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Since the days when he left his hometown St Louis to play for the Butterfield Blues Band during the sixties Blues boom in California, Sanborn has worked hard at staying top dog among the LA studio sessioneers - and succeeded.
He has also commuted effortlessly between sophisticated Jazzpop solo albums stressing his distinctive alto tone and R'n'B roots, and the occasional full-ahead Jazz outing - like 1990's Another Hand, or Upfront a year or two later. This time he's found a place somewhere between the two. A little like Goldilocks' favourite porridge, it's neither too lumpy, nor too smooth (or was that the mattress?) - and it works well.
Produced and largely written by Marcus Miller, there's more than a nod here to the East Coast Souljazz fusion sound, with vocals by Cassandra Wilson on an oh-so-delicate reinvention of Aretha's Daydreaming gem, and Lalah Hathaway on Miller's When I'm With You, plus a discrete cameo from Sting on Ain't No Sunshine. Guest star vocals aside, we are deep in Crusaders territory here, with Miller's big city collection of Housey beats and exotic accents layered around Sanborn's athletic or melancholy tone. And sometimes the funk is allowed to drip more generously - try Miller's Brother Ray, with its Dr John vocal samples and Tower of Power-style horn section.
Deep in the midsection of Naked are three songs that showcase Sanborn's ability to bend pop melodies over itchy-feet rhythms or "go ahead, hang yourself in the spaces" ballads. His own perfect-for-midnight-radio ballad, Lisa, is followed by the Rhodes-powered slow Soul-Funk of When I'm With You - which lifts an infectious trick or two from the Quincy Jones crowd vocals book - then the section is closed off by Miller's cinematic Naked Moon, with an arrangement so sparse Sanborn seems to float over nothing more than a click track, a bassist down the hall, and a guitarist only occasionally paying attention.
Throughout the engineering is flawless but retaining a live feel. It even manages to ride a crucial cusp for this kind of Jazz: fat bottom-end when you turn it up, sharp balance and presence at lower volumes, or on the radio. Not half bad at all.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.