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The Soul Express Album of the Month

June-July 2002

WILL DOWNING
SENSUAL JOURNEY
US Verve/GRP CD, 2002
1) Cool Water 2) I Can't Help It 3) Home 4) Don't Talk to Me Like That 5) Almost Like Being in Love 6) Maybe 7) If I Ever Lose This Heaven 8) Drowning in Your Eyes 9) Just Don't Wanna Be Lonely 10) Brooklyn Breezes 11) Bolero Nova
Produced by Will Downing, Ronnie Foster, Rex Rideout, Kowan Paul, Lee Ritenour, Kashif & Sandy Stein, John Beasley
"As much as I like the artists of today I find myself gravitating toward the artists and music of yesteryear, or music that utilizes more live players, the interplay of the musicians, the lyrics, the arrangements, etc. I was raised on it, so I carry on the tradition, as you'll hear with this project. In my opinion there's a void in music. There seems to be very little attention paid to the adult market. It's almost as if people are afraid to say they are adults."
These are the words of Will Downing on the leaflet of his new CD, and it's precisely this kind of thinking that has cemented his status as my number one hero. I forget how many times I've had the conversation where some friend / acquaintance / co-worker has commented on the music I've been listening - be it jazz, soul, Frank Sinatra, whatever - and told me it sounds like "adult music". For several years now, my prompt response has always been the same: "Well, I actually am an adult, so if you want to call my music adult music, it's fine by me." Advancing towards my mid-thirties, I've often wondered how so many people in my age group still find it necessary to listen to the same music they listened to when they were thirteen years old (i.e. the moronic pop / rock / heavy music that happened to top the charts at that particular time), or even worse, the same music thirteen-year-olds listen to now.
Will Downing is certainly the perfect antidote to that kind of attitude, and Sensual Journey, his ninth album to date, is arguably the best thing the man has recorded since the nigh perfect A Dream Fulfilled back in 1991. After his previous set All the Man You Need in 2000, an enjoyable flirtation with contemporary sounds, Will has returned to a more familiar acoustic setting, and the end result is very rewarding.
This is really an album that should be considered as a whole, and pointing out individual tracks is tricky. Still, the prime cut for me has to be the Kashif production Brooklyn Breezes, a brilliant version of his 1998 instrumental from the Expansion set Who Loves You? The original was already a fascinating jazzy mid-stepper, and when you add Will's sensual vocals to the proceedings, what you get is a mellow piece of urban black music at its best.
Other cover versions include the Stevie Wonder / Susaye Green composition I Can't Help It, which is transformed into an elegant jazz-soul floater with a Brazilian lilt and a soprano sax solo by Boney James, the Pam Sawyer / Leon Ware tune If I Ever Lose This Heaven, on which the understated yet stylish arrangement complements Will's peaceful interpretation very nicely, and the appropriately light-hearted take on Ronnie Dyson's Just Don't Wanna Be Lonely, a tune which also Main Ingredient and Blue Magic have covered, the last-mentioned being responsible for my favourite version.
On the ballad front, there are a couple of vintage Will Downing efforts, of which my own personal favourite would have to be Don't Talk to Me Like That, a melancholy tune with Stefon Harris' vibe soloing, Vinx' scatting and Rohn Lawrence's delicate guitar playing. Definitely nothing wrong with the peaceful Home, complete with Gerald Albright's sax solo, and the more mellow Almost Like Being in Love, spiced with Marc Antoine's guitar playing, either.
The album is brought to a stylish close by the peaceful soul / jazz / bossa exercise Bolero Nova. All in all, a collection of sophisticated jazz-inclined soul music from the more conservative end of the spectrum, yet with that highly personal Will Downing touch. Essential for Will's fans.
(9) - PR

The album of the Month in May 2002: Kloud9
The album of the Month in April 2002: Ledisi
The album of the Month in March 2002: The O'Jays
The album of the Month in February 2002: Jill Scott
The album of the Month in January 2002: N'Dambi

Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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