Versatile sax man Gerald Albright has been in high demand of late. His name shows up with remarkable frequency in CD booklets in a wide variety of contexts, from contemporary to Latin to straight-ahead, and everywhere in between. Albright brings a high degree of proficiency and sincerity to everything he plays. In addition to being versatile in terms of musical styles, he’s not just a saxophonist; he performs his own bass (electric bass as well as keyboard) on several of his albums, as well as keyboards and programming.
Ten of the eleven selections on The Very Best of Gerald Albright were culled from his six Atlantic albums from 1987 through 1997; “When Morning Comes 2001” appears for the first time here. This album would be better titled “Greatest Hits” rather than “Very Best of.” Semantically, there’s a difference. Regardless of musical genre, “greatest hits” albums tend to focus on the songs that were most successful as singles or radio selections. In reality, most “best of” albums do too, but if the words were interpreted literally, the album would contain the artist’s best performances, regardless of commercial appeal. No question - this is a nice collection of tunes, but a true “best of” compilation would better showcase the wide breadth of Gerald Albright’s talents.
If you’ve not heard much of Gerald Albright, imagine a cross between David Sanborn and Grover Washington, Jr. Albright matches Sanborn’s wailing grittiness at it’s soulful best, especially when reaching into the high register of the alto. Check out “My, My, My” and “Georgia On My Mind” for proof. Albright’s choice of contemporary, accessible R&B material (at least in this collection) and his improvizational stylings are similar to Washington’s. The recognizable “Bermuda Nights” and “My, My, My” are good examples.
My favorites are the two selections from Live at Birdland West, “Georgia On My Mind” and “Boss of Nova” – not just because these songs benefit from the talents of Joe Sample and Harvey Mason (on “Boss”) and Patrick Moten (a scorching organ solo on “Georgia” which lights Albright on fire), but also because the energy of the audience pushes Albright to dig deeper and the tunes provide nice counterpoint to the hit-oriented material. Albright’s collaboration with Lee Ritenour’s acoustic guitar on “G & Lee” is nice, too; it starts out smooth and ends up smoldering.
Overall, this CD provides a nice profile of one today’s most talented contemporary jazz/R&B sax players. If you decide to pick it up, you’ll enjoy it, but don’t think you’re hearing all that Gerald Albright can do. (Atlantic 83480)