The Good Life
2004 / Decca
Review by Michael Debbage
I have been a huge fan of David Lanz since his sophomore release of the magical and romantic Nightfall in 1985. Many of Lanz's past album covers were either sophisticated photo shoots of the artist or a natural landscape at its best. The animated logo of this front cover was a significant transition to the past and it clearly extends to the musical content. The Good Life continues the metaphoric musical movement of its predecessor, Finding Paradise, and has more in common with the marvelous David Benoit than the roots of David Lanz. And if you are prepared for such a presentation this album is as enjoyable as many of David's past records but be prepared for a digression.
I will be the first to admit that this album was a shocker when I first heard it, however I entered my listening experience with warning and trepidation. Being a fanatic of not only Lanz but also a love of the pure New Age acoustic genre, I even found the smooth jazz format of Finding Paradise a difficult transition. But once I had modified my external ears I found paradise in Finding Paradise and without any hesitation would now recommend it as one of 2001's better releases.
So where does that leave us with The Good Life? When viewed in the context of what [it] is - a fun-loving pure jazz experience that will leave your toes tapping and your fingers snapping - Lanz certainly achieved his goal of making an album that is casual and carefree. However, if you were those who could not enjoy the subtle smooth jazz of Finding Paradise you may want to simply await David's next project, as this might not be your cup of tea. Those of you that are still with me, read on.
Lanz continues to receive support from Gregg Karukas who was also involved in the production of Finding Paradise. He is ably assisted by other jazz names such as Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal and Robbie Nevil to name a few. The less obvious credit would be Jerry Hey whose horn arrangements appear on 4 of the 10 tracks. Those of you not familiar with the name should be aware that Hey became famous for his intricate horn arrangements with the flamboyant R & B group Earth Wind & Fire at the height of their success. Though subdued in relation to the EWF arrangements, Hey certainly adds a wonderful panache to the tracks he is associated with. The most obvious one would be the opening track "Big Sur", with its almost calypso influences. For that matter, check out the almost funky follow up "Kal-e-fornia". The Hey influence is also felt on "Mood Swing" and "Not A Moment Too Soon" that is reminiscent of Herb Alpert's hit "Rise". Yet, Lanz's more refrained piano work sounds utterly at home with the contrasting dirty bass line from Nelson Jackson.
Speaking of funky, "Not A Moment Too Soon" pales in comparison to the title track that has Lanz just grooving right along feeling comfortable and very at home. Yes, I did say grooving and that was not a typo. Jeff Lorber's bass work certainly adds to the rhythm and in order to truly appreciate this track turn this one up loud.
Less original, but equally as enjoyable, is the homage to the Vince Guaraldi composition "Linus And Lucy" courtesy of the track "Sorry Charlie". Or for that matter the heavily David Benoit influenced "Fool's Magic", featuring the soulful saxophone of Eric Marienthal. Wisely, Lanz closes the album with the very romantic piano-based "A Song For Helen" backed by a minimal string arrangement by Gregg Karukas. Harkening back to his romantic style and dedicated to his mother Helen, this one track will not be enough to appease the purists of Lanz fans.
Keep in mind that David Lanz has never been a musician to stand still. Bouncing from the ambient collaborations with Paul Speer, to the fully orchestrated Skyline Firedance and even the cover album of Songs From An English Garden, The Good Life only adds credence to this diversified pianist. So those of you who can appreciate jazz and the positive attributes that it brings to the table will not only enjoy The Good Life but will find it an utterly uplifting experience.
April 4, 2004