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The way smooth jazz was evolving by the mid-2000s, it became increasingly hard for indie saxophonists to break into the kind of regular festival, package tour, and cruise dates that would catapult them to stardom. But with two albums on Billboard's Top Ten Contemporary Jazz chart and the same label that launched Najee and Alex Bugnon to stardom behind him, versatile Chicago native André Ward was still aiming high. With a soprano tone that flows easy like Kim Waters and Najee, he gets off to a promising start on Crystal City's sensual funk opener, "They Keep Calling Me"; as he takes the melody higher and begins improvising on soprano, Ward also imbues the lead instrument with sizzling alto and tenor textures. The emotional strength of that track would have made it an obvious first single, but the one actually chosen was the likable urban vocal tune that follows, "Wishful Thinking," which relegates Ward to a supporting role behind the Anita Baker-like vocals of Barbara Fowler. Just as Najee once did with "Najee's Theme," Ward makes a similar statement about his identity on the cool and simmering retro-soul tune "André's Theme," which features Yasha's cool Rhodes harmonies. Before getting back to the core of the disc -- his heartfelt, urgent, and melodic playing on any of his three saxes -- Ward makes the mistake of thinking that the EWI was still a hip instrument in 2007. His thumping shout-out to his hometown, "Chicago (Here We Go)," is a fun and whimsical piece that would be much more effective with a real horn taking the lead melody. This misstep is nicely balanced by asserting his right as an indie artist to actually lead with the flute on the sensual "Abstract," but -- yikes! -- why swirl it with the EWI? Although it's not the most unique tune in the set from an arrangement standpoint, Ward's alto passion on "New Orleans Lights" is a beautifully spiritual highlight. Indicative of Ward's renown among the elite of the smooth jazz genre are the appearances of keyboardist and songwriter Brian Culbertson, albeit in a background role, and bassist Nathan East on the dreamy "I Don't Want to Be in Love." One would think that Ward would have proofread before allowing the misspellings of Culbertson and co-writer/backing vocalist Marc Nelson to reach print. Despite a handful of flaws, Ward proves worthy of the big leagues on this collection, which perfectly fuses his Berklee College of Music jazz sensibilities with a love for cool hip-hop and retro-soul.
Performance CreditsAndré Ward Primary Artist,Flute,Saxophone,Alto Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone,EWI
Marc Nelson Background Vocals
Brian Culbertson Keyboards
Nathan East Electric Bass
Brian Thomas Trombone
Gordon Worthy Keyboards,Synthesizer Bass,Soloist
Andrew Sherman Piano,Keyboards,Soloist
Rohn Lawrence Guitar
Barbara Fowler Vocals,Background Vocals
Brad Young spanish guitar
Jeff Lockhart Guitar
Tyrone Chase Guitar
Brian Dunn Drums
Brockett Parson Piano,Soloist
Technical CreditsMarc Nelson Composer,Producer,Vocal Arrangements
Brian Culbertson Composer
Beau Huggins Executive Producer
Gordon Worthy Arranger,Composer,Producer,drum programming
Andrew Sherman Arranger,Composer,Programming,Producer,Engineer,drum programming
Craig Glanville Arranger,Composer,Producer
André Ward Arranger,Composer,Producer,Horn Arrangements
Yasha Barjona Composer
Kenny Lewis Engineer
Wirlie Morris Composer
Anne Thomas Administration
Lynne Butkiewicz Art Direction
Charli Huggins Executive Producer
Ronnie Dividson Graphic Design
Chauncey Gemar Engineer