For Walter Beasley, the journey began in the 1970s with recordings by Grover Washington Jr. and the dynamic duo of Robert Flack and Donny Hathaway. The former opened his mind and ears to the boundless world of the saxophone. The latter offered Hathaway's voice as an icon for inspiration. With a nod to Earth, Wind & Fire's "That's the Way of the World, Beasley, barely into his teens, started on his path toward musical paradise.
On Ready for Love, Beasley calls on a host of session musicians and vocalists to deliver an album that's part smooth jazz, part R&B and all good. With Tiffany Davis providing the vocals, the album opens with a charming cover of Deniece Williams' "Free. His alto sax leads on the melody while Davis delivers wordless background vocals and joins him on the chorus. Beasley adds his voice, singing lead, on the cover of William DeVaughan's "Be Thankful for What You've Got. In some circles, the title isn't as well known as the refrain: "Diamond in the back, sunroof top, diggin' the scene with a gangster lean. With Beasley's falsetto, this track is as good as the original.
The title song is an upbeat groove that features Pieces of a Dream's James Lloyd on keyboards, piano and programming. Eddie Baccus Jr. joins the duo, playing background saxophone. "Ready for Love is one of eight original songs, including "Why Not, which was written by Lloyd. Beasley is perhaps at his best on "Rhea's Song, a ballad which features Phil Davis on keyboards and keyboard programming, Lil' John Roberts on drums and drum programming, and Rick Watford on guitar. Beasley's alto is given a strenuous but elegant workout.
The titles alone make two other Beasley originals worth a listen. The first is "Sugar Puddin', named for an old Southern term of endearment that's seldom heard these days. It's one of several tracks that feature Beasley on soprano sax. The second is the closing number, "Willa Mae's Place, a tribute to Willa Mae Brothers, who gave him some guidance when he was a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Generally, drum programs detract from otherwise good music. Not so on Ready for Love. One difference is Roberts and other drummers who appear on various tracks. Another is that the songwriting, the cover arrangements and Beasley's leads are more than enough to overcome the shortcomings of artificial percussive sounds. Whether singing or playing saxophones, Beasley gives a strong performance throughout, proving that he's ready for prime time and Ready for Love.
Free; La Nina; Be Thankful for What You
Walter Beasley: alto saxophone (1, 3-7, 10), vocals (2, 7, 11), keyboards (3), soprano saxophone (2, 8-9, 11); Phil Davis: keyboards (1-2, 5), keyboard programming (5); Lil