Marc Antoine/Paul Brown
Perfectly capturing the hopeful spirit of global cooperation that defines these challenging times, Foreign Exchange, the stylistically diverse, coolly exotic collaboration by superstar guitarists Marc Antoine and Paul Brown, is more than simply a fresh and compelling addition to their formidable solo discographies-it's the contemporary urban jazz event of the year.
In 2008, the Peak Records label mates-two of the genre's most inventive and popular chart topping artists-joined forces on Paul Brown's Guitar Night, a dynamic 30-date tour of both the East and West Coasts that included stops everywhere from the Berks Jazz Fest to the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival. While Antoine and Brown performed some of the shows with fellow guitarists Kenny Rankin and Chris Standring, the focus was on the melodic and grooving yet often intimate merging of the Parisian born, Madrid based Antoine's cosmopolitan nylon string vibe with the L.A. born and raised Brown's funky and soulful electric Gibson L-5.
These highly acclaimed live performances led two-time GRAMMY® Award winner Brown, who was in the early stages of producing a follow-up album to his smash 2007 disc White Sand, to ask Antoine to play on one of his new songs. This initial session sparked a dynamic, beautifully complementary creative flow that quickly developed into a fruitful new partnership. In turn, this gave rise to the magical give and take of a true musical Foreign Exchange.
"When we were done with the track," Antoine recalls, "we looked at each other and felt that maybe we had the kernel of a whole project here. We didn't start out with a major concept except for the two guitars. I wrote some tunes and recorded them in my home studio in Madrid. Paul did the same in L.A. and we got together a few times at his place and finished writing and producing the project together.
Brown adds, "As Foreign Exchange took shape, Marc and I wanted to focus on the warm duet feeling that could be both intimate and very rhythmic at times. Playing each other's music was a lot of fun and even though our individual sounds are very different, we're very much on the same page musically."
Looking back, the two see the new collection as a venture that was probably inevitable. While Brown produced the track "Mas Que Nada" on Antoine's 2001 disc Cruisin', their mutual history actually extends back to the late 80s, when Antoine-who had been living in Japan-moved to L.A. and formed the band Say When. Antoine and his band mates were also working on material for various Japanese companies and artists and Brown-a veteran R&B engineer whose credits at the time included Luther Vandross and Shai-worked on some of the productions.
At the time, neither could have imagined the successful careers that awaited them as contemporary jazz artists and, in Brown's case, as one of the genre's most successful producers over the past 15 years for everyone from Boney James and Kirk Whalum to Larry Carlton, Bob James, Richard Elliot and Jarreau; in all Brown has scored more than 50 #1 charting airplay hits.
Capturing the kind of explosive dual acoustic-electric transcendence that the genre hasn't seen since George Benson and Earl Klugh's classic 1987 Collaboration, 11-tracks of Foreign Exchange tap deeply into Antoine's strength for irresistible melodic anthems and Brown's love for rocking and funking out. Produced by Brown, co-produced by Antoine and featuring guest performances by some of the genre's most acclaimed artists (including Jessy J and keyboardists Philippe Saisse and Gregg Karukas), the collection brings out the best in both guitarists as they explore their longtime passions for a wide variety of influences, including pop, jazz, old school R&B, soul-jazz, Brazilian and Latin music.
The Foreign Exchange begins with the seductive blend of both guitars over an easy swaying groove on the perfectly titled "Feel The Love" before the two amp up for a thumping funk groove and sweet sensual atmospheres on "Wine Night." No Antoine project is complete without a nod to the joyful spirit of Rio, and Brown's crisp electric melody intertwines beautifully with Antoine's acoustic harmonies on the balmy samba "Flight of the Concords." Antoine plays bass and drums in addition to his guitar on the jangling drive-time vibe of the title track, which features the Brown-Antoine chemistry enhanced by the Jerry Hey horns.
The two pay homage to recently departed legendary session drummer Earl Palmer with the distinct old school soul jazz flavors of "Brother Earl," which harkens back to the feeling of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" as it explodes into a bluesy jam session. Spiced with Philippe Saisse's wistful synth flute, "On The Down Low" artfully blends Antoine's Brazilian touch with Brown's Wes Montgomery inspired melody and licks. Forget the Oscar winning 1971 film-Antoine and Brown's "French Connection" is a lot more optimistic, capturing the romantic spirits of Antoine's homeland with equal doses of soul and simmering horns. Speaking of titles that have nothing to do with similarly-named movies, "What About Bob" is an ode to a colorful character who was Antoine's neighbor in Laurel Canyon when he and Brown worked together 20 years ago; with its swirl of lighthearted samba and jaunty R&B grooves, it's one of the true "poster songs" for the overall Foreign Exchange happening here. The disc concludes with the film score lush "Sweetness," the ode to the "Bridges of Paris" (complete with Saisse's synth accordion and Jessy J's tender flute) and a brief dual guitar coda "Au Voir" that wraps things beautifully.
