Various Artists

Forever, for Always, for Luther, Vol. 2

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The late Luther Vandross went down in history as the most important male vocalist on the romantic side of '80s R&B. Perhaps that isn't saying much when one considers that the '80s, generally speaking, weren't as exciting a decade for R&B as the '50s, '60s, or '70s; regardless, Vandross recorded his share of great soul/urban albums, and his death at the age of 54 on July 1, 2005, was a huge loss for R&B. Produced by Rex Rideout and Bud Harner, Forever, for Always, for Luther, Vol. 2 is a sequel to the Vandross tribute they worked on together in 2004. Many jazz enthusiasts -- including some major proponents of fusion and jazz-funk -- run for cover the minute they hear the term smooth jazz, which is understandable given how many truly dreadful albums have come from smooth jazz over the years. But this 50-minute CD, although uneven, has its moments. There are some forgettable tracks, including saxophonist Najee's lackluster performance of "The Night I Fell in Love" and guitarist Norman Brown's unimaginative version of "'Til My Baby Comes Home." But Gerald Albright sounds genuinely inspired on "If This World Were Mine," which has usually been heard as male/female duets (first Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in the late '60s, then Vandross and Cheryl Lynn in 1982) but works well as an instrumental for saxman Albright -- and other enjoyable contributions come from singer Patti Austin on "So Amazing" and electric bassist Wayman Tisdale on an infectious arrangement of "The Glow of Love" (which a pre-solo career Vandross performed in 1980 with the Chic-influenced group Change). Forever, for Always, for Luther, Vol. 2 won't be remembered as the most consistent release of 2006, but it has its share of worthwhile tracks and has more going for it than most of 2006's smooth jazz discs.

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