Randy Muller

Randy Muller

Official Biography (courtesy of Randy Muller)

There are few pleasures greater than hearing that your favorite sonic pilot has returned to burn. Your thoughts soar back to good times in humid clubs. And, as your mind rewinds the music man's blazing singles of yesteryear, you easily remember when those songs were the soundtrack to your life.

On Groovin' U (Plaza), the solo debut by multi-gold and platinum songwriter/arranger/producer Randy Muller - responsible for sweaty hits by Skyy ("Call Me," "High"), B.T. Express ("Do It Till You're Satisfied," "Express"), Cameron ("Boogie's Gonna Get Ya"), Charles Earland ("Let The Music Play"), Garnett Mimms ("What It Is"), and his own jam band Brass Construction ("Movin'," "Changin'," "Walkin' The Line"), among others - he turns his attention to - no, don't stop reading - smooth jazz. In the process he reinforces and extends his reputation as a groove master.

"In all of my work I insist on a certain rhythmic factor," Muller explains. "This project is no exception." Beyond dull and cheesy, the CD also contributes textural depth to the genre that sustains countless stations. Adds Muller: "I've noticed a gaping hole in the smooth jazz radio format. As someone who enjoys the style instrumentally, it seemed to be dominated by sax, guitar and trumpet. When I do hear flute, it's usually lofty, genteel and with a deficit of soul. I long to hear a Herbie Mann or Hubert Laws doing their thing, and this album presents the flute in a more street-savvy context."

A classically-trained musician, Muller attacks his instrument with the ferocity of a natural improviser. The mood throughout is passionate and intense. "I recorded most of the flute performances at home, some time after midnight - when I am typically at my creative best," notes Muller. Overall, a soulful, romantic quality is conveyed.

Groovin' U has been in the embryonic stage for years. "The vocabulary of the flute has always been the perfect companion to my musical voice," says Muller. "Somehow I can say things with it I would otherwise have a difficult time expressing. Boom Chang Bang, the group of musicians I've been able to bring together, and this CD, is something I've been threatening for some time now."

In fact, Muller wrote the Brazilian romp "BALA" when he was a college undergrad. The breezy bossa nova bouncer was his final class project for a jazz workshop led by Modern Jazz Quartet's Milt Hinton. "I recently stumbled onto a raw cassette copy of the original performance and decided to properly record it in the studio," Muller says. The composition now exudes a richly-contoured warmth and sophistication.

The finger-poppin', put-your-hands-together aesthetic pioneered by the likes of Ramsey Lewis in the late '70s/early '80s pervades the collection's hooky title track. "I wanted to compose a song that brings to mind those rare and essential party grooves," Muller explains. Once the main course on a soulful platter, they were slow-cooked in an open musical environment back in the day, when it wasn't unusual for a tune to run eight minutes or more.

Reaching further back for inspiration, "Standin' In Da Rain," featuring deliciously cool singer Polina, evokes the smoky ambiance of an elegant 1920s cabaret. With its thick, rubbery back beat, strutting minor keys and sweetly strafing bridge (populated with vintage hisses, pops and haunting monotone vocals), this retro-neuvo number boldly ignores the conventional line separating "straight-ahead" and "experimental."

Other standouts include the deliciously cascading "Magic," co-written by producer Adrian Bailey (Kevin Little's Top 10 smash "Turn Me On"); "Westchester Nights," which captures the carefree experience of a scenic drive along New York's winding Saw Mill River Parkway; and a crease-less remake of Skyy's "Call Me," whose frisky bass line translates nicely within the new, warmer surroundings.

Another cover, the Rod Temperton-penned "Always and Forever," benefits from impulsive inspiration. "I recorded this version at three in the morning, on a basic Shure microphone and eight-track tape machine," Muller recalls. "Although I tried to re-do it in a more professional setting, this spontaneous performance always won the day."

Before there was even a category for brand-new-heavy jazz, Randy Muller was making passionate music with a beat. With a career spanning more than three decades, he has produced or penned over 200 titles (many earning gold and platinum status) across the pop, R&B and jazz genres (see discography).

Three major influences Muller cites as shaping his musical sensibility came from similarly disparate directions. One was James Brown. Another was Philadelphia-International. A third came from calypso, which Muller, a Guyanese native, could scarcely avoid.

For him Hubert Laws set the standard for all contemporary flute players to follow. "No one can touch him," Muller says. "The man is simply the best at making music from this piece of tubing I'm still striving to master." Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Muller formed his first group at age eight, beginning his long and varied journey into sound.

Fast forward to today, and Muller remains an active musical participant. His records are in-rotation classics and sampled by Salt-n-Pepa, Dr. Dre, DMX, Lil Kim and others. And he's still carving new ground. "Over the years, I've been identified mostly with dance, soul and funk," Muller says. "I believe that with Groovin U, anyone acquainted with my body of work will see a whole other side; this album moves me closer to a more actualized musical self." Exhilarating and exciting indeed.

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