Closer... meaning “more close”? Or a number which, like “Sofia” here, concludes a set? And does Sofia refer to the Balkan capital, a girl, a goddess, or a principle of wisdom? There are ambivalences about this music.
It would be interesting to compare Sanborn with Earl Bostic. None of Sanborn’s colleagues has suggested that his mastery of the saxophone was unequalled in his day (Bostic’s was said to exceed even Charlie Parker’s). To get the full force of this assertion it’s necessary to appreciate not only the extent of Parker’s instrumental control, and that of Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges and the too nearly forgotten Willie Smith, but also the fact that Bostic’s career in less sophisticated days was mainly as a performer on ‘pop’ singles, with at times vibes and organ—a synthetic-sounding accompaniment—of obvious virtuosity and sometimes a minimally musical repertoire. More informal and mercifully unsm**th if at odd times schmaltzy.
In marketing terms Bostic was in fact a successor of Rudy Wiedoft, billed in the press as the ‘greatest living saxophonist’ and well described by later jazz critics as a novelty or trick player. Wiedoft played the music misnamed Jazz in the Jazz Age of Scott Fitzgerald. But we won’t go into the forgotten history of sensationalist submusical ‘sax’ here, whether of Gatsby or a more recent G (whose productions Joe Temperley can emulate, briefly: though Joe’s too great an artist to sustain imitation of the bad—out the corner of his mouth—for more than two bars).
The present, intentionally pleasant set Closer begins in fact with more or less Bosticity, which after three or so minutes any turns into funk, with the odd blast of brass not so inappropriate in a rendering of Dizzy Gillespie’s big-band, Afro-Cuban “Tin Tin Deo” (the string quartet on this same title is not very audible). Mike Mainieri’s vibes solo would distinguish a better setting, and he turns up on Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues” with another sort of performance Gillespie used to lead with a lot of percussion and some Hispanic musicians. Unfortunately there’s not enough of that.
Other reviewers have deplored the performance of “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”, on which Lizz Wright shares singing duties with Sanborn, but without Miss Wright and with no singing whatever the music here ceases even to simmer thereafter. If “Capetown Fringe” appeals, it stirs much stronger feelings which were lit up by hearing the same music not merely performed under the leadership of its composer—Abdullah Ibrahim aka Dollar Brand—but in non-routine style by say Ricky Ford or Carlos Ward, respectively tenor and alto saxophone leads of great ensembles under the South African (Ford’s pitching of the tenor into alto tone and register would be another challenge). In the comparison, Sanborn is just an extremely accomplished hack.
Rushing past “Enchantment” and “Ballad of the Sad Young Men”, “Poinciana” is pretty well routine tenor/organ stuff (well, dark, slightly raspy, slightly tremoloed alto/organ) as the set continues into its sunset of interest. After a “You Must Believe in Spring”—a ballad played with a none too distinguished tone in standard synthesised setting, a string quartet and everybody else on the date joins in for much the same on “Sofie”, the closer of Closer. There is no doubt of Sanborn’s mastery and sensitivity on this near-enough lullaby, very much moving but in the standard uniform of the presumably lucrative service industry which keeps the springs of the Sanborn saxophone serviced. And as well as Mike Mainieri Russell Malone adds something to some of the performances—none of them falling below the mediocre—with his sensitive electric guitar.