Pieces of a Dream got its start in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - a city steeped in history, tradition and rich musical heritage. Artists like John Coltrane, Stanley Clarke, Grover Washington, Jr., Gamble and Huff, Stan Getz, Jeff Lorber, Patti Labelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Jill Scott and The Roots are just a few of the amazingly talented musicians who hail from or have been nurtured by the "City of Brotherly Love." This vibrant city and its melting pot of art, music and history helped shape the musical style of the young musicians who would become the talented contemporary jazz band Pieces of a Dream. Just as the city embraces its past, it continues to evolve, and so has Pieces of a Dream as the group makes history of its own by marking two major milestones: their 37th year together as a group and the release of their 20th album entitled In The Moment, due out on August 27, 2013 on Shanachie Entertainment.
Founding members James Lloyd (keyboards) and Curtis Harmon (drums) both use words like "thankful," "blessed" and "grateful" to describe how they feel about their work and their fans, who have continued to make it all possible. Curtis says, "I would describe In The Moment as a milestone for us. Not many groups get to reach 37 years and 20 albums! I feel very fortunate and blessed to be in the music industry this long and to have this kind of success." James adds, "That's crazy isn't it?! Twenty albums and the first one came out in 1981 when I was a senior in high school, 16 years old. We were out on the road with Grover Washington, Jr. the following year and I basically grew up on the road with him. We would open for him as Pieces and then play as part of his rhythm section." And Grover Washington, Jr. was indeed their guiding light, a mentor who took Pieces of a Dream under his wing as the first group he signed with his brand new production company. James and Curtis were the nucleus of the band, having played together as members of the Ada Lewis Middle School jazz ensemble along with former member bassist Cedric Napoleon. Danny Harmon, Curtis' father and a jazz musician himself, became their manager and had the guys listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson as they developed their unique sound, blending their jazz roots with R&B, soul and funk. Pieces released three albums in quick succession, establishing its place in the world of smooth jazz with the CDs Pieces of a Dream (1981), We Are One (1982) and Imagine This (1983). Those albums include some of their biggest early hits, including "Warm Weather," "Mount Airy Groove" and "Fo Fi Fo."
In The Moment is the first new release for Pieces since the 2009 album Soul Intent and features eleven tracks, ten originals and a cover of the 1942 Harry Warren/Mack Gordon jazz standard "There Will Never Be Another You." While Lloyd and Harmon have been with Pieces from the very start, the latest members of the band include Rohn Lawrence on guitar, Tony Watson, Jr. on saxophone and David Dyson on bass. Each of the members contributed songs for the album as David, Rohn and Tony wrote or co-wrote several of the tunes including "For Real," "TTYL (I'm Driving)" and "Coming Home" respectively.
Ace producer Chris "Big Dog" Davis co-wrote and produced "TTYL (I'm Driving)" along with Rohn. James explains, "I wanted to make sure on this project that, for lack of a better word, the side musicians -- they're really not side guys, they're in the band, they're family, I wanted to be sure they had some writing and publishing on this project as well, in addition to just playing on it." Curtis, who wrote three of the tracks adds, "I wanted to try to feature three different instruments on melodies, piano, sax and guitar, so that they could be showcased in our performances." In the Moment opens with the title track, an uplifting groove with an in-the-pocket Pieces of a Dream sound penned by Curtis Harmon. As James puts it, "It's a mellow, riding vibe... one of the things that Pieces is known for." Saxophonist Tony Watson Jr., graces the track with a sublime saxophone melody. Bassist David Dyson brings "For Real" to the table, featuring a beautiful lead from James on the piano and a laid-back sax turn from Tony, while David gets to stretch out on his grooving bass solo. About the upbeat tune "Steppers "D" Lite" James says, "My wife and I take Zumba and line dancing classes. And there's this lady named Diane - Lady D, who put together a line dance to one of our songs, "Summer." We were in class and she had the class show us the dance and I was so honored and flattered. I decided to write "Steppers" as an homage to her. Like 'OK, let me give you something else to use for class!'"
"Misty Eyed" takes Pieces fans on another journey altogether with a tune that features James on Motif keyboard offering a romantic and moody escape. The Metheny-esque synthesizer melody, strings and guitar pull at the heartstrings. He shares, "This is a song I had written years ago and I had been saving it. I didn't have a name for it. My wife and I were talking about it and trying to come up with a name and I told her that every time I hear it I get misty eyed and she said, 'there's your name!'" In demand producer Chris "Big Dog" Davis teamed with guitarist Rohn Lawrence to write and produce the great cruising, upbeat vibe on "TTYL (I'm Driving)." The funky guitar lead and synth grooves make you want to roll down the windows and enjoy a sunny, carefree kind of day. Curtis wrote the next tune on the album for Pieces several years ago and asked Tony to add his touch by creating the melody on the saxophone. "People Say" has got that 'easy like Sunday morning' laid back feel to it with sublime percussion touches from Curtis and perfect keyboard and guitar flourishes from James and Rohn. Smooth and sophisticated, it'll surely be a fan favorite from the album. "New Jazz Swing" is a nod to the highly acclaimed New Jack Swing producer Teddy Riley as James admits he has a special affinity for that genre of music, having grown up listening to all the R&B bands of the '80s and early '90s including Riley's bands Guy and Blackstreet and artists like Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown. James shares, "I like to fuse contemporary jazz with other forms... jazz with gospel, hip-hop, soul, R&B or dance. I love the rawness of the sound on this one." On "Under the Influence (of Pieces)" a bright, positive vibe is counterbalanced with a touch of moodiness. James calls it "bright darkness," saying, "I love duality and contrast and mixing up different things and textures. It'll be a real cool, fun song to play live as well." Curtis admits he's always been a fan of Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and co-wrote "Never Let It End," with Rohn Lawrence. The song was penned with Babyface's production style in mind. Rohn takes the lead on a bluesy, melancholy riff that surely makes you feel like you're longing for 'it' to last... Tony adds a beautiful saxophone solo to create an overall mood that matches the title of the song and offers a cool new dimension and edge to the Pieces repertoire. Tony and James teamed up to write "Coming Home," a track that came together at the very end of the recording process. As James explains, "On a lot of songs we have full production - drums, bass, this, that and the other thing - how 'bout we go just minimalist on this one. Just Rhodes and sax and that's it, almost a gospel-y duet kind of thing." The album closes with James on solo piano on the jazz standard "There Will Never Be Another You." He was especially glad to include this one on the album saying, "We used to delve into straight ahead a bit on earlier albums, but we haven't had anything jazz-jazz in a while. Oscar Peterson has always been one of my idols since I was a teenager. He was a great inspiration for that song and that version."
Celebrating 37 years making music is no small feat and both James and Curtis are looking forward to sharing the new material with their fans. Curtis sums it up like this, "I think we made a good collage of music on In The Moment. The songs blend well together to make a CD that includes different flavors from David, Rohn and Tony's writing. I think we're covering a lot of different flavors in this particular CD and a lot of people will be pleased." James adds, "I hope our fans like the album. For me personally, I'm always trying to push the boundaries of what's accepted as cool or playable. I'm not one to say 'ok that worked, let's do that again,' but rather 'that worked well and let's do something else.' It's a hard line to walk, staying true to what people expect of you but being true to yourself and your creativity." With In The Moment, it's safe to say Pieces of a Dream continue to explore new territory yet remain aware of their amazing history and the core sound and style that have gotten the band this far. Pieces fans will definitely enjoy this 'moment' and the ride.
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