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A Brighter Day (1999)

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Ronny Jordan

As the reality of Y2K took hold, no doubt many artists went with forward-thinking album titles for their first efforts of the new millennium. But guitarist Ronny Jordan wasn't thinking of trendiness or even the calendar shift when he called his Blue Note debut A Brighter Day. His 1992 jazz/hip-hop-fused release The Antidote made him an instant star on London's burgeoning acid-jazz scene. Over the next few years and recordings, however, his pioneering success in this genre proved as much a curse as a blessing, as his sound got muddled through working with outside producers. The wide stylistic diversity on the self-produced A Brighter Day -- which takes him on excursions into Brazilian, Latin, straight-ahead, even Indian music, with only a few passing nods to his acidic roots -- makes for his most organic and honest effort to date. The title also celebrates his most effective electric guitar playing thus far. On the aptly titled "Two Worlds," Jordan spins a crisp, Wes Montgomery-styled melody over an increasingly aggressive bossa-minded percussion pattern, holding occasional but few bar conversations with the uppity, Latin-styled piano of Marcus Persiani. Jordan also goes the Brazilian route on "Rio," albeit with a subtler, more spiritual edge; his muted guitar dances over a sparse rhythm pattern, as haunting angelic vocals ease in and out. A gentle Indian flute harmony and a soaring female chant alternately wrap around his high-toned strings, all over the patter of Shivas Shankar's tablas on a spirited reworking of Victor Feldman's "New Delhi." When he's not exploring the world, Jordan reconnects with the jazz roots that predated his acid-jazz days. A longtime fan of Roy Ayers, he reworks the vibist's 25-year-old "Mystic Voyage" into a funky jam session, holding sparkling, improv, call-and-response exchanges between electric guitar and vibes; it's as if the fan is asking the master, "Am I doing all right?." Vibes also play a crucial role on "5/8 in Flow"; Stefon Harris bubbles over the oddly metered drum pattern of Jeff "Tain" Watts between tight guitar melodies that firmly display Jordan's Wes Montgomery and Grant Green influences. It's clear that Jordan is more at home with all this exploring, but he can't resist paying homage to the sounds that made him famous. His guitar gallops gleefully over a hefty B-3 harmony on "London Lowdown," and DJ Spinna creates cool scratches and otherworldly effects between gentle guitar lines on the hypnotic, retro-minded "Mackin'." ~ Jonathan Widran