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Pro picks: Trumpeter blown away by these top 10 CD selections

Jun 28, 2012 04:36PM ● By Scott Blackwell

Ryan Christopher Montano

1. Jamie Cullum – The Pursuit.

Like my No. 3 choice, I initially did not like this album. But, “Never judge an album by its iTunes promo.” This is an awesome musical journey with something for every listener: a straight–ahead big band cut; an electronica-infused up-tempo diddy; an acoustic pop cover with be-bop piano; and a funky drum-brush beat and an acoustic upright bass. This is one of those rare albums that makes me feel ways I can’t describe. The term musical genius gets thrown around too often, but I’ll risk it to describe Jamie Cullum.

2. Chet Baker – But Not for Me – A Studio Discovery.

The most divine trumpet player I’ve ever heard, and the one after whom I model most of my playing. This CD makes me feel like I am listening to a session in which Chet and his band are the last people on earth to survive a global catastrophe and need to create something meant to encompass all the pain, soul and beauty ever to exist. Recorded about a year before Chet’s death in 1988, the sound of his flugelhorn is so dark and beautiful, it’s surprising to think Chet was playing with dentures and battling drug addiction. How can something so beautiful come from one man?

3. Norah Jones – The Fall

Beauty, talent and poise all rolled into one precious package. I’ll be the first to admit my crush for this southern siren. In fact, she’s bumped Dave Koz off the No. 1 spot on my collaboration wish list. I initially expected her classic piano-laced jazz compositions. What I got was an album so full of hurt and beauty that it took my respect and adoration for her to a new level. Many of these songs were composed by Norah on guitar rather than piano, so she comes off as almost a completely separate artist. One of the most beautiful and haunting things I’ve ever heard.

4. Chris Botti – Night Sessions from El Rey

Today’s largest selling instrumentalist was once creating music very different from the mainstream sounds that have garnered him this prestigious moniker. I was initially reluctant to purchase this album as I was still stuck in my jazz-snob phase. Named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People” Botti’s title screamed “Sell-out!” I’m glad I was wrong. Botti perfectly showcases his amazing chops over funky and enjoyable pop compositions.

5. Rick Braun & Boney James – Shake It Up

Oh how this CD has changed my life. Every song is great. The sound and production quality match any mainstream pop album. The first album I heard within the instrumental pop genre, my only experience with trumpet recordings before then consisted of straight ahead be-bop jazz, big band, a little classical and Christmas trumpet. This CD spawned the hit “Grazin’ In The Grass” and pioneered a succession of instrumentalists aiming to capture the magic and soul found in this album.

6. The RH Factor – Hard Groove

The ultimate in jazz-pop and funky trumpet playing, this CD strikes my emotions in a number of different ways. There are tracks with such energy and improvisational prowess that I am inspired, depressed and energized all at once. Hard Groove features soul, funk, jazz, R&B and more. This album shines with Roy Hargrove’s once-in-a-lifetime improvisation skills and surprisingly majestic songwriting talent. He doesn’t seem to make any reservations regarding “crossover appeal” or whether the CD would sell.

7. Dave Koz – Hello Tomorrow

The admiration I feel for some artists doesn’t come exclusively from their music. I buy concert DVDs for behind-the-scenes nuggets of candid openness you simply can’t get from exclusively listening to the same album. Koz’s warm demeanor and good heart help you to appreciate his music. Meant as a message of embracing change in a time of uncertainty, “Hello Tomorrow” captures the tone of Koz’s saxophone, convincing us everything will turn out OK. His melodies sound like they were meant for a vocalist, not a saxophone. As an instrumentalist, this type of songwriting is exactly what I try to achieve whenever I sit down at the piano to write.

8. John Mayer – Continuum

Is it inappropriate to start labeling a relatively younger artist as an all-time songwriting great? While it might be considered musical blasphemy to lump John Mayer in the same category as Brian Wilson, Billy Joel, David Foster and John Lennon, I believe we will be looking back at him as one the greatest songwriters of our generation. In a time where songs that gain popularity are filled with racist remarks, misogynistic rants and outrageous displays of narcissism, it’s a relief to know great songwriting didn’t die in the 60s.

9. Ryan Christopher Montano – Something Happened Tuesday

Call me an opportunist or even pretentious. But how could I ignore an effort that’s taken five years of my musical life? Set for release this summer through Verve Records, this CD’s a fusion of pop, blues, folk and jazz. I composed the tracks in the manner and styles of most singer-songwriter genres. But instead of vocals driving the melodies, it is a trumpet. I hope you enjoy!

10. Brian Culbertson – Live from The Inside

This doesn’t fall into the conventional parameters of instrumental pop boredom that permeates today’s smooth jazz stations. Filmed in the legendary Capitol Studios, Culbertson is backed by a small army of L.A.’s top studio musicians, a talented film crew and enough grooving and funky vibes to turn even the most stubborn smooth jazz naysayer into an immediate fan. This live studio recording is as funky and energetic as any live concert you will ever see.

– Ryan Christopher Montano is a professional model, actor, songwriter and trumpeter. He’s appeared in runway shows, commercials, movies and TV including a recent CSI Miami. As a musician, Ryan has performed with Jason Mraz, Kenny Rogers, The O’Jays and Hanson including performances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! For more information, visit