Dwight Sills – Easy
Combining jazz, funk, pop and urban influences with some tasty splashes of world beat exotica, guitarist Dwight Sills returns to the recording scene with ‘Easy’. Coproduced by Sills and Hal Sacks, ‘Easy’ forges moves with a creative vision that reflects his growth as a writer and performer over the years. Fans of his 1990 cover version of Babyface’s “Whip Appeal” will find the new, original material right in that accessible pocket, while today’s contemporary jazz audiences will appreciate Sills’ sense of harmony and rhythmic diversity.
Sills has become one of the industry’s most durable sidemen, recording or touring with Wayne Henderson & The Next Crusade, Kirk Whalum, Anita Baker, Richard Elliot, Brenda Russell, Rick Braun and Boney James. He is also a first call R&B session guitarist, playing most notably on numerous projects for Babyface, including TLC’s monster hit “Red Light Special” from CrazySexyCool. As a songwriter, Sills spread his wings with a publishing deal in 1997, writing alternative vocal pop music.
“Both my albums were well received, but I felt that I was still searching for what I was all about as a musician, composer and as a person,” says Sills. “I felt unsettled, so I decided to take some time and grow through playing with other artists. The creative bug hit again and ~ realized that there was more that I needed to say than what I was doing with other people’s music.”
Sills composed six of the tunes on Easy, gathered a few outside contributions and chose to cover Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” upon the suggestion of his co?producer Hal Sacks. As with his previous albums, he worked with a diverse roster of modern jazz’s best musicians to complement his own guitar leads?Yellowjackets Russell Ferrante (keyboards) and Jimmy Haslip (bass), Dan Higgins (clarinet and alto flute) keyboardists Bill Cantos and Eric Daniels and bassist Larry Kimpel.
“Easy reflects where I am in my life, ” he says. “Id just playing music the way I am hearing it, not trying to make any sweeping bold conceptual statement but presenting an honest reflection of who I am in this moment. There are more production textures, unique harmony patterns and I more freely switch off between electric and nylon string.
Easy begins with a cool and breezy seduction on “Desert Skies,” which features Sills’ subdued guitar lines gliding over Jimmy Haslip’s gently rolling baselines. “Dreamin”‘ opens with a synth string swell that sounds like a dramatic film score before evolving into a lighthearted samba featuring Ferrante’s keyboard harmonies and the exciting note for note duality between Sills and Higgins’ clarinet. After Sills’ soulful meditation on the lush “Nightfall,” he goes the bluesy route with “D’s Groove,” a brooding yet playfill jam with Higgins’ horns and the keyboard riffs of Daniels and Cantos. Sills delves even further into the blues, adding a dose of funk on the struttin’ attitudes of “This Time,” while his treatment of “Dock of the Bay” blends several different guitar tones with Whalum’s simmering sax to emulate the reflective yet optimistic vibe of the original.
The remaining songs on Easy find Sills mood swinging from the gently swaying acoustic grace of “Silver Moon” to the barnburning island?inspired closer “Caribbean Soul,” which features hot electric funk, a tropical blues blend, the spirited Hammond B?3 work of Russ Ferrante and another knockout performance by Whalum. In the middle is the joyous shuffle groove of “Waiting 4 U” and the moody, haunting tenderness of the title cut.
Because of his diverse musical background, which began with Motown Records and involved a lot of gospel playing in church, Sills developed a keen ear for a wide variety of styles. “I’m part rocker, part jazz fusion player, and definitely into soul music after learning to play along with Motown hits on my first instrument, drums,” he reflects. “But growing up, I also listened to the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Deep Purple, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, so there was tons of pop and progressive inspirations going on.
“I also developed a great respect for the jazz greats of different eras, and my playing and composing styles were very much influenced by George Benson, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But I never want to complicate the listener out of the tune. I write pieces that are strong in melody tunes that people can relax into before I slip in some subtle complexities. I think people like music that feels familiar and yet is also new and fresh.”
Professionally, he got his feet wet in the burgeoning Houston music scene (where he lived throughout much of the 80s), and he played for several years with a jazz ensemble called Axis before another Houston transplant, Kirk Whalum, helped connect Sills with Columbia Records. Both Whalum and Sills had relocated to Los Angeles by the time Sills’ first album?which also featured slow and brisk versions of the irresistible “Driving Miss Daisy” theme?was released.
Now that he’s livin’ Easy creatively and spiritually again, Sills intends to go full force into the next phase of his solo career. “I want to have the opportunity to grow with each recording and be able to give people a little more of myself. I worked with the Yellowjackets on this album because they represent a band that has been unafraid to try new things and expand creatively while never losing sight of what made them popular in the first place. People are always ready for something new, more engaging and intriguing. ”
Without question, Dwight Sills is an artists with something new, engaging and intriguing. If absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, his fans can rejoice with his return. And, with the release of Easy, he is sure to embrace the hearts of legions of others. Welcome back Sills!