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Whenever I hear a soprano saxophone played over a pre-programmed beat my attention inevitably wavers, even if the music it is somewhat challenging. I call this condition the Kenny G Syndrome.
While listening to Touch I really had to fight through the Kenny G Syndrome on a couple of tracks, but in time I warmed up to most of these 11 tunes.
To be fair, Bill Evans is no Kenny G. He's a veteran solo artist with a readily identifiable pop-jazz sound that incorporates elements of funk, fusion, and hip-hop. Evans' music is the contemporary-jazz equivalent of the cool school. His grooves are more sophisticated than most smooth jazz, his melodies more painterly, and his sax work far more sinewy.
Touch is not as immediately likeable as Evans' last CD, the semi-unplugged Starfish and the Moon, nor is it as funky as the great 1992 live all-star session Petite Blond. Still, it offers modern grooves and airy melodies. Touch has a light, summery feel - light as opposed to lite, if you dig the difference.
Evans is joined here by an impressive supporting cast: Manolo Badrena, Victor Bailey, Jim Beard, Dean Brown, Vinnie Colaiuta, Lionel Cordew, Zach Danziger, Mark Egan, Philip Hamilton, Conrad Herwig, Henry Hey, Tim Lefebvre, Chuck Loeb, Lee Ritenour, Wallace Roney, Adam Rogers and Lew Soloff.
My favorite cut is the opener, the mid-tempo bop tune "One Wild Ride," which includes some cool wordless vocals by Groves and Hamilton. I also enjoy the fast-grooving "Dixie Hop," a Miles-like tune featuring Wallace Roney on muted trumpet, and "Little Hands Little Feet," an atmospheric piece with some tasty keyboard work by Jim Beard. Evans moves between soprano sax and tenor on many tracks, and his compositions feature serpentine arrangements and challenging solos.
As a staunch proponent of real drums, I would have preferred to hear less drum programming on Touch, especially since Evans enlisted three solid drummers and one terrific percussionist for the session. At least he seems to have abandoned his annoying rap fixation. There's zero rapping on Touch.
Bottom line: Touch is no tour de force, but it's far more substantial than most smooth jazz.