Alicia Keys' debut album, Songs in A Minor, made a significant impact upon its release in the summer of 2001, catapulting the young singer/songwriter to the front of the neo-soul pack. Critics and audiences were captivated by a 19-year-old singer whose taste and influences ran back further than her years, encompassing everything from Prince to smooth '70s soul, even a little Billie Holiday. In retrospect, it was the idea of Alicia Keys that was as attractive as the record, since soul fans were hungering for a singer/songwriter who seemed part of the tradition without being as spacy as Macy Gray or as hippie mystic as Erykah Badu while being more reliable than Lauryn Hill. Keys was all that, and she had style to spare – elegant, sexy style accentuated by how she never oversang, giving the music a richer feel. It was rich enough to compensate for some thinness in the writing – though it was a big hit, "Fallin'" doesn't have much body to it – which is a testament to Keys' skills as a musician.
Both sets of Chopin's etudes can be as fiendishly difficult for the performer as they are mesmerizing for the listener, yet Maurizio Pollini makes them sound as if they pose no problems whatsoever for him in this 1972 recording. Every one of the etudes is played with easy precision, energy, and an entirely enjoyable musicality that demonstrates why Chopin's etudes are no mere exercises and are as suited to the recital hall as to the practice room. The Op. 25 No. 5 Etude in E minor has some tricky finger acrobatics in it, but Pollini brings out a singing melody all the same in the middle section, while adding a bit of dancing animation to the outer sections…
This date followed Calvin Keys' first, Shawn Neeq, by about two years. Hazy, psychedelic, post-bop is the order of the day here as well, but as most soul-jazz collectors will tell you, there's always a chance for some monster funk on a Black Jazz record so, as predictable as these releases may be on the surface, you never really know until you hear them. In this case, the bomb drops at the beginning of Side Two with "Aunt Lovely." While probably a little too 'out there' for most dance floors, "Aunt Lovely" begins like some of the best funky Grant Green of the era. As the track progresses, though, it gets more than a little hectic – especially during Charles Owens' Pharoah Sanders-esque soprano solo. Kirk Lightsey's overdriven and distorted electric piano only serves to add to this tension later.
Although Ramsey Lewis gained his initial fame as a jazz pianist, many of his records (including this one) are really more in the R&B field. The soul vocals, acid jazz rhythms and tinkling piano result in superior background music and there are some good moments (such as Grover Washington, Jr.'s soprano on "Sun Goddess 2000") but Ramsey Lewis is capable of much better. A strictly commercial effort that succeeds more as dance music than as creative jazz.