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"When given a choice between soul and precision," Jeff Golub declares, "I'll take soul every time." And that philosophy is very much at work on Soul Sessions, the guitarist's third album since signing with GRP Records. Golub's blend of jazz, R&B and pop has epitomized the tougher, grittier, more earthy side of smooth jazz-in fact, his albums have as much to do with soul-jazz as they do with smooth jazz-and on Soul Sessions, he cherishes all things funky.

"The concept of Soul Sessions is making records the way they used to make jazz, blues and R&B records in the 1960s and 1970s," asserts Golub. "And that means having as many musicians as possible playing live at the same time. When I recorded this album, I was thinking about the old Blue Note sessions as well as the old Stax sessions-where there was a real band giving a live performance, as opposed to the modern way of recording each musician separately. I wanted that live vibe for this record."

The New York-based Golub co-produced Soul Sessions with Bud Harner (VP of A&R for the Verve Music Group) and he couldn't have asked for a more appropriate co-producer. Harner is someone Golub has known since the late 1980s, when they were on tour with pop-rock superstar Rod Stewart. Harner and Golub worked together frequently in the 1990s when Harner was an A&R heavyweight at Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings and Golub was signed to that label, and their professional relationship has continued since Golub's arrival at GRP. Creatively, Harner knows exactly what makes Golub tick, and Soul Sessions is the most recent example of the strong rapport they enjoy.

"When Bud and I work together," Golub stresses, "it doesn't become a fight; it becomes a collaboration. Because Bud was a drummer originally, he understands the concept of Soul Sessions; he understands my desire to capture a more organic approach. Bud understands that I want as much live playing as possible on my records; when there is overdubbing, I try to keep it to a minimum."

Golub's sense of spontaneity prevails throughout Soul Sessions, whether he is embracing his own melodies or putting his spin on famous hits that range from the Ohio Players' "Skin Tight" to No Doubt's "Underneath It All" (which employs GRP's new star Mindi Abair on background vocals). In contrast to the guitarist's last GRP album Do It Again, which was devoted to interpretations of 1960s and 1970s classics, Soul Sessions is dominated by original material. Golub wrote or co-wrote seven of the album's 11 selections, often teaming up with skillful composers like keyboardist Chris Palmaro, Tim Gant and keyboardist Jeff Lorber (who co-wrote the tracks "Playin' It Cool" and "Vibrolux" and plays both rhythm guitar and keyboards on the latter). Golub, in fact, leads an all-star cast on Soul Sessions: the album's long list of well-known guests includes, among others, trumpeter Rick Braun, tenor saxman Richard Elliot (a GRP labelmate), acoustic guitarist Peter White, keyboardist Mitch Forman, bassist Nathan East (of Fourplay fame), organist Ricky Peterson, tenor saxophonist Steve Cole, drummer Steve Ferrone (best known for his years with the Average White Band) and percussionist Luis Conte. Although mostly instrumental, Soul Sessions boasts some distinguished guest vocalists, including Journey icon Steve Perry (who is featured on Golub's bluesy "Can't Let You Go") and singer/songwriter Marc Cohn (who appears on a gutsy remake of folk-rocker Jesse Winchester's 1970s favorite "Isn't That So").

Soul Sessions gets off to an exuberant start with the funky, Latin-flavored "Boom Boom," which Golub co-wrote with Palmaro. Golub explains: "Bud and I wanted that track to open the record because it has such a party atmosphere. On 'Boom Boom,' we wanted to capture some of that Latin '60s party vibe of Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria or Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers."

"Boom Boom" is one of two selections that was recorded in New York; the other is "Isn't That So," which was inspired by some jam sessions at a Manhattan club called the Dark Star Lounge. Golub notes: "I used to play there quite a bit, and I would jam in a band that did unannounced impromptu gigs. Marc Cohn would stop in and sing a set with us. One time, we did Jesse Winchester's song 'Isn't That So' and it worked so well live that we decided to record it in the studio. What you hear on 'Isn't That So' is the sort of small-club vibe that we had at the Dark Star. I've known Marc for a long time, and I know what a really great singer he is."

