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 was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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