Over 20 years after first breaking onto the contemporary jazz scene as a member of Chick Corea's Elektric Band, Eric Marienthal is a true global phenomenon, playing everywhere with a who's who of jazz yet always saving his freshest, most exciting work for what's coming Just Around the Corner-the name of his fourth CD on Peak Records.
After taking a more organic, traditionally jazzy approach to his 2005 Russ Freeman-produced collection Got You Covered!, the versatile saxophonist wanted his latest to reflect his current funky and soulful pop mindset as a writer and player. In addition to collaborating on several tracks with longtime friend Jeff Lorber-who has co-written and produced cuts on six of Marienthal's hit recordings-the saxman marks the beginning of a dynamic new creative relationship with Brian Culbertson, one of the hottest taste making artists in smooth jazz today.
As the main producer of Just Around The Corner, Culbertson adds his trademark piano and keyboard flair and galvanizes Marienthal's musical passions with innovative sonic ideas, including dazzling horn textures throughout the album. The keyboardist also introduced Marienthal to his friend and longtime collaborator, keyboardist/composer Stephen Lu, who co-wrote and produced five tracks.
Marienthal's various tour dates as Culbertson's sideman throughout 2006 are among dozens of gigs the saxophonist did throughout the world over the past year, a typically and joyfully frenetic period during which he accumulated over 100,000 frequent flier miles. Marienthal's itinerary has included stops in Korea, Indonesia and other Asian countries with The Yellowjackets; dates with Corea's reunited Elektric Band; a European tour with the all-star ensemble Reunion, featuring Chuck Loeb, Dennis Chambers, Jim Beard, Tim Lefebvre, Til Bronner and Michael Franks; dates everywhere from Jakarta to Seattle with Lorber, Brian Bromberg and Dave Weckl; playing with a Russian jazz group in Russia and the Ukraine; and doing occasional dates with the L.A. based Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.
"It's been exciting for me to have the chance to do so many different kinds of music with musicians from such a wide variety of places," says Marienthal, "and there was definitely something special happening musically when I was on the road with Brian Culbertson. Looking back, I realized that most of my albums had a pretty eclectic mix of jazz and contemporary pop-funk. Got You Covered! was a fun, off the beaten path type of project, but the more I played with Brian, I kept thinking it would be fun to do a project that was on the pop instrumental side again."
Marienthal was in his Washington, D.C. hotel room on a tour stop with Culbertson when the idea of collaborating with the keyboardist first occurred to him. "Once I decided on a more pop direction, I was hoping he would produce the record," the saxophonist says. "He's such a gifted, detail oriented musician and has such a great awareness of what's going on musically. I knew he would be the one to bring out the best in me and help me create what I had been feeling musically for a long time. He immediately agreed to do it and we wrote three songs together.
"Then he brought in Stephen," he adds, "a young guy with a fantastic ear for what's fresh and current. The chemistry between the three of us was immediate, and we wrote some tunes together and then Stephen and I wrote three songs that also made the album. Jeff and I have a wonderful long history together and I reached out to him to work on a few cuts. On the tracks I wrote with Stephen and Jeff, we took the song to a certain point and then Brian came in and added his expert production touches and advice. He knows what to do to bring the music across. The horn section flavor became the theme of the record and it was the natural way for the music to go.
I felt very strongly about recording all original material on Just Around The Corner, and these three guys were incredible to work with. We brought in (label mate) Paul Brown to mix the songs I did with Jeff, and it was great to have him contribute his incredible acoustic guitar sound on ‘Your Move.'"
Just Around The Corner gets off to a sizzling, fast grooving start with the album's first single, "Blue Water," the first Marienthal/Culbertson collaboration that backs the saxophonist's emotional melody with lively keyboard harmonies, trippy chill flavors and vibrant horn textures. "Times Square," which features the keyboards and programming of co-writer Lu, opens with a silky sax intro, then thumps into a mid-tempo funky flow on the verses that build to a blistering horn section chorus. The dreamy, old school ambiences behind the lead sax line and synth echoes of "Flower Child" display the incredibly cool and melodic chemistry Marienthal shares with Lorber; later in the track, the more aggressive drums of Dave Weckl kick it into high percussive gear. Most of the collection features the snappy electric guitar of Michael O'Neill, but the vibrant and brassy, perfectly titled driving Marienthal/Culbertson tune "Open Road" brings Ray Parker Jr.'s powerful, jangling axe into the mix.
