Reviews

Simply Stated (JazzTimes)

Sometimes in the middle of night I wake with a start and wonder if any guitar-based contemporary instrumental music would ever have been created if George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass had never been born. After hearing the first few seconds of Ronny Smith’s “Bossa Awhile,” which leads off his sparkling new CD, you’ll note the influences from this troika of geniuses and know that their legacies are in good hands.


Smith is a former U.S. Army Band member interested in expanding on the good groove of the latter-day Bensons like Ronny Jordan and Norman Brown, who mix pop and jazz sounds and tempos with traces of R&B, hip-hop and even rock. Smith doesn’t get as much exposure as those two, but he should. Aside
from a cover of Steely Dan’s “Josie,” which even a guitar solo can’t save from blah-ville, Simply Stated is a strong effort. Smith doesn’t use a live drummer for the most part, but instead programs percussion and adds some interesting sounds from the controls, which only tend to heighten interest.

Highlights: “Chillin’ After Eight”’s light R&B with its hand-clap groove and trumpet bursts from Gerald Chavis; the bossa chill of “Majorca”; and the romanticism of “She’s So Special.” On Jonathan
Butler’s “Fallin’ in Love with Jesus,” William Banks’ vocals take it to the top.

Simply Stated (All Music Guide)

The title of this still inexplicably under the radar electric funk guitarist's fourth release makes it easier to say the obvious--simply stated, this is uptempo, grooving smooth jazz at its finest, and on par with recent works of genre superstars like Jeff Golub and Norman Brown. His bio says he's been a longtime proud member of the Army band, and our servicemen are no doubt in high morale listening to Smith's mix of buoyant, percussive gems (the bubbling over "Laidback Remix") and easygoing romances
("She's So Special Remix)." These two tracks are no doubt reworkings of previously released tracks, but are good primers for listeners new to the Smith experience. He gets the toes tappin' George Benson and Norman Brown style from the get go, as "Bossa Awhile" leaps off with a bright, wild, just slightly Brazilian sensibility. Smith then takes it easier with a chillout type tune (featuring a prominent bass and trumpet line) and edges more exotic on "Majorca Remix." Smooth jazz in the mid-2000s had a slight
overkill of cover tunes, but his thumping take on Steely Dan's "Josie" is still worthwhile.

He also shows off his heartfelt spiritual colors on "Fallin' In Love With Jesus," a beautiful Jonathan Butler composition that is a staple of the writer's live set but is not on any of his secular CDs; the vocal by William Banks doesn't have the intensity of Butler's original recording, but the sentiment is unmistakably glorious. Smith's noble dedication to his calling in the Army is perhaps what's keeping him from entertaining the masses, but this CD will go a long way towards breaking him through to larger genre acclaim. ~ Jonathan Widran, All Music Guide


Just Groovin' (JazzPreview.com)

Guitarist Ronny Smith developed his trademark salve for making evenly flame broiled smooth jazz swath in gorgeous harmonic forms and lounging grooves on his 2007 record, Simply Stated. Keeping true to his trademark sound, Smith launches his follow up disc, Just Groovin’ this year with a collection of tunes resonating in clear blue skies and uplifting moods that soak the listener’s aural
senses in sheer serenity. He is an active bandleader and mediator, directing the movements of the tracks with his gentle coaxing as he softens the turns and connects dangling pieces to create full-bodied compositions. His music is archetypal of smooth jazz material and sticks to its parameters showing similarities to saxophonist Tim Cunningham’s caressive stroking and keyboardist Gail Jhonson’s
buoyant wavelets. It is an album that is sure make you happy.

Smith’s tracks almost seem like they give listeners a beach-front view of calmly rolling azure-hued riffs clinging loosely to the shoreline while caressed by the leisurely movements of the wind. Keyboardists Alan Alexander and Jeff Knoettner, and horn players Scott Martin, Stan Martin and Andy Martin provide the sinuous riffs while Smith’s leisurely strolls veer them in the listener‘s direction. His soft
guitar raptures are absorbed into the melodic terrain of “Here We Go Again” with an eloquence that can bewitch a romantic poet, and the silky feel of his guitar flicks fluttering across “95 Drive” gives the track a heavenly gloss. The synth treatments applied on Smith’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s song “Superstition” blanket the tune in glittering psychedelics as his guitar plants jutting sprigs along the funky grooves and dancing horns. The smooth jazz fronds of “Smooth” are branded in gospeltinged ringlets from the Hammond B3 organ and divots made by the chugging bass bumps. The feathery guitar riffs of “I’m Beside You” are lubed by flouncy bass beats, and the springy tempo of “Groove 106” hoists a sunny-pop vibe. Smith tells in a press release that the title of the track, “Groove 106” comes from the metronome setting on the tune at 106 beats per second, which he shows makes the music beam
with a sunny glow. Other tunes have a sexy jazz vibe like the title track which flitters erotic sensations emanating from the horns, and an island sway like in “Forever Friends” which has a sentimental feel in its voicing. The final two tracks have a Latin flavor delivering soft billowy knolls rolling across “Ticket To Rio” and bubbly ruffles spilling vivaciously along “Blue Bossa.”

