Here's a simple litmus test that will tell you whether purchasing the new album by Pieces of a Dream is a good idea. If you have a special fondness for the music the Philly trio recorded in the early '80s, head to the stores. Otherwise, head for the hills. Almost all of the tracks on the album are indistinguishable from the waves of smooth jazz and sultry R&B produced by countless radio-obsessed bands over the past 20 years.
For diehards only, the album recalls the band's seminal recordings, including those made with saxophonist-mentor Grover Washington Jr. While Washington doesn't perform on the new recording, his influence is felt on "Took So Long" and several other cuts that feature guest soprano saxophonist Eddie Baccus Jr. Alas, the arrangements would sound a lot more distinctive and refreshing if Washington's approach to smooth jazz hadn't already been copied by a still growing legion of young reed players. A little night music, a lot of lite music, this sentimental journey grows tiresome even faster than some of the band's critics might imagine.
Of course, no smooth jazz album would be complete without a vocal track or two, so bandmembers James K. Lloyd, Curtis Harmon and Cedric Napolean carve out a few guest spots for singers Maysa Leak (on the synth-swept R&B rhapsody "You and I" ) and Calvin Richardson (on the pleading ballad "Why Won't You Let Me Love You"). Mostly, though, the band devotes its time to instrumental tracks that evoke the past with dulling fidelity.
Appearing Thursday through Nov. 7 at Blues Alley. To hear a free Sound Bite from Pieces of a Dream, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8107. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)