“Talk about an album well worth the wait! Earnest Walker, Jr. took his own sweet time to come up with an exotically tinged smooth jazz concept album for the ages with the uniquely titled IFATOBA. Celebrating everything from glorious family bonds to the foundational culture and rhythms of Africa, the multi-talented saxophonist explores a wide range of sensual and funk-filled in the pocket urban jazz territory, but with numerous unexpected twists and powerful emotional expressions that showcase an ever-deeper artistry. Radio hits aside, it’s inspiring to see an artist so boldly incorporating family members and his heritage into the mix via compelling interludes that help tell his dynamic story”.
Jonathan Widran is a veteran music, jazz music & entertainment and business news journalist who has been a regular contributor, feature writer and columnist for more than 15 years to numerous publications and websites, including Music Connection, Jazziz, All Music Guide, Wine and Jazz, Downbeat, amazon.com, and the Los Angeles Times. Jonathan is also currently a voting member of The Recording Academy.
Since the American saxophonist's debut "Raindrops in the Sun" appeared 20 years ago, Earnest has been back in the spotlight. At the age of nine he started playing the guitar, but a year later he exchanged it for saxophone. After performing in several states with the Air Force, he settled down in Philadelphia and became a member of the smooth jazz band Blind Date during the 1990s. In 2003 he chose Miami again. "Ifatoba" means in Old West African, the king has arrived. Earnest composed 12 of the 13 tracks himself, and usually played all the instruments himself. The up-tempo funky song "Party Time" invites you to dance, followed by the equally funky "Check One Two". Earnest of course plays sax on Ordinary People, but all other instruments are provided by Bryan Williams. This is followed by a short "Kalimba Interlude", while "NuJazz E" brings exactly that. "Palm Avenue" is a soft smooth jazz track, followed by a spoken "Chakaya & Khalil Interlude". With "Bourbon Chill" the soft smooth jazz returns, while "Chandelle Drive" takes us on a funky trip. While "Sweet Dreams" wishes you a good night, "Soraida Interlude" is a spoken piece. On the danceable "Dimensions" it becomes funky again, after which "Chakaya’s Eyes" closes. A nice introduction to this saxophonist!
--Patrick Van de Wiele
Saxophonist Earnest Walker Jr. earned his first merits as performer in young age. During his stay in Philadelphia he was member of the group Blind Date. After his move to Miami he is a mainstay in the city of South Beach. His debut album is Raindrops In The Sun(1998), followed by Variations On A Groove (2006) and this year IFATOBA. In the ancient West African language, the title means "the king has arrived". Earnest has put much love into his new project, which is dedicated to his late mother. This already begins with the cover, which was created as part of a design competition.
All songs on the new album with the exception of one cover are written by Earnest himself. He also performed most of the instruments with some help here and there.
The album kicks off with a power punch of entertainment. It's Party Time, and Earnest can be taken at his word. Perfect rhythm, pulsating bass and above it his spherical saxophone lures you onto the dance floor. Check One Two makes it go slower, whereby the rhythm continues unmistakably.
Ordinary People was originally written and recorded by Grammy awarded singer John Legend for his album Get Lifted (2004). The lead melody is celebrated by Earnest on sax, while all other instruments are performed by Bryan Williams. Earnest captures wonderfully the emotional impact of the original.
The Kalimba interlude is a reminiscence of Maurice White. On Nujazz E Earnest fires up his rhythm machine again and shows himself as the king of the game. But Earnest is also a master of soft tones as he shows on Palm Avenue. Bourbon Chill brings an exotic attitude into play, whereby Earnest's performance on sax leads to strong improvisations. Chandelle Drive is a horn driven tune as powerful as Trombone Shorty's fire crackers. Sweet Dreams is already remarkable because the rhythm in combination with the bass creates a dense atmosphere, which is perfectly staged by Earnest on the saxophone.
Earnest's deep affinity for African percussion also finds many approaches and possibilities on Dimensions, even though the sax is his main instrument. His strong roots to his African music heritage are to hear in every note and beat. Chakaya's Eyes is Earnest's tribute to his beautiful wife. Keep this in mind, when you listen to this uplifting piece with a close relation to Africa.
Earnest Walker comments in the liner notes of his album, "this is more than your average smooth jazz recording". He is so right in this statement. An extraordinary album, which through the creative skills of its creator not only has unique characteristics but is unusually entertaining.
-- Hans-Bernd Hulsmann, Smooth-Jazz.de