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Thursday, May 09, 2019

Cheltenham Jazz Festival: Dave Sanborn Acoustic Band @ Town Hall - May 5

Dave Sanborn (alto sax); Michael Dease (trombone); Geoff Keezer (piano, keyboards); Ben Williams (double bass), Billy Kilson (drums).
(Review by Steve T)

Along with the loud shirts, my mid-life crisis was marked with the revival of band tee shirts, on this occasion, Kamasi Washington. A volunteer told me she had the exact same tee shirt (though much much smaller) and I told her that Sanborn was the Kamasi of his (my) day. Not strictly true, as various friends would describe him as second only to Grover, while others would throw Ronnie Laws into the mix. Occasionally I would raise the spectres of Bird and Trane, but I was generally better at biting my tongue in those days.

I never really cared much for Sanborn, thinking he tortured the damn thing until it sounded like a squawking baby, but I saw him in London a few years back in a quartet with Bob James and Steve Gadd and, although my reason for going was because my friend and landlord IS David Bowie, I really enjoyed it.

Here he came out followed by a sort of minder and sat down, where he remained for the set. At first I thought his formidable band would need to carry him but it soon became apparent he hadn't lost any of his chops. They opened with two by Michael Brecker - whom he described as one of the greatest sax players of his or any other generation. Next up an Africanised version of Maputo, written by Marcus Miller, and I'm sure I heard a reference to James Brown's Funky Good Time, with lots of Fred Wesley in the ‘bone solo, gaining a lift when he removed the mute.

Trombone player and drummer left the stage for a stunningly beautiful rendition of a pop song he remembered from high school seventy-five years ago, which turned out to be It's All In The Game, best known to me by the Four Tops. 

The pianist switched to a Fender Rhodes sound for Spanish Joint by Roy Hargrove and D' Angelo, which must have made him feel right at home with his old partner Bob James such an important purveyor of the sound.

The next piece started with a bass solo, followed by a big piano trio feature getting the audience going, before alternating ‘bone and alto solos, when it morphed into Night in Tunisia, or perhaps it always was.

On the Spot was the final piece and was funky in the old-fashioned sense, sax and ‘bone playing the head before a drum solo juxtaposing light-hearted tinkering - backed by light touch piano and bass - and thunderous technique. Head. Fine.

In London, Bob James had played acoustic piano exclusively and the quartet featured double bass, and this band was advertised as an acoustic band. Perhaps he doesn't want to acknowledge his jazz-funk legacy, despite this being the reason many come to see him and a new generation are less scornful of the genre. Perhaps it's because he's one of the artists who slipped into smooth jazz before reinventing himself as a straight jazzman, without distinction.
It takes two big attractions to get me to this festival and this was number two this year and didn't disappoint. 
Steve T

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