Smooth jazz has sometimes been knocked for being shallow, merely Muzak blended with bland, unfunky grooves. Pianist-composer Alan Williams and his “Just Sayin’ ” album, however, avoid the genre’s pitfalls through a soulful touch, appealing melodies and infectious pop accessibility.
Recorded at Techno Sound Studio in Baton Rouge, “Just Sayin’ ” features Williams with saxophonist Pete Verbois and guitarist Nelson Blanchard in a 13-track collection of instrumentals. Beyond their principal axes, the three musicians play multiple instruments for the album, which is credited to The Alan Williams Project with Pete Verbois. Molly Phillips contributes additional piano.
Playing tenor and baritone sax, Verbois, a veteran Louisiana musician, performs most of the album’s melodies. It’s a treat when he applies his full, mellow sax, expressive musicality and impressive chops to Williams’ compositions. Blanchard’s electric guitar brings a gnarly prog-rock edge to the project. Williams plays solos at the piano as well, but he more often takes a supporting role to Verbois.
Beginning with the album’s title track, Williams’ melodic invention never fails. The pianist also has a knack for crafting engaging music that’s easy to follow. Excellent though Verbois’ sax is in the role of the album’s primary melody maker, these instrumentals could easily be wedded to lyrics and vocals.
Opening track “Just Sayin’ ” combines the sax with a strong groove and a brief dialogue with Blanchard’s guitar. The music flows so easily in “Drive Me” that this four-minute-plus selection breezes by. And while summer has ended in the ballad “Summer’s Gone,” Verbois’ sax stays warm and inviting.
Unfortunately, “Summer’s Gone” and a few other selections feature the tacky strains of a synthesizer. Despite the album’s pop leanings, the synthetic keyboards often sound out of place, especially next to the soulful sax that dominates the project. While electric keyboard fits much better in the Prince-like “Funk Injection,” it’s even better when that keyboard is the Hammond B3 heard in “Sloppy Joe,” another of the album’s funkier selections (this time with a Billy Preston vibe).
Regardless of any cheesy synthesizer parts, Williams’ and Verbois’ “Just Sayin’ ” is a listening pleasure.
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