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Mannieb 11-08-2004 10:46 AM

Vernon Neilly & G-Fire - Still Burning Bright
By Mark Kirby

Those who remember G-Fire will recall a bit more than just the coolest smooth jazz on the planet. The self-titled previous album gave an interesting twist to the marketing angle of music. These days, everyone from Mandy Moore to an ever-expanded ocean of indie bands can be on top if they can raise a thousand bucks and find the link to DiscMakers. Like self-publishing, this tends to beat quality control repeatedly on the head until the industry is dumbed down into submission.

What the G-Fire experiment has latched onto is album sharing. Find three musicians with a similar feel for the music, form a band, then square the CD into four corners, with each composer/player taking one each. Well, it's what supergroups like Queen used to do. For G-Fire II (, the latest jazz-infested treat features the works of Vernon Neilly, Mark Whitfield, Kevin Chokan, Miguel Mega.

As usual, the fellows mesh perfectly, helped by the fact that the supporting talent is so soulful. Without looking at the CD track info, you'll find yourself never noticing that "Don't You Cry" bleeds in so well to the long version of "LFO" that they are two separate songs.

"Don't You Cry" fills in your 2 a.m. night drive with a positive outlook that can't possibly have you falling asleep at the wheel, even though this is technically smooth jazz on the adult contemporary side, layered with steady and nearly total Neilly control. The only thing the man didn't do on the lyric-less song is the bass, cool credit going to Charles Glen, who blends like charcoal on a blackboard. Neilly's high plucks in the electric lead guitar only show off the night, not the man, making it as sweet as love, hold the pain and heartache.

The killer tune on the disc might be the opening "LFO" from Whitfield, which also comes back with an extra minute at the end. George Fontanette's muted trumpet matches moves with Whitfield's taintless guitar lead via mirror-like precision. The effective and never overdone drum programming shakes steamily into Neilly's "Por Mi Amor" (twice, once for an extra minute at the end, as well), which blends an R&B color into the mix with a slight female vocal. Sifting blues with jazz, the experience simply allows Neilly to shine with a seemingly improvised performance while oceans sway in the mind and lovers embrace.

As Neilly admits, "The first G-Fire release had a whole different purpose than the new G-Fire II project in that G-Fire was a showcase of some of the most traveled touring and session guitarists in the music industry today as solo artists, instead of their regular situations as sidemen. It was my way of giving some very talented guys a shot at being heard on a major global level. With G-Fire II, it was planned to be more of a commercial, radio friendly contemporary jazz project, and that's how we went about recording the songs for it."

Read the complete feature on G-Fire II:

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