No doubt about it – Walter Beasley is phenomenal. He’s
been performing, recording, and teaching his unique mix of soulful
instrumentals and R&B-style vocals since the dawn of this jazz
genre. He has performed and/or recorded with icons Brian McKnight,
Gerald Albright, Ronnie Laws, Kirk Whalum, Bob James, Norman Brown,
George Howard, Art Porter, Everett Harp Stephanie Mills, Vanessa
Williams, and Rachelle Ferrell. He has also opened concerts for traditional
jazz legends Art Blakey and Dexter Gordon. With over a dozen music
albums to his credit (not to mention his numerous instructional DVDs
and collaborations), one wonders how he finds time for his day job!
Yes, on top of it all, he’s a full professor at the Berklee
College of Music!
There’s another aspect that makes Beasley’s music so
righteous. Through his music, he lets us look into his soul.There
is an honesty to this work. He shares himself, what he’s thinking,
what he’s feeling, what emotions and experiences he’s
been going through. He does all that and more in his new album Free
In a recent radio interview, he was asked “Why the title Free
Your Mind?” Beasley explained in the
most tender of voices that his “Aunt Minnie” died
before he started the project. He got to feeling very low
and had a hard time dealing with her passing. It affected him
so much that he couldn’t work. Then, James Lloyd (Pieces
of a Dream leader and keyboardist) sent him a new track. Beasley
listened to the melody and, in that instant, the music reaffirmed
that he had more living to do. The melody freed him. He
could see clearer, feel his emotions a little bit more. That
melody helped get him over the hump; there is more life to live
and a lot of people to love. It is in this spirit of renewal,
rebirth, and freedom that Beasley could approach the new project Free
The album includes songs that are tributes and messages to people
he loves and is inspired by – some living, some have passed
on. “All I wanted to do with this record was accurately reflect
the times and how I felt about them,” says Beasley. “I
had been working so much in the past few years, and living this musical
life so intensely, that I hadn't taken the time to recognize the
emotional impact of some things that had been happening in my life
and in the world. With the times being what they are, I think this
is a record that can help people let go of their concerns for a while
and just lose themselves in the moment.”
The eleven tracks are a mix of Beasley’s own writing as well
as Pieces of a Dream keyboardist James Lloyd who wrote, played keys,
and produced five of them. Phil Davis and John Roberts also had a
hand in writing, and there’s one cover tune of a Kem hit.
Classic rhythms of the 1980s combine with Beasley’s contemporary
sax in the opener, Lloyd’s tune, “Steady As She Goes.” For
Beasley, there is significant symbolism in the song’s steady
rhythm. It represents the steady constants in our life; that’s
the way he likes people to be in life: steady as she goes. This anchor
track has become the project’s first radio single. His playing
is in the pocket and it feels really good.
Not only a gifted sax player, Beasley has a seasoned, velvety singing
voice. He showcases this vocal power on the second track “Love
Calls.”Beasleysays his approach to singing is from his heart;
that’s when he’s at his best. Singing reveals
who he is. Along with Beasley on sax and vocals, stalwart veteran
vocalist Lynne Fiddmont sings back up. Together they render a gorgeous
and passionate version. Written by Kem, this is the song from
his debut album Kemistry, and it was soon recognized as
a "Motown classic" by USA Today.
Within seconds, “Oh Yeah” hit me as a tribute to Grover
Washington, Jr. Whether it was consciously intended or not,
between Beasley’s inspired playing and the song’s groove,
the Grover vibe is spot on. Oh Yeah! The track is written by hit
maker Lloyd. This track should have some legs on it; we’ll
be hearing it for a long time to come.
True to his word, Beasley continues his catharsis with his own reflective
straight-ahead composition “Message To Mark,” written
to honor multi-instrumentalist and Pat Metheny band mate Mark Ledford
who died of a heart attack in late 2004 at age 44. In this Metheny-esque
track, Derek Cannon’s trumpet is featured (the son of Beasley’s
first trumpet teacher – yes, a tribute within a tribute,) Craig
Shaw on bass, Phil Davis on keyboards and John Roberts delivers some
superb percussion. Beasley and Cannon deftly entwine elegant duets
and solos in this excellent work.
"Shirlitta" brings a cool, urban groove with some really hip programming.
Beasley and saxman Tony Watson Jr. play layer-upon-layer saxophones, impressively
complementing each other. Lloyd penned the song and plays keys here.
With its relaxed and easy groove, “Free Your Mind” showcases
Beasley’s sax which is pure, natural, and lilting. The bridge
takes us to a cheerful place where we can let go and exist unencumbered,
at least for awhile.
Beasley didn’t want to regret missing an opportunity to thank
another one of his musical heroes. The Latin-flavored, polyrhythmic “DukeZillia” is
a song Beasley composed with John Roberts. Beasley had George Duke's
music in mind, (Brazilian Love Affair on
Columbia, 1980) which blends jazz, funk, R&B, and Brazilian music. Duke
had a major influence on Beasley. Roberts and Beasley add lively
vocalese. Roberts and Rafael Perriera contribute fantastic percussion
work. Before the album was final, Beasley actually had a chance
to send the track to George Duke and received the distinct honor
of hearing Duke’s pleasure and acknowledgement.
“Just Breathe” is a good opportunity for Beasley to demonstrate
his incredibly skilled breathing technique and for Lloyd to show more of his
graceful piano style.
This album is released one week after the inauguration of the new
U.S. President Barack Obama. A very cool, interesting track, written
and produced by Phil Davis, “Barack's Groove” is one
of the first-ever recorded tributes to our new president. “Obama
has changed history for every child of any color in this country.
Barack and Michelle Obama have demonstrated to people of color and
families of color that you can be born into a traditional African-American
family – or a Latino family or an Asian family – and
actually become president of the United States,” says Beasley.
“She Can't Help It” is another Davis composition. Davis plays
keys and Roberts mans the drums. Along is the lead sax, Beasley also performs
some flute elements.
A respectful and contemplative tune with its tender melody, “Miss
Minnie” is lovingly dedicated to Minnie Dangerfield, an important
influence in Beasley’s life while he was growing up in California.
Beasley recalls, “She always gave me good advice. When I was
making big decisions in my life, she would always tell me what I
needed to know – not just what I wanted to hear.”
Free Your Mind is the work of a spiritual journey. Beasley
openly shares the process with us, from the losses to the living tributes,
we experience perhaps Beasley’s most mature and poignant work to date. Highly