You don't have to avoid hearing Pieces of a Dream in concert to appreciate its recordings, but it helps. So far, two albums in as many years have come from this trio of Temple University students. Both were produced by saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., and both reflect Washington's own pop- jazz success: typically light and melodic, with no mistaking the commercial appeal or the considerable craftsmanship that goes into making it. Yet both albums fail to convey the jazz potential Pieces of Dream displays in performance.
If anything, "We Are One," the trio's latest effort, is even more conspicuously fashionable than its debut, relying on a couple of romantic ballads (nicely sung by bassist Cedric Napoleon) and the shallowest of funk grooves to attract, presumably, a younger, more rhythm-and-blues-oriented audience. At the heart of the rhythm section, Napoleon and drummer Curtis Harmon have a lot more to gain than pianist James Lloyd by moving in this direction.
Anyone who's heard Lloyd approach a modern jazz standard knows he's too gifted to be playing such featherweight tunes as "Pop Rock" or, worse, manning a percolating synthesizer on "Mount Airy Groove." While his talent is better served by the engaging melodies underlying "Don't Be Sad" and "For Ramsey," a suitable pop-ish tribute to pianist Ramsey Lewis, nothing on this album challenges Lloyd or the listener.
ON RECORD, ON STAGE
THE ALBUM:PIECES OF A DREAM We Are One (Elektra 60142-1).
THE CONCERT PIECES OF A DREAM, Saturday at 8 and 11 at Crampton Auditorium, Howard University.