Since he was a teenager busting out in the mid-sixties internationally as guitarist with Question Mark & the Mysterians, renowned musician Robert Lee Balderrama (aka Bobby Balderrama) has left a distinctive musical imprint upon the tri-city landscape for over four decades, growing his unmistakable sound well beyond the humble beginnings of the teen clubs and garages where it all started.
With the new release of their second full-length CD of original material entitled City of Smooth Jazz, Bobby and his crack band of musicians that form The Robert Lee Revue have created a musical tapestry that is their most original and imaginative work yet, brimming with nuance, texture, and passion.
Comprised of a formidable array of musical talent, The Robert Lee Revue consists of fellow Mysterian's cohort Frank Rodriguez on keyboards, Dr. Jack Nash on bass, Tom Barsheff on saxophone, Amy Lynn Balderrama on percussion, and drummer Rudy Levario, this latest recorded foray into the wondrous textures explored through the idiom of 'smooth jazz' follows hot on the heels of the group's 2010 release, For the Love of Smooth Jazz. In the case of the Robert Lee Revue, this is marked with a precise blending of fluid guitar riffs complimented by equally fluid elements of keyboard and saxophone.
Apart from strong artistry & musicianship (two signature traits of The Robert Lee Revue) one of the most apparent advances centers upon the refined tonal technique of Bobby Balderrama, which possesses a strong synthesis between the passionate attack of Carlos Santana and the melodic fluidity of George Benson.
But for Bobby, the most significant stride on this latest endeavor is the fact that it is truly a group effort. “This time around I wanted to build the album around the entire band, instead of featuring a few artists,” he explains. “I do have a few guest artists such as Darin Scott on a few tracks, but for me the best part is that the overall tracks that we recorded were put together and created from the core of the band.”
According to Bobby, Frank Rodriguez wrote a majority of the material, with Balderrama contributing three songs. “We infuse each track with our own feelings, especially with the respective lead work of each performer. Tom had a certain style he was going after with the saxophone sound, and I've had many fans tell me during live performances that my tone sounds like George Benson but my style of attack is like Santana, which is what I was striving for.”
“Everybody is influenced by somebody else; and Benson has said that he was influenced by Wes Montgomery, so that gave me the idea of putting two styles together that I admire out of respect,” continues Bobby. “When I hear people comment on my sound, it proves that I'm able to come across with what it is that I'm trying to do.”
For Dr. Jack Nash, he feels that his latest CD evolved much differently than their freshman outing. “Bobby and Frank made the material so that it was loaded with a lot more options for the rhythm section,” he explains. “The core progressions would be laid down, but I basically had to make and create bass lines for each of the songs, which I accomplished through a lot of time and work. I would try a lot of different things because the melody lines were there, but I had to come up with something to accompany that and really had to listen to the different chord progressions. Rodriguez is different from a lot of keyboard players in that he knows how to change the sound of the chord through inversions, so once you catch onto that, you can develop the song better.”
Bobby is also enthusiastic about the new studio software that he was able to utilize while recording City of Smooth Jazz. “I spent a lot of time recording each musician that played on each of the individual tracks, because nothing was synthesized. A year and a half ago I started using this Paris Ensoniq recording system, which has a fantastic sound. In fact, we got halfway finished with this recording and then my hard drive burned up and I lost everything. This was a new hard drive and I wasn't expecting that to happen, so we had to start the entire project over again.”
Adds Jack Nash; “Fortunately it was easier to start over again because everybody already knew half the songs by that point.”
Bobby is also encouraged at the growing positive feedback that the group is achieving with their new 'smooth jazz' sound. “With our first CD a couple years ago we might sell one or two here and there, but now I'm getting calls from all over the world, which is blowing me away. We have a lot of visitors that come to our website from all over the USA and Europe ordering the albums.”
Apart from performing in New York City at Times Square last year, The Robert Lee Revue also performs at many festivals in the area and has been playing a monthly gig at The Midland Brewing Company. The group is also planning a CD Release Party in the near future and has two new videos out from songs on their new CD that can be seen on youtube.
“With our first video we had almost 400 hits in the first month,” notes Nash. And currently Bobby is also collaborating with another smooth jazz artist from Europe named Paul Lancaster. “He's unbelievable,” states Bobby, “and plays keyboards and is really into the quality of his recording.”
“Another thing we did to broaden our market appeal is title all the tracks on the new CD in both Spanish and English, so that we can hit the bigger Latin Market with this release,” he adds. “It must be paying off because we are also getting a lot of web traffic from Spain. But we get a lot of hits from Europe and we've also had our material played on this European Jazz Program that is syndicated all over Europe, so things are progressing nicely for us.”
When asked if he has any plans to tour Europe, Bobby defers to the wisdom of his experience. “I played in Spain and Europe years ago on a tour with Question Mark and Joe King Carrasco, and would love to tour Europe again. We were there traveling with a lot of American bands. But if you're not known well, it's very hard. The lesser-known bands were living in vans, whereas we hat a hotel. I'd have some of the guys in the lesser-known bands come up to take a shower. So to answer your question, I would go to Europe if one of our CD's did really good, but I wouldn't want to go there as an unknown.”
Copies of City of Smooth Jazz by The Robert Lee Revue can be purchased at CD Baby.com, Amazon.com, I-Tunes, and also if you check out their facebook and myspace pages.
Give it a lesson - you'll be amazed at often you keep coming back for more of its layered tonal magic.