Ronnie Laws | Voices in The Water – [Century 22 Productions, 2009]YouTube. Google. MySpace. Enter “Ronnie Laws” in any search engine, and you’ll find worldwide die-hard admirers of his unique and compelling musical voice. They describe his work as outstanding, timeless, funky, bad-ass, high-quality, and real music to make you MOVE! People continue to sample his grooves, and admire his style. For more than 35 years, this musical legend has used his saxophone and his voice to satisfy his audience.
Ronnie’s most recent album, “Voices in the Water,” is his 26th solo release. It blends R&B with Jazz Fusion, and a surprising drop of rock and blues. This new album follows the success of his albums “Dream a Little” in 2000 (which yielded the Urban Adult and Smooth Jazz smash hit, “Old Days/Old Ways), an “Everlasting” in 2004.
“Voices in the Water” is co-produced by Laws and veteran producer John Barnes (producer for Michael Jackson, Herb Alpert, and Betty Wright). The project, which was finalized and fine-tuned at Long Beach’s Century 22 Productions, is full of texture and imagination. An impressive list of musicians and vocalists add their own flavors to the album: Vocalists Louis Price, Martinette Jenkins, Joey Diggs and Bridgette Bryant, guitarists Rob Bacon and Freddie Fox, organist Tim Carmon, bassists Sekou Bunche and Alex Al, and legendary drummer James Gadson.
For Ronnie the title track of “Voices in the Water,” with its haunting flutes and intoxicating chorus, holds a special meaning:
“During Hurricane Katrina, witnessing the news blasting on TV, I saw how, literally, a people were being overlooked once again. I just started reflecting historically, figuratively how voices were being washed asunder from the time slaves were brought to North America, and how there were some who literally jumped off ships because they didn’t want to live a life of slavery. Those are voices that will never be heard.”
For another of the album’s tracks, “Shock to the Drum,” Laws teamed up with Century 22 Productions producer George Shaw, and the song holds a meaning similar to the title track. In Africa, rhythm has been a method of communication. Drums served as an early form of long distance communication, and were used during ceremonial and religious functions. “Shock to the Drum” is homage to the emotion that accompanies the disruption of such a society.
The bouncy “Down and Out Again” touches on the peaks and valleys of love and life. “Material Things” leans on its slow, funky beat and bass guitar. With its warm-groove vocals provided by Ronnie Laws and Bridgette Bryant and some whistling to boot, it’s reminiscent of a late summer afternoon. “Let’s Talk About It” features Louis Price’s rousing vocals, and offers crunching guitars and one funky bass line. Laws’ adventurous “Hey You,” combines bluesy slide guitar effects with breathy chants and Laws’ classic sax phrasings.
How has Ronnie been able to move effortlessly from genre to genre over the decades?
“It had a lot to do with being exposed to different musical genres growing up. Feeling comfortable within those arenas allows me to explore beyond jazz.”
Ronnie now has his own saxophone line called the “Ronnie Laws Signature Saxophone” through Golden Sound Distributors, which offers three Signature Saxophones in either gold plate, silver plate or lacquered. The line offers saxophones in alto, soprano or tenor. Each year, Laws gives a saxophone to a deserving high school music student, and is truly humbled by the achievement.
“To have your own saxophone line is a real honor, it really is. It’s tantamount to an athlete who has his or her own sneaker line.”
In addition to all of these accomplishments and creations, Laws is also currently writing his autobiography, tentatively titled, “Friends and Strangers,” a take on his 1977 album of the same name.
In the history of music, few artists have been able to find their true voice and consistently use it to create beautiful, pleasurable grooves. Luckily for us Ronnie Laws, who taught himself to play alto saxophone at the age of eleven, found his voice early on, and continues to make the most of his musical creations, his sax sound, and his true voice.
About his longevity in this ever-changing business, Laws says,
“Never give up, and hold onto your principles. That’s my motto.”
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