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On many occasions, Ronnie Laws hasn't hesitated to stoop to musical prostitution and record mindless, knee-jerk "elevator muzak" for the "smooth jazz" market. But the tenor & soprano saxman showed signs of repentance in 1996, when he recorded the soul-jazz gem A Tribute To The Legendary Eddie Harris. Saluting one of his main influences, Laws demonstrated that he could still be a riveting improviser and delivered his best album in 20 years. But sadly, Laws' fling with quality was too good to last. And with Harvest For The World, he's back to recording schlock.
The idea of a jazz instrumentalist paying tribute to the Isleys' music is intriguing-it's certainly a more interesting prospect than yet another "Young Lion" playing "Round Midnight." But this album is hardly the gem it could have been. While some of the straight-up R&B cuts are decent (including "Who Loves You Better," featuring sibling Debra Laws on vocals), instrumental versions of "Harvest For The World," "So You Wanna Stay Down" and "At Your Best You Are Love" are glaring examples of "elevator muzak" at its most shameless, boring and formulaic.
As an instrumentalist, Laws fares somewhat better on "You Still Feel The Need" and "People Of Today" (a rare example of him switching to flute). Although not breathtaking, at least they involve some interpreting. But for the most part, this disappointing album isn't about interpretation-it's about throwing musical integrity to the wind and wasting your talents on embarrassing, dishonest fluff.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.