Al McKenzie  - A Reason to Be


Behind every outstanding band or artist you find professional sidemen. Freddie Ravel (Al Jarreau), David Garfield (George Benson), H.B. Barnum (Barry White) are some of these musicians. Al McKenzie is musical director of the Temptations, the soul legend. He performed among others with The Spinners, The 4 Tops, Mary Wilson, Penny Wells, The Supremes, The Contours, Etta James, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Holiday, Kim Weston, Anita Baker, Martha Reeves, O.C.Smith, Esther Phillips, Marlena Shaw, Dave McMurray and Marion Meadows. His debut album as solo artist was “Is it love” (2001). On his new album "A Reason to Be" Al McKenzie is working with excellent musicians like Mike Fowler (guitar), Penny Wells (vocals), Darrell (Peanut) Smith (bass), Ron Otis (drums) and more. It's a contemporary mixture of smooth jazz and r&b.

Paige One sounds like a good old r&b tune of the 80's. There is a little bit of Babyface, Gerald Alston and Chris Jasper. Orchestral hits and strings, drum programming, chorus refrains and all other ingredients of that time. A real flash back.

On Angel Al McKenzie shows his mastership in piano and keyboards. Fantastic his easy touch and trills of the keys.

A Reason to Be is an awesome ballade featuring the lovely Penny Wells. Al McKenzie has founded his own label AMAC Records. Al has already released a solo project with Penny Wells: "Shine". A Reason to Be is a perfect appetizer for more music of this attractive woman with this sultry voice.

Ain't No Half Stepping was written by Rod Temperton for the album "Too Hot To Handle" of the funk group "Heatwave" ("Boogie Nights"). Al McKenzie has made a refurbished contemporary interpretation, still in the spirit of Heatwave.

Sparkle is a further jewel for friends of piano and chorus. Wonderful harmonies. Hot hip hop Malik Alston has a smooth side too. Together with the graces Penny Wells and Joan Crawford he is performing a splendid chorus.

With Just Me Al is starting the second part of his album, a part with drummer Ron Otis and this sounds far better. On the bass he is supported by Darrell (Peanut) Smith, who I had the privilege to see in London-Hammersmith together with Dave McMurray and Bob James. The door to heaven opens when Keisha Lanae adds her lovely vocals.

The Band Played On has a nice scatting swing.

More is certainly the song which convinced me to review this album. This is smooth jazz at its best. A laid-back tune with a divine chorus-line. Al is shining on the piano keys.

Mr. Magic was composed by Ralph MacDonald, percussionist of Harry Bellafonte. He wrote the song for his album "Sound of a Drum", on which Bob James, Grover Washington Jr. and Toots Thielemans were spotlighted. Later Grover made the song on various of his albums to a classic. What Grover did for the sax, does Al for the piano. It's magic.

Since EWF I love the Kalimba sound. Special Occasion has that vivid Kalimbra timbre and with the spoken Brazilian words of Indira Sharpe the song offers an exotic charm.

Rap in a mild version can be accessible. Christopher McKenzie proves it on Only You.

The cover version of the Bee Gees song How Deep Is Your Love is certainly a radio-friendly tune. Al's intention is understandable. 

Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun) is an awesome tune especially in Al's interpretation. Originally the tune was composed by dream team James  Harris and Terry Lewis for Janet Jackson's album "Control" (1987). The quality of the songs of this album are often underestimated. By the way Stanley Clarke did also a cover for his album "If This Album Could Only Talk".

Don't let you fool by the classic intro of Perfect Peace. It's a groovy song with r&b and gospel elements featuring excellent singer Penny Wells.

This album is defintely a winner. Al McKenzie is a fantastic musician, composer and arranger. I am wondering that "A Reason to Be" is just Al's second solo project. I know time is difficult for new albums especially in this niche of music business. Nevertheless I pray that Al will continue his way.





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  • Title: A Reason To Be
    Artist: Al McKenzie
    Year: 2006
    Length: 0:58:42
    Genre: General Jazz
    Label: AMAC Records

    01 Paige One [5:31]
    02 Angel [3:32]
    03 A Reason To Be [4:35]
    04 Ain't No Half Stepping [4:33]
    05 Sparkle [4:09]
    06 Just Me [4:14]
    07 The Band Played On [1:47]
    08 More [5:08]
    09 Mister Magic [3:47]
    10 Special Occasion [4:51]
    11 Only You [2:46]
    12 How Deep Is Your Love [3:56]
    13 Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun) [4:40]
    14 Perfect Peace [5:13]