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The Jazzmasters V ()

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The smooth jazz format came along at just the right time for the inventive, melodic and atmospherically minded composer/keyboardist Paul Hardcastle, who might have otherwise become a classic one-hit wonder after his mid-'80s global smash "19." Mining the cooler, chill-oriented aspects of what makes the genre popular, Hardcastle on his solo discs and Jazzmasters projects has amassed a total of seven number one format hits. While sticking to his essential vibe on his Jazzmasters V installment, he pushes the envelope just a bit with the dreamy, supercool "epic" piece "World in Action," which grooves along for close to 11 enjoyable, hypnotic minutes. This track includes touches of all the elements that make Jazzmasters V a winning dreamscape of a collection: sensual ambiences, trippy synth effects, peppery flute seasonings, and punchy sax sections by Snake Davis. Other hard-to-resist cuts in more conventionally, radio-friendly time frames include the opening track "Never Far Away," which blends Hardcastle's playful piano melody and Davis' sexy horn; the laid-back and soulful "Children of the Ghetto," sung elegantly by Helen Rogers; and the gently funky, liberating "Free as the Wind," which includes piano and vibes-toned keyboard lines mixed with flute and sax. Jazz purists will of course have issues calling this sort of borderline new age music "jazz," and smooth jazz fans looking for hard-hitting energy may have to search elsewhere. Still, Hardcastle knows his niche and he's never failed to achieve brilliance doing what he does best. ~ Jonathan Widran, Rovi Hide synopsis

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