How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Saxophonist Tom Braxton's music has been called "smooth jazz," which is somewhat unfortunate. Yes, he is a smooth jazz artist, but he also has the foresight to assimilate soul, funk and R&B into his compositions. In melding these forms he adds snap, crackle and drive, making the journey on his Endless Highway a highly enjoyable experience.
Braxton plays tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones, and he's at ease on all of them. The tenor gives him the greatest bite, and he revels in the intensity that he can project to draw in the listener. The funk grows hard on the title song, hewn layer upon layer. Braxton gives the melody an indelible presence by keeping it constantly in the groove. With percolating loops and strong horn arrangements that slip in and fill space before swerving out, this opener is a harbinger for what is to follow.
"The Journey" is lifted by the sweet sounds of the soprano sax, lilting and casting a spell with a melody that tickles the mind. The beat is programmed yet trenchant, and it never loses its way into a cavern of empty time keeping. And as the music fairly sizzles, singer Selinza Mitchell adds some sweetness to complete the allure.
Arthur Dyer sings "Ventura Highway," America's hit song from 1972. The pulse of the song's original acoustic folk-pop style is changed here to a smooth soul reworking. It makes for a nice change of pace before the punch returns with Derrick "Domino" Winding's chiming guitar and Braxton's soprano sax on "Open Road." The arrangement ups momentum through the conversation between Braxton and Winding, with the saxophonist's flint-edged phrases adding the sinew. Throughout Endless Highway, Braxton transforms style into substance impressively. .
Track Listing: Endless Highway; Just in Time; Soul Purpose; That Wayman Smile; Detour Ahead; The Journey; Ventura Highway; Open Road; Distant Skies; Home Sweet Home.
Personnel: Tom Braxton: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, keyboards; Derrick "Domino" Winding: guitars; Joseph Tolliver: bass; John Carruth: drums, loops; Larry Spencer: trumpet; Pete Branham: alto saxophone; Don Bozman: trombone; Tim Grant: keyboards, programming; Gerey Johnson: guitars; Jason Thomas: drums; Len Barnett: percussion; Jay Rowe: keyboards, programming; Braylon Lacy: bass; Eric Willis: keyboards, programming; Selinza Mitchell: background vocals; Arthur Dyer: lead and background vocals; Daran DeShazo: acoustic guitar; Richard "Rico" Gonzales: percussion; Jennifer Ritter: cello; Joe Ninowski: loop, percussion.