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Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Narada

On her previous album, This Girl's Got to Play -- which was inspired by the soul-searching she did post 9/11 -- this popular San Francisco-based smooth jazz guitarist made an ongoing commitment to making music about things that matter. Joyce Cooling's early album titles were cute twists on her name, but the Revolving Door she's referring to on this diverse and heartfelt disc goes into some deep territory; it's about the cycle of mental illness, which she knows intimately about due to growing up with a brother who was schizophrenic. That sounds like heavy stuff for an artist in a genre that's usually about happy escapist music, but Cooling finds a way to balance the darker edges with the joyful breeziness that has long endeared her to fans. First the shadier stuff, off the smooth path: the title track is a seductive and emotional blues-drenched expression featuring some of her most gutsy, heartfelt playing ever; it's reminiscent of some of Larry Carlton's brilliant fusions of smooth jazz and real blues. Though it only runs for over a minute, the simple and percussive acoustic tune "In Case of Rain" delves into some interesting Brazilian territory, while "Jesse's Bench" more fully explores her talent for gritty emotional digging on the acoustic. Powered by trippy and hypnotic backing vocals, "Cool of the Night" is all vibey, atmospheric, exotic, retro, and has an irresistible straight-ahead drum brush-driven groove. These songs show tremendous artistic growth for both her and her longtime keyboardist partner Jay Wagner, but Cooling's bread and butter will always be lighthearted gems like the opening tune "Mildred's Attraction," and the jubilant, brass-enhanced "At the Modern." The guitarist always includes a few pleasant vocals in the mix, and the most memorable one here, on the sparsely arranged live track "I'll Always Love You (Ode to the Audience)" directly addresses her love affair with the fans. They'll be giving a lot of love back thanks to the magic of this collection. ~ Jonathan Widran

Jazz - Released January 1, 2004 | Narada

If you're one of those who immediately starts retching when the phrase "smooth jazz" is uttered, you might as well move on right now; there's nothing about the new Joyce Cooling album that won't make you roll your eyes and lunge for the off button. But if you actually enjoy funky jazz with great hooks and propulsive beats and aren't bothered by a nice, glossy sheen, you'll find plenty to enjoy on the latest album by this very fine guitarist, composer, and singer. Her sound isn't especially original -- you'll hear powerful overtones of Wes Montgomery in her solos and of Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton in her production style -- but her writing is inventive and hooky and her playing is expert and stylish. The album's less-than-stellar moments (a rather generic bedroom number called "Take Me There" and the quirky, quasi-autobiographical title track) are still quite enjoyable, and there are plenty of top-notch numbers to counterbalance the less inspired moments. These include the slow and deeply funky "Natural Fact," a fine vocal number called "No More Blues," and the subtly Latin bump of "Wizard." Very nice. ~ Rick Anderson

Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | Verve Records

Joyce Cooling raises the bar on her contemporary, smooth jazz statements to make a unique instrumental collection of ten original songs with Third Wish. Her individual artistry is highly melodic, more aggressive, powerfully rhythmic and possesses the confidence and poise that comes from years of study and playing with successful musicians. Artistically, the recording features more percussive talent than her previous efforts: Keeping Cool and Playing It Cool. Teaming with Joyce Cooling on Third Wish is her longtime collaborator and keyboard player Jay Wagner, Gary Calvin on bass, Billy Johnson on drums, and Peter Michael Escovedo on percussion, among others. The songs are a delightful mix of upbeat musical tapestries that feature funk, smooth, cool jazz, and Brazilian rhythms. One great highlight on the CD is Al Jarreau's vocalese on a very funky version of "Mm-Mm Good." The guitar influences of Lee Ritenour seep through on "Daddy-O" and on the smooth bop-flavored "East Side." Michael Ortiz's cool, muted trumpet voice supplies some real nice comments to the musical conversation happening among Joyce Cooling, Jay Wagner, and Peter Michael Escovedo on "East Side." Listeners get an added treat: Cooling's smooth, folksy vocals on several tunes including the reflective "It'll Come Back to Me." With the release of Third Wish, Joyce Cooling has come full circle, and continues to exceed the expectations of her fans and musical peers. ~ Paula Edelstein

Jazz - Released January 1, 1999 | Concord Records, Inc.

This slick electric guitarist seemed to come out of nowhere in 1997, becoming The Gavin Report's artist of the year based on the enormous reception of her radio smash "South of Market" and her Heads Up debut Playing It Cool (pun intended). In reality, she had been (and still is) one of the Bay Area's premier club and festival performers, trading off between straight-ahead jazz, Brazilian rhythms, and the funky, lighthearted kind of perfection we find on her even better follow-up (pun still intended and not quite yet wearing thin). Her precise, crisp, and relaxed style serves melodies that are instantly catchy throughout; she and her keyboardist/partner have emerged from years of playing more free-form music in clubs and have the smooth jazz hook thing down pat. What makes this so much more fun than the average genre guitar release are the varied trappings that reflect a myriad of influences. "Callie" bounces in with a retro-bluesy disco groove, Cooling blending her delightful wordless vocalizing and easy punch before giving way to Wagner's piano frolic. The title "Coasting" might imply "laid-back, bland, " but in this case, it finds her being spunky with a hypnotic lead riff over an artsy jazz piano groove. The irrepressible blues pieces "Ain't Life Grand" and "China Basin" give her a chance to show off her Stevie Ray Vaughn influence. When she's not being the queen of perky, Cooling simmers down on the meditative moods of "Out of a Movie" and "Little Five Points," which features her understated but still smart improvisation over Wagner's Rhodes harmony. While more a guitarist who sings than vice versa, the Brazilian-flavored vocal track "Gliding By" -- with just her voice and an acoustic guitar -- gives a fuller view of one of the genre's premier new talents. Kudos for also finally realizing that she can use her knockout looks and sex appeal in the packaging design. ~ Jonathan Widran

Jazz - Released September 20, 2019 | Rhythm Kitchen

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2004 | Narada


Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released October 2, 2001 | Mad-Kat Records