If he and I hadn’t become such good social media friends, seemingly in contact on a weekly basis, I likely wouldn’t be able to get inside the mind and talent of the French born guitarist, composer, producer, and creator of his own record label, Skytown Records. No sooner are you hooked on a current project, U-Nam is back in the studio working feverishly on and ultimately delivering another explosion album. And like previous superb releases, Surface Level delivers what the fans demand.
Following on the success of his Billboard #1 album C’est Le Funk, Surface Level, and its 10-track list of original and tribute material again satisfies that sweet zone of fresh groove jazz and delicious throwback funk/RnB/jazz vibes, rhythms, melodies with definitive 80’s nuances. Instantly addictive, Going For Miles (former #1 on Wave.fm’s Weekly Top 10) is a left hook of funk dance fever, and while jazz enthusiasts might presume it’s a tribute to the great Miles Davis, in actuality it’s a tribute to and celebration of the new son U-Nam and his talented saxophonist wife Shannon Kennedy recently welcomed into the world, aptly named Miles. Groove Paradise couldn’t be more appropriately titled, because whether by coincidence or not, U-Nam again or orchestrates an oasis of relentlessly melodic guitar and rhythmic amazement back by lush strings and retro soulful flute layering. Spice Of Life (originally recorded by Manhattan Tansfer)is sophisticated and cool, full of swagger with just enough brass to ignite the soul. It has unexpected become a tribute to the one-man song writer machine, Rod Temperton, who sadly passed away in early Fall 2016 after composing some of the biggest hits the world as known including Thriller. Cool Blue takes a more bass-heavy laid back approach in what is a tribute to the enormously revered late jazz guitar legend Ronny Jordan. With Acid Jazz vibes on this particular track, U-Nam recalls how Ronny referred to him as his new favourite guitarist on the scene, a sentiment that he embraces as inspiration. An obvious play on words and punography, West Indeed offers a mid-tempo island reggae vibe with U-Nam’s signature guitar sound painting images of a Caribbean sunset as opposed to a raging Sunplash party.
If there’s one thing Surface Level is justifiably guilty of, it’s a defiance of unwritten rules of smooth groove jazz.. U-Nam rewrites any preconceived regulations with infinite creativity, musicianship, and an affinity to hit the right chords and reach the perfect notes to produce a trademark sound that is all his own.
I admire the ‘carpe diem’ style imagery that doesn’t go unnoticed on the album cover. It serves notice that the boundary bending electric guitarist intends on seizing many more moments and milestones long before his career ever ends.
Reviewed by Stu Berketo