Walkin' On Air
2017 / Contante & Sonante
Review by Michael Debbage
The name Tomi Malm first appeared eight years ago as producer and arranger of Fly Away a tribute to the songs and composition of writer, producer and pianist David Foster. Revolving around the solid production and arrangements of producer Tomi Malm and a cast of talented performers Malm set the standard of how a tribute album should be done. Apparently that same high level execution has reappeared though this time around with his solo creation Walkin’ On Air. From cover, production, arrangements and songs all the way to the top performances, his solo debut is simply a stylistic startling stellar debut.
Flying without the safety net of David Foster songs, instead Malm presents to his listening public twelve highly impressive tracks of which ten of them are self composed or co-written. Once again he produces, arranges and plays on every track with a little help from his musical friends such as Simon Phillips, John JR Robinson, Neil Stubenhaus, Robbie Buchannan, Eric Marienthal and Brandon Fields just to name a few. Vocally there is the returning Frank Adahl (featured on Fly Away) along with former Chicago vocalist Jason Scheff, Clif Magness, the underrated Jeff Pescetto (who was featured on David Foster’s solo album River Of Love) and even the late Warren Wiebe. Of course let’s not forget the tremendous horn section that Malm brings together into the studio. Please keep in mind that the above names should not be considered an exhaustive list.
Needless to say the influences of Foster, Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire are some of the molecules found in Malm’s musical DNA but he brings his own unique West Coast silky-smooth sounds with underlying jazz, R&B and progressive tendencies. In fact the album’s opening invitation is the appropriately titled jazz instrumental “Kuwakaribisha” that immediately lets you know as a listener that Malm is not necessarily going to play it safe. With that in mind we are propelled into the toe tapper progressive tinged “Favor” with Frank Adahl’s upper range vocals utterly complimented by the funky horn section. Speaking of horns skip forward to the heavily Earth Wind & Fire influenced “Let’s Get To It” featuring Jerry Lopez and The Fat City Horns. Good luck getting through this song without moving but if you manage to avoid this impulse you want to ensure you even have a pulse.
On the other side of the spectrum Malm brings in the mellow madness via the vulnerable Julian Thomas vocals on “When You’re Gone”. Equal to the task is Warren Wiebe’s elegant vocals on “Show Me A Sign” complimented by Eric Marienthal’s searing saxophone solo on the Hank Easton composition beautifully arranged by Malm. We also find relatively unknown vocalist Shem impressively perform on the sublime “Wouldn’t It Be Kinder” co-written by Cecily Gardner. The only minor complaint would be a slight change in the album sequence as it would have been nice to have seen it close like it opened with the instrumental “Still Life” versus its position as an interlude in the middle of the album.
Tomi Malm’s Fly Away tribute album was magnificent using multiple voices and some special musical friends based on his arrangements of the “Hitmaker’s” compositions. With his debut solo album we have the same ingredients with stellar results but this time we are treated to Malm’s extraordinary compositions. The results are a listening experience that certainly transcends into a heavenly musical ascension that will have you Walkin On Air.
November 5, 2017