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"So Free" offers ten tracks conveying a wide range of moods and musical sentiments, but with an uplifting, confident feel from start to finish. The album was produced by pop/jazz veteran Jay Soto (Nu Groove Records), who contributes guitar, keyboard tracks, and composed or co-wrote most of the material with Lyles. In addition to Soto, the recording features well established keyboardist Jeff Lorber (Heads-Up International) and Brian Simpson (Shanachie), along with familiar star, bassist Mel Brown.
Together Lyles and Soto have assembled a top-flight cast of contributors for this effort, all of whom give the album a sense of musical prowess seldom heard in a debut release. Brian Simpson and Jeff Lorber provide nuanced keyboard tracks; Mel Brown and Ray Reindeau lay down electric bass lines; and Freddie Fox provides confident rhythm and solo guitar. Other contributors include: Anthony Morra and Rayford Griffin (drums), Darren Rahn (alto and tenor sax), Jason Rahn (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Michael Broening (B3-synth). David Lancette and Jodi Light provide backing vocals on one track.
But the star of the show is Neamen's seasoned yet free-wheeling solo lines, which both honor the melody and simultaneously take the listener to unexpected musical destinations - clearly a combination that expresses Neamen's love of the music and his natural, joyful fluency. According to Neamen, "The album is designed to be something that anyone can listen to. It's heavily focused on current pop music in its appearance and delivery, but at the core it always reaches for the artistic maturity of jazz." So Free reflects not only Neamen's deft and nuanced sax chops; it also reveals the depth of his musical training, his immersion in the smooth jazz genre since his early years, and influence of smooth jazz giants: David Sanborn, Gerald Albright, Eric Marienthal, Grover Washington Jr. and beyond.