With a professional recording career spanning almost three decades that encapsulates six Grammy awards and over 20 albums, you’ve got to figure that David Sanborn is more than just a damn good saxophonist. By now, his reputation proceeds him as a versatile “cross-over” musician, comfortable playing in the jazz, R&B, blues, and rock musical spectrums. His resumé boasts employment with such artists as David Bowie, the Eagles, James Taylor, Gil Evans, not to mention an engagement with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the infancy of his career.
timeagain, Sanborn’s first solo album in four years and his first album with record label Verve, is ostensibly a revisit to old times and old influences. If you’ve ever wondered who is the quintessential musician David Sanborn, then look no further. Supported by a first-rate group of musicians comprising bassist Christian McBride, drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Russell Malone, vibist Mike Mainieri, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and percussionists Don Alias and Gil Goldstein, this is the definitive album that marks Sanborn’s career to date. timeagain includes three original Sanborn compositions, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Man from Mars” and the remaining tracks are covers of classic tunes. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the covers equate to straight copies of the originals. Sanborn definitely has his own way of doing things.
The musical trip down memory lane kicks off apropos with “Comin’ Home Baby”, a cover of the Ben Tucker original. Sanborn rides over the smooth bass accompaniment with some snappy sax riffs and his trademark high-pitch squealing, providing catchy minimalist repetition that provokes reminders of Junior Walker. He possesses an acute sense of timing that allows the melody to breathe without surrendering to the strict rhythmic bass movement. On “Isn’t She Lovely”, a mellow rework of the 1976 Stevie Wonder original, Sanborn embellishes the melody with smooth flowing ripples like a gentle tickle in the ear.
One of the highlights on this is “Man from Mars”, an interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s song. Sanborn’s treatment is delicate and effect is haunting; by staying mainly in the lower register of the saxophone, he projects a sense of fragility that is heightened by the light sound of the vibraphone. “Tequila”, on the other hand, is the high-energy classic track that shakes up this album and where Sanborn reminisces back to his teenage years when this was a popular tune.
Interestingly enough, Sanborn plays piano on four of the 10 tracks. Quoted in interview with Norm Breest of Jazz Review, he said “[my piano playing is] not enough to scare anybody, but I play enough to be certainly adequate for what the tunes called for. There was a certain kind of raw quality that I wanted to get on the keyboards that most keyboard players I know play better than the requirements that I needed for the songs.” “Harlem Nocturne” is a bluesy number that exemplifies this quote. The piece itself is beautifully constructed and Sanborn really lets loose on some improvised interludes. The only letdown is that his alto sax sounds a little too bright and nasally in sections.
The album ends with the three original Sanborn compositions: “Little Flower”, “Spider B.”, and “Delia”. “Spider B.” builds itself over a motif. The title makes you think of the effect as being like a spider building a web. When you deconstruct it, the piece really is just improvisation over a bass pedal. There is some structural development but the work should be appreciated for the atmospheric effect more than the melodic content. “Delia” is probably the best of Sanborn’s three compositions. The track is dark, moody, bluesy, and built upon a foundation of chords. As you listen to this last tune, you can just picture him musing, “I’m a product of my influences” but you could say that about the entire album.