David Sanborn ‘The again. The anthology’ 2CD (Warners) 4/5

To some alto saxophonist David Sanborn represents a form of smooth easy listening radio jazz that is anathema to the spirit of jazz innovation. However, that would be to seriously misread a musician whose personal listening tastes take in Bill Evans and Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and Me’Shell N’dege Ocello to name but a few. In fact Sanborn has anothjer side to his repertoire that would flumux many a jazz purist, performing regluarly at the avant garde Kintting Factory in New York with the likes of Pheeroan Aklaff, Tim Berne and John Zorn while to take just one album, the debut for Elektra, ‘Another hand’ featured musicians of the calibre of Bill Frisell, Jack de Johnette and Marc Ribot. On this new anthology of David Sanborn’s work, there is something to appeal to all kinds of jazz fans, though it is fair to say that the 1980s period was one of consolidation rather than major exploration. For those new to the saxophonist’s music, arguably the strongest album of all on this offering are the cuts from the 1992 album ‘Upfront’ where Sanborn fused his natural love of the blues with some gritty, funky grooves that stand the test of time. His long-term arranger, bassist and producer Marcus Miller (Luther Vandross and Miles Davis among his other production duties) is on fire here and ‘Snakes’ is a fine’ illustration of the album’s burning hues while a reworking of the Latin soul classic from Joe Cuba, ‘Bang Bang’ will surely thrill. Elsewhere the early 1980s were a time of Sanborn combining his fiery alto with acoustic instrumentation and this works particularly well on ‘It’s you’ and is a deeply lyrical piece with a Stevie Wonder style synth bass. Likewise the 1978 track ‘Lotus blossom’, a Don Grolnick composition, shows another aspect to Sanborn’s craft with guitar and acoustic piano to accompany the leader. That David Sanborn can play beautiful melodies is beyond question with the 1983 Marcus Miller collaboration on ‘A tear for Crystal’ a fine example. Slow burning funk ditties are never too distant, though, and ‘So far away’ illustrates this to perfection. Where the anthology does very into muzak territory is on the collaborations with Bob James who pioneered his own form of fusion jazz (and has been heavily sampled by rappers in the process) and thankfully these cuts are best avoided with Al Jarreau lending some much needed variation on ‘Since I fell for you’. In general one might question whether this anothology fully reflects the more eclectic approach and diversity of styles adopted by Sanborn in recent years and the answr, perhaps, lies in record companies happy for him to retain his loyalty base. A live recording of his more adventurous material is thus in order. In the meantime this anthology provides a pretty accurate overview of his career to date. Tim Stenhouse

Diana Krall ‘Glad rag doll’ (Verve) 4/5

Pianist-singer Diana Krall has attempted various stylistic changes over the years and this rootsier retro feel is an inspired choice that actually sounds authentic and convincing. Bringing on board roots producer T-Bone Bennett was a step in the right direction and a crack band that includes among others guitarist Marc Ribot lends a cohesive air to the album more generally. Krall has gone back into the jazz tradition, but has added folksier elements that make this recording sound both contemporary and classic at the same time. The opener ‘We just couldn’t say goodbye’ features some delicious barrelhouse blues piano playing that suits Krall to perfection and provides plenty of scope for her to improvise. The singer excels on the slower material such as the delicate ballad with guitar intro that is ‘Just like a butterfly that’s caught in the rain’, or on the vocal and acoustic guitar duet on the title track that is a
lovely departure from the rest. Arguably one of the album’s most compelling songs is the haunting tune ‘Prairie lullaby’ while ‘I used to love but it’s all over now’ is deeply melodic. That is not to say, however, that the band cannot produce music in an uptempo groove and the foot-stomping ‘I’m a little mixed up’ is testimony to their talents in this respect. Fine all round performances allied to the old time feel make for a strong album overall that has been performed with conviction. This is a welcome addition to an ever expanding repertoire for Diana Krall. Tim Stenhouse

