Label: Universal Music / Verve
Subgenre: Smooth Jazz
Album including Album cover
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- 1Comin' Home Baby07:13
- 2Cristo Redentor05:48
- 3Harlem Nocturne04:51
- 4Man From Mars05:03
- 5Isn't She Lovely03:20
- 8Little Flower03:38
- 9Spider B.06:29
Info for Time Again
timeagain is a refreshing musical departure for the GRAMMY-award winning recording artist, and an album that holds great personal significance. Produced by Stewart Levine (The Crusaders Rural Renewal on Verve), Sanborn likens the process of making this album to “blowing up a snapshot”. The original conceptions and arrangements were formed by David at his home studio. He then enlisted Levine’s aid to “flesh them out” bringing in an all-star cast of top flight musicians to expand upon the original demos while keeping the feel of the early versions. The core band: Christian McBride on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Russell Malone on guitar, and Mike Manieri on vibes, create a classic ensemble sound with a live vibe. Sanborn himself has never sounded better, playing with authority, inventiveness, and heart.
David Sanborn's new album, timeagain, is not a jazz album; it's a pop-instrumental record. But that's a description, not a judgment. There are good and bad pop-instrumental albums, just as there are good and bad jazz releases; one is not automatically superior to the other.
Over his 28 years as a leader, Sanborn has proven how pop-instrumental music can be done with dignity and imagination. Because improvisation and harmonic substitution are less important in pop than they are in jazz, tone and phrasing become more important, and those are the two areas where Sanborn has always excelled.
The alto saxophonist, now 57, boasts a warm, humming timbre, but there's a hint of tartness that creates a welcome tension and prevents the gushy melodrama that afflicts so many pop horn players (and I would never be so tactless as to mention Kenny G here). Moreover, Sanborn understands that pauses are as important as notes in shaping a line, and his restraint contrasts with the busy overplaying that marks today's pop-instrumental field (aka smooth jazz).
As if to make an argument for the genre's validity, Sanborn anchors his new release with four pop-instrumental classics: the Johnny Otis Orchestra's 'Harlem Nocturne' (1945), the Champs' 'Tequila' (1958) Herbie Mann's 'Comin' Home Baby' (1961) and Stanley Turrentine's 'Sugar' (1970). To these he adds Duke Pearson's 'Cristo Redentor,' the most famous result of A New Perspective, Donald Byrd's 1963 jazz-gospel-fusion project, and Stevie Wonder's 1976 hit 'Isn't She Lovely,' a pop standard recorded by everyone from Stephane Grappelli and Milt Jackson to Keb' Mo' and James Galway.
What all six of these tunes have in common is a compact melody, usually no more than four measures, that's so infectious, so perfectly matched to its rhythm pattern, that you can't get it out of your head. Nor would you want to, for a hypnotic hook provides a pleasure you can't get enough of. So, in contrast to a jazzman who would soon leave the motif behind to improvise new harmonic structures, the pop instrumentalist keeps the theme in the foreground, making small alterations to reveal new aspects but never obscuring the essential shape of the melody.
The trick is to keep the variations frequent enough to prevent monotony but small enough to keep the hook and the groove intact. Sanborn does this as well as anyone. His saxophone seems to exult in melody; it will eagerly leap into a phrase and then hold out a climactic note, as if reluctant to let go of something that feels so good. His variations on a theme are aimed more at creating new melodies than new harmonies.
Just listen to how he attacks the two-bar hook of 'Tequila.' After planting it firmly in our brains, he finds new ending notes for each measure; then he drops half a bar by an octave; then he substitutes a new melodic detour for the first bar, retaining the second; then he inverts that approach. He keeps twisting the phrase into new melodic shapes, but he never obscures the original motif and he never loses the beat.
For Sanborn is a very rhythmic player, toughening his tone to mark the accents in a phrase and using pauses as punctuation. Even though he's the leader, he often sounds as if he's part of the album's all-star rhythm section of guitarist Russell Malone, vibist Mike Mainieri, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Steve Gadd. These jazz musicians add secondary beats to make the bottom more interesting, but like good pop musicians they never leave the primary beat implied; it's always stated quite explicitly and quite crisply.
