Bob James & David Sanborn: Quartette Humaine (2013)
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It's much easier to take Quartette Humaine at face value as an organic-and-acoustic outing between two high profile figures known for blurring the pop-jazz line than it is to take it under its marketed premise: a tribute to the famed partnership between pianist Dave Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond. While pianist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn recorded this album a mere week after Brubeck's passing in December of 2012, the album isn't haunted by that legend's musical ghost(s); James, who recorded with Desmond during his CTI days in the '70s, occasionally balances intellect and improvisational savvy à la Brubeck, and his "Follow Me" comes off like a very distant cousin of "Blue Rondo A La Turk," but the similarities stop there. No Brubeck or Desmond tunes make an appearance on the playlist, this group never apes the classic Brubeck Quartet sound, and Sanborn's tone is hardly the "dry martini" that Desmond continually sought; it's more of a sultry dish.
Fans of James and Sanborn have been waiting for a follow-up to their platinum-selling Double Vision (Warner Bros., 1986) for more than a quarter of a century, but this might not be what they expected. That album was more of a production record which appealed to the smooth set, but this one is about group chemistry. All of the music is still highly accessible, but it isn't really hook-laden contemporary jazz.
James and Sanborn are joined by super drummer Steve Gadd, who sticks with brushes for a large portion of this album, and bassist James Genus, who delivers plush-yet-centered grounding and occasional interplay. The music this foursome makes ranges from the semi-noirish ("Sofia") to the wonderfully swampy ("Deep In The Weeds"), but it's all basically straight down the middle in terms of conception and execution.
The program begins with the fairly calm "You Better Not Go To College," but things heat up a bit with "Geste Humaine." Sanborn sizzles on this one and James takes a more measured approach, but they meet somewhere in the middle when small amounts of musical dialog occur. "Follow Me" offers the first of several linear Gadd grooves, as James' bounding single note lines run atop the drummer's crafty constructs. "My Old Flame" falls smack dab in the middle of the program and it proves to be the perfect vehicle for Sanborn, whose horn becomes a soul-and-blues weapon of mass seduction here.
While Sanborn is the musical extrovert in this group, it's James' work that tends to linger in the mind when the album reaches its conclusion. His pianistic prudence, married with a sense of assuredness and creativity, sets the tone for this entire album; Sanborn is the soul of the project, but James is the heart and mind behind Quartette Humaine.
Track Listing: You Better Not Go To College; Geste Humaine; Sofia; Follow Me; My Old Flame; Another Time, Another Place; Montezuma; Genevieve; Deep In The Weeds.
Personnel: Bob James: piano; David Sanborn: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, sopranino saxophone; Steve Gadd: drums; James Genus: bass; Javier Diaz.
Record Label: Okeh