Accessibility has always been a high priority for Lou Donaldson, whose soul-jazz and hard bop isn't about complexity for the sake of complexity or abstraction for the sake of abstraction. The veteran alto saxophonist isn't afraid to groove, which is why many blues and R&B fans who don't care for a lot of bop have found him very easy to get into -- it isn't uncommon for someone to say, "I'm not a big bop fan, but I definitely appreciate guys like Lou Donaldson, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Crawford, and Willis Jackson." Donaldson continued to command a loyal following when he entered his 70s; the improviser had just turned 73 when Relaxing at Sea was recorded live aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 (a cruise ship) in various parts of the Atlantic Ocean in November 1999, and it was obvious that he could still play the heck out of his alto. Not many surprises occur on this CD -- joined by organist Lonnie Smith (not to be confused with keyboardist/pianist Lonnie Liston Smith), guitarist Randy Johnston, and drummer Danny Burger, Donaldson provides a typical mix of blues (including Jimmy Smith's "The Midnight Creeper" and Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time"), ballads, and standards. But he