Tenor saxophonist Lawrence has traveled an interesting road to his debut release as a leader. He was about to join Elvis Presley's backup band in Las Vegas in 1977 when the King died. He ended up joining the jazz band at West Point instead. He then served a long apprenticeship with, among others, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Loren Schoenberg Big Band, Buck Clayton, and the DMP All Stars.
On Soul Carnival, Lawrence's years learning the trade as a sideman prove well spent. He fronts a fine young quintet featuring Ray Macchiarola on guitar, Tardo Hammer on piano, John Webber on bass, and veteran Leroy Williams on drums. Lawrence has a full-bodied, supple tone and a thorough command of the modern jazz vernacular. His role models are obvious ones: Lester Young, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons. And while he doesn't stray too far from their examples, he does prove himself a worthy disciple.
Lawrence also deserves credit for his creative song selection. Rather than simply revisiting overworked standards, he digs up some outstanding underheard compositions by the likes of Lee Morgan, Tommy Turrentine, Hank Mobley, and Lucky Thompson. Although he breaks no new ground here, Lawrence serves notice that he is a tenor player to be reckoned with.