Sanborn, producer Stewart Levine (the Crusaders) and arranger Gil Goldstein aren't averse to tampering with the arrangements of these standards: the Latin underpinnings of 'Tequila' are brought to the surface; 'Harlem Nocturne' is taken more briskly than usual; and 'Isn't She Lovely' has a dreamier, more leisurely feel. But once the format is set, it's less likely to vary than it would on a jazz project.
Some arrangements work better than others. 'Cristo Redentor' suffers from those cursed 'ghost vocals,' that gimmick of adding background vocal harmonies without a lead vocal to accompany. Sounding bland and anonymous, it's one of the worst arrangement ideas of the past 40 years. And by shifting gears too often, the band never quite nails the groove on 'Sugar.'
On the other hand, 'Comin' Home Baby' smolders like a Steely Dan track with Sanborn's alto sax phrasing like a Donald Fagen vocal. Don Alias' conga part turns 'Harlem Nocturne' into a 'Spanish Harlem Nocturne,' and Sanborn's sax maintains a film-noir cool amid the jittery energy around him. And the same horn finds new drama in the held-out notes of the slowed-down 'Isn't She Lovely'; as a single note swells, swoons and revives, the romance of Wonder's melody is more obvious than ever.
Sanborn adds three original compositions to the end of the disc. Both 'Spider B.' and 'Delia' are Sanborn's attempts to write late-night blues vamps in the style of 'Harlem Nocturne,' and while he doesn't match that classic, he comes close enough to be respectable. 'Little Flower' is a lovely ballad with a restrained rhythm section and muted strings reinforcing the tenderness of the composer's solo. Something very similar also happens on Sanborn's adaptation of the Joni Mitchell ballad 'Man From Mars.'
It would be silly to criticize timeagain for its lack of harmonic sophistication, rhythmic elasticity or conceptual innovations. Those are jazz goals. This is a pop-instrumental album that delivers in full on its promises of melodies, grooves and subtle variations. And it does so with the sort of understatement and curiosity that's all too rare in its field.
The problem with most 'smooth-jazz' records is not that they're inauthentic jazz. A lot of great music is not jazz. The problem isn't that they're bad pop-instrumental records, full of maudlin themes, robotic rhythms, empty virtuosity and a reliance on the obvious. Once again Sanborn has demonstrated how it can be done right. (Geoffrey Himes, JazzTines)
David Sanborn, Alto Saxophone
Steve Gadd, Drums
Christian McBride, Bass
Russell Malone, Guitar (Tracks 1-7, 9, 10)
Mike Mainieri, Vibraphone (Tracks 1-4, 6-10)
Gil Goldstein, Piano (Tracks 2, 6, 9, 10)
Ricky Petersen, Keyboards & Drum Programming (Tracks 4-5, 7, 9)
Don Alias, Percussion (Tracks 1, 3-4, 6, 7)
Luis Quintero, Percussion (Tracks 3-4, 7)
Randy Brecker, Trumpet, Flugelhorn (Track 9)
Lawrence Feldman, Alto Flute, Bass Flute (Track 9)
Stewart Levine, Producer
Veteran alto sax master David Sanborn has played a crucial role in establishing the sound of contemporary jazz and instrumental pop. In his remarkable three-and-a-half-decade recording and performing career, he's consistently embodied the dual ideals of virtuosity and versatility, revealing a one-of-a-kind talent on his own much-loved releases while building a singularly impressive resume that includes work with everyone from Gil Evans to Bruce Springsteen.
The sense of open-minded adventurousness that's helped to make David Sanborn a musical icon is prominent on Closer, which follows his acclaimed 2003 Verve debut Timeagain. The new album once again teams Sanborn with Timeagain's producer, Stewart Levine, along with an all-star assortment of musicians including Larry Goldings (electric piano, organ), Gil Goldstein (electric piano, accordion), Mike Mainieri (vibraphone), Russell Malone (guitar), Christian McBride (bass), Steve Gadd (drums), Luis Quintero (percussion) and Bob Sheppard (saxophones), as well as Sanborn's Verve labelmate Lizz Wright, who contributes a compelling guest vocal on a memorable reading of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight."
