahnas, from the popular Phoenix smooth jazz band Turning Point (on a hip-hop shuffle flavored cover of Dido’s “Thank You”), and Rohn Lawrence, as well as drummer “Little John” Roberts.
“Over the years, my fans have come to expect a certain type of sound from me, and I’m always happy to keep the music centered on that spiritual center, the emotion and energy of my playing,” Meadows says. “But it’s also a lot of fun to broaden our horizons, because in essence I’m taking them on a journey, and you can’t stay in the same place all the time.”