André Ward

Steppin' Up

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The challenge any new young smooth jazz saxman undertakes is trying to compete for airplay on radio stations that are more inclined to play discs by veterans that genre fans know and love. On his second release, Andre Ward makes a solid case for being a passionate and sometimes inventive, lyrical player, scoring winsome, easy-grooving gems like the first single "Every Time I Open My Eyes," the cool hip-hop-oriented "Warm Passion" (which includes the musician's propensity for potent horn harmonies behind the melody line), and harder-edged funk of "City Vibe." He balances this sort of pocket grooving with the sweet soprano ballad for his daughter, "Heaven in My Life." No doubt for commercial reasons, he includes a small handful of cover tunes, with mixed success. His energetic take on R. Kelly's "Step in the Name of Love" would no doubt sound fresher had more popular sax god Kim Waters not just done it (it's a popular tune this year in smooth jazz, with Bobby Lyle also offering a take). Maurice Jacobs' vocal on "Holding Back the Years" is nice, but Ward really stumbles with his spacy, EWI-led version of "If You Leave Me Now," which should probably have been played on soprano. Ward's definitely got some good material to offer the genre, and time will tell if he can rise from the ranks of new independent to the A list.

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