Jef Kearns - Soulfisticated (2013)

Jef Kearns
Jef Kearns Soulfisticated.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Jef Kearns took on his musical mission at an early age. Kearns went the woodwind route when his parents asked him what musical instrument he wanted to play. The saxophone would have been the obvious choice for a woodwind player looking to make a mark in the R&B/contemporary jazz world. Kearns decided to play the flute – an instrument more likely to be heard in classical music.

Though not used as regularly as the saxophone or clarinet, jazz fans wouldn’t be surprised to hear the flute. Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann are notable for being flautists, and great jazz saxophonists such as Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane played the instrument. Soul music fans heard the flute regularly in the 1960s and 70s. Flutes played a prominent role in “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and Brick’s “Dazz,” with the latter tune featuring a famous flute solo.

Jef Kearns took on his musical mission at an early age. Kearns went the woodwind route when his parents asked him what musical instrument he wanted to play. The saxophone would have been the obvious choice for a woodwind player looking to make a mark in the R&B/contemporary jazz world. Kearns decided to play the flute – an instrument more likely to be heard in classical music.

Though not used as regularly as the saxophone or clarinet, jazz fans wouldn’t be surprised to hear the flute. Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann are notable for being flautists, and great jazz saxophonists such as Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane played the instrument. Soul music fans heard the flute regularly in the 1960s and 70s. Flutes played a prominent role in “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and Brick’s “Dazz,” with the latter tune featuring a famous flute solo.

Kearns, who was listening to R&B and hip hop in Detroit, probably heard all of these artists so he knew there was a history of flute playing in R&B. However, Kearns didn’t have an abundance of role models setting the template for what he hoped to do, which was to make the flute a lead instrument.

Kearns’ 2009 album, On the Level, showed how he goes about making flute centered music, combining stirring lead instrumental solos along with songs that share the lead with guest vocalists. On Kearns’ latest, Soulfisticated, he continues and develops this theme. The arrangements and the quality of the vocals and lyrics enhance the quality of Soulfisticated, and Kearns, an imaginative soloist, adds technology to his advantage where appropriate, such as the electric flute solo on the track “Electrified.”

Like on many of these R&B/contemporary jazz projects, the vocals serve as a welcome respite on a project where Kearns handles the overwhelming majority of the solos. Besides, the vocal numbers are pretty strong. “Breathe” tells a touching story of a woman struggling to cope with the death of her lover. Kearns’ flute adds an especially poignant touch to this track.  The theme of the upbeat and percussive “Back Again” is redemption as vocalist Karen Jewels provides a portrait of how a new relationship can heal the pains caused by love gone wrong.

Soulfisticated’s first two tracks find Kearns exploring hip-hop and contemporary R&B production techniques.  The funky “Make It Real For Me” is the stronger of the two as it combines bouncing rhythms with Maya Killtron’s energetic vocals. However, “No One Like You” sports a nice rhyme pattern and ear catching word play.  The track might have been stronger had Dynesti Williams deployed a spoken word flow rather than trying to match her rap to the song’s beat.

Soulfisticated satisfies because Kearns' instrumentals are as imaginative and energetic as they were on previous efforts while the vocal and lyrical work is a step up. Kearns’ development as an artist and visionary on this project is heartening, and should provide his growing legion of fans with much to like. And, just as importantly, the combination should please fans of sophisticated R&B who may hear Jef Kearns for the first time.  Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 
Listening Room - Lizz Wright - Grace
Choice Cut - Toni Redd - "Take Me To Paradise"
Song of the Month - Phillip Brandon - "Come On"
CD of the Month - Najee - Poetry In Motion

Leave a comment!