Closer's ten instrumental tracks cover a typically eclectic range of musical and emotional modes, from the buoyant tropical vibe of "Tin Tin Deo" to the fluid lushness of "Poinciana" to the late-night introspection of "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," to the arresting intimacy of the Sanborn originals "Sofia" and "Another Time, Another Place." Elsewhere on the 11-track collection, the artist offers distinctive interpretations of Abdullah Ibrahim/Dollar Brand's "Capetown Fringe" and the Horace Silver classics "Senor Blues" and "Enchantment," and a poignant reading of the classic Charlie Chaplin standard "Smile."
Closer's artfully eclectic approach is consistent with David Sanborn's longstanding ability to maintain his identity as a jazz trend-setter while remaining active in the worlds of jazz, rock and R&B. "I'm a big fan of structure and brevity, and I think that's something I learned from blues and R&B," Sanborn states. "The longest piece on this album is about six minutes. As times goes on, I get more and more interested in the idea of saying more with less, and in saying what you have to say and then getting out.
"Making Closer, I was very clear about my picture of what I wanted the record to be," the artist explains. "Gil Goldstein and myself pretty much arranged everything, and I recorded very detailed demos, playing all the instruments myself, to give the musicians an idea of the tempos and chords and some of the voicings. But within that structure, a lot was left open to interpretation."
Even in the context of Sanborn's imposing body of work, Closer stands out, thanks to his consistently inventive, expressive playing and the sympathetic support of the album's sterling supporting cast. "Casting," Sanborn says, "is 90 per cent of the job. I've never been particularly comfortable giving people direction. I would rather just find the right people, explain what I want and then leave them to their own devices, because an important part of the process is getting people to invest something of themselves in the situation. And if you get the right people, people that you have a rapport with, it's always something more than you expect."
Born in Tampa, Florida on July 30, 1945 but raised in St. Louis, David Sanborn was exposed to a wide variety of music in his youth. Early on, he was attracted to the work of soul-jazz saxophonists like Gene Ammons, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis and Willis "Gator" Jackson, improvisers who balanced their hard-swinging chops with warmth and expressiveness. Adopting the alto saxophone as his main instrument, Sanborn immersed himself in jazz while retaining a parallel affinity for popular culture. His talent and adaptability resulted in early gigs backing artists as soul deity James Brown and blues great Albert King.
In the 1970s, Sanborn earned widespread renown as both an improvising jazz instrumentalist and a busy R&B/pop/rock session player. He was featured on albums by such jazz heavyweights as Gil Evans, Jaco Pastorius, the Brecker Brothers, Joe Beck and Mark Murphy, as well as projects by David Bowie, the Eagles, Carly Simon, Donny Hathaway and Bruce Springsteen.
Sanborn began recording as a leader in 1975, when he released his debut album, Taking Off, on Warner Bros. He went on to record a dozen albums for Warner, including such well-received efforts as Heart to Heart, Hideaway, Voyeur and Straight to the Heart, before singing with Elektra in 1990. At Elektra, Sanborn recorded such critically admired CDs as 1991's Another Hand, 1992's Upfront, 1993's Hearsay, 1995's Pearls (a collaboration with arranger Johnny Mandel), 1996's Songs from the Night Before and 1999's Inside.
"Ultimately, it's not an intellectual exercise," Sanborn says, describing his musical philosophy. "It's kind of like arranging the furniture in a room; you try to set things up so that there's a certain ambience. You paint the walls a certain color and you choose a certain kind of rug, with the intention of creating this little world that you want to be in, and hopefully other people will want to inhabit that world as well. And if you do it right, you forget about the components and the process, and it becomes about the experience.
"Maybe that sounds like an obvious thing, but you need the right people to make that happen. The great thing about guys Steve Gadd or Christian McBride is that you don't always hear how great they are, but if you talk to any musician who's played with them, it's obvious. They're about moving everything forward and making the music happen. They're selfless, and that's what music's supposed to be about.
"There's an old expression," Sanborn points out, "called 'Getting a little house,' which refers to using a flashy trick to get the crowd to go nuts, like jumping up on the bar or playing a really fast lick or holding a note for a really long time. That's an easy trap to fall into, going for the quick fix, and we're all guilty of it. But as time goes on, I'm less and less interested in that kind of thing and more concerned with just making the kind of music that feels the most real to me. To me, that's what Closer is about."
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