The next two Marienthal-Lu songs, "21 Ocean Front" and the title track, perfectly capture the dual vibes of upbeat, jamming party music and sensual romance that run throughout the disc. The first features Marienthal's soulful lead alto over mystical rock atmospheres, while "Just Around The Corner" amps up with a booming urban thump groove, O'Neill's crackling guitar and scorching horn textures. The heartfelt ballad "I Believe In You" and the joyfully old school, unabashedly discofied "Dance With Me," both written by Culbertson, Marienthal and Lu, offer up the same type of cool mood swinging; the saxman's trademark lyrical power is at its peak on "I Believe In You," and "Dance With Me" captures the wild synergy between the saxman and his co-writers brilliantly. The coolly percussive "Your Move" is vintage Lorber-Marienthal, with Marienthal's rich emotional alto soaring above the keyboardist's retro-soul textures. "Lost Without You" is the perfect coda for the disc, a gently wistful ballad that perfectly embodies the softer sides of Marienthal and Culbertson and the magic they create together.
In 1986, the Sacramento born, Berklee educated saxophonist was gigging at a local Orange County club with keyboardist John Novello when Chick Corea stopped in. Corea was forming his famed Elektric Band at the time and hired Marienthal to play on Light Years, which led to an invitation to join the band full time. While touring and recording with this groundbreaking fusion ensemble for the next ten years, the saxophonist also established himself as one of contemporary jazz's most acclaimed and influential solo artists via his classic GRP Records releases Voices of the Heart (1988), Round Trip (1989), Crossroads (1990), 1991's Oasis (which marked his first collaborations with Jeff Lorber), One Touch (1993) and Street Dance (1995). Marienthal's catalogue also includes his 1996 i.e. music debut Easy Street and 1998's Walk Tall. The title of his first Peak Records release Turn Up The Heat (2001) proved prophetic, as the saxophonist's solo career has gained further momentum with his subsequent projects Sweet Talk (2003) and Got You Covered! (2005).
In addition to his successful career as a solo artist, Marienthal has been one of the genre's most in demand touring and session musicians, playing with, among many others, David Benoit, Patti Austin, Gregg Karukas, Dave Grusin, the GRP All-Star Big Band, Lee Ritenour and The Rippingtons. Over the years, he has also worked with a wide variety of pop superstars, including Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis. In 1995, Marienthal was awarded the Berklee Distinguished Alumnus Award for outstanding achievements in contemporary music.
Every summer for the past 8 years, the saxophonist has put on an annual fundraising concert for High Hopes Head Injury Program, a non-profit organization in Tustin, California that works with people who have suffered traumatic head injuries; his wife Lee Ann also contributes her time to the cause. With the help of many guest artists who have performed, including Culbertson and Lorber, these concerts have raised well over a half million dollars for this charity.
"I know it sounds very simple to say it like this, but the truth is, I love music," Marienthal says. "I love playing, performing, recording, doing clinics and being involved in a lot of different activities as a player. But even when I'm not onstage or recording, I love going to concerts. Music is my passion, my hobby and my business, and I'm so fortunate that I not only have the opportunity to listen to so much of it but play it as well. I continue to be inspired by great musicians who year after year continue to create innovative music that always sounds fresh. Likewise, working on the new album with Brian and Stephen has pushed my own game to the next level. Just Around The Corner is a melody-driven, straightforward pop instrumental date that honestly reflects the musical groove I'm in right now."
Eery once in a while (generally when he appears as a sideman), Eric Marienthal shows listeners that he can break away from playing crossover and is capable of being a creative improviser. He attended Berklee for two years, went on tour for seven months with Al Hirt, worked in the studios (including being on the staff at Disney), and then in 1986 he met Chick Corea. Soon, he was in Corea's Elektric Band and started recording his own dates for GRP.
Eric Marienthal has also toured with David Benoit and Lee Ritenour in addition to recording with the GRP All-Star Big Band. In 1998, he relased Walk Tall, his tribute to Cannonball Adderley. ~ Scott Yanow, All Music