Saxophonist Curtis Haywood explodes onto the smooth jazz scene as a solo act with both the amazing talent and arsenal of material that can easily expect to be placed in the spotlight quickly. Each tune here on his self-titled debut quite honestly kept me excited and anxiously awaiting the next cut.
While the opening track "Anytime" has been performed by so many and for so long that Brian McKnight may not ever have to work again, Haywood brings a crispness that can only make McKnight proud. He then follows that with a series of four muscular and finely crafted originals that will surely be catalogued in the playlist of any smooth jazz station worth its mettle. It almost demands it. This guy’s expressive style is not the kind to be ignored.
He later offers his version of the wonderful Stevie Wonder’s "Creepin’." Again, nothing here to suggest that he meant to do anything but place his own indelible stamp of approval on the piece. He pivots off Stevie’s piece to another stomper "Springtime," that invites the warmth and color of that season so effortlessly.
No newbie to the scene, Haywood has shared the stage with a considerable number of luminaries in the business, Ray, Goodman and Brown, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Intruders, both sets of Temptations (Dennis Edwards’ group and Otis Williams’ group), Kirk Franklin, Sounds of Blackness and The Noel Pointer Band.
The saxman’s style is not only smooth and expressive. There’s a mellow and controlled intensity here, and it’s transferred to this great material. His writing shows a grasp of what turns a tune into a tune, a smash hit, and I would be quite surprised if at least one of these selections doesn’t find its way into the mainstream very quickly. There’s an abundance of skill in every area that clearly demonstrates Haywood’s handle on melody and feel, and that’s what pushes this album, in my opinion. Curtis Haywood need only continue in this vein to find his claim to fame in no time at all.