Azar Lawrence Taps into Universal Rhythm of ‘New Sky’
If Santana and Earth, Wind and Fire honeymooned overseas and had a baby…
Tenor/soprano saxophone composer Azar Lawrence’s New Sky — a Feb. 4, 2022 release on Trazar Records — sounds back-dated somewhere between the experimental rock-electronica of the late 1960s-‘70s and Earth, Wind & Fire’s bass-centered metallurgy of the anything-goes excess of the ‘80s. All 10 of the tunes come ready-made, full of circuitous, melodic ease, rhythmic sophistication, and nostalgic references.
L.A.-born Lawrence (McCoy Tyner, Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Billy Higgins) readies a stalwart cast of musicians to assist him in the salacious, party groove: vocalists Calesha “Bre-Z” Murray, Oren Waters, and Lynne Fiddmont; keyboardists John Beasley and Nduduzo Makhathini; percussionists Tony Austin and Munyungo Jackson; bassist Sekou Bunch; guitarists James Saez, Greg Poree, and Gregory “GMOE” Moore; and harpist Destiny Muhammad.
"All of my skills that have been gathered throughout my career has been a journey, and all of those energies that have been acquired throughout that journey are coming together in a focused manner. This new album expresses that."
“All In Love” is all about a silky, sexy Santana/Middle Eastern sax, guitar, and drum interaction, inviting everyone to the new Age of Aquarius dance, where “all races and different religious ideas can be embraced.”
“Peace And Harmony” — the jazz-funk sublime — glows and grows on percolating, sinewy bass, samba-inflected cue-and-response keys, and a boss percussive bump-and-grind, as Lawrence placates, glosses over, and polishes an already perfect adult contemporary instrumental with rising, slightly staggered meaty notes.
The title track is a vocal one, with an R&B-funk fire and a Brazilian feel, giving Lawrence a chance to flex his tones and Fiddmont to resurrect all the Motown goddesses in her own luscious voice, stuck on a generous chorus repeat.
“‘New Sky’ refers to the cleansing that has occurred via this pandemic. Now many people are experiencing the freshness that comes after everything has been shut down. We think differently; there are so many new possibilities now. Everything is fresh and new as we start to rebuild after the initial shutdown for the pandemic.”
The star of “Ain’t No Doubt About It” is Lawrence’s saxophone lead, an arresting vocal in itself, playing what feels like the heart of the melody upfront behind a harmonic bridge of the youthful Murray’s actual vocals, in the hip-hop range of now.
Lawrence’s work with Earth, Wind & Fire material shows all over the tracks. “Just Because of You” could easily be an EWF bonus track, but with vocalist Waters of The Waters singling out the meaning…again, luxurious and smooth, not a broken bone or flaw in the mix. The sax and the guitar lay out simultaneous, complementary threads, one pushing the pulse, interwoven, warm, and strong, the other hanging back, filling the empty spaces with nice and easy cruising music.
“I Really Love You” falls under that same R&B-funk category, full of lively melody and groove, and Lawrence vocalizing both musically and lyrically on his sax. You can almost hear what he’s singing through the smokescreen of metal and air. Guitar again backs up the narrative movement with that flickering ‘70s rock feel.
“Let It Go” could be sung by any one of the soul stars of the ‘70s, or even Anita Baker one decade later. The sassy guitar — strumming memories in curling, unfolding waves, and quick electrically charged vibrations, with the keys cascading ethereal translations — gives the era away.
“‘Let It Go’ comes from the standpoint of how we have started letting go of some of the lower thoughts as we tune ourselves to the higher energies that have been delivered during the pandemic. During the shutdown, we had to let a lot of things go that we were clinging to. When we let go of a lot of these things, we got a chance to see what was necessary for our lives.”
“From the Point of Love,” a samba-influenced tune originally from Summer Solstice (2019), skips and shimmies on a lilting, Caribbean-flavored beat (note the trademark penny whistle) from Lawrence’s spritely soprano sax. Beasley is heard building up a billowy tradewind or two of his own, adding to the laidback, yacht-cocktails vibe.
Lawrence and his extensive band seek to replicate the sounds of nature in the waltz-timed “Birds Are Singing.” The artist takes up his soprano sax once more to inhabit the musical world of what-if, through Mother Nature’s tempestuous changes…leaving only artful, poetic, lyrical beauty behind…something humankind should do.
“Revelation” sounds completely different, as if from another album entirely, tracing the vibe of a long-dead ‘60s protest song (whose title I can barely remember) — even though Lawrence recorded a more leisurely version in 2009 on Speak the Word. It’s gloriously gospel, dizzyingly commanding, and a tinge futuristic, Coltrane and Metheny rolled up in one; every good thing leading up to and riding on torrential soprano sax.
South-African-born pianist Nduduzo Makhathini fuels the fire and brimstone, turning his mellifluous keys into a bass-and-trumpet hybrid, resolutely turning away from the world and its copious, secular, manufactured Muzak masquerading as Grammy®-winning pop…raining one-note commandments and a flurry of congregational Hallelujahs, while Azar Lawrence preaches to the choir, trying to catch the sun and touch heaven.
Artist quotes from a DL Media press release.
Review, Dec. 26, 2021