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After Dark (1994)

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Richard Elliot

Some might dub Richard Elliot the James Brown of contemporary jazz for the way his tenacious tenor exploded around some of the freshest R&B tinged hooks in the genre. After more than a handful of albums, the moniker still applies, though it is slightly maddening that he seems to best maintain his popularity by refusing to stretch beyond the simple energy that originally garnered it. After Dark is trademark Elliot -- a rich and urgent flow over essentially generic melodies and typical pop-jazz production. A pop cover here ("Bridge Over Troubled Water"), a vocal there. But where's the spark? He certainly teases us, slamming some horns, hip-hop and improv on the best cut, "The Boys From The Bay," and shifting gears towards the breezes of Latin America on "El Anio." A later house mix number ("So Special") perfectly captures the trend towards fusing traditions with boom box excitement. But between these gems is a sea of so-so material that, while certainly easy to listen to, once again fails to capture the fire of Elliot's explosive live shows. Then again, the feeling might be that it's worked well for seven albums, why mess with crowd pleasing success? ~ Jonathan Widran