Kenney Polson receives a winning review from Lemon Wire

Kenney Polson’s “For Lover’s Only” is smooth jazz that celebrates r&b

Saxophonist Kenney Polson uses more than jazz to express himself musically. Skilled in classical, Latin, New Age, rhythm & blues, funk and Gospel music styles, he also creates the smooth jazz sound of his new album with friends who are famous-name performers. “For Lover’s Only” is Polson’s latest album. The recording mixes original tracks with covers of popular songs that also reflect the inspiration Polson has for the project.

About Kenney Polson

Though he is currently based in the Pacific Northwest, Polson is a native of Kansas City, Missouri. His musical family includes his grand father, “Chubby Wayne” Harshaw, who played with Cab Calloway and Count Basie. In addition, his uncle, Charles, sang with the legendary Coasters.

Polson completed his musical education at Howard University in 1997. He earned a masters degree in jazz composition and arranging. Polson’s life as a professional musician has led to him living and performing in 50 countries.

As a professional musician, Polson has appeared on television playing alongside such musicians as Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Heath, Phil Woods, David Sanborn and Wynton Marsalis. He has performed live with Gil Scott-Heron, Joe Williams, Michael Henderson, Norman Connors, Bettye Swan and Lee Garrett.

Recently, in 2016 and 2017, Polson toured with the Rick James Original Stone City Band. They played in the Capital City Jazz Festival, and Orange County Funk Fest in California. He has toured Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Columbia, Brazil, and more than a dozen Caribbean islands.

As part of the Kenney Polson group and other ensembles, he has appeared at the Stockton Smooth Jazz Festival, PDX Jazz Festival and Vanport Jazz Festival. Around the Pacific Northwest, Polson can be found playing at The Jazz Station in Eugene, Jack London Jazz Club in Portland, The Royal Esquire in Seattle and 1905 Jazz Club in Portland.

“For Lovers Only” by Kenney Polson

The album, “For Lovers Only” blends smooth jazz and r&b. Fittingly, the musicians that help bring the recording to life are those with strong backgrounds in either jazz or r&b. They include guitarist Bruce Conte and keyboardist Roger Smith of Tower of Power; trumpeter Larry Gittens, who played with Kool and the Gang; guitarist Phil Upchurch, who has performed with Donny Hathaway and George Benson. In addition, smooth jazz pioneer and pianist Tom Grant, trombonist Fred Wesley who has performed with Parliament Funkadelic, and bassist/vocalist Michael Henderson who played with Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder, round out the ensemble.

Fans of early 1980s r&b will recognize one of the songs that Polson and his ensemble has selected for a smooth jazz treatment. “Love On a Two Way Street” is emotive, melancholy and expressive in a way that hints at the original’s lyrics about love.

“Love On a Two Way Street” was made popular by Stacy Lattisaw in 1981. The gently sung lyrics do not prepare listeners for the ultimately unrequited love the narrator experiences. The song’s gentle tone, and melancholy theme are brought to life with Polson’s approach. His saxophone seems to speak the lyrics, which will be familiar to those who have heard the original. The sound executed here is definitely smooth jazz. The song is enjoyable in terms of its soundscape and plays up the idea that Polson is effectively inspired by r&b classics. Polson uses a soprano saxophone that imitates Lattisaw’s high voice. According to Polson, “Soft soprano saxophone helps to make it a good memory by taking the melody all the way, using the lyrics as the guide. We gave it a fresh feel with a kind of hip-hop beat.”

And that is exactly what happens on Polson’s version of “Love On a Two Way Street.”

While “Love On a Two Way Street” is not the happiest of tracks, it is beautiful. Polson and his assembled players also have an assortment of songs that show the positive side of romantic relationships. The title track for example should be listened to for its purposeful choice of tempo that Polson said was chosen with “conversation and attention to the other partner in mind. I imagine a glass of wine, candlelight, and a fireplace to help set the mood.”

“For Lovers Only” opens with an energized blare of horns that quickly mellows out to a smooth, guitar and saxophone-filled tune. The bass grooves quietly in the background. Pretty shimmers as the song moves towards its midway point, are a nice effect. Somehow, audiences can hear champagne being poured and tinkling glasses.

“For Lovers Only” is good listening for jazz fans who appreciate the role r&b can play in inspiring jazz songs.

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