Both Brown and Antoine have been on a major roll these past few years. Brown had the unique experience in 2006 of scoring #1 Radio & Records chart hits as both an artist and producer. "Winelight," the second single from his 2005 solo album The City, was ranked by Mediabase as the genre's most spun track of the year. Brown also had chart topping hits with Norman Brown ("Up And At ‘Em"), Euge Groove ("Get ‘Em Goin'") and Peter White ("What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)." Radio & Records and Mediabase declared "The Rhythm Method," the first single from White Sand, the most played song of 2007; the title track from debut saxophonist Jessy J's Brown-produced Tequila Moon earned the same distinction for 2008.
Since his 1994 debut Classical Soul earned him a "Best New Artist Of The Year" award from R&R, Antoine has added his enticing blend of melodies, soulful grooves and wanderlust filled exotica to the urban jazz mix. He's scored a number of major airplay hits in recent years with cuts from Mediterraneo (2003), Modern Times (2005) and his Latin, Brazilian and electronic driven Peak Records debut Hi-Lo Split (2007).
Born and raised in L.A. to parents who were professional singers for legends like Mel Torme (as part of The Meltones), Frank Sinatra, Elvis and Barbra Streisand, Brown started playing drums at age five and picked up his first guitar two years later. A self-proclaimed Deadhead who was also fond of The Beatles and later, Peter Gabriel, Brown jokes that he was always starting, playing in or breaking up a band. He launched his production career unofficially with his first gig as an assistant engineer when he was 15, finding an immediate affinity for an environment that quickly became home when he returned to L.A. after studying music and math at the University of Oregon. In addition to GRAMMY® wins as producer and engineer for Norman Brown's Just Chillin' and helming hits for instrumental and vocal stars like Kirk Whalum, Larry Carlton and Patti Austin, Brown-known by some as "The Babyface of Smooth Jazz" achieved a lifelong dream when he produced tracks for George Benson, his chief jazz guitar influence.
Classically trained at the International School of Classical Guitar, Antoine played jazz and Afro-pop in Paris clubs, performed with the London based Reggae Philharmonic orchestra, and first became known to smooth jazz audiences when he toured with Basia in 1988. Living in London for a spell, Antoine also played on Soul II Soul's classic first album and immersed himself into that city's acid jazz scene. After moving to Los Angeles, he added that acid jazz influence to his work with Guru's Jazzmatazz, The Solsonics, Queen Latifah, acid jazz DJ Greyboy, Sting, George Benson, Celine Dion, Take 6 and the late Selena. An integral part of the urban jazz experience for thousands of fans since his mid-90s breakthrough, Antoine has blended his love for R&B, jazz and world rhythms on hit recordings that include Urban Gypsy (1995), Madrid (1998), Universal Language (2000) and The Very Best Of Marc Antoine (2002). He has appeared on numerous albums by other artists (Jeff Golub, David Benoit, Dave Koz, Mindi Abair) and has been featured in many of the annual Guitars & Saxes all-star tours as well as events like the Dave Koz & Friends At Sea cruise.
Antoine and Brown will be keeping their irresistible Foreign Exchange going on the road in 2009, performing many shows as a duo with their band and inviting artists like Craig Chaquico and Bobby Caldwell to join them on other dates.
"We have both enjoyed successful careers as solo artists, but I believe Foreign Exchange was a labor of love that took our artistry to the next level," says Antoine. "We put our hearts and souls into the music and feel very strongly that our fans are going to be as excited about these songs as we are." Brown adds, "Twenty years after I set out to become a recording artist, I'm excited to be enjoying a great career making my own music. Marc remembers the goals I had back then, and I'm thrilled that he can now be part of the next phase of this extraordinary journey."
We've all heard the term "foreign exchange" as it applies to money changing hands and students studying in other countries. Now it's time to get your passport ready, groove and rejoice as Marc Antoine and Paul Brown show you the true meaning of the term!