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CD reviews, Dec. 28

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Forever, For Always,
For Luther, Vol. II
Various artists

Some of the biggest names in contemporary and smooth jazz come together to pay tribute to the memory of the late R&B singer Luther Vandross.

This fantastic CD is a follow-up to the first tribute to Vandross with a brand-new cast of all-star singers and musicians, such as Gerald Albright, Patti Austin, Norman Brown, Will Downing, Jonathan Butler, Everette Harp, Maysa, Najee, Wayman Tisdale, and Kevin and Kirk Whalum. Every song is great, but the following stand out:

• “If This World Were Mine”Gerald Albright is just absolutely sensational on the saxophone. He plays with such heart and soul on this song.

• “There Is Nothing Better Than Love”Maysa and Kevin Whalum perform a sensuous duet together.

• Patti Austin's beautiful voice is delightful on “So Amazing.” She also pours her emotions out on this song.

• Jonathan Butler grooves with his guitar and adds his outstanding vocals on “Don’t Want To Be A Fool.”

• Will Downing’s soothing vocals are dynamic on “Superstar.”

Rendezvous Entertainment is partnering the release with the American Heart Association’s life-saving campaign “The Power to End Stroke. Especially targeted toward the African-American community, the Rendezvous Entertainment press release says, the program seeks to raise awareness of the warning signs of stroke — in order to prevent or greatly minimize many of its debilitating consequences, which felled Vandross well before his time.

A Soulful Christmas
Brian Culbertson

Pianist Brian Culbertson’s latest GRP Records release is a Christmas carol CD with an outstanding blend of smooth jazz and classical music. Culbertson brought together many of his friends, including Eric Darius, Warren Hill, Peter White and Marc Nelson, to supply the Christmas cheer.

Other renowned performers contributed: Michael McDonald, Vinnie Colaiuta, Nathan East, Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal and Ricky Peterson. Culbertson’s wife, Michelle, an accomplished opera singer, adds her voice to this wonderful CD in an amazing rendition of “Some Children See Him.”

Listeners will find themselves in the spirit, especially hearing McDonald’s remarkable voice displayed on “All Through the Christmas Night.” He brings out the beauty of Christmas with this song.

Culbertson’s extraordinary piano playing, Eric Darius’ fabulous tenor sax solo, and the Jason White Ensemble were a delight on “Joy to the World.” Other highlights were “Deck the Halls,” with Hill on sax, and Culbertson’s solo piano on “The First Noel.”

— Renarda Williams

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