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Bestselling CDs

Notable CDs | Five best-selling contemporary jazz albums according to Billboard


Style: The latest variation of the soft, singer-songwriterly blue-eyed soul over which Mick Hucknall has presided for the last 21 years.

Cautions: "Little Englander" (crude slang).

Worldview: "Don't let anyone tell you not to dream. / Don't let anyone tell you not to think. / Don't let anyone tell you what you think you must think" ("They Don't Know").

Overall quality: Pleasantly breezy music; occasionally gritty (and occasionally insularly British) lyrics.

Givin' It Up

Style: Pop-soul, fusion-lite originals baited with pop-soul, fusion-lite versions of some of Benson's and Jarreau's (and Billie Holiday's, Paul Young's, and Seals and Crofts') greatest hits.

Worldview: Old MOR jazzmen never die; they just capitalize on each other's fan bases (and those of their guest vocalists).

Overall quality: The familiarity of the better-known songs keeps the dullness at bay; the dullness of the originals makes their ever becoming familiar unlikely.

Stay with Me

Style: Mostly instrumental, soul-based fusion lite, mellifluous-electric-guitar division.

Worldview: "I need you like the sun needs the moon, / like the song needs the tune, / like the dust needs the broom. / I need you like the strings on my guitar."

Overall quality: Brown's guitar-playing style will be familiar to fans of George Benson, and sometimes an edgy funk glints through the high-gloss finish; mostly, though, the music recedes into the background.

I'm in the Mood for Love

Style: "The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time" (the subtitle).

Worldview: That it's possible to skim the cream off the top of the saxophone's tone, throw the cream away, and still make music or something like it out of what's left.

Overall quality: As if his sentimentalism and bad taste weren't obvious enough, Kenny G leads with James Blunt's execrable "You're Beautiful," proving yet again that it isn't.

At the Movies

Style: Chart-topping and, for the most part, romantic movie themes for creamy sax and, for the most part, even creamier cameo vocalists.

Worldview: Suckers for Hollywood sentimentalism do too buy CDs!

Overall quality: Koz's playing of Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther" straight and his corralling of Johnny Mathis for "The Shadow of Your Smile" would be the tips of the iceberg if the rest weren't actually more syrupy than solid.


Loosely defined, jazz is a serious style of 20th-century music that emerged when European classical music met black blues on American soil. As such, one can hear in jazz the sound of history-its joys and ecstasies, its agonies and sorrows. "Contemporary jazz," on the other hand, is merely a marketing euphemism for music that often bears a much closer resemblance to what has long been colloquially called "easy listening," "muzak," or "elevator music" than it does to any style traceable to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, or Miles Davis.

That assessment certainly fits the latest albums by Kenny G and Dave Koz. In fact, of the five current best-selling contemporary-jazz albums, only Norman Brown's Stay with Me (Peak) and George Benson and Al Jarreau's Givin' It Up (Concord/Monster) have anything remotely jazz-like about them. (Simply Red's Stay is, like every other Simply Red album, blue-eyed soul.) The upshot: Listeners curious about the real article should start investigating elsewhere.


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