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Tony Darren Shines!
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For most teenaged boys, a spot in an up-and-coming rock band would be the dazzling key to the future. But not for Tony Darren, who played his first instrument, drums, with Wire Train before they went on to a moderate degree of success with MCA in the early 90s. Laying down rhythms behind music that was somebody else's passion was fun for a brief time, but ultimately, Darren felt creatively unchallenged. This restlessness led Darren to focus on his new love, the acoustic guitar, and ponder the many other styles of music that excited him. The spirit of exploration must run in the family. In recent years, Darren's father, acclaimed actor and star of TV's Deep Space Nine James Darren, has been off venturing into new fictional universes every week; likewise, Tony Darren's ongoing musical quests have led to amazing revelations which have shaped his personal artistic outlook. "Luckily, my parents were very supportive of my crazy dreams, because I literally locked myself in my room for two years and just started playing every type of music in a very schizophrenic attempt to find a focus," he says. "I found myself being tugged in many directions. I could listen to mariachi music one minute, classical or blues the next. Bill Evans and Pat Metheny got me intrigued by jazz, and George Benson was great for jazz funk, but the film scores of Ennio Morricone also swayed me. Then, surprising in light of where I ended up, I couldn't get enough of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard." Acknowledging that he couldn't roll all of his influences into his high-spirited acoustic guitar debut Sun Song (Telarc Jazz Zone), he emerges with a style that is not as jazz intensive as Metheny's, yet snappy along the light funk lines of Benson's trademark "Breezin'" and heavily Brazilian. The one guitarist who is not on Darren's influence list but whom smooth jazz listeners might make the connection to is Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons; Darren's clear, precise, laid back but prone to wild flights of fancy approach recalls Freeman's best acoustic fare. The notion also makes sense in light of Darren's similar deftness in the instantly memorable songwriting department. Darren believes that continuous exposure to the best offerings of every possible genre led to his evolution as a skilled melody writer. "These days, you hear so much of the same hip-hop beat with good playing but melodies that don't stick," he says, "and the genre could use the shot in the arm of really good tunes. So since I got the deal with Telarc, that's been my challenge, keeping the guitar in the lead but not hogging the spotlight as a virtuoso. It's more important for longevity and listener recognition to stress composition. I stayed away purposely from those conventional grooves because that's a thing of the moment and will someday sound dated. When I write I think of tomorrow. Will what I write last?" Only time will answer that, but Darren for the most part rises to his self-imposed challenge. Few of these tunes (half produced by Al Schmitt, half by keyboardist Gregg Karukas) ever stretch the artistic limits of the genre, but they do make for a, well, sunny listening experience. Darren and his producers know the best way to test the kid's mettle is to surround him with veteran all-stars. He has to play lightning quick and delve into some dazzling solo territory on "Carnival" to keep up with the increasing percussive temperature cooked up by bassist John Pena, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and Lenny Castro, who goes for a wild jungle soundscape effect. Darren's brisk, funky lead melody lines on the title track more than match the energy Karukas throws into his playful mid-song solo. But it's not always about running a race; on the soft-lit trio flavored "Kari," the guitarist's remarkably restrained phrases rise over brief elegant harmony chords of Joe Sample's piano, all nudged slowly along by Colaiuta's drum brushes. Cover tunes on first recordings are usually major cop-outs, but Darren mines a never before touched chestnut in the Natalie Cole hit "This Will Be"; the tune functions like a coming out party, where the big boys ask the newcomer if he's up to joining the big leagues. More specifically, Darren's bright twists on the verses are punctuated by the brass embellishments of horn section Tom Scott and Dino Saldo, blistering Scott solo statements, and the powerful duality of Karukas and Sample's keyboards. "It was truly a case of working with my biggest idols, both giving me goals to strive for and hoping to gain their support for my ability to make myself known in the jazz world," says Darren. "What amazed me was, here were all these amazing soloists whose work I adore - I mean, I have every Crusaders album ever recorded - and they were there just to help me reach my own level of excellence. I realized that the mark of a great musician is simply being able to make someone like me sound great." Reviewed By: Jonathan Widran"
Pleasant, if undistinguished
Jan P. Dennis | Monument, CO USA | 12/23/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's unfortunate that Tony Darren made his jazz debut in a format--smooth jazz, jazz lite, whatever--that had perhaps run its course by the time he hopped on board. Because he is obviously a guitarist of huge chops and uncommon taste. Too bad he's saddled to a popular art form that was slowly sinking into the West, as it were, when this entirely creditable disc was recorded (1998). Add to that the somewhat unsettled vision Telarc had of itself at that time as a purveyor of jazz, and you have a formula for non-success.
If there's too much sweetening in the form of synth strings, too much in-the-pocket drumming, too much faux-world percussion, this is nevertheless a pleasant enough outing, usually skating around the mindless morass of less accomplished jazz lite recordings, and occasionally rising to felicitous fields of frolicsome effulgence. Still and all, one can only take so much of this saccharine-infused jazz-muzak, before it starts to pall. Majorly.
Oh well. Eminently worth a listen or two, for the leader's taste, chops, and je ne sais quoi. ***1/2."