THERE ARE PASSAGES on "Jungle Garden," albeit fleeting ones, where you'd swear flutist Dave Valentin has something on his mind other than attracting radio air play. Then along comes something innocuous like "Bones" or something a notch removed from Latin disco like "Love Light in Flight," and the feeling vanishes. "Jungle Garden" may rank as Valentin's most ambitious album, but alas, that's not saying much.
The album opens on a soothing note with a warm bamboo flute piece called "Awakening." It's a gentle preface to a breezy collection of tunes meant to evoke exotic images of jungle life. When the music sounds like something more interesting than a sound track to a travelogue, which isn't very often, it's generally because Valentin and keyboardist Bill O'Connell momentarily rise above the trendy arrangements that burden most of the album. Lackluster versions of George Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy" and Miles Davis' "Eighty- One," and a brief appearance by pianist Tania Maria (who scats on "Very Nice Indeed") serve as filler.
Like Valentin, guitarist Chieli Minucci and percussionist George Jinda -- the duo known as Special EFX -- are gifted instrumentalists who combine elements of funk, jazz, pop, rock and Brazilian music in an extremely accessible fashion. However, even Minucci's limpid guitar tone and Jinda's colorful rhythms can't prevent their new album "Modern Manners" from resembling the kind of recordings that studio-bred guitarists like Lee Ritenour have been putting out for years. There are a few surprises, notably the moody "After One Empty Step" and the cameo appearance of jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, but "Modern Manners" is mostly mild-mannered fusion.