[JPL] A Supplicant at the Altar of Sensual Soul
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Wed Oct 29 10:35:11 EDT 2008
October 29, 2008
A Supplicant at the Altar of Sensual Soul
By JON PARELES
Leon Ware described himself precisely during his early set at the Blue Note
on Monday night. ³I¹m a sensualist, meaning that I pray to sex,² he said
from behind his sunglasses. He also called himself a ³religious pervert.²
His prayers are incantations delivered in weightless, improvisatory vocals
above undulating grooves; they¹re entreaties of yearning and devotion.
³I want you, but I want you to want me too,² he sang in ³I Want You,² the
title song from the Marvin Gaye album that he produced and partly wrote.
It¹s sensuality in suspended time, lingering in the moment, with singer and
band savoring every intimate nuance. A song on Mr. Ware¹s new album, ³Moon
Ride² (Stax), is called ³Just Take Your Time,² and while the early set
didn¹t include it, Mr. Ware heeded his own advice.
Mr. Ware, 68, grew up in Detroit and made his way to Motown Records.
Although he¹s best known for ³I Want You,² Gaye¹s 1976 album, Mr. Ware is
one of the architects of a 1970s R&B style that never disappeared, spanning
soul and neo-soul. He worked on hits for Michael Jackson (³I Wanna Be Where
You Are²), Minnie Riperton (³Inside My Love²) and the Average White Band via
Quincy Jones (³If I Ever Lose This Heaven²) in the ¹70s, and he collaborated
with Maxwell on ³Sumthin¹ Sumthin¹ ² in the mid-1990s. The Blue Note set
mingled his hits for others with songs from ³Moon Ride,² all with the same
The band was supple and assured, cruising through the songs as if they were
jams. It included Onaje Allen Gumbs on piano and Selan Lerner on electric
keyboards, with Maya Azucena as Mr. Ware¹s backup singer, duet partner and
figurative object of desire. The rhythms held undercurrents of bossa nova,
gospel, reggae and thumb-popping funk; the arrangements were full of jazzy
chords and rippling glissandos.
Luckily, Mr. Ware has the voice of a genuine singer, not a typical producer.
It¹s a velvety high tenor, never pushy, that can be remarkably similar to
Gaye¹s voice. He slipped phrases between the beat or made them float above
it, praising and promising; he crooned, implored and teased.
This wing of R&B can easily turn cheesy or crude, and often does. Between
songs Mr. Ware hinted that he might get raunchier in the late set. But
instead he kept his songs knowing and poised. They fused elegance and
abandon, confidence and longing, need and fulfillment; they understood
primal pleasures in an adult way.
At the end of his set, climbing the stairs toward the Blue Note¹s dressing
room, Mr. Ware paused on a landing to sing a little longer with his wireless
microphone. For the moment he was a preacher of sensuality in his pulpit.
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