Pieces of a Dream - Just Funkin' Around (2017)

Pieces of a Dream
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Pieces of a Dream - Just Funkin’ Around

For three and a half decades, drummer Curtis Harmon and keyboardist James Lloyd have melded jazz, R&B, and funk in a wide scope of melodic settings. Initially partnered with bassist Curtis Napoleon (who fronted several of the primarily instrumental outfit’s early vocal numbers), Harmon and Lloyd have worked with several other key figures as part of Pieces of a Dream in subsequent years—but have formed the core of the group’s lineup since the early 2000s.

Pieces of a Dream - Just Funkin’ Around

For three and a half decades, drummer Curtis Harmon and keyboardist James Lloyd have melded jazz, R&B, and funk in a wide scope of melodic settings. Initially partnered with bassist Curtis Napoleon (who fronted several of the primarily instrumental outfit’s early vocal numbers), Harmon and Lloyd have worked with several other key figures as part of Pieces of a Dream in subsequent years—but have formed the core of the group’s lineup since the early 2000s.

Pieces’ inherent grasp of fusion elements were smoothed out in a special way on their 1981 self-titled debut album, 1982 follow-up (We Are One), and 1983’s Imagine This. In the process, they laid the groundwork for what would ultimately be coined the “smooth jazz” genre, paving the way for then-future stars like George Howard, Alex Bugnon, and Najee (to name but a few). Subsequent ‘80s and ‘90s sets found them incorporating a number of contemporary styles into their realm, but the 21st century thus far has seen them adopt a back-to-basics approach—with a carefully balanced dosage of modern influences.

Just Funkin’ Around, Pieces’ eighteenth full-length disc, is a pleasurable and groovable listen from track one to 10, displaying consistency in structure and finesse that’s merited in both composition and performance. Things get off to a fitting start with the snappy “Right Back Atcha’,” a keyboard- and sax-led jam benefiting from the get-go from Harmon’s tight drum prowess. The fact that the beats are live (read: not programmed) throughout the set instantly sets the album apart from many contenders by the group’s contemporaries, as further evidenced via the get-down gusto of the title cut (highlighted by Tony Watson, Jr.’s calm, yet zippy, sax work). Mellowing out the atmosphere a notch, the Harmon/Watson-penned “Shaken, Not Stirred” is imbued with percussion flourishes enriching understatedly funky guitar lines and a bevy of shiny keyboard swipes.

Also thriving in chill-out mode, Lloyd’s “Sensuosity” lays in the pocket with no-frills phrasing delivered with standout ostinatos on the keys. Inspired by light strokes of electronic dance music, “Fast Lane” keeps the melody flowing in cruise control, with a dynamically varied horn solo that is simpatico while soaring above the synth-fueled arrangement.

The second half of Just Funkin’ Around zooms in closer on the laid back side of Pieces, but also keeps the funk intact. The sunny and serene “A New Day” gives way to the kinetic “On the Move,” while the low-gear “No Doubt” (penned by bassist David Dyson) kicks into the swingin’ “Let’s Do This.” And it’s all tied together nice and coolly with the brisk, fluid “Manhattan,” an adeptly syncopated workout with alternating moments of focus and liveliness—like the city itself. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor
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