Ry Cooder ‘Election special’ (Nonesuch) 3/5

As US presidential election night looms, musical personalities of the calibre of Jay Z and Bruce Springsteen have lent their support to candidates and previously in the world of rock Neil Young has been just one of many musicians to wear his political convictions on his musical sleeve. World and American roots pioneer Ry Cooder has decided to devote an entire album to various aspects of the political process and the result is a qualified success. Of direct interest to the current contest, Cooder sets out in the opener his own preference on ‘Mutt Romney blues’ which, it is safe to say, has not been played repeatedly on the Republican candidate’s tour bus. This album works best with the rootsier numbers where Ry Cooder’s genius for simple melodies is all too apparent. Thus ‘Goin’ to Tampa’ with Sarah Palin as its principal subject matter has all the feel of a dustbowl blues while equally folksy is the father-child discussion of politics on ‘The 90 and the 9’. Arguably the most melodic song of all is ‘Brother is gone which has a fictional meeting with Satan’ and featuring some neat banjo licks. Where the album falls down slightly is in the overuse of rock-tinged songs that are really a pretext for Cooder to express his views which might just as easily have been conveyed in printed or web form. Of these probably the most convincing and universal in message is ‘Take your hands off it’. The dissonant guitar soloing à la Marc Ribot on ‘Kool aid’ impresses and the accompanying instrumentation, particularly the heavy bassline, is downright moody. More songs in this vein would have enhanced the album as a whole significantly. It is left to the outright rocker ‘The Wall Street part of town’ (Steve Earle would have been in his element here and maybe a potential duet between the two will possible in the future. Tim Stenhouse

Cedar Walton ‘Animation’/’Soundscapes’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Keyboardist Cedar Walton made his name in the early to mid 1960s as part of the classic Jazz Messengers line up on Blue Note. He was an integral part of that formation and contributed with memorable compositions and outstanding pianistic performances to seminal albums such as the driving ‘Free for All’, the superlative ‘Indestructible’ and, arguably best of all, the epic ‘Mosaic’. By the end of the 1960s Cedar Walton was leading his own band, recording for Prestige and then made a series of albums in the mid-late 1970s, first of all for RCA and then for Columbia. The double pairing of albums contained within this CD are examples of the latter tenure and provide a fine contrast between, on the one hand his acoustic playing, and that in a fusion idiom. The first of these is the more straight ahead in jazz terms and probably more expansive for devotees of Walton’s pianistic talents. With a strong line up of Freddie Hubbard (reprising their Jazz Messengers partnership) on trumpet, Steve Turré on trombone and concha shell(s), a young Bob Berg on reeds and Al Foster on drums, this is an album with a distinct purpose. One of the strongest pieces is the bassline driven ‘Jacob’s ladder’ while lovers of acoustic jazz are sure to be enthralled by ‘Charmed circle’ with its Latin feel in percussion and in its use of unison horns that is reminiscent of the McCoy Tyner big band. The title track takes a leaf out of Herbie Hancock’s keyboard soloing from his mid 1970s period and it is clear that Walton was sensitive to new trends in jazz and eager to take them on board in his own manner. The second album, however, is by far the better known of the two on offer and this is largely due to the club track ‘Latin America’ which has long been a fusion favourite and rightly so. There is, though, a good deal of subtlelty in several of the compositions with ‘Sixth Avenue sounding like Walton was listening to the groove piano of Jorge Dalto while ‘Warm to the touch’ features the inestimable vocals of one Leon Thomas. Perhaps the slow burner on the album is the mid-tempo groover ‘The early generation’. At eighty minutes and with all the original album cover details, this CD pacakge represents outstanding value for money and is an accurate reflection of where Cedar Walton was at in the mid-1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

Tom Brock ‘I love you more and more’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Barry White the producer is sometimes overlooked and underplayed in relation to his singer-songwriting talents. However, he did fantastic production duties for Gloria Scott and Love Unlimited, one of whose member’s was his wife. What is less known is that he did produce another male singer, Tom Brock, and London-based label/specialist music shop Soul Brother have unearthed a lesser known gem in this album that dates from 1974 when White was at the peak of his creative forces. Tom Brock is no Barry White soundalike, though, and is much closer in vocal approach to Leon Ware, or even Marvin Gaye, particularly from the ‘I want you’ era and this album is a precursor to that 1976 classic. What is surprising is that at a time when Barry White could have done no wrong, this album should have largely escaped the attention of the music press and not enjoyed any significant chart success. This is a great pity for there are some excellent songs on offer, some of which were co-written between Brock and White while others have the immediate White classy signature sound attached to them. One song especially, the mid-tempo ‘There’s nothing in this world’, has become more famous as a result of being sampled by Jay Z on ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ while the uptempo ‘Naked as the day I was born’ is arguably the best cut of all. Brock’s high-pitched falsetto vocals at various times remind one of Marvin during his ‘What’s going’ on’ album and that is recomendation enough. A fascinating one-off album which is nicely balanced with some fine balladry, and one wonders what ever happened to Tom Brock since.

Tim Stenhouse