After a decade-long string of commercially successful albums on Blue Note, smooth sax titan Richard Elliot has jumped to GRP and released his label debut, Crush. Aside from the label, not much has changed. Elliot and his composing/programming/production partners Steven Dubin, Jeff Lorber, Tim Heintz, and Paul Brown still have their collective thumb solidly on the pulse of today’s smooth jazz format. This album should do very well on the airwaves and on the charts.
But this is manufactured music. It’s studio polished and perfected, but lifeless. On his previous outings, Elliot has distinguished himself from the crowded field of saxophonists with his spirited, muscular sound - instantly recognizable with his right-on pitch, perfectly controlled vibrato, and soul-drenched emotiveness. But even Elliot seems bored and listless; he noodles around on each song’s framework without the total commitment to the musical moment that we’re used to hearing. His sound has lost its punch and seems bland.
The recipe has been followed to the letter. There are guest shots from Jonathan Butler and Sue Ann Carwell (for the two token vocal entries), Greg Phillinganes, and Paul Jackson, Jr., and Jeff Lorber. The familiar horns of Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, Larry Williams, and Bill Reichenbach are called upon to punch up a few tunes, and Lenny Castro peppers it with percussion throughout, but for these guys, it’s just another day in the studio.
Nothing of real interest pops up until the last two songs. “Shotgun,” with guitarist Jeff Golub and drummer Ricky Lawson, and “Sticky Wicked,” with a totally different cast, finally provide the excitement, soulfulness, and toe-tapping R&B groove needed to engage the listener. Elliot responds to the energy and turns in the kind of perky, gutsy performance we’re used to hearing. But it may be too little, too late to save the entire disc. (GRP 314 549 774)