But for the most part, Soul Sessions was recorded in Los Angeles where Golub maintained an "open-door policy" in the studio. In other words, he encouraged a variety of musicians to hang out during the recording process-and some of the people who were simply hanging out ended up making unplanned guest appearances. Golub recalls: "It was a real party atmosphere in the studio, which is what I love. I don't do closed sessions. It was a constant exchange, which is how Mindi Abair ended up singing background vocals on 'Underneath It All' and how Steve Perry ended up appearing on 'Can't Let You Go.' Steve Perry is friends with Steve Ferrone-that's one of the perks of having a "drummer to the stars" in your band-and he dropped by the studio one day. When Steve Perry heard the track for 'Can't Let You Go,' he said, 'I can easily picture a vocal on that song.' So we immediately set up a mic and said 'Let's do it.'"

While "Can't Let You Go" favors the type of dusky blues-soul ambiance that one might expect from Bobby "Blue" Bland or Benny Latimore, the instrumental "Nubian Blue" recalls the African funk sound of the 1970s and is reminiscent of artists like Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango and Osibisa.

No Doubt's "Underneath It All," meanwhile, gives Golub a chance to embrace the Jamaican reggae beat. While No Doubt's vocal-oriented version favored a mixture of alternative pop-rock and reggae, Golub envisioned the song as an instrumental soul-jazz/reggae blend.

Golub also envisioned an instrumental version of the Ohio Players' 1974 funk classic "Skin Tight"-that is, until he decided that he liked hearing vocalist Sue Ann Carwell singing some of the lyrics. Golub recalls: "Originally, Sue Ann Carwell was only going to sing the words 'skin tight' as a background vocal. But she started singing the lyrics sort of off the cuff, and I loved what she was doing, so she ended up singing an entire verse."

It is quite appropriate that Golub recorded a song by the Ohio Players-Ohio, after all, is where he grew up. Born in Akron, Ohio, Golub was only a pre-teen when he began playing the guitar. Golub was raised on a healthy diet of blues, R&B, jazz, pop and rock, and even though jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery and George Benson have had a major impact on his playing, Golub doesn't consider himself a jazz purist.

In the 1970s, Golub left Akron and moved to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music. But Golub's stay in Boston was only temporary; by 1980, he was living in New York. Shortly after his arrival in the Big Apple, Golub joined the band of arena rocker Billy Squier and that association helped the guitarist become a very in-demand session player. The long list of artists Golub backed in the 1980s ranges from Peter Wolf (of J. Geils Band fame), Tina Turner and John Waite to Vanessa Williams and Ashford & Simpson. It was in 1988 that Golub recorded his first album as a leader, Unspoken Words, for the Gaia label and joined the Rod Stewart band-an association that lasted until 1995. That year, he left Stewart's employ to concentrate on his own band Avenue Blue (which had signed with Mesa/Bluemoon). The self-titled Avenue Blue, released in 1994, made a Golub a major star in the smooth jazz market-which was also quite receptive to subsequent Avenue Blue releases like 1996's Naked City and 1997's Nightlife. The latter turned out to be his final Avenue Blue project; 1999's Out of the Blue (an Atlantic release) found Golub recording under his own name.

Golub's creative and commercial winning streak continued in 2000, when he joined the GRP roster with Dangerous Curves. In addition to spending 12 weeks in the top 20 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart, Dangerous Curves contained a #1 and a #2 NAC (new adult contemporary) single. And in 2002, Golub kept the momentum going with his next album, Do It Again, which peaked at #8 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart and boasted his hit remake of the Average White Band's "Cut the Cake" (which spent an impressive six weeks at #1on NAC radio).

In 2003, Golub will once again participate in the Guitars & Saxes tour, a popular smooth jazz revue; this year's other participants include saxmen Richard Elliot and Steve Cole and acoustic guitarist Peter White (all of whom are featured on the Soul Sessions track "Pass It On"). But as popular as Golub has been among smooth jazz/NAC audiences, he is quick to stress that his albums have always had a strong soul-jazz component. Golub's albums have reflected an improviser's mentality, and he loves being compared to artists like David Sanborn, the Crusaders, Joe Sample, Ronnie Laws and the late Grover Washington, Jr.-that is, musicians who have had a funkier, gutsier, more improvisatory vision of what we now call smooth jazz.

"The kind of smooth jazz I like is palatable and accessible but still soulful and bluesy," Golub emphasizes. "When I listen to smooth jazz-if you want to call it that-I listen to people like David Sanborn, the Crusaders and Pat Metheny. They're doing music that works in a contemporary jazz format but is still creative music and has the spirit of jazz. And that's the type of thing I'm going for on Soul Sessions."

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