Kirk Whalum – Epic Cool (ENG review)

Mack Avenue records – Street date May 17th 2024
Kirk Whalum – Epic Cool

As you know, we don’t put boundaries between different styles of jazz; we strive to focus on the best artists. As for the rest, it’s a matter of taste and preference. And precisely, Kirk Whalum is certainly one of the most exciting artists in the smooth jazz scene. Beneath warm melodies lie relatively complex arrangements that delve into soul, funk music, and if you listen closely, you can even discern some influences from progressive jazz. That’s what makes Kirk Whalum’s talent stand out. He’s also a man of great culture, which is reflected in his compositions. I can’t even remember when I started listening to Kirk Whalum because it seems like his music has always been a part of my life, album after album.

To give you a bit of background, it was in Houston that jazz pianist Bob James “discovered” him and took him on tour, resulting in five successful albums with Columbia Records, including Cache, Kirk’s first number 1 album. Additionally, Kirk and Bob received a Grammy nomination for their collaborative album, Joined at the Hip. After moving to Los Angeles, Kirk became a highly sought-after session musician for top artists such as Barbara Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Larry Carlton, Quincy Jones, and notably, Whitney Houston, among others. He’s the saxophonist on the mega-hit “I Will Always Love You.” Kirk quickly followed this career peak with his phenomenal successful album released by Warner Bros.

Understanding all this helps us grasp what shaped this elegant artist with a remarkable sound, this spectacular way of making his saxophone an interpreter of his deepest universe, crafting melodies that often sound like hit songs but are fundamentally his purest form of expression. At Mack Avenue, there are several smooth jazz artists, among the best, and we appreciate all the more the choices they make, like here, on what will be one of Kirk Whalum’s finest albums. It’s hard to say whether it’s the pandemic or the many years of stage and studio work that led to this exciting, joyful, radiant album that is equally enjoyable to listen to with friends or delve into deeply. “Epic Cool” is a true treasure of achievement, with tracks like “Through the Storm” being a perfect illustration. Despite its seemingly simple appearance, it presents a form of saxophone-vocal duet that is truly impressive.

For all of you who appreciate this great artist, May 17 may seem like a very long wait, especially since I can assure you that this album will quickly become a “collector’s item.” There’s a rare intelligence on this album that takes us on artistic reflections, like the track “Film Noir,” with its French title taking us back to a time when France still had profound contributions to offer in cinema. Entering into this album is not just about finding pleasure; it’s also about reflecting on the present, the future, and on facts. Let’s remember Kirk Whalum’s album “Humanité,” which already pushed us towards a form of reflection. Here on “Epic Cool,” Kirk Whalum clearly raises the question of creation in art.

I sincerely believe that Kirk Whalum is a much more essential musician than what people say, much deeper, much more passionate, capable of making each album an “indispensable” one, capable of making us ask the right questions.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, April 10th 2024

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