The frustrating thing about smooth jazz isn't an absence of talent or chops; actually, there are plenty of smooth jazz musicians who have chops galore even though their studio recordings don't reflect that. At smooth jazz concerts, it isn't hard to find artists who take a lot more chances on-stage than they do in the studio. But taking chances in the studio isn't conducive to airplay on commercial smooth jazz/NAC radio stations, which is why so many generic, unimaginative smooth jazz recordings have been flooding the market since the 1980s. Walter Beasley has certainly given listeners plenty of generic, unimaginative recordings over the years, but not everything he records is without merit – and Free Your Mind does have its moments.
Up Your Mind is the American debut by soul-blues singer/songwriter Ellis Hooks. Originally hailing from Mobile, AL, he was an itinerant musician, scrambling and scuffling across the globe, often as a busker. His debut album, Undeniable, garnered a slew of attention on the other side of the Atlantic and has afforded him the notoriety and critical acclaim to play the Montreux Jazz Festival and the esteemed Poretta Festival in Italy. Hooks resides in New York and is remaking music in his own image by using and fusing traditional elements from soul, rock, and the Mississippi Delta played in a direct, gritty manner. Hooks doesn't sift and he doesn't blend, he sculpts and shapes, leaving the rough grain on the surface to admire. Hooks and veteran producer Jon Tiven offer a streetwise, passion-filled toughness in their deep, sensual mix. Hooks has a voice that owes a great debt to Otis Redding first and Wilson Pickett second (who Tiven produced for many years), and an approach in his songwriting that is eclectic, knotty, and groove-solid.