Monthly Archives: October 1997

David Sanborn: “Pearls”

David Sanborn

Elektra 61759-2 (1995)

Rating: * * * *

It seems the entire musical community is on a “standards” kick lately. Natalie Cole did her daddy’s records, followed by ‘Take A Look’, another album of fine renditions of standards. Toni Tenille, John Pizzarelli, and even the Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer cut big-band tracks featuring standards. Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett are enjoying renewed success today, a couple of artists responsible for making these standards popular in the first place. And coming up next week, Chicago (yes, the rock band) is releasing ‘Night & Day (Big Band)’, which features unique remakes of big band classics.

Hot on their heels is David Sanborn,putting aside his fusion/funk chops (a la Marcus Miller) to lay down some tracks of…you guessed it…standards. Curiosity getting the best of me, I had no idea what to expect. David Sanborn. An orchestral backing. Johnny Mandel arrangements. Standards. Hmm…

It’s not exactly a knockout, “must have” album by any means, but it is indeed pleasant. It features Sanborn’s fiery, bluesy alto saxophone against a velvet backdrop of lush strings. Since Sanborn is the feature of this show, he carries most of the melody and soloing throughout the album. A sax-a-thon dose of mega-Sanborn, if you will.

The song selection is well thought out. Featured are the tracks “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, “Willow Weep for Me”, and more modern “popular” standards such as an excellent reading of “This Masquerade”, Leon Russell’s “Superstar”, and a duet of “Nobody Does It Better” featuring Oleta Adams.

This would have been a great “make out” album to have in high school. (Well, maybe not, since the girls I knew listened to Aerosmith and AC/DC and Led Zep…at least I can fantasize!) A good late-evening gig to throw into the CD player with a glass of wine and a fire crackling in the fireplace. David pulls out the stops and does some great soloing, so this album should please his current fans. Other, more casual listeners will enjoy its laid back groove. All told, a pleasant album with a little “kick” to it. Enjoy!

Michael Franks: “Abandoned Garden”

Michael Franks
Abandoned Garden

Reprise 45998-2 (1995)
Rating: * * * *

After releasing so many albums, one has to wonder if Michael Franks is becoming repetitive or, even worse, a self parody. With this release, Abandoned Garden, Michael Franks proves that there is life and good music beyond “Popsicle Toes” and “Baseball”. In fact, his albums following the electric boogaloo entries Skin Dive and The Camera Never Lies have become better with each new release, shedding most of the electronics in favor of an acoustic, laid-back groove. Franks does not even have the ideal singing voice, but that does not detract from his appeal as a vocalist or composer. What he lacks in vocal forcefulness is made up for with a smooth and, dare I say it, seductive approach.

Franks’ first album, The Art of Tea, was good for a debut effort, replete with top session musicians and clever songwriting full of double entendres. Sleeping Gypsy, his second set, coincided with his meeting the Brazilian composer and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim. The effect was immediate–Franks’ sound took on Brazilian overtones that he would recall in future albums. This comes full circle with Abandoned Garden, recorded in memory of the late Antonio Carlos Jobim.

This album opens with “This Must Be Paradise” and “Like Water, Like Wind”, both recalling Antonio and Brazil, excellently arranged by Yellowjackets members Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip. With the excellent Brazilian-influenced guitar work of Chuck Loeb and Franks’ vocal inflections, you can almost hear echoes of Jobim in these two selections. “This Must Be Paradise” successfully mimics Brazilian styling, but “Like Water, Like Wind” is Franks’ true tribute to Jobim here, recalling fond memories of the time they spent together and the admiration they shared for one another. The title track mourns his passing: “Though the samba has ended, I know in the sound of your voice, your piano, your flute, you are found…”.

Also produced by Ferrante and Haslip is “Somehow Our Love Survives”, a re-recording of a song which originally surfaced on a Joe Sample album sung by Al Jarreau. Another surprise here is contemporary Brazilian musician Djavan’s “Bird of Paradise”, with English lyrics supplied by Franks. Djavan’s original take was reggae-influenced, while Franks opts for a jazz touch.

Other tracks work fairly well in this context. “A Fool’s Errand” is textbook Michael Franks, further tales of love’s misadventures. “Hourglass” successfully parallels a woman to a timepiece. Two other tracks originate from Franks’ musical “Noa Noa” about the life of painter Gauguin: “Without Your Love” and the dialog “In The Yellow House”, presented here as a duet with Brian Mitchell (which sounds and feels slightly out of sync with the rest of the album).

Overall, I prefer Franks’ previous album Dragonfly Summer to this one; to me, it sounds more like a singular project. But this is not to belittle Abandoned Garden. It is a heartfelt tribute to a lost mentor and friend, fine music to listen to, and a very worthwhile addition to the Michael Franks catalog. Highly recommended.

Herb Alpert: “Second Wind”

Herb Alpert
Second Wind

Almo Sounds AMSD-80005 (1996)

Produced and arranged by Herb Alpert and Jeff Lorber

Rating: * * * *

Featuring: Herb Alpert, trumpets and additional keyboards; Jeff Lorber, keyboards; Nathaniel Philips, bass; John “J.R.” Robinson, drums; Paul Pesco, guitar; Michael Fisher, percussion; Luis Conte, percussion; Jimmy Johnson, fretless bass solo on “Flamingo”.


