Paula Atherton, Can You Feel It Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Paula Atherton is a smooth jazz composer, saxophonist, flutist, and vocalist based in New York with a catalog of six albums and performances with The Rippingtons, Nick Colionne, Chuck Loeb, Cindy Bradley, Karen Briggs, Althea Renee, Rick Braun, Four80East, David Sanborn, Bob James, Marc Antoine, Hiroshima, Gerald Albright, and Chieli Minucci. Her latest album, Can You Feel It, had a #1 hit with its first single, the title track, which skyrocketed to #1 for multiple weeks. Atherton’s command of the jazz language has also allowed her to work in the traditional jazz field; one of the notable performances being a weeklong engagement at the Blue Note NYC with pianist and jazz legend Hank Jones and performances with Grammy award-winning singer Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Annenberg Theater for the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival.
Atherton brings a range of inspirations, from be-bop to pop, ambient, funk, Latin jazz, fusion, and world music to bear in her music. The title cut, “Can You Feel It,” condensed these elements into a mix of joyful melodies over a playful rhythmic bed flavored with impeccable saxophone playing and charisma. The opening riff finds her plugged-in to the pocket as her saxophone tone vibrates and shimmers, the drums and bass are grooving, and the stabbing horns add color. The music has poppy hooks, but there is still a depth and musical genius that runs deep in Atherton’s playing and writing. Her striking articulation is always percolating in the pocket during her improvising and the central sensibility at work in her melody playing. The composition keeps piling new layers of sound, one atop the other, building a multiplicity of interlocking parts that simply feel good and makes you want to move things.
Atherton’s aptly named composition, “In the Pocket,” is another riff-based composition with overlapping and juxtaposing lines that generate a great groove. Atherton’s solo lines dance through the lumbering chords to conjure up a vibrant swirling atmosphere. Her upper register playing ripples and slithers as she effortlessly spins out melodic ideas. Elsewhere many of the results are call and response with the band members. The composition evokes a feeling that is executed wonderfully by all the players and especially Atherton.
Can You Feel It is another fine collection of tunes that show Atherton’s abilities in her improvising smarts and compositional control. Atherton conjures an imaginative amalgam of styles, instrumentations, and feels to create a musical novel of smooth jazz textures, moving rhythms, and impassioned playing. When it’s in the pocket, you CAN feel it!