Andrae Alexander - Andrae’s World (2008)

Andrae Alexander
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Representing the best and worst of DC indie soul, multi-instrumentalist Andrae Alexander invites you into a world of spare soul and robust jazz with his debut producer's album, Andrae's World. The invitation isn't the hottest ticket in town, but it isn't anything to sniff at either. At its best, Alexander's sinuous orchestrations and understated production showcase some of the best vocal talent and jazz musicianship Washington, DC has to offer. At its worst, the production slips from restrained to absent at a time when it can least afford to do so, when the producer wunderkind attempts to be the star.

Andrae Alexander is a talent to whom attention must be paid. His skills on keys and Fender, while not nearly as flashy, are on par with young soul Turks like Frank McComb. Alexander's key work gives weight and mood to songs whose lyrics often struggle to match, which ironically causes a listener to appreciate his musical skills all the more.

Representing the best and worst of DC indie soul, multi-instrumentalist Andrae Alexander invites you into a world of spare soul and robust jazz with his debut producer's album, Andrae's World. The invitation isn't the hottest ticket in town, but it isn't anything to sniff at either. At its best, Alexander's sinuous orchestrations and understated production showcase some of the best vocal talent and jazz musicianship Washington, DC has to offer. At its worst, the production slips from restrained to absent at a time when it can least afford to do so, when the producer wunderkind attempts to be the star.

Andrae Alexander is a talent to whom attention must be paid. His skills on keys and Fender, while not nearly as flashy, are on par with young soul Turks like Frank McComb. Alexander's key work gives weight and mood to songs whose lyrics often struggle to match, which ironically causes a listener to appreciate his musical skills all the more.

As a producer and composer, Alexander has a signature DC sound, one that openly flirts with the neo-soul of Philly's neo-prime and is wholly steeped in the live smooth jazz scene that DC and Maryland have been quietly cultivating for decades. James Poyser, Jazzy Jeff and other Touch of Jazz producers are echoed in Alexander's brushstrokes on songs like "Happy Stay," but so are the frivolities of "go go" (in spirit, not genre) and the loose, but serious jam sessions of Takoma Station. Like many DC independent soul releases, the quality of offerings on Andrae's World range from home studio productions to mastery on par with a Kennedy Center recording. I suspect the lower end of this spectrum results from limited resources, given the glory and blessed frequency of the production highs.

Alexander also has a knack for creating musical spaces in ways complementary to his vocal guests, but that also challenges them to fearlessly deliver pristine performances. The minimalism in Andrae's World grants these vocalists few places to hide. Yet, Deborah Bond, Bilal Salaam, Terrence Cunningham, Tena Jones, SheBeats and Shante Moore, a virtual who's who of the DC/MD/VA soul scene, are all well served by Alexander's production and compositional ear.

Vocalists are not alone in being graciously presented by Alexander's musicianship. The alternating bass solos by Michael Pryor, Eric Wheeler and Dennis Turner on "It's Ben Granted" should be a career highlight for all three gifted talents. Alexander's artistic range is tested on an eight-minute plus "My One and Only Love," a jazz standard made great by such luminaries as John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, but all parties end up shining in this light-hearted, straight ahead rendition. On this auspicious debut it seems Alexander's spry spirit and generosity with musicians can do no wrong.

So it pains me to say that Alexander was not as generous with himself when he moved from the boards and ivories to the vocal booth. Of the four songs he sings lead, only "Ms. Alicia" makes the grade, saved by a beautiful melody and a delectable performance by Shante Moore (yes, this is a different Ms. Moore). With additional training, Andrae Alexander's voice has promise, but it is a promise better fulfilled by sound songwriting and more layered productions than the tritely written "Nothing" and the demo production of "Float Away." Both "Nothing" and "Checklist" have their compositional graces, but not enough to rescue either from the fast-forward button.

Even with the remote control assisted demise of certain tracks, Andrae Alexander has created an enchanting world with plenty of navigable geography worth exploring. His world of jazz winds and soul atmospherics hailing from the South and East of his District home gives his sound its own unique air. The terrain in this world may occasionally get bumpy, but if you've been to D.C., you know that's part of the adventure. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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