Tuesday, August 12, is a big day for contemporary jazz fans. It’s the day that several legends will drop new music – and all of them on two recordings. In fact, four of the five artists who were on the Legends tour about a decade ago are on them.
David Sanborn is back with an album that likely will serve as a highlight in his career. What upfront was to funk, Here and Gone might be to soul and blues. Sanborn pays homage to the music that inspired him, especially the music of Hank Crawford. “Hank was the great saxophonist and arranger for Ray Charles in the 1950s and early ’60s, and his arrangements and playing were central to me in forming my ideas about what music was and should be,” states Sanborn. “He had such a wonderful economy in what he did: He didn’t waste any notes, and there was nothing superfluous about his playing.” To help realize the vision he had for this recording, the saxman brought in some names: Christian McBride and Steve Gadd are the rhythm section and Eric Clapton sings and plays “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” Also contributing are Joss Stone, Sam Moore, Gil Goldstein, Russell Malone, and Wallace Roney. I didn’t receive an advance on Here and Gone but I did hear three cuts. I don’t know if it’s a word but I’m describing it as “rootsy.” I mean, it’s Sanborn playing the style that influenced him, and it doesn’t sound like it’s a slick, overly polished record. Rootsy.
When I first saw that the new release from David Sanborn, Closer, identically follows the formula from his last release, I was going to write that he’s applying the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach. Closer has the same players, producer, and the same ratio of known, not-so-known, and original Sanborn compositions. I wrote a positive review of that prior release. This recording is better.
Sanborn kicks it off in a feisty manner. His playing on the opening track “Tin Tin Deo” is as crisp and enthused as ever. The next song is a worthy rendition of Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues.” Singer Lizz Wright makes an overdue appearance on a cover of James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” With that, the album gets into a more intimate and heartfelt tone. Except for the peppy Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Capetown Fringe,” you’ll hear a more introspective, romantic mood, notably on his two compositions “Another Time Another Place” and the tender “Sofia.”
Sanborn continues to amaze me. Like Joe Sample, he seems to get better with time. That’s saying something. Some of the sweet sounds coming out of his saxophone are unmatched in modern jazz.
It’s been over four years since David Sanborn released a solo recording. That was Inside, a CD that stretched across different styles and sounds. It felt like Sanborn was restless. He’s easily distanced himself from the pop-jazz style that he was known for with his 1990s releases Another Hand and the superfunk of upfront and hearsay. Which direction was Sanborn going to go in now?
Almost half a decade later, the answer is timeagain, a jazz record that establishes a different sound for the saxophonist. Instead of Marcus Miller, the CD is produced by Stewart Levine. The CD sounds like it was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. As usual, Sanborn has the best musicians surrounding him. His band for timeagain consists of Christian McBride, Russell Malone, Steve Gadd, Gil Goldstein, Don Alias, and Mike Mainieri. Ricky Peterson adds keyboards for three of the album’s cuts as well as one of the CD’s only tracks that seems to have any programming – the cover of “Tequila”. Sanborn himself contributes the piano work for four tracks. This band sets a mood for the record that frequently reminds of you of a smoky jazz club late at night.
Sanborn covers seven songs including Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”. The recording starts on an energetic note with Ben Tucker’s “Comin’ Home Baby” then goes into a more somber mode with tracks like the haunting and complex “Cristo Redentor” and Joni Mitchell’s “Man From Mars. The last three tracks were written by Sanborn (except “Spider B.” which was co-written with Ricky Peterson). His “Little Flower” is so damn beautiful that I would have had it played at my wedding. With the strings and perfect vibe touches by Mainieri, the song is an instant Sanborn classic.
As for Sanborn himself, he’s never sounded stronger or better in his playing. His desire to continue to try different things is rewarding for the listener. Sanborn’s sound is evident no matter what the atmosphere around him is. Summarizing his feelings on this release, he says, “I grew up listening to music with an open mind and drawing on different elements, which is what I’m continuing to do on this record. Whether I’m playing Joni Mitchell or Stanley Turrentine, timeagain reflects the attitude I’ve always had: if it’s good, it’s good.”