Cruise Control by Rich Arnold & Mike Young – reviewed by Chris Mann


Guitarist/composer Rich Arnold and keyboardist/composer have gigged around Los Angeles for years, playing and jamming with some of the area's finest players. This, their debut CD, is the fruit of more than fifteen years of collaboration.

Mike Young comes from a classical background but he has a natural feel for the smooth jazz idiom. His songwriting and playing honour the tradition of Jeff Lorber and George Duke, yet he has developed a style of his own.

Rich Arnold's love of jazz guitar is clear on this CD.  On a variety of instruments and in a number of styles, he aims for a truthful and soulful sound. 

Blue Coast is a burst of energy.  The bassline bubbles along while Young’s keyboards caress you and guest Michael Paulo’s sax sounds strong and funky over the top.  What a great opener!!  On the funkier Smooth Sailing, Arnold’s guitar is more to the fore but Paulo’s sax is still sounding sweet on that solo – he is really in the premier league and doesn’t get the respect he’s due, in my opinion.  Young’s keyboard textures change throughout the song and are really appealing.  The song has a chunky bassline and catchy hooks, which should help earn it serious airplay. 

Both acoustic guitar and acoustic piano delight on the lilting Brazilian Daydream.  The piano solo is one of the classiest things I’ve heard in the past year.  This with the lovely key changes and gorgeous percussion make this original composition one I just want to play over and over…  Blues vocalist Finis Tasby sounds great on the bar-room stomper Everyday I Have the Blues.  The piano and guitar solos are strong and the move from smooth jazz, through Latin, to authentic blues seems utterly natural and comfortable.  These are versatile players indeed – Mike Young even plays bass on here and Rich handles bass duties on the album’s other blues number. 

The Latin rhythm really cooks on the uplifting Bomba Samba.  I love Young’s Rhodes solo (well, it sounds like a Rhodes but it’s produced by a Yamaha keyboard) and I’m in heaven when the flute dances to this rhythm.  By the time the percussion breakdown hits, I’m completely hooked.  There are moments on this song when I’m reminded of the prettier sections of Jeff Lorber’s “Wizard Island” album.  The layers of clicky rhythm guitar on Old Skool Fool prepare you for a complex song which stays in the groove despite its changing moods.  It’s got organ sounds, shredding guitar and some serious jazz-rock chops.  It’s technical and very gutsy playing. 

Robert Cray?  Clapton?  No, it’s Rich Arnold churning out the clean, cutting blues lines on Reconsider Baby, one of only two covers on the album.  On Finis Tasby’s second vocal outing, he reminds me vocally of Robert Cray.  For me, that’s the highest compliment I can give.  You can smell the White Owls and the Jack Daniels once the piano and guitar solos start.  Triumphant!  Drinks down and onto the dancefloor for the solid 4/4 beat of Frat Party.  It’s a straight dance-oriented instrumental, with no pretensions or adornment.  This must be a great show-opener.  The crazy dude in the front row is me. 

Like Old Skool Fool, The Duckwalk is a hard number to categorize.  The gauzy old organ (which sounds like a B3 but it’s that Yamaha again…) is great over this funky beat and the guitar solo has a Steely Dan-like swagger about it.  Jazzy, rocky and absolutely addictive.  Mr Mellow is a keyboard-led number which has a nice, cool groove.  Think Bob Mamet, think Bob James.  I think drum samples are used – as they are on several tracks – but they never make this late-night chillout tune sound mechanical or soulless.  And, hey, the bass solo makes me smile – this really is the coolest of the cool.  If I had a radio show, I’d play out with this – it’s gorgeous. 

The ‘dinner jazz’ crowd (if such a thing exists) will lap up the lazy Only Questions.  It has live drums, played with brushes, acoustic bass and the most delicate touch on guitar and piano.  It would be complete like that, but the addition of a smoky flugelhorn takes this into another realm for me.  Jazz played with heart.  Songbird CK is a short piece which blends the sound of the sea with solo piano in a new-agey way and it closes this classy set perfectly. 

What can I say to sum up?  The composition, musicianship and production on this CD are so good, I feel like it’s been part of my collection for years…  The photography and packaging show what a small label can do if serious people are behind it.



Yo-Ar Music – 8253466642   Producers – Rich Arnold and Mike Young