Curtis Haywood

Curtis Haywood

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Funny thing about the smooth jazz world -- while it's a genre that cries out for new fresh faces and sounds, the radio format that promotes it seems to, with very few exceptions, favor the genre veterans who have sustained it for years. Since only one or two young artists seem to have a shot at breaking through to mainstream success every year, the challenge is great for even the most ambitious, melodic and groove oriented performers like Haywood. That said, while the soprano player hardly reinvents the wheel on his eminently likeable, slickly produced debut -- it's soulful, it's sensuous, it's sexy and grooves wonderfully when it's not tugging the heartstrings -- he shows that indie artists can still, despite the odds, throw some unique ideas into the mix. "Moving West," for instance, mixes its trip-hoppy vibe with a touch of gospel/blues and a few touches of exotica. "Monet" may have a straightforward, catchy and soaring sax hook, but it floats over some elegant glissandos and high spirited jazz piano chordings and Nyles Webster's marimba. The swirl of crunchy shuffle grooves and hypnotic synth sounds on "Crockpot" takes the sweet melody into a dreamy stratosphere. Haywood also plays with a charitable heart. On the surface, "Rain Song" is a simple, gently percussive midtempo ballad but it's also a call to awareness and action towards the suffering people of Ethiopia. The wistful and gospel-inflected "Heal Our Land" is a moving, children's choir-driven tribute to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Rounding out this appealing set are pleasing covers of Brian McKnight's "Anytime" and an elegant reading of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'." Overall, it's an impressive debut by a saxman who should be making deep waves in the urban jazz world within a few years if not sooner.

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