Michael Lington: Pure (2012)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Here is a disclaimer: Michael Lington plays alto and tenor saxophone, and the saxophone is the dominant instrument of the smooth jazz genre, every bit as much the electric guitar is the dominant instrument of rock 'n' roll. This means Lington is trying to stand out in an extremely crowded field.
So what is it about Lington that makes him distinctive and unique compared to Eric Marienthal, Euge Groove, Marion Meadows, Kim Waters, Jeff Kashiwa, Boney James, Dave Koz, Mindi Abair or Walter Beasley? Nothing much, and that is an observation, not a criticism. Lington does not distinguish himself from the pack because he plays it right down the middle.
Everything that's expected in this sort of instrumental pop music is in abundance on Pure. The playing is professional, the collective sound matters more than the individual solos, the production is slick, clean and polished to a sheen, and with only one tune clocking in over five minutes in length, nothing lasts long enough to become particularly annoyingor involving.
An example of how safe as milk Lington plays it is his throwaway take on Bill Withers' "Lovely Day." It's a perfectly okay version, but what made the original distinctive was the point where Withers holds a note for a jaw-dropping 18 seconds. The saxophone gives Lington the power to approximate the human voice, but does he try to blow and hold a note like Withers? He does notas if going for the same soaring grandeur Withers achieved might tamper with the relentless smooth groove.
When Lington allows himself to jam he's pretty good at it. Jeff Golub's guitar jumpstarts "Playtime," and the middle section of Pure gets on the good foot from there until the energy flags at the end. If you're going to tackle a classic like Jr. Walker's "Shotgun" you had better be willing to step your game up and Lington does overcoming a wobbly vocal from '90s blue-eyed soul belter Michael Bolton. Bolton's upper register has pretty much gone A.W.O.L, but Lington's sax fills in the patches.
The musicians surrounding Lington are uniformly good and the guest appearances from Golub, Lee Ritenour, Jonathan Butler and Brian Culbertson, among others, stay within the lines of the overall production. Lington makes no obvious missteps in the choice of cover tunes, and the originals make for perfectly satisfactory listening even if nothing memorable ever happens.
Lington knows what his audience wants and Pure delivers the jazzy, if not the hardcore jazz.
Track Listing: Roadtrip; The Serenade; Playtime; Lower East Side; Shotgun; Like Old Times; Movin' On; Come On Over; A Simpler Time
Personnel: Michael Lington: alto and tenor saxophone, horn arrangement; Lee Ritenour: guitar (1); Oscar Seaton (1, 6): drums; Smitty Smith: bass (1, 6); Brian Culbertson: keyboards (1, 6); Ray Parker, Jr.: guitars (1, 6); Jeff Babko: Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, clavinet (4, 9, 10); Michael Stever: trumpet and horn arrangement (1, 3-5, 8); Michael Brioni: trombone (1, 3-5, 8); Torcuato Mariano: acoustic guitar (2); Teddy Campbell: drums (2, 5, 7); Ricky Minor: bass (2, 5, 7); David Delhomme: Rhodes and Hammond B3 (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Michael Broening: additional keyboards (2, 5, 8); Rex Hardy: drums (3, 8); Ricky Minor: bass (3, 8); Paul Jackson, Jr.: electric guitar (3, 5, 7, 8); Jeff Golub: guitar solo (3); Victor Indizzo: drums (4, 9, 10); Kaveh Rastegar: bass (4, 9, 10); Chris Bruce: guitar (4, 9, 10); Michael Bolton: vocals (5); Michael Thompson: electric guitars (5); Janey Clewer: vocals (6); Sheldon Reynolds: vocals (6); Tollak Oliestad: harmonica (7, 9); Thano Sahnas: acoustic guitar (7); Kenya Hathaway: vocals (7); Cameron Harder-Handel: trumpet(9); Jonathan Butler: acoustic guitar (10)
Record Label: Trippin n Rhythm Records