There are few things you can bet on that are absolute certainties. In the music world the top of the list has to include how Kenny G will always confound critics while at the same time delighting his fans. Few instrumental artists, save perhaps Herb Alpert, have understood over long periods of time, and here we're talking decades, exactly what kind of music will respond to the public's heart. G has never had that problem.
On 2008's Rhythm and Romance G left the safety of Clive Davis and mega-giant Arista Records, which at the time seemed like a huge gamble, and moved to Concord Records. The move paid off spectacularly. Not only did Rhythm score great sales and chart presence but G brought back the concept of improvisation, an element he has downplayed to the consternation of critics. Their, "How could a guy who has such solid improvisatory chops leave them in the green room," only highlighted how in tune G is with his audience because, quite frankly, they care more about melody. Rhythm's live-in-the-studio recording, with actual live musicians, was, simply put, fantastic. The result was his best recording in over a decade.
On Heart and Soul, however, G has gone back to the safety of pre-produced and synthesized rhythm tracks. The static backgrounds don't serve him well. When things should be kicking, as on "Fall Again," with guest vocalist Robin Thicke, the intensity the music builds as it climaxes should be reflected in the rhythm track, but the music stays static because the drum programming stays the same. When G runs off into a short improvised out chorus on "Déjà Vu" the rhythm section should be slamming, but instead the sameness of the rhythm arrangement does nothing to add spice. The preprogrammed rhythm allows for no color or variety, and it hurts the cuts.
The positive in the recording is how G again keeps the emphasis on original compositions, as he did on Rhythm, save for one remake featuring Babyface. Few artists are able to continually spin out wonderfully soulful melodies on such a consistent basis and G deserves more credit than he is given. "The Promise" has a fantastic melody accentuated by sweet string and synth backing that will be played over and over by his fans. The same is true on "My Devotion." Babyface's presence on "No Place Like Home" reminds one of their earlier collaboration, and is a sweet addition.
In the end this album is really just a remake of his 1996 hit record The Moment. The same kind of writing, the same use of static rhythm, many of the same people in the production team, the same use of Babyface, and the same desire to hear to G light it up and break out of the trappings of static drum programming. G's usual heartfelt melodic writing is great as usual, and his soprano sax tone has never sounded better. The problem is that we've heard all of this before. For his fans, however, especially those who loved and delighted in The Moment, this album will satisfy. For those who were hoping for more of Rhythm's throw caution to the wind attitude, it will be a disappointment.