Julie Dexter/Khari Simmons Moon Bossa (2007)

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by Pico

Ever since Stan Getz, João Gilberto and Charlie Byrd have introduced American audiences to the Brazilian-flavored cool-jazz sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim, bossa nova has assumed a permanent and prominent place in jazz history. For generations now, people have danced, swayed and just chilled out to the distinctive, 8/4 time and romantic vibe. But the sub-genre has been modernized quite a bit since “The Girl From Ipanema” first became a hit back in 1963, starting with Sergio Mendes And Brasil ’66 up through Polish vocalist Basia and her “Basia nova” version of the music in the nineties.

More recently, musicians like Khari Simmons have been proponents of a branch of bossa that combines it with neo soul and dance music called, appropriately, soul bossa. Simmons has even headed up his own soul bossa group, Jiva, for a number of years. When Khari is not playing his music of preference, he is performing as India.Arie’s bass player.

Birmingham, England native Julie Dexter has achieved international renown as a singer/songwriter who can also arrange and produce. Julie points to Abbey Lincoln, Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, Omar and Sade as influences. Her style of music ranges from jazz, to soul to bossa nova.

Dexter possesses a malleable voice that ranges from Diana Ross to Sade to Swing Out Sister’s Corinne Drewery, but is always light and sweet. It’s a perfect fit for the gentle grooves of soul bossa.

Simmons may not sing on this record, but he’s hardly a hanger-on, either. He naturally handles the bass duties, but also contributes keyboards and has written or co-written four of the compositions featured on this album (Dexter contributes one whole song and one co-write).

Dexter and Simmons, also serving as the main producers, added five well chosen covers to their five originals, and all but one of them are fairly obscure. Contributions come from Jobim and Mendes, natch, but also from Everything But The Girl, Swing Out Sister and Basia. They eschew early 21st century markers like sampling and hip hop beats in favor of a more seventies feel, replete with Moog and ARP synthesizers. Mix in that bossa beat and an acoustic guitar and the soup is ready.

The proceedings kick off on a decidedly soft number with Simmons’ Moon Bossa. It’s not the strongest song of the set but it’s got a soulful melody that grows on you. The tempo picks up considerably with “My Baby Don’t Love Me,” which sounds almost disco. “Salt Sea”, the Sergio Mendes cover, reminds me a lot of another Brasil ’66 song, “Perfect World”, and features a nicely arranged small horn section. The heavily percussive “Venusian” is followed by another original, “The Dove”, which is perhaps the jazziest of the tunes with saxes prominent in the arrangement.

“Sea And Sky” is a short instrumental while “Fooled By A Smile” is a mellower (and superior) version of Swing Out Sister’s original, highlighted by some nifty backup vocals and Simmons bass work. Dexter and Simmons also bests Basia’s “Promises” with a more subdued touch that features an accordion(!) but somehow it works in this setting. “What Do I Do” has a moderately blues feel, and the Jobim standard “Wave” is reverently treated with Dexter’s vocal backed by only an acoustic guitar and Alex Lattimore’s flugel horn (Lattimore also shares lead vocals).

The remainder of the CD is what I’d call the “bonus” section: remakes or remixes of four of the prior tracks. The best of these are the first two. “Fooled By A Smile” is done up Incognito style, and sure enough, it sounds a lot like the British acid jazz group’s signature seventies-meets-aughts soul-jazz groove. Since I like Incognito, I dig this track. The “Aquariana Mix” (whatever the heck that means) of “Venusian” is a nice one too, because a tenor sax is added and allowed to stretch out a bit, as well as the Fender Rhodes.

The record doesn’t come without a few drawbacks, however. The vintage synths often give the songs a warm feel but occasionally cross over into cheesy territory. The off-key whistling on the otherwise congenial “Sea And Sky” is just not a joy to listen to. The Jiva remix of “The Dove” might sound great in a dance club, but sounds tired and repetitious in any other setting. And Dexter’s lead vocal throughout could have stood to be a little more up front in the mix, too.

All that said, none of these quibbles do much to diminish the easy going groove of this record. If Julie Dexter and Khari Simmons set out inject some new life in the branch of jazz introduced by Jobim some fifty years ago, I’d say they’ve largely succeeded.

Sample tracks:
“Moon Bossa”
“My Baby Don’t Love Me”
“Salt Sea”
“The Dove”
“Sea And Sky”
“Fooled By A Smile”
“What Do I Do”
“Fooled By A Smile (Incognito Remix)”
“Venusian (Aquariana Remix)”
“The Dove (Jiva Remix)”
“Moon Bossa (Piano Outro)”

Purchase: Julie Dexter/Khari Simmons Moon Bossa

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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