An extraordinary presence on the contemporary jazz scene since his Classical Soul hit in the mid-90s, Marc Antoine's latest release, Cruisin', is his most soulful and organic album to date. The classically-trained, Parisian-born guitarist enjoys taking his listeners to extraordinary and exotic places, both in his heart and throughout the world. His 1998 GRP debut Madrid found him musically exploring the romance of Spain's capital city, the birthplace of his wife Rebecca. Last year's Universal Language was an ambitious, global-minded project mixing the numerous world rhythm influences that continue to strike his fancy.
Cruisin' stays true to this spirit of joyous melodies and brave wanderlust, but captures a new sonic atmosphere. While he's favored heavy productions in the past, this time Antoine used a live-in-the-studio approach with a handful of his favorite musicians. "This time wasn't about a fancy production style, but simply to get great players together and bring these songs to life simply and directly," says Antoine. "I aimed in a different direction on Universal Language, and went a bit wild and European. It was more of an exploration for me."
Antoine has always worked with top-notch producers, co-producing Madrid with trumpeter Rick Braun and handing the reins to keyboardist Philippe Saisse on Universal Language. To achieve a whole new vibe on Cruisin', he turned to Tommy LiPuma, Chairman of The Verve Music Group, who has produced some of the greatest jazz and pop albums of all time. (Note: "Mas Que Nada" was produced by Paul Brown, and "Indian Summer" was co-produced by LiPuma and Saisse). "He's got such amazing instincts, and he knows just what instrument sounds good where. I felt an immediate rapport with him, and the whole experience was so natural and comfortable. I couldn't wait to wake up every morning and go into the studio. It was like family."
The "family" Antoine and LiPuma adopted for the sessions includes the best and brightest in contemporary music. Antoine was most thrilled to work for the first time with keyboardist Ricky Peterson, who adds a warm, retro-touch with piano, synth and Fender Rhodes; "we're both pretty nutty, so this was a great match," says Antoine. The other players are bassists Alex Al and Dave Carpenter; drummers Lil' John Roberts and Peter Erskine; and percussionist Luis Conte. The opening track, a festive romp through the famous Brazilian tune "Mas Que Nada" (composed by Jorge Ben) features guest appearances by Patti Austin on wordless vocals, the Jerry Hey Horns, and flutist Larry Williams; Paul Brown broke from his trademark shimmering R&B sound to produce this opening track. Philippe Saisse appears on the folksy, bluesy, jazzy and Latin mélange of "Sierra Bella" (which he wrote) and adds his keyboard charm as well to the moody and seductive "Indian Summer."
Antoine composed six originals for Cruisin'. He describes the gem "On the Strip" as "the kind of tune Grant Green might have played on Spanish guitar, with a little Latin, Spanish, soul and be-bop." The mystical minded, tropical flavored title track brings Antoine fans back to the type of vibe the guitarist achieved on the hit "Sunland" from the Madrid album. He wrote the gentle, graceful ballad "Just Chillin'" after he had come back from a long tour. "Java Montmarte"-named for one of the oldest spots in Paris, at the top of a hill next to the Moulin Rouge, where artists paint and jazz is in the air-begins with a waltzlike trio flavor before easing into a hypnotic retro-soul vibe featuring feisty percussion and Peterson's tasteful Fender Rhodes stylings. Antoine indulges his taste for all things exotic with the Brazilian flavored ballad "Caribbean Morning" which is highlighted by an aggressive Conte percussion solo. "Fuego" is a lively, flamenco-tinged jam.
"I sometimes will spend five to six hours a day in the music room writing because the beautiful tiling in there makes for great acoustics and the kind of reverb I like," says Antoine. "I'm inspired by different moods and different places I've been, and my wife is always the first to hear the songs I write," he says. "Or you can find me on the stairway or in the kitchen. Tile floors really help bring a sound alive. People think you have to do everything in the studio, but I just go wherever I think the sound is best."
Antoine sums up his philosophy about the way he makes music very simply: "If I'm walking in New York, and I hear a salsa band in a club nearby, I get in that mood and immediately start thinking of writing a tune in that style." His well-traveled life has certainly provided its share of inspiration. Classically trained at the International School of Classical Guitar, he played jazz and Afro-pop in Paris clubs, performed with the London based Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, and first became known to worldwide audiences when he toured with Basia in 1988. Living in London, Antoine also played on Soul II Soul's classic first album and immersed himself into that city's acid jazz scene. When he moved to Los Angeles, he added that acid jazz influence to his work with Guru's Jazzmatazz, The Solsonics, Queen Latifah, acid jazz DJ Greyboy, Sting, the late Selena, Maya, Rod Stewart, Alannah Miles, Aaliyah, George Benson, and Cher. He also appears on numerous smooth jazz projects (David Benoit, Dave Koz, Jeff Golub, Peter White, and Rick Braun) and has been part of the Guitars, Saxes & More tours. Marc's music has also been featured in the films The Fan, Get Shorty, Celtic Pride, and Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (a duet with Paula Cole).
"I'm always looking to try new things, different approaches, while keeping in mind those who have enjoyed the music I have created up till now," he says. "The most rewarding thing is playing concerts and signing autographs afterwards, when people tell me how my music has affected their lives. Sometimes, I feel like I'm a doctor when they say how my music helped them get through a rough time. Playing music is all about making those emotional connections. Musicians who are technically brilliant but don't touch the heart are missing the most important part of the journey."