David Caceres: Double Threat Coming Forward

R.J. DeLuke By

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The singer/instrumentalist in jazz has a long and honorable tradition. Many of those, though certainly not all, are more known for their singing than playing, especially in the last 20 years or so. But almost universally, they're enjoyed for what they can do, breathing a certain joie de vivre into songs by expressing the lyrics, then augmenting them with playing that makes sense, and in some cases goes well beyond.

Enter David Caceres, an alto saxophonist trained at Berklee School of music—attending with folks like Antonio Hart, Chris Cheek, Seamus Blake, Diego Urcola, Danilo Pérez and Geoffrey Keezer—who kind of stumbled upon the singing thing. He's been honing his vocal skills over the last decade, and consistently blowing his sax in all kinds of musical genres. He emerges more strongly in 2011, with his fourth recording, David Caceres on Sunnyside Records.

"Emerges" is a bit misleading. Caceres has been out there, appearing on self-produced projects, playing music and teaching. Two albums include his vocals, and one is hardcore jazz in a piano-less trio setting. But the new one is on a solid label, produced by Matt Pierson, who has worked with artists like Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau.

It's not laden with jazz standards. Pierson and Caceres have plucked the music from wide sources—Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Van Morrison, among others—but also Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk. Caceres also writes and isn't fearful of offending anyone by stepping outside the jazz cannon. His voice, soulful and expressive with a nice baritone sound, suits a variety of styles, especially R&B-inflected pop.

"Someone is going to ask, 'Why do you play this kind of music?'" says the Texan who has lived and played in Boston and New York at various times. "My answer is going to be, 'Because I can.' Yes. I'm a jazz musician. I'm a good jazz musician and I know that I can play and I know that I can sing as well. I enjoy being able to do different styles of music."

Outstanding musicians like Aaron Parks, Bill Stewart, Larry Grenadier and Gil Goldstein appear on the album. It's aptly titled, because it is representative of where Caceres is today on his musical journey; a cool recording that showcases a guy who can get emotional content out of a song, and do so while applying interesting melodic and harmonic turns. It kicks off with an excellent interpretation of "Symptom Unknown," from pop singer Maxwell, Caceres' voice in great form, his alto sax an intriguing compliment. The album supplies a slick ride throughout, with the clear influences in his singing—Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway—in evidence throughout. But there are others.

"Frank Sinatra," he says straight off. Caceres, a San Antonio native now living in Houston, didn't really investigate Sinatra much until he got to Berklee. He did so on the recommendation of a classmate. "I thought: 'Strangers in the Night,' 'My Way,' 'New York, New York.,'" he chuckles at the recollection. "Why would I want to listen to that? Then he turned me onto In the Wee Small Hours (Capitol, 1955). I really dug that record and I started to explore all Frank Sinatra's stuff. He really had a grasp of what he was talking about, with his phrasing, his storytelling and his singing.

"I also love Sarah Vaughan. Being a saxophonist and a singer, on the saxophone when you're playing the melody, playing jazz is about putting your own style to it, interpreting the song in your way. When Vaughan would sing a song, she was so good at doing it her own way that sometimes she would completely change the melody, but it was so hip and so cool. From the pop days, Stevie Wonder. Donnie Hathaway. When I was at Berklee, Lalah Hathaway [Donnie' daughter] was a student there as well. She turned me on to a recording that wasn't available to anybody. She had it on cassette. It was her father live at the Bitter End [New York City nightclub], in combination with another live concert out in LA somewhere. I really dug that recording. The passion and the intensity in his singing. You could hear how he influenced Stevie Wonder. So there was that vibe, the soulful vibe, the R&B vibe."

Caceres' album has different jazz and funk vibes. "Round Midnight" might surprise some jazz diehards, with its groove-oriented approach, but it works; a nice, modern-day take.


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