Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ronnie Laws "Mirror Town" (1986)

The 80's were about mirrors -- and there's mirrors all over the walls and ceiling!

Ronnie Laws may not be the first “Laws” in the jazz version of Match Game. That honor might go to his flautist older brother, Hubert Laws, whose got that title locked down pretty tight even to Herbie Mann and Dave Valentin as the go-to guy for session flute in the 70's. Meanwhile, Ronnie mastered the sax and even began a vocal career by the early 80's, fusing both into most of this era releases including Mirror Town. 

Ronnie began playing with Earth Wind & Fire in the early 70's, and thankfully, he met the legendary Larry Dunn, the band's former synthesizer wizard. Both Ronnie Laws and Dunn collaborate often, and even a good decade plus, they're still playing on each others albums, including the vastly different pop-jazz outing, Mirror Town.

Mirror Town is not jazz, but then that's not what Ronnie set out to do since 1980's Every Generation and 1983's Mr. Nice Guy. The light sensibilities of the album reflect the 80's trend with often dancable rhythms fused with elements of jazz, friendliest with mainstream commercial pop.

Seeing as he was one of EWF's sax players, he became accustomed to doing mainly funk orientations, but like EWF, jazz was in the soul of the band as it still is on his works. Here's where I come in and excuse many jazzers crankin' fusion in the 70's with a heavy emphasis on Rhodes-led, bouncing and slappin' bass to drum machine and synthesized, vocal-led madness of the 80's. Laws was en route to selling his image as an R&B vocalist much like George Benson.

Every track on Mirror Town is heavily sequenced, drum-machined electronic as his previous two, with his or a disc produced in the heart of the 80's, stylized to personify the era of electronic orchestras, synthetics with much use of the Yamaha DX-7 -- or the keyboard of the 80's.

I saw this disc on the shelf at a Savers, immediately catching my eye as a rarity. Not many things have been written about Mirror Town, which was likely a forgotten release as too many 80's discographies are for artists. There's some impressive guests here: the aforementioned Larry Dunn, who sadly meshes into the final product of the album as well as Jeff Lorber, who shines through a bit on Tell Me. Lorber, who had a tight fusion group which disbanded in 1982, wandered into the same realm of lighter substance and sequencing of the times, even using Laws on his 1984 Heat of the Night. 

Mirror Town doesn't age well -- it's a true 1986 sound -- love it or hate it. Not without pomp, energy and the occasional silly lyric and otherwise overproduced pop-fluff, it really works. 

Instead of putting the sax down for machines or Laws sole interest in becoming a pop icon, his injections of saxes on soprano, alto and tenor are accompanied and companionate to each tune as you've come to know his sound -- bright, sharp, sophisticated and tricky solos that never stray too far nor too close to jazz saxophone -- just perfect, superbly funky for the lighter whip of Mirror Town. Within the layers of electronics and vocals, Laws' soulful and smooth vocals still remind us he's still a sax player above all, soloing a little more than your average pop record as a former fusion-jazzer ought to -- and he can carry a tune, too.

After doing a little research, it seems the original CD print contends to be the only one out there among a sea of vinyls thus being hard to find, no less a gem for a thrift store pick-up. A fun disc it is, not to be taken as jazz nor too seriously -- this is the fancy free Reagan-era 80's after all!


NOTABLE TRACKS: Tell Me, Take A Chance, Come To Me, Misled, Cold Day
COULD NOT: pass up an album with Larry Dunn on board, even if he doesn't make his presence enough here
NOT ONE: but two creepy trench-coated Laws on the cover...

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