South African expatriate Jonathan Butler isn't really a jazz artist, but his laid-back, slightly jazz-tinged approach to R&B/pop has earned the singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer a lot of supporters in the urban contemporary, adult contemporary, quiet storm, and smooth jazz/NAC markets. Butler has enjoyed a following since the late '70s, although he reached his commercial peak in the late '80s, and he continues to tour and record in the 21st century. Born in Cape Town, South Africa in October 1961, Butler was only a child when he started singing and playing acoustic guitar. Butler, who was the youngest of about 12 children, absorbed a variety of music when he was a kid. He was an admirer of South African stars like singer Miriam Makeba, but he was also hip to the American soul and jazz artists who lived thousands of miles away in the United States. Stevie Wonder became a major influence, and so did former-hard bop-guitarist-turned-R&B/pop-singer George Benson.
Heard here in a composer-conducted disc-mate to the première recording of Hovhaness’s early Cello Concerto (1936), City of Light (1970) has some lovely ideas, like the surprisingly sweet and simple string melody in the middle of the ‘Angel of Light’ movement (beginning at 1'30"), and the third movement, Allegretto grazioso, which sounds like a minuet in oriental garb. The outer movements, however, outstay their welcome.
Listening to a work of Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, you recognize his characteristic style in a few measures. His music is often broadly expansive, painting sonorous landscapes that often use brass instruments to blend with and accentuate the strings. Also, while his peers experimented with serialism or highly intellectually challenging styles, Hovhaness maintained his world music-infused neo-Romantic style throughout his life. The result is an enormous body of work that are all a joy to listen to.