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Sadao Watanabe: How's Everything

Douglas Payne By

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In 1977, prolific Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe began recording a series of jazz fusion albums supervised, for the most part, by pianist, arranger and GRP wunderkind, Dave Grusin. A hugely popular icon of Japanese jazz since the mid-1960s, Watanabe had already recorded four such fusion albums (in between other more straight-ahead projects) when he was offered his first American recording contract with Columbia Records in 1980.

The first of only two records that came out of this arrangement was this concert performance, How's Everything—reissued here by England's Cherry Red label, minus one song, "Mzuri" (which would have fit), where Watanabe is heard with several prominent American musicians of the time and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Grusin. The album was recorded over several evenings in July 1980, a few months after the similar Dave Grusin and the GRP All-Stars Live in Japan (GRP, 1980), also featuring Watanabe.

This is a celebration of Watanabe at his crowd-pleasing best. This mostly original program shows that Watanabe is capable of crafting some very memorable music and stamping his own very strong identity onto the two Grusin pieces heard here—"All About Love" and "Sun Dance"—neither of which don't sound too far removed from Grusin's work with Grover Washington, Jr. on A Secret Place (Kudu, 1976).

Watanabe sticks to his identifiable alto saxophone for most of the program, switching to soprano for the pretty and obligatory "My Dear Life," "M&M Studio," and the rather interesting "Up Country." He's only on flute for the fascinating "Tsumagoi." In all cases, it's a pleasure to hear how deeply he explores each of these otherwise radio-friendly tunes. This man certainly knows how to please an audience.

Several American soloists are on hand for extremely distinctive and rather notable solos: guitarist Eric Gale ("Nice Shot," "No Problem," "My Dear Life"), pianist Richard Tee (excellent on "Up Country," "All About Love" and "Sun Dance") and guitarist Jeff Mironov on the lovely "Boa Noite." Grusin's orchestra arrangements are never intrusive and sometimes even playful ("Up Country" and "Sun Dance") and the pianist himself is favored with several brief but indistinct features on "Tsumagoi" and "M&M Studio."

While the disc lacks some of the memorable music Watanabe captured on California Shower (Inner City, 1978) or the final—and perhaps best—album in his run of great fusion music, Orange Express (Columbia, 1981), it doesn't slight on the heights of spontaneity and creativity jazz fusion can reach. How's Everything is proof that fusion had a lot going for it before commercial interests took over.

Track Listing: Up Country, Tsumagoi, All About Love, Nice Shot, Seeing You, No Problem, Boa Noite, Sun Dance, M&M Studio, My Dear Life.

Personnel: Sadao Watanabe: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Steve Gadd: drums; Eric Gale: electric guitar; Dave Grusin: Rhodes, Yamaha Piano; Anthony Jackson: electric bass; Ralph MacDonald: congas, percussion; Jeff Mironov: electric and acoustic guitar; Richard Tee: acoustic and Rhodes piano; Jon Faddis: trumpet; The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra; Tsuneo Iso: concertmaster.

Title: How's Everything | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Cherry Red Records

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