Andre Ward - Caution (2013)

Andre Ward
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Andre Ward’s fourth album, Caution, works best when the title isn’t a description of the music. In the instance when the saxophonist exercises caution, the project falls into the trap of playing into the perception of contemporary jazz as elevator music. But when the talented Ward goes off the smooth jazz script, the disc shines.

Fortunately for Ward and us, the one weak instant arrives at the record’s midway point when he delivers the something we don’t need – a medley of three Marvin Gaye songs. Look, these smooth jazz remakes are never awful, and Ward is a creative saxophonist who can create around the melody, and listeners will tap their feet in recognition of “Got to Give It Up” upon hearing that signature bass line. These songs strive too hard to serve two masters, so tunes such as “Marvin’s Medley” will never be more than just a very long interlude fixed between two more compelling works.

Andre Ward’s fourth album, Caution, works best when the title isn’t a description of the music. In the instance when the saxophonist exercises caution, the project falls into the trap of playing into the perception of contemporary jazz as elevator music. But when the talented Ward goes off the smooth jazz script, the disc shines.

Fortunately for Ward and us, the one weak instant arrives at the record’s midway point when he delivers the something we don’t need – a medley of three Marvin Gaye songs. Look, these smooth jazz remakes are never awful, and Ward is a creative saxophonist who can create around the melody, and listeners will tap their feet in recognition of “Got to Give It Up” upon hearing that signature bass line. These songs strive too hard to serve two masters, so tunes such as “Marvin’s Medley” will never be more than just a very long interlude fixed between two more compelling works.

Caution’s strongest works are a trio of R&B/pop tunes featuring three female vocalists. “I Love You (The Wedding Song)” is a pretty good piece of truth in advertising. Vocalist Jamie Knight lends her voice to a cut about lifelong love and commitment through the good times and bad. “It’s so easy to love when everything’s going right/most people won’t run away when there’s not battle to fight/when the right turns to wrong I’ll be strong/and guide you through one more day. “ Ward shares the spotlight with his vocalist interspersing saxophone riffs in the spaces between her vocals and contributing a creative solo.

The up-tempo “Do You Remember” uses the opening riff from The Whispers “And the Beat Goes On” that expands into a fusion of funk and jazz with a touch of rock guitar. Naomi Emanuel is the vocalist on this track that tells the story about a love that refreshes instead of going stale. The best of the trio might be “What If,” the album’s final track. Ward gives this cut a Broadway styled arrangement on a piece that describes the importance that music plays in our lives by describing how bleak the world would be without music (and art in general). Janice Dempsey delivers a vocal performance that strikes the perfect balance between conversational and theatrics and might remind some people of Patti LaBelle.

Caution also includes some noteworthy instrumental numbers: “Night Flight” features a sparse arrangement from the rhythm section that serves as a good set up for creative woodwind conversation between Ward’s sax and a flute. “Dre’s Funk” showcases Ward’s ability to employ the production techniques often used in contemporary R&B and hip-hop to create a funky and percussive beat that becomes the backdrop for his saxophone solos.

Performers in the contemporary jazz genre tend to spend a lot of time providing instrumental versions of well-known songs – a tactic that has proved lucrative but not necessarily highly creative. So its pleasing to hear a talented artist like Andre Ward show on Caution that his best moments come when he flexes his creative muscles and throws caution to the wind. Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 
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