Saxophonist Warren Hill's tenth release is aptly named after his new record label started by himself and his wife Tamera. Popjazz has a little something for everyone. There are four cover songs (pop) as well as some outstanding new material (jazz). The covers are ones that we're familiar with which work well in the mix and will be fun in a live setting. Popjazz is produced by Hill and Andre' Berry. It features guest artists Brian Culbertson, Jeff Golub, Norman Brown, Brian Simpson and the Harris Brothers Horns.
Hill reflects on his hometown in the opening number named “ Toronto.” There is intensity from the beginning in this funky number that I enjoyed a lot. Hill goes back and forth with the band while the hook is set early. The sax is aggressive and it is a great way to start the disc. “Play That Funky Music (White Boy)” is sure to be a concert favorite. The intensity of the previous track carries over, and this Wild Cherry hit comes off pretty good. I'm sure that Warren, Golub and Culbertson had a great time recording this one. “Under the Covers” is somewhat dark and techno in its approach versus the first two songs. Allen Hinds has nice contrasting guitar work that plays well against Hill's sax. There's some nice mixing here with computer reverb on the chorus that launches into full tilt sax. This one may start off slow, but the intensity is there again by the end.
There is an acoustic guitar interlude that leads into the soulful melodic “Still In Love.” This is a beautiful song that begins in the lower register of Hill's playing. The emotion intensifies as his sax continuously climbs the scales and lifts the listener higher and higher. I keep going back to this one. This is some of his best work since the Rose Colored Glasses disc. “Virgin Gorda” is a little more laid back than the openers. It reminds me a lot of Spyro Gyra's work and includes Norman Brown on guitar. “Back at One” and “Low Rider” are a couple of the previously mentioned cover tunes that are pulled off nicely. “One” is a sweet love song while “Rider” is back in your face for a good time.
“Renewal” is methodic as well as intense, growing ever stronger until the end with great sax licks at the close. “Come Together” is a surprise here as the Beatles remake adds to the “pop” side of the disc. There's enough off-melody sax work here that you don't recognize this Lennon/McCartney tune except at the break. “Bridgin' The Gap” closes out the set with a moderate up-tempo number that could have worked just as well as an opener. There's some good keyboard work from both Ron Reinhardt as well as Brian Simpson. The sudden ending makes you reach for the replay button.
Like I said, there's a little bit here for everyone. The cover tunes come off fairly well, and the new material for the most part is very good. Art work on the front tells what's inside with its art deco colored photo of Hill. The disc serves a good start for the new label while defining its intention with Popjazz.
- Harvey Cline