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Mindi Abair: Wild Heart

Jeff Winbush By

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Courtney Love courted controversy in a Rolling Stone interview when she shrugged off Clarence Clemons, the late and great "Big Man" saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, "My Springsteen problem is just that saxophones don't belong in rock & roll," she said. "They just don't belong."

Mindi Abair would like a word with you Miss Love.

The fusion of jazz and rock was not the most beloved of hybrids. As practiced by bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat, Drum + Bass the emphasis was on standard rock n' roll with the occasional horn arrangement. Fusion as practiced by Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra or Jeff Beck added rollicking guitar riffs worthy of a Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen to the jazz virtuosity.

Somewhere in between is the space Mindi Abair's Wild Heart occupies. It may be the most audacious album of 2014. It is also a truly odd duck. Jazz radio won't know what to do with the tracks that rock out and rock radio likely won't touch it at all as smooth jazz stations have already opted for the familiar sounds of the non-vocal "Haute Sauce" as the first selection from the record.

Abair sings with considerable enthusiasm if not much range. Her voice is thinner than a potato chip and is as likely to crack if she reaches for a note beyond her reach.

Wild Heart continues Abair's break from the tried-and—true with the throwback soul of her last album, In Hi-Fi Stereo (Heads Up, 2010) and represents a bold break from the tried-and-true formulaic approach too many of Abair's peers settle for.

Is it perfect? No, but rock n' roll is supposed to be a little messy and ragged as Abair and Gregg Allman's cracked singing on "Just Say When." Abair's stint contributing sax to Aerosmith pays off as Joe Perry drops by to throw in a bit of raucous guitar to "Kick Ass." But it's still contemporary jazz that's Abair's meat and potatoes as aptly demonstrated when Trombone Shorty elevates "Amazing Game" with some above average trombone playing.

Abair was better served on her last album by allowing the professional vocalists handle the singing while she provided the sax solos. The amount of satisfaction derived from Wild Heart is in direct proportion to how much you enjoy Abair's passable, but not exactly exceptional vocalizing.

In the final analysis, Abair shouldn't quit her day job as a jazzer to follow her rocker fantasies. As far as one-time diversions goes Wild Heart is an interesting exercise in unexpected left turns from a smooth jazz standard bearer. Abair is evolving as a musician and willing to take chances and that makes Wild Heart an admirable endeavor if not a total success.

Track Listing: Amazing Game; I Can’t Lose; Wild Heart; Haute Sauce; Train; Kick Ass; I’ll Be Your Home; The Shakedown; Kiddo’s Revenge; Addicted To You; Just Say When.

Personnel: Mindi Abair: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, vocals, handclaps; Adam Berg: piano, organ, tambourine, synthesizers, handclaps; Itai Shapira: guitar, bass, handclaps; Jake Najor: drums; Jim Peterik: percussion (1); Todd Simon: trumpet, flugelhorn; Trombone Shorty: trombone (1); Elizabeth Lea: trombone (section); Dave Yaden: piano; Blake Colie: drums; Joe Perry: guitar (6); Keb’ Mo: vocals, guitar, guitar solo, tambourine (7); Booker T. Jones: Hammond B3 (7. 10) ; James Gadson: drums (7, 10); Waddy Watchel: guitar (8); Lance Abair: organ (8); Max Weinberg: drums (8); Gregg Allman: vocals, guitar, Hammond B3 (11); Dave Burris: electric guitar; Kevin Scott: bass (11).

Title: Wild Heart | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Heads Up International

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