On his second leader date for Criss Cross, drummer Donald Edwards follows up his 2013 release “Evolution of an Influenced Mind”, with another autobiographical musical account, this time focussing on life after the birth of his daughter. As Edwards puts it; “to convey a celebration of the creation of life, love of family and the wish for a better world for our next generation.” Sentiments many of us can empathise with. And the album does succeed in generating an honest, warm glow, with plenty to like and enjoy. Performing alongside Edwards are pianist Orrin Evans, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, guitarist David Gilmore, and bassist Luques Curtis. There are also guest appearances from keyboardist Nicholas Payton and singer Vivian Sessoms. All of the musicians involved make very worthwhile contributions throughout the album, sharing the band leader’s positive vibe and earnest endeavour.
On many levels I enjoyed listening to this album; its concept and execution being hard to fault. The musicianship is of a very high standard and the tunes are well written. The trouble is, I found myself having to admit that I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Everything is good here, as stated previously, but it just didn’t quite give me what I was looking for; passion and emotion. For me personally, having read up on Edward’s journey and what the album was about, it doesn’t convey the necessary feeling or spark the emotion in me when I’m listening to it. And yet it starts so promisingly, with the short yet innovative “Taking Shape”. There’s so much free spirit in this opening 2 minutes that I thought I was in for a powerful journey. But then the frustration sets in. Let me highlight an example here; Walter Smith III is undoubtedly a superb saxophonist. His soloing is technically brilliant, he can be smooth, or he can be slightly ‘out-there’ when required. But here he never seems to really go for it, there’s no smoke or fire, it all just seems a bit ‘safe’ for want of a better word. Where’s the expression, the feel, the verve? I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s certainly not, it is in fact good, but it just lacks that something special that for me, the concept of the album deserved. And I’m not picking on the saxophonist, my sentiment here could apply to any of the musicians. There are however, many plus points to “Prelude To Real Life”. Let’s start with the tracks featuring singer Vivian Sessoms. What a voice she has! I love the clever use of her vocals on these tracks, beautifully produced and integrated into Edwards’ musical vision. It’s a pleasant surprise when the vocals come in, adding a heartfelt warmth and joyous energy to the proceedings. The band leader’s drumming is impeccable throughout, his well crafted tunes coming to life through the sheer musicality of what he does with his drum kit. There are moments of brilliance and some high quality tunes, my favourites being the Edwards originals “Thought for the day” and “Apple Street”.
Despite my earlier somewhat negative comments, I do want to say this; I found myself coming back to this album time and time again. Once I’d got past the feeling that it could have been so much more than the sum of its parts, I thoroughly enjoyed its feel-good vibe. Non too challenging yet ultimately a very pleasant experience.