The contemporary jazz group Pieces of a Dream have been delighting loyal listeners with their polished blend of smooth jazz, pop, and soul musical offerings for more than three decades. Their sleek new all-instrumental release on the Heads Up International label is titled "Soul Intent," and ranks as one of their all-time finest recordings. The co-founding members, keyboardist James K. Lloyd and drummer Curtis Harmon, have returned to their musical roots to keep things fresh and innovative. The dynamic duo recorded some of the new songs utilizing the "old school" method of having the complete band together, playing off each other, in the recording studio. Additionally, they joined forces to co-write a few of the songs, just like in the old days. Regardless of the methods used, "Soul Intent" is an engaging release, full of Pieces Of A Dream’s distinctively fine sharpened arrangements and impassioned musicianship. The successful end result is a rendering of vivid songs that sound old and new simultaneously.
A fine choice to start off the CD is "Sway On," with a catchy mid-tempo melody led by Lloyd’s stellar keyboards aided by up-beat saxophone. The fresh and funky contemporary groove makes it a prime candidate for radio airplay. "Vision Accomplished" is another soulful melodic effort with a joyous sound and the first example on the disc to feature the Lloyd/Harmon co-writing magic to produce memorable music.
The lone non-original composition on the CD is a fantastic instrumental rendition of the Babyface & Toni Braxton R&B-new jack swing tune "Give U My Heart." The song is given a mellifluously soulful and cheerful treatment. The wonderfully elated saxophone accompaniment provided by Tony Watson, Jr. is sheer delight; and the song fits seamlessly alongside the rest of the jewels contained on "Soul Intent."
The infectious funky beat of "Apb" is propelled along by bassist (and co-writer) Bennie Sims and the superbly solid drumming of Curtis Harmon; as well as prominently including tasty contributions from saxophonist Eddie Baccus, Jr. and renowned guest guitarist Rohn Lawrence. For me, Lawrence’s presence on every song he gracefully touches on this CD adds spice and soul.
"Hindsight" is a gorgeous romantic ballad which features James Lloyd’s elegant tender piano, David Dyson’s subdued bass, and the beautifully enchanting guitar interjections of Rohn Lawrence. These elements combine to create a seductive and dreamy mood. The production by Lloyd and Harmon sparkles brilliantly.
The title song is as soulful as you’d imagine from its title, and is guaranteed to get your head bopping and toes tapping. Lloyd provides the programmed rhythms to float his keyboards over, and Tony Watson, Jr. on sax knows just how to compliment the tune to its best advantage. The groove is marvelously deep and it comes as a shock when it ends with a jarring stop. "Step On It" is even funkier, and the festive earthy sound grounded by Lloyd and Watson will have you hearing this melody in your head long afterwards.
A truly funk-filled powerful exercise of exceptional ensemble playing follows with the driving rhythmic feel of "Things Are Looking Up." All of the members groove on this song with Eddie Baccus, Jr. on sax and Curtis Harmon on drums stepping up to acutely showcase their respective skills. The song has a joyful exuberance that gives the distinct impression that each member of the band is having a wonderful time, and they are sincere in their optimistic belief that things are truly getting better.
"D Fuse the Situation" is another ensemble showcase of superior musicianship, but its mood is darker, and more in the realm of straight ahead old-school jazz. Lawrence again is magnificent, as are Harmon and all the rest. Baccus and Lloyd, who share co-writing credit on the song along with Harmon, help create the overcast ambiance that differs from the cheery overall atmosphere prevalent elsewhere.
"Stand Up" is a contemporary tune with the rhythm section sturdily steady, and the singing saxophone of Joe Cunningham pleading "stand up" repeatedly. The energetic vibe is simply irresistible, a call for everyone to stand up and dance.
The calm and beautiful "Anywhere You Are" contains a melody that burrows into your mind, instantly familiar, while at the same time fresh as a breeze. Having the sound of an instant classic; it’s a lovely choice to close the CD with Rohn Lawrence adding some biting wah-wah guitar as a counterpoint to the smooth as silk melody being spun by the keyboards and sax.
All of the eleven tracks have a distinct character in their musical components, provided by the immense talent of all of the involved participants. Lloyd and Harmon equally share the limelight with all of the other players and every song contains an undeniable passion and propulsive energy. Everyone participating in this project was committed to making this release the impressive masterpiece that it is.
"Soul Intent" is a smooth and contemporary winning combination of strong arrangements, passionate instrumentation, and boundless soul supplied by musical veterans at the top of their game. The sound quality is ideal and the balance of upbeat, head-bopping tunes and mellow ballads is masterfully harmonious. It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well then, the photo of the fist-salute that Lloyd and Harmon share on the back cover of the CD says it all: mission accomplished.