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Andre Ward: Steppin’ Up

On his sophomore album, Steppin’ Up (Orpheus), saxophonist Andre Ward offers a varied collection of smooth-jazz tunes that nicely showcase his warm sound. That sound is well-suited to lyrical ballads like “Utopia” and the lovely “Heaven In My Life (Andre’a),” which he composed for his daughter, but Ward can also deliver edgier fare like the urban number “City Vibe.” Things get lively on R. Kelly’s “Step in the Name of Love,” which features an animated sax performance over a galloping groove, and more laid-back on the aptly titled “Just Chillin’.”

“All I Ever Ask” features singer Chantel Rose-who sounds a bit like Whitney Houston-and the arrangement builds into a soaring pop-gospel production, enhanced by Ward’s sax fills. He performs a cover of the Chicago hit “If You Leave Me Now” on EWI, which imparts an otherworldly quality to the song, but the EWI isn’t quite able to cut through the strings, rhythm track, and accent vocals-a stumble on an otherwise very nice album.

Originally Published