Dreams: New York
Dreams (Columbia/Legacy CK 47906)
Edward Vernon (lead vocals), Barry Rodgers (trombone, tuba), Jeff Kent (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Doug Lubahn (bass, vocals).
Composed by Jeff Kent.
Recorded: Chicago and New York, early Fall 1970
Rating: 88/100 (learn more)
To many jazz-rock fans, Dreams was almost better known as the main spawning ground for the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham and John Abercrombie than for its actual music, which blended rock with a good dose of improvisational jazz. In recent years, however, a fairer assessment has been developing. I own this album because it was popular as one of the earliest jazz-rock efforts. I have always found its music to be enjoyable, if uneven. Some of the lyrics and vocals seem out of place. Still, despite my reservations, the vocal tracks do have an innocent charm. They sound sort of like Broadway numbers from those days from such shows as Hair and Godspell. While the band sometimes seemed to be trying too hard to become pop stars, you have to stand back and admire what they were doing musically.
The Tony Williams Lifetime has always been given well deserved credit for its place in fusion history. However, everyone acknowledges that Tony Williams's vocals on those records were tortuously awful. Yet that has not diminished the group's importance. I can say unequivocally the vocals from Dreams are light years better than Williams's. I can also say that Tony Williams wanted to be a pop star too. There was nothing wrong with that. The trick was to create pop songs that were full of jazz – an almost impossible task.
"New York" starts with what would eventually become the signature horn sounds of the Brecker Brothers. Lead singer Edward Vernon enters with backup singers. They develop a good soul sound that puts them on the cusp of the Top 200. The funk rhythms are laid down big-time by Cobham and bassist Lubahn. Randy Brecker uses his trumpet to punctuate. Randy Brecker plays his ass off. Abercrombie adds some distorted guitar that the engineer decided to pan between channels. The song ends in the din of musically created New York traffic. It is a pretty entertaining attempt at crossover that would make a good B-side to some hit from one of Dreams' more successful contemporaries such as Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago Transit Authority (later known simply as Chicago) or Chase. But those bands' arrangements were better thought out and structured. Dreams prided itself in going more "free-form," letting the music take them wherever it would through improvisation.
Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago also offered listeners the vocals of great singers. The vocalists for Dreams were good, but not great. I believe if the band had stuck to instrumentals, which they were quite superior at, they would have had a stronger impact. There was also the little issue of creating a finely crafted pop tune. Dreams couldn't quite do that. But the fact is that, while some may credit Blood, Sweat & Tears and even Chicago in helping define jazz-rock, Dreams – as evidenced by the risks it took and the progeny (Breckers, Cobham. Abercrombie) it spawned – was far more important to fusion's development.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky