Steve Oliver – First View
(Native Language – 2000)
by Ray Redmond
With his debut release for Native Language Music, Steve Oliver pushes the boundaries of the contemporary jazz format with a distinctive blend of acoustic guitar and original vocal sounds. Reminiscent of George Benson during his ‘Breezin’ days, this release is a fresh combination of smooth jazz and soft adult contemporary music, featuring acclaimed saxophonists Paul Taylor and Jeff Kashiwa, percussionist Steve Reid, keyboardists Rob Mullins and Dave Kochanski, and Tony Guerrero on flugelhorn.
The first tune, West End is a bouncy piece that is sure to take the new age airwaves by storm. Oliver’s vocal stylings mesh with Kashiwa’s horn beautifully. Highway one is a slower, mellow groove that emphasizes Steve’s guitar stylings and the sweet accompaniment of Paul Taylor.
When I first heard the cover of Midnight at the Oasis I thought it was a little weak, but the rhythms at the end are catchy. I Know is one of the stronger songs with Oliver carrying the lead and background vocals as well as playing the melody (a la Benson). One Wish is another new age hit, as is East Wind.
There are really no weak tracks to be found on First View. Steve Oliver wrote or co-wrote all but one of the tunes as well as performing and singing on all of them. Oliver has travelled and performed with some of the industry’s finest talents, including Rick Braun, Peter White, Marc Antoine, Everette Harp, Larry Carlton, Gato Barbieri, the Neville Brothers, and others.
This release demonstrates that Steve Oliver has great songwriting talent and equally good performance skills. His guitar stylings are sweet and clear. His vocal stylings are reminiscent of a McFerrin or a Benson and his actual singing voice is clear and melodious, a good compliment to his guitar. Oliver also produced the release. Hopefully he will not be a one-hit wonder, I look forward to more from him. This is a must have for your collection.