Northern Californians are going back to school in the coming weeks and that means tens of thousands will be crowding into Target. Fortunately, they’ll find jazz there.
No, not the live variety and certainly not from anyone we’ve ever heard of. But the fact remains the chain prominently features CDs from the Lifescapes label – you know, that display over in the greeting cards where you hit the button and hear samples of discs titled “Relaxing Massage,” “Timeless Romance” and “Midnight Moods.” Those folks.
(Lifescapes has expanded its scope in recent years, by the way, to showcase some actual name artists. Wandering through my neighborhood Target the other day, I could listen to samples of a Jewel lullabye album as well as discs from Jim Brickman, Will Ackerman, Andre Rieu and David Arkenstone. But I digress.)
A visit to the Lifescapes website turns up a wide variety of jazz titles. Naturally, some are more worthy of the genre than others. Judging from the samples, for example, the collections featuring Twin Cities bassist Jeff Bailey – “Jazz Club Live,” “Set the Mood: Late Night Jazz” – seem particularly authentic. Another live disc, “An Evening in New York,” features Tommy “Raisin” Kane (piano), Bruce “Woody” Harrison (saxophone) and Jeff Rodgers (bass); “Smokin’ Cuban Jazz” boasts something called the Hornheads Latin Ensemble
There’s also a decidedly Northern California tint to the series. Wayne Jones’ “Taste of Sonoma” collection includes the tracks “Bodega Bay,” “Sonoma” and “Under the Redwoods.” There’s an entire CD dedicated to “Afternoon in Napa.”
Of course, let’s keep this all in perspective; we’re not exactly talking Sun Ra here. Indeed, none of the discs are designed to challenge the listener in any way. There’s a reason Lifescapes’s motto is “Push Play. Repeat. Escape.”
Given that, you’ll not be surprised to learn there’s plenty of smooth and downright erzast jazz among the offerings – “Sunday Morning Jazz,” “Relaxing Sax,” “Gospel Jazz,” “Evening Candlelight,” “Romantic Evening: The Anniversary Collection.” The cover of “Jazz Evening Piano” features an adorably sleepy cat; other albums feature glamour shots of unbelievably happy couples. Holiday-themed jazz titles abound.
The larger point in all this is that these collections stand, in some ways, as jazz’s most public face. Think about it: Far more people are likely to eyeball Jeff Victor’s “Corner Café: Relaxing Jazz” than Vijay Iyer’s latest. Here’s hoping that curiosity gets the better of them, they plunk down their $9.99 and begin their exploration of jazz.
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