Saxophonist and composer David Sanborn has always been a maverick. A top-notch technician, he has always imbued his playing with deep emotion -- indeed, that emotional element in his playing has been his signature since he began leading his own bands on record in the 1970s. He has wed modern jazz sophistication to the smooth jazz groove for many years now, and has followed his muse while remaining a commercially viable artist. Closer is another exercise in ambition for Sanborn and his sidemen. They include bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Russell Malone, Larry Goldings on electric piano and organ, vibist Mike Manieri, and drummer Steve Gadd, among others. The material is a fine collection of pop tunes, standards, and surprises from the jazz canon. First, the bad news: Sanborn and vocalist Liz Wright team up for a version of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" that is as bland as soy milk. That said, Sanborn's read of Abdullah Ibrahim's "Capetown Fringe" carries within it the joy and dignity of Ibrahim's original and proves to the public something Sanborn has been aware of all along -- that the composer's music is truly accessible to the masses. Underscore this for the album's opener, a smoking little groove read of Gil Fuller and Chano Pozo's "Tin Tin Deo." Horace Silver's "Enchantment" and "Señor" are given fine finger-popping treatments, as are the stellar standards "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," "You Must Believe in Spring," and the beautiful "Poinciana." There is a lovely version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" here, given chamber orchestra treatment. Sanborn contributes a pair as well, in the silvery ballad "Another Time, Another Place" and the album's closer, the haunting "Sofia," with a fine string and horn treatment by Gil Goldstein. Once more, Sanborn has wed his commercial and creative aspirations into a thoroughly engaging whole.
by Thom Jurek
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