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If The Pack is Back is a slight improvement over the 2008 debut from The Sax Pack "supergroup" of Kim Waters, Jeff Kashiwa and Steve Cole, it's because they sound more comfortable playing together, trimmed of frills and excesses that made the first album a sloppy affair.
However, don't think this is a dramatic departure from the usual clichés of the smooth jazz genre. This is pretty standard fare, but with more inspired playingprobably because the trio composed all the songs and ditched the background vocalists and cover tunes. Working on their own compositions may have helped them squeeze a few extra drops of creativity and energy from the Pack.
Cole and Kashiwa double up on tenor sax, leaving the alto sax duties (and production responsibilities) to Waters, who keeps things moving along with efficiency. But by the sixth track, "All That I Am," it becomes clear just how blandly inoffensive and generic this album really is. It also becomes difficult to discern any distinction between one generic title ("Can't Help Myself") and another ("Are You Ready"). Then it becomes obvious: it doesn't really matter.
Musicians used to form supergroups in order to perform the sort of music they really wanted to play but didn't have the opportunity to do on their own albums or as sidemen. However, that isn't how The Sax Pack works. Nothing on The Pack Is Back sounds remotely different from the playing on a typical Kim Waters, Jeff Kashiwa or Steve Cole album. It seems odd for a side hobby to be exactly the same thing as a regular day job.
Does that mean The Pack Is Back is a bad album? Not at all, if you go into it with no expectations beyond basic R&B grooves rendered competently and performed professionally. Do that, and The Sax Pack make for perfect traveling companions, providing 45 minutes of undemanding background music for the next teeth-grinding commute home in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Track Listing: Wanna Get Closer; Can't Help Myself; This Time Around; Smooth as Silk; Are You Ready?; The Pack Is Back; All That I Am; Here to Stay; All at Once; Fallin' For You.
Personnel: Kim Waters: keyboards, programming, alto sax; Jeff Kashiwa: tenor sax; Steve Cole: tenor sax; Allen Hinds: guitar, nylon and electric guitars (1, 2, 4, 6-8); Gerey Johnson: guitar (1, 3, 5, 9); Brian Dunne: drums; Melvin Davis: bass (3, 7, 9); Andre Berry: bass (4,5); David Mann: keyboards, programming (10); Bernd Schoenhart: guitar (10); David Darlington: Remix programming (10).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.