It’s impossible not to feel happy after listening to Just Groovin’. Smith is a master at creating atmospheres that make people eager to bury themselves in, and happy to stay submerged in for long lengths of time. Smith straddles the line of escapist music and compositions that touch human sentiment. He cites Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, George Benson, and Roy Clark as his musical influences, and though his image of smooth jazz is arced by their impact on him, he also shows signs of moving past them, having tapped into his own ideas and developing a trademark sound that fits him totally.

Just Groovin' - (Smooth Jazz Now)

Baltimore-born guitarist Ronny Smith is back to the Smooth Jazz stage with his brand new CD ‘Simply Groovin,’ set to be released in May 2009. It’s his fifth album and displays great musicianship with a fine balance between sophisticated rhythmic grooves and fluid melodies. On this one you’ll find lots of original tunes and two covers.

In an interview with Smith he told me, “My intent was to approach each tune, rather up-tempo, mid-tempo or slow, with a specific groove or rhythmic structure.” And the result is a well crafted
album served by Smith’s brilliant guitar skills and inspired instrumentalists. Besides playing guitar,
Smith also handles some keyboards and programming. As Smith explained, “I laid down all of the
parts how I would like to sound anyway. It just happened that some of the parts that I laid down turned
out half decent and could go into the final product.”

The tune ‘Smooth’, is one of my favourite, you easily get into Smith’s groovy and melodic environment
and you gotta love the great organ Hammond B3 sound. This upbeat funky track displays Smith’s rich guitar loops Smith also does a rendition of the famous Stevie Wonder’s smash hit ‘Superstition’ (1972). As the track had rarely been performed on guitar, Smith chose to handle things via funky clavinet riffs performed by great pianist Alan Alexander and great horns by the Martin Brothers (Stan on
trumpet, Scott on saxophone and Andy on trombone).

On ‘95 Drive,’ Smith chose to compose an easy going groovy tune that any smooth jazz lover would play on his car’s CD player while driving to a sunny destination. I liked it’s infectious spirit.

‘Just Groovin’ is a mid-tempo track enriched by the Martin Brother’s great work on horns. They have performed for various Grammy Award winning artists such as Quincy Jones, Barry Manilow, Ray Charles and many others. Smith says, “the Martin Brothers opened up the piece and
made it phat with great horn bips and bops.”

‘I am beside you’ is Smith’s assertion of his religious faith. “I have been really blessed with not only an opportunity to sport my talents,” he said,  “but to make a few CDs and all that goes with that process. I know I’m getting the go-ahead from a higher source than I.” ‘Groove 106’ is a fun piece that Smith developed while fooling around with various tempos. As Smith did not really have a name for it, he titled it after his metronome setting at 106 beats per minute.

The last three tunes, ‘Forever Friends,’ ‘Ticket to Miami’ and ‘Blue Bossa’ have a more Latin flavour. Indeed Smith has always been intrigued with the rhythms, the horns, the bass and just the overall sound of musicians such Arturo Sandoval, Jobim, Ponco Sanchez and Tito Puente. ‘Forever Friends’ demonstrates Smith’s acoustic guitar skills. ‘Ticket to Miami’ is a slow tempo that will drive you to the Latin sound of this southeastern Florida city. The album ends up with a great cover of famous trumpeter and composer Kenny Dorham’s Bossa Nova standard ‘Blue Bossa,’ originally composed in 1965.

This CD, as his previous ones, has been a growing process for this talented guitarist. And this continuous quest for the best guitar sound results in a highly recommendable CD, which gets him closer to greatest jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery and George Benson. - by Akbar Nour

Just Groovin - (Smooth Jazz Therapy)

When, in 2007 I reviewed ‘Simply Stated’ by guitarist Ronny Smith I described him as creating a mood that is nothing short of precious. Although the album included re-imaginations of tracks from his 2002 sophomore project ‘Laid Back’ and the 2005 offering ‘Got Groove’ it was a body of work that showed off the increasing maturity of his playing. It also confirmed him as a notable songwriter and now he is back with his fifth solo CD, the appropriately titled ‘Just Groovin’.
The fact Smith grew up listening to Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and George Benson does much to explain the tight melodic style that categorizes his playing and which he began to develop while still in junior high school. The time he subsequently spent performing, first with various bands at University then later in the armed forces, expanded both his geographic and musical horizons and led him to a career as a sought after backing musician. Collaborations with artists as diverse as the Marvellettes, Melba Moore and jazz drummer Bobby Durham all added to Smith’s reputation and now signed to the highly rated boutique label Pacific Coast Jazz he seems well placed to continue his musical journey.
For ‘Just Groovin’ Smith writes eight of the choice ten tunes and with the title cut delivers a smoky stunner enriched by luscious horns that come courtesy of the Martin brothers. This trio of Stan, Martin, and Andy return to add considerable pizzazz to Smith’s feisty version of the Stevie Wonder classic ‘Superstition’ and are again on hand for the delightfully in the pocket ‘Groove 106’.

Although ‘Here We Go Again’ proves to be one of Smith’s typically infectious contemporary jazz stunners and the intricate ‘Blue Bossa’ shimmers with Latin energy, it is when easing down the tempo that he is often found at his dazzling best. The sumptuous ‘I’m Beside You’ is a case in point while the delicately evocative ‘Forever Friends’ is nothing short of spellbinding. The edge that Smith’s production adds to the mellow swagger of ‘Ticket To Miami’ is a joy but when he moves closer to regulation smooth jazz territory he comes up with what are arguably the albums top two tracks. ‘95 Drive’ is replete with the mid tempo rhythm and melody that epitomizes the finest the genre has to offer yet even better is the aptly named ‘Smooth’. With a groove to die for and splashes of Hammond B3 this is one seriously good tune and likely to become a Smooth Jazz Therapy top twenty choice of 2009.
‘Just Groovin’ is the perfect way to become acquainted with Ronny Smith’s special vibe. It is due out on May 18 and comes highly recommended.

"Off The Hook" Writeup (Abyss Jazz Magazine)

His mom sang in the church choir. His dad was the choir director and taught music in Baltimore, Maryland’s public school system. Guitarist, Ronny Smith’s first musical influences were his parents. “My dad introduced us to all kinds of instruments, the flute, the clarinet, whatever. Actually, the whole family would try an instrument or two. However, out of all that, I was the only one that actually wanted to play. I started fiddling around with instruments, initially the clarinet, but eventually gravitated toward the guitar.”

At fourteen, Smith seriously began studying the guitar. So, he got the guitar, and listened to Wes, George, and Joe Pass, among others, primarily playing by ear. Throughout his junior high school years, Smith continued to play the guitar and eventually learned to read music. High school brought other opportunities to hone his skills in the form of jazz ensembles, both in school and the community. After graduating high school, Ronny went on to study music at various colleges and universities. On the advice of a trusted friend and advisor, Dr. George Ross, at the University of Maryland, Smith became a part of the military band system playing in Army bands in Europe and the U.S. Further studies took him from the Army to Elizabeth State University in NC and finally to the University of Phoenix where he completed his Masters Degree.

Smith has performed as a sideman for a wide range of artists in a variety of musical disciplines, including the Marvellettes, Melba Moore, and drummer Bobby Durham. In 2001, he released his first album, Long Time Comin, which was well worth the wait. Simmering keyboards and a smokin’ guitar provided a glimpse of what was to come and in 2002, he gave us Laid Back; on this one, Smith plays various compositional styles with unique improvisations and R&B fusion. One would think it doesn’t get any better than that, but it does. Got Groove? Of course, you do. And so does Ronny. Album #3, Got Groove, released in 2005, is contemporary jazz at its best. It’s rhythmic, and energetic, and has a whole lot soul.

Over the past seven years, Ronny Smith has definitely learned what to do and what not to do as it relates to his music. In March 2007, Simply Stated, Smith’s fourth and latest creation was released, a bold display of Ronny’s instrumental power and his compositional skill where seven of the nine tracks are original compositions. This disc contains a diverse mix of tunes with highlights that include the banging bossa nova beat of Majorca. He gets down and funky with Josey, a tune popularized by Steely Dan and his smoother side is well represented by the beautiful balladChillin After Eight. Smith gives God the glory with his moving interpretation of Fallin’ In Love With Jesus, authored by Jonathan Butler with vocal honors going to childhood friend, William Banks.Simply Stated, you’re gonna love it!

If George Benson or Earl Klugh is your cup of tea, then Ronny is your man. Don’t get this thing twisted; he is not a George or Earl wannabe. Smith has developed his voice and his playing style, just like those other boys. You feelin’ me? He is a class act, too!