By Michael Marsh
Remember the name U-Nam and definitely keep watch for him in the future. If his CD, “Back From The 80’s”, released on March 19, 2007, is any indication of where he’s going in the future, U-Nam is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with in both smooth jazz and R & B circles in the future. I’ll explain the “R & B” statement a little later in this review. I just purchased “Back From The 80’s” on the Soul Vibe label, after hearing a song by U-Nam on the music streaming website, Pandora.com. Upon listening to this entire CD for the first time, it immediately jumped to the head of the class of my current collection of recently purchased smooth jazz CD’s. As I listened for that first time, two thoughts kept popping up in my head, which were “Where in the world did this guy come from?”, and “George Benson better watch out!!”. That’s right . . . I said the untouchable, current master of jazz guitar, George Benson, had better watch out!! Regarding the first question in my head, I wasn’t able to find a lot of background information about U-Nam on the internet. About all I can tell you is that he’s a white guy out of Paris, France, but don’t let that fool you. When you listen to him, you immediately know that he definitely really feels the soul that he’s putting down on his tracks. He’s definitely not a soul pretender. As to the second remark in my head, regarding George Benson, U-Nam is most definitely serving notice that he’s nipping at Benson’s heels and might be making a serious push to dethrone him in the future. U-Nam begins his CD with an instrumental rendition of the classic Crusaders tune, “Street Life”, and he does it extremely well. "Street Life" has a big sound and it definitely provides big entertainment to the ears. As you listen to this first cut, U-Nam serves up his first taste of his version of the “Benson sound” as a portent of nice things to come. “Street Life” also features a very nice accompaniment by Jeff Lorber on Fender Rhodes keyboard. The second track “Breezin’ M.A.”, eliminates all doubt as to who U-Nam’s primary musical influence was as he developed his guitar skills, because it actually sounds like George Benson is playing the guitar on this song. The strong Benson influence continues on “Keep The Faith”, a lively, upbeat number with a synthesized big band sound in the background. U-Nam’s guitar solo is excellent, and non-stop, from beginning to end on this cut. U-Nam mellows things out quite nicely on track four, with an appropriately titled cut, “Slowdown”. With the fifth and sixth cuts, U-Nam gives props to Benson by covering Benson’s popular, “Turn Your Love Around” at track five, and presenting us with a U-Nam written tune dedicated to George Benson, at track six, by the name of “Mister GB”. U-Nam also covers other artists at tracks nine, eleven and twelve, with Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It”, Lionel Richie’s “Love Will Find A Way” and the Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack classic, “Where Is The Love”. All are done very well and are very enjoyable indeed. Out of the remaining three songs on the CD, appearing at tracks seven, eight and ten, my favorite is track eight, “Overseas”, on which Maysa adds her splendid vocals as accompaniment to U-Nam’s delightful guitar playing.
The reason I indicated earlier that U-Nam is serving notice that he will also be a force to be reckoned with in R & B circles in the future, is because of my listen to the bonus CD, that comes with the import version of the CD. If you decide to buy U-Nam’s “Back From The 80’s”, please don’t cheat yourself out of the delightful bonus CD that only comes with the import. For $3.00 more than the price of the regular CD, you get seven delightful R & B songs, on which U-Nam is accompanied by artists such as Rahsaan Patterson, Gary Meeks, Jeff Lorber, Nyr, Daddy-O, and Phil Perry. On the two most outstanding tracks from the bonus CD, U-Nam is joined by an excellent vocalist by the name Leedia on “Blue Mood”, and by Obiodun of The Last Poets fame on “Take Da Time”. U-Nam and guests really throw down on both of these funky cuts. In fact, the funk builds to such intensity on “Take Da Time” that some of U-Nam’s guitar licks verge on sheer insanity, and I like it. I don’t know what that says about me, but I like what I like.
If you are interested in this one, you’ll probably have to buy it on the internet, because I haven’t seen it in any record stores. And, even if you do find it in your local record store, it probably won’t be the import version. Once again, please don’t cheat yourself out of the bonus CD by purchasing the domestic release. Get the import and enjoy all that U-Nam has to offer. This one is definitely five plus stars on a five star scale. There is not one weak song in this entire package, which makes it a guaranteed addition to your music collection.
Michael Marsh is the jazz reviewer for TNCP. To make contact, you may e-mail him at email@example.com for review.