Considering that he’s been one of the contemporary urban jazz’s most consistent, sure fire hitmakers – with nine #1 and 17 Top 10 airplay hits – over the past 20 years, it was inevitable that Chris Standring, one of the genre’s most melodic, grooving and sonically adventurous guitarists, would quickly follow-up his lovely orchestrated standards excursion Wonderful World with yet another set chock full of soulful, funky and delightfully trippy potential smashes.
True to form and as always exceeding expectations, his latest gem Simple Things, delivers big time, with one #1 already (the buoyant, freewheeling, synthy and snappy “Change The World”) and a batch of inventive, rhythmically intoxicating Prince-Bootsy Collins inspired jams (“Shadow of Doubt,” “Thank You Bootsy,” “Face To Face”) that are great candidates to achieve similar influence and heights.
Yet it’s the powerful, life changing/affirming story behind the music this time that gives the collection its deeper emotional heft, from its title concept to many of Standring’s individual expressions. Stated simply, in 2021, the otherwise healthy 60 year old suffered a heart attack – and gratefully survived to reassess what life is all about and realize just how precious time is and how fleeting life can be.
While the sensual, meditative “Too Close For Comfort” reflects gently (and with a sweet string fluidity) hits home on how he felt about the health scare, for the most part, the set celebrates the simple things of life through whimsical, high spirited expressions based in his trademark sonic explorations, passion for old school soul-jazz and those grooves of varying tempos and intensities that just keep getting more infectious.
Though by design it’s certainly not a track radio will jump on or anyone will feel inclined to dance to, one of the most heartfelt and personally meaningful tunes is “A Thousand Words (For Samantha)," an atmospheric, somewhat melancholy but with just enough tinges of hope tribute to an old friend who suffered from mental illness and recently took her own life.
While many genre fans turn to instrumental artists like Standring for chill/relaxation and the occasional toe tap, Simple Things is that rare album that finds an artful balance between wondrous melodic escapism and deeper philosophical explorations on the meaning and purpose of life. As we listen, let’s all raise a toast to Standring’s good health and the magic of simple things that he so passionately reminds us of.