Title - 'Playing It Forward'
Artist - Alexander Zonjic
For those not in the know, serving as the artistic director for nearly a dozen music festivals and concert series throughout Michigan ordinarily keeps contemporary jazz flutist Alexander Zonjic super busy from March through September; in addition to maintaining his own active performance schedule.
But with most of the events shelved this year due to coronavirus concerns, Zonjic was able to find time to finish his first album in more than ten years, Playing It Forward, his 13th album, released October 9th, 2020 via his company’s Hi-Falutin Music label.
GRAMMY-winning keyboardist Jeff Lorber produced the set with the exception of the first single, 'Motor City Sway,' a throwback R&B groove inspired by Zonjic’s adopted home of Detroit, which was written and produced by Pieces of a Dream’s keyboardist James Lloyd.
Indeed, the single has been one of the most added songs on Billboard BDS chart two weeks in a row, with the album title making obvious reference to the phrase paying it forward: something the philanthropic Zonjic is big on doing throughout the Metro Detroit region, where the Windsor, Ontario native has been a multimedia personality ever since he began hosting a WVMV morning radio show in 1998 and expanded to weekly television hosting duties for his own show, “Alexander Zonjic: From A to Z,” three years ago.
1. 'Jazz Café'
4. 'Night Crawler'
5. 'Motor City Sway'
6. 'Playing It Forward'
8. 'Living In The Past'
9. 'Nature Boy'
10. 'Bottom Heat'
11. 'Rolling In The Deep'
Along with a half a dozen new songs (five of which were penned or co-penned by Lorber), Zonjic has also reimagined five cover tunes for flute with fresh arrangements, and opens this delightful new album with the delightfully smooth, and yet flirtatiously perky new track 'Jazz Café' and backs that up with the quirkly hip 'Benita,' the jazz swagger of 'Hipster,' and then brings us a stunningly funky reimagining of Bob James' Night Crawler' (Zonjic who was actually discovered by the GRAMMY and Emmy-winning contemporary jazz keyboard icon, whilst playing in Detroit’s famous Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in 1981!).
Next we get those aforementioned funky Motown grooves of 'Motor City Sway' (which also includes 14-year-old South African keyboard phenom Justin-Lee Schultz on his talkbox), which is followed by the virtuoso fusion vibe of the title track, 'Playing It Forward,' the new Lorber-penned, smoothly orchestrated 'Musaic' (a song also co-written and recorded by guitarist Chuck Loeb, who passed in 2017), and then a right royal beauty in the form of Jethro Tull's 'Living In The Past.'
Being a flute player who began as a teenage rock guitarist, Zonjic has been repeatedly asked ever since the '80s when he was going to record a Jethro Tull song. Well, now we know that day has finally arrived as it is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the stand out highlights here on this new album.
“A mix of originals and covers is a format that was very successful from a retro standpoint during the great era of CTI Records that came out of New York and made records by Hubert Laws, George Benson and Bob James," Zonjic explains. "There was always a mixture of cool arrangements of covers along with originals,” he adds.
The album then rounds out with a magnificently dulcet, almost big band, jazz flute style arrangement of Nat King Cole's lush 'Nature Boy,' a track originally written and recorded by legendary trombone player, Raul de Souza's 'Bottom Heat,' before coming to a close on the new pop classic 'Rolling In The Deep,' which showcases the Selected of God gospel choir.
Explains Zonjic, “‘Rolling In The Deep’ was not inspired by Adele, but by watching Aretha Franklin sing it on David Letterman’s show."
"Whilst listening, it dawned on me that it would make a great flute song. Lorber put this great track together and I got ahold of Selected of God, who I had seen on ‘America’s Got Talent’ and in an Eminem video. That’s from where the magic came.”
As for the album, “When we got into this pandemic, people really started to play it forward," Zonjic explains. "For us, our connection with Detroit has always been this back-and-forth relationship and us finding ways to give back.""We love the people of Detroit and do a lot of fundraisers for more than a dozen nonprofit organizations. My son and I came up with Playing It Forward and I like the energy of it."
"It’s a very forward momentum record. There’s a lot of energy,” Zonjic reveals, himself a three-time Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards winner (including International Broadcaster of the Year) and a 15-time Detroit Music Awards winner).
You can order Playing It Forward now at myiesstore.com/alexanderzonjic as a CD or digitally.
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