Sweet. That is precisely what Al Williams III’s latest record Heart Song is like working with three producers this time around who also played on the recording, keyboardist/programmer John Stoddart, Spyro Gyra’s bassist Scott Ambush and drummer Eric Valentine. Williams CD Heart Song is a catchy blend of R&B, smooth jazz, chillin’ Caribbean-fused funk and gorgeous soul. After spending years as a saxophone player for such great artists as Stanley Clarke and Mongo Santamaria, Williams not only shines on these songs, but also lets everyone else who played on the recording to shine. Maybe that is what makes Heart Song so sweet because everyone works for the good of the songs.
Williams presents his intuitive saxophone playing right away with a visceral sense of smooth jazz and shares a keen instinct for melodic textures relatable to the sounds of Lin Rountree, Tim Cunningham and Walter Beasley. He also does a splendid job of playing for smooth soul/R&B singers to lay down their vocal strips. It takes a great deal of versatility to play for the vocal harmonies in the melodic layers and to make space for the vocals to shine, which Williams does beautifully. The soothing vocals of Alyce Metallo on "If You Really Need Me Now" brings out the tune’s nectar textures. While the lingering R&B coolness in Ron Gutierrez’s register in "I’m Going To Love You" has a bewitching lilt and the soft soul coating of Michelle Riley Jones’ timbres in "Holding Back The Years" have a reflective tone. The music aligns with the vocals nicely, projecting these different shades of life.
The midtempo grooves of the title track "Heart Song" and "Skyline Drive" are boutiqued in complementing phases and warm, bubbly harmonies. The kailua cooling feel of "Midnight In Morocco" is bunkered by smooth honking trumpet rolls and relaxing saxophone toots. The fluttering rings of soothing keys bordering "Sun Dance" are buttered by wondrous flute patterns performed by Williams and Spanish-induced percussive beats that emote a springy zing into the melody. The instruments weld woozy wanderings and delicate curves along "I Never Thought" creating a mellow ambience and the twining of the flute and soft traipsing keyboards through "Someone To Watch Over Me" produce soothing esthetics and a lullaby aura that puts the listener immediately at ease.
Al Williams III is one of smooth jazz’s national treasures. His latest disc Heart Song is marquee by classic soul and R&B grooves and colonnade in smooth jazz pillars. A native of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, Al Williams III got it so right in Heart Song. This is as good as smooth jazz gets, totally caked in brotherly love and frosted in soothing esthetics.