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Michael Ward: Laid Back

On Laid Back (Ralph Records RR 9704; 54:27), violinist Michael Ward delivers his melodies in hard-bowed, clipped phrases which often sound out-of-place in an almost exclusively keyboard-programmed, smooth R&B-type production. Ward’s somewhat acoustic-resonant sounding bowing appears strident, or simply overmatches busy slap hip-bop grooves like “Da Funk” and mid-tempo urban keyboard ballads like “Going in Circles.” Ward’s collaborator Derek B. Dabbs, who provides multi-level keyboard performances, programming and compositions, seems out of sync with his partner on many occasions here, where the styles just don’t match. Ward’s earnest, hard phrases stand out awkwardly in a bland read of George Michael’s ballad, “Careless Whisper” -an arrangement which might have been better served by having Anthony Brown’s light rock guitar carry the melody. Ward and Dabbs mesh a bit better in spots – for example, the violinist lends a lighter tough to the open, night fusion piece “Voyager,” skating along on the catchy melody. However, the majority of the album is marked by an odd disjointed approach, which unfortunately eclipses Ward’s considerable abilities.

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