Gentle Force by 3rd Force
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Thirty seconds into this CD's first track, "Young Again," a hardcore smooth-jazz fan may think it's either Sade
, Acoustic Alchemy
, Tom Scott
, or 3rd Force, and be right three out of four. Eight years ago 3rd Force defined their sound, built around overdubbed reeds and textured keyboards, and then flavored their discs with well-known distinctive smooth-jazz stylists. Their fifth album follows the same path, but leader William Aura's relentless search for new grooves may have broken some new ground with these 10 songs, and newcomer vocalist Rebecca Carlish (heavily influenced by Sade) is ingeniously used on different tracks here via wordless vocals or short bursts of lyrics. On the steamy and sexy "Grateful for Your Love," sax man Jimmy Sommers and guitarist Grant Geissman are intertwined with Carlish without losing the sound of the Force. The contribution of Carlish, if only to hear a fresh take on Sade's style, will make this a must for smooth-jazz lovers, but it's the fresh rhythms, haunting melodies, and sparkling, symbiotic pairings, like guitarists Craig Chaquico and Brian Hughes, that will place it on best-of lists at year's end. --Mark Ruffin