Saxman Jeff Ryan is excited and for good reason. The contemporary pop instrumentalist’s debut single, “Up and Up,” flew to No.1 on the Billboard chart as well as on three other charts in the US and UK. Even before his debut album, “Embrace,” drops Friday (July 13) on Woodward Avenue Records, the buzz surrounding Ryan helped him score the final performance spot in the all-star lineup for the venerable Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival, a confirmation that the Bay Area native is the genre’s breakout new artist at the midyear point.
Ryan’s producer and writing partner on “Embrace” is noted keyboardist and chart-topper Greg Manning. One of the saxophonist’s primary goals is connecting through music and performance, and “Up and Up” is an upbeat tune celebrating the winning chemistry and connection he shares with Manning.
“‘Up and Up’ is the first song we wrote together. It’s a relevant track that captures our great connection. It was two positive people, and the music flowed naturally and easily,” said Ryan about the single that also vaulted into the No. 1 position on the Mediabase, Smooth Jazz Network and British Smooth Jazz charts.
“Embrace” is a magnetic ten-tracker – nine Ryan originals and a honeyed reading of Bruno Mars’ “Versace on the Floor” – bonding lustrous and lyrical pop harmonies to meaty urban beats, refined contemporary jazz vamps and soul grooves. Joining Ryan and Manning are two first-call sidemen who have transitioned in recent years into hit-making solo artists: guitarist Adam Hawley and drummer Eric Valentine. A pair of veteran guitarists add significant contributions as well. Darrell Crooks dispenses slick and soulful R&B licks throughout the session while Terry Wollman strums temperate acoustic guitar melodies on the set’s gentle closer, “Tenderly.”
Music has been Ryan’s voice ever since he began playing the sax when he was ten and it’s what he turns to when life gets difficult. It’s his chosen form of communication and connectivity, thus it’s important that his music be honest and relatable.
“Music is so personal to me. It’s important to me to connect with people beyond just superficial playing. Music is the only thing that ever spoke to me on a deeper level and I want to give listeners that experience. I’d love for my music to resonate in a meaningful way with people. Even if you don’t like jazz, I hope that the audience listens, takes it in and finds it relevant to them,” said Ryan, who primarily plays tenor sax on “Embrace.” “An album is a snapshot of who an artist is at a particular time. I’m pleased with where ‘Embrace’ went. It became really special as it emerged from my soul as I tried to be as sincere and genuine as possible.”
According to Ryan, the album is only half the story. The breakthrough artist who will take the stage at Sax on the River in Sacramento on October 13 before making his Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival premiere on October 21 said, “The performances are where you get the full message of this music and what I’m bringing to the genre. It’s really about the music and the soul of what’s being expressed up there.”
“Embrace” contains the following songs:
“Up and Up”
“Dusk to Dawn”
“Versace on the Floor”
“Edge of Tomorrow”
“J-Factor” featuring Greg Manning
“Matter of Fact”