Pamela Williams

Sweet Saxations

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In the 21st century, commercial adult contemporary/smooth jazz radio stations continue to emphasize that which is familiar -- actually, they emphasize the overly familiar, making certain that they steer clear of anything that is the least bit experimental. That's why Pamela Williams and countless others are so predictable and formulaic; they know that taking risks is a good way to alienate adult contemporary programmers. Nonetheless, some of Williams' albums are better than others -- and while Sweet Saxations isn't very memorable, it isn't terrible either. The Kenny G.-isms that were part of the picture on some of the saxophonist's Heads Up recordings of the '90s aren't much of a factor on this early 2005 release; outright elevator music is excluded, and Williams' duskier, more R&B-ish side prevails. One could say that Sweet Saxations finds Williams in a Grover Washington, Jr.-influenced state of mind -- minus Mr. Magic's sense of adventure and spirit of improvisation. The distinctive Washington, for all his commercialism, was a highly imaginative improviser; Sweet Saxations is full of Washington-influenced grooves, but Williams (who sticks to the alto and soprano saxes and doesn't play any tenor this time) is careful to avoid improvisation. Williams does what Najee and the late George Howard -- two people she has often been compared to -- have often done: she goes on automatic pilot and reduces Washington's sound to a formula. The grooves are catchy enough, but Williams' solos never really go anywhere. One track that tells you a lot about this album is a version of Alicia Keys' 2003 hit "You Don't Know My Name"; instead of interpreting the neo-soul gem and making a personal statement, Williams simply offers a note-for-note cover. Sweet Saxations is far from the worst of the mid-'00 smooth jazz releases, but Williams is capable of much more.

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