  1. Second Wind
  2. Flirtation
  3. Wherever You Are
  4. Sneakin’ In
  5. Drivin’ Home
  6. Can’t Stop Thinking About You
  7. Flamingo
  8. My Funny Valentine
  9. Side Steppin’
  10. Rendezvous
  11. Across The Bridge
  12. Sugar Cane

Composed by Herb Alpert and Jeff Lorber, except: “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” by Herb Alpert; “Flamingo” by Grouya/Anderson; My Funny Valentine by Rodgers/Hart.

Four years have passed since trumpeter Herb Alpert’s last album, Midnight Sun. A lot has happened since then. Herb and his business partner Jerry Moss sold their A&M Records label to Polygram, and Herb took some time off from recording. With the formation of the boutique label Almo Sounds in 1994 (distributed by Geffen), I knew it wouldn’t be long until Alpert came out of hibernation to record an album.

This album was the result of a meeting with Jeff Lorber back in 1994, and was anticipated by the recording of “Winter Wonderland” on the Jazz To The World Christmas collection with Lorber. I admit to not being much of a Jeff Lorber fan; after all, he’s given us the likes of Kenny G. and Dave Koz, and some of his own recordings tend to be formulaic fusion exercises. Luckily, Alpert knew exactly what he wanted on this album, and was able to draw on Lorber’s talent (perhaps keeping it in check) without being buried beneath petty fusion cliches and layers of synthesizers.

Structurally, there really isn’t much to this album. The groove is loose, a bit laid back, and especially lean. There are five musicians in the basic band, and it sounds like five. No, it’s not acoustic, but Alpert uses the electric-based backdrop more as a canvas than a wall of technofunk to bury his trumpet in (memories of North on South Street come to mind). Most of the beats derive from a loose funk or hip-hop rhythm, but quickly step out of the way once established.

But despite its spare sound, there is plenty of room for Alpert to solo. This is not the Herb Alpert you’ll remember from the era of “The Lonely Bull” or “A Taste of Honey”. This is a more thoughtful, more mature Alpert, although you’ll still recognize his style. (He’s also added a mute to his back of tricks.)

How do the songs stack up? They’re a nice collection, actually. There’s nothing here that has that knockout quality of something like “A Taste of Honey” or “Rise” that screams “Top 40”, but that’s not the intent. The songs here act more as backdrops for Alperts soloing. A bit of melody lays down the foundation, and the solos are the colorful splashes that make it interesting.

The title track, “Second Wind”, punctuated by Hammond B-3 organ, perhaps recalls his Tijuana Brass style of trumpet playing the best, while the muted trumpet suggests more of jazz stylings a la Miles Davis (whom Alpert cites as an influence along with Bill Evans and Stan Getz). “Flirtation” is interesting in its used of plucked pizzicatto strings to accentuate the slinky, sexy groove. Tijuana Brass fans may recognize “Flamingo” from the S.R.O. album, and the one melodic song from the ill-fated street/hip-hop project North on South Street, “Can’t Stop Thinking About You”, is rescued for this album. “Sneakin’ In” has a funky, bluesy Hammond organ lick that transmutates into a light hip-hop beat upon which Alpert lays some muted trumpet melodies.

Most jazz lovers will have a take it or leave it approach with this album. Good jazz does not need to be strict and uptight, nor does it need to be difficult and discordant. By anyone’s measure, this is Jazz Lite. It’s enjoyable, well-crafted, loose, light jazz with funky overtones, employed with tact and restraint. This is one of Herb Alpert’s most solid albums, far better than the last couple of recordings he made at the old A&M. Alpert fans no doubt will enjoy this immensely; others who lean toward this type of music should also be pleased. Purists may shake their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about. But as it stands, it’s an album by an artist doing what he likes to do, enjoying himself in the process, and doing a fine job with the tools at his disposal. And there may be hope for Jeff Lorber yet! Recommended!

Herb Alpert: “Passion Dance”

Herb Alpert
Passion Dance

Almo Sounds AMSD-80014 (1997) Rating: <!– Enter the image tags here for rating stars The tag for one star is as follows: * The tag for a half star is: 1/2 Insert the proper number of tags below…just copy and paste from above –> * * * 1/2

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between them. Begin the first paragraph below this comment. –> This album “is dedicated to all the Tijuana Brass fans…who always ask ‘When am I going to make another record.’ This one’s for you.”

No, this is not a return of the mighty Brass to disc, but it has to be the most Latin recording Herb Alpert has ever recorded. While my earlier Latin favorite ‘Fandango’ was oriented toward Latin pop instrumentals, this new recording features a crack line-up of fine salsa musicians. Aside from Alpert’s lead parts on the trumpet and various songwriting clues, you would not recognize this as one of his albums. Eight of these tunes were composed by Alpert and his producer/co-writer for these sessions, Oskar Cartaya.

The hot album opener “TKO” was co-penned with Jeff Lorber, with whom he collaborated on his previous set ‘Second Wind’. There is a mild salsa redux of Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin'”, and some pleasant slower-tempo tracks such as the title track, “Beba” and “Baila Conmingo (Dance With Me). Tijuana Brass fans will smile at the “quote” from “Spanish Flea” in the song “Que Pasa Mr. Jones?”, and the past is revisited again with a salsa/rock re-do of his hit from ‘Fandango’, “Route 101”.

Given the uneven quality of his latter-day A&M solo recordings, these last two solid efforts on Alpert’s new label Almo Sounds show him to be expanding musically and creatively, sounding markedly refreshed. Long time Alpert fans and salsa lovers will find a lot to enjoy with Alpert’s latest!