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Though he has an impressive sideperson CV (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, not to mention a bucketful of R&B dates), saxophonist Azar Lawrence also has records as a leader going back to 1974’s spiritual jazz classic Bridge Into the New Age. Wielding both tenor and soprano, Lawrence brings his wide range of experiences together on New Sky. Joined by vocalists Lynne Fiddmont and Oren Waters, respectively, on the title track and “Just Because of You,” Lawrence filters divine love through the lens of earthly feeling, digging into the tunes’ silky R&B grooves. While he’s clearly comfortable standing next to the vocal mic, he vibes more effortlessly with the purely instrumental tunes, from the greasily funky “Let It Go,” the waltzing “Birds Are Singing” (on which he really gives his soprano a workout) and the post-bopping “Revelation” (which features South African piano star Nduduzo Makhathini) to the samba-driven “Peace and Harmony” and “From the Point of Love,” a remake of one of his 70s pieces. Of course, that path also leads to the smooth jazz of “All in Love,” a track nearly as sappy as its title, but that’s as much a part of the Lawrence story as anything else he does. Lawrence’s stylistic detours may not be to everyone’s liking, but you can’t fault him for conviction on an album that’s essentially one long love song to the Almighty (whoever that may be to you).
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