One element stands out on smooth jazz artist Art Sherrod, Jr.'s Seasons: the album boasts some of today's biggest stars on the modern jazz and R&B scenes. On his second album, Sherrod wisely varies the content; while his saxophone stays in the foreground, he also features guest artists and varies his material.
R&B crooner Will Downing guests on "Thinking of You," a pleasant song meant for steppin', a dance made popular in Chicago. Downing's silky voice, along with Sherrod's sax, makes for a sexy ride. "To the Floor" also provides a danceable beat, with finger-snapping percussion and thumping bass. Other standouts include his smooth cover of Earth, Wind, and Fire's "That's the Way of the World" and "Just Chillin'," a song to play while sitting by the fire on a winter's night. "Everything Will be Alright" achieves the same laid-back effect, with minimal vocals but Sherrod's soaring saxophone and a complex bass line Gerald Albright brings his bass along for the track, which adds some needed rhythm and just a touch of funk. Tracey Hamlin lends her vocals to "You're the One," a pretty ballad marred only by annoying percussive effects (the sound of water dripping detracts from the very nice chord changes).
"Anytime," featuring Frank McComb on vocals, is unabashedly romantic and contains that "quiet storm" vibe with its fluttering synthesizer. Similarly, "We Fall Down," originally a contemporary gospel hit by Donnie McClurkin, receives the smooth makeover, sounding decidedly more secular. Still, the chorus "we fall down/but we get up," sung by a small vocal group, conveys the original tune's inspirational tone.
The pace changes with "On Sunday Morning," a smooth jazz track that incorporates elements of gospel such as the organ and church piano. Only occasional vocals break through, letting the sax, bass, and piano carry the tune. "East Coast Steppin'" provides enough rhythm to fit the intricate dance; interestingly, Sherrod states that the track pays tribute to the late Grover Washington, Jr.; while the rhythm may match some of his seventies work, the overall sound bears little resemblance to Washington. Still, it serves as a danceable song and a welcome detour from the slower jams.
Otherwise, the tone of Seasons is predominantly down-tempo, the kind of music to play softly in the background or to set a romantic mood. Sherrod's saxophone playing sounds clear and confident throughout the album, although he also knows when and how to let his guest artists shine. Unlike other smooth jazz artists, Sherrod obviously realizes that he must vary his material, both in genre and in rhythm, to keep the listener's interest. Therefore slightly alternating genres and tempos holds the listener's attention. However, it would behoove him to collaborate with more vocalists, as the best cuts on Seasons allowed his sax to intertwine with the singers' voices (the Downing track "Thinking of You" being the best example). Sherrod possesses the chops for jazz saxophone; it will be interesting to see if he further expands his repertoire by experimenting with other genres, tempos, and singers in future releases.
For more information, visit Art Sherrod, Jr.'s official page.