Run down the roster of some of the greatest jazz and pop music collectives of the late 20th century – the Beatles, Earth, Wind and Fire, Weather Report, just to name a few – and the old adage rings true: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In a career that spans nearly thirty years, Pieces of a Dream has remained true to that lesson, maximizing the talents and ideas that each individual member has brought to the mix over the years and distilling them into a compelling and satisfying whole. Their latest effort, No Assembly Required, merges the seasoned songwriting skills of charter and founding members James Lloyd and Curtis Harmon with the talents of some newer members of the roster. The resulting whole is indeed greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Heads Up International released No Assembly Required (HUCD 3080) with a simultaneous worldwide release in 5.1 surround sound (HUSA 9080).
The creative dynamic may have been a little different with this project – more collaborations than usual for Pieces, according to Lloyd – but the resulting album is consistent with the band’s usual entertaining and compelling groove. "It’s really cool when you work with people whom you respect musically and personally," he says. "You just sort of get a vibe going and bam, there it is."
As with any Pieces album, the high points among the ten tracks are numerous. Vocalist Tracy Hamlin returns (following her debut with the band on their 2002 release, Love’s Silhouette) with an upbeat and inspiring rendition of Earth Wind and Fire’s "Devotion," a tune first heard thirty years ago on EWF’s 1974 release, Open Our Eyes.
"Dyse It Up" follows with an equally upbeat groove. "That was one that I co-wrote with David Dyson, a bass player we work with when Gerald Veasley, our regular bassist, isn’t available," says Lloyd. "I got David into the studio and we collaborated on a few things, and ‘Dyse It Up’ was one of them. It was something a little different – a bass lead, but mixed with a sax. Its something that would be really fun to play live."
"Yeah Baby" opens with a haunting keyboard riff that immediately sucks the listener in and stays underneath the mix throughout the track, setting up an intriguing counterpoint to the more lighthearted solo work going on in the forefront. Two tracks later, "Who U Wit?" is a punchy, rhythmic composition built around a solid drum-percussion backbeat with some driving and catchy horn lines on top, courtesy of saxman Jason Davis.
"Summer" is a quiet, atmospheric piece that had been cooking on Lloyd’s back burner for a few years. "It has this sort of hypnotic groove that I’d been feeling, and I just expounded on that," he says. "I dusted it off and brought it back out for this project. I love acoustic piano leads and catchy melodies. I guess the reason I called it ‘Summer’ is because it reminded me of hanging out in the park, kicking back and lying in the grass."
"Lunar Lullabye," the ambient closer, has an unusual genesis. "That started off as a one-and-a-half-minute thing that we originally submitted for a movie, but it didn’t get accepted," Lloyd explains. "That was written by myself and Michael Thornton, a keyboardist who used to be with us. It was just this one little idea that we came up with, but I just started adding sections, and it sort of turned into this Euro-sounding thing."
From quiet grooves to classic covers, from the uptempo to the Euro-beat, Lloyd says one of the primary objectives in the making of No Assembly Required was to push the creative envelope. "We wanted to try to gather some new listeners and expand our audience a little bit," he says. "That was basically the vibe – just get as creative as possible, follow some of the rules, and break a few of them as well."
Mission accomplished on all fronts. No Assembly Required has all the right components in the right place. It’s the listener – either the longtime fan or the newcomer to the Pieces groove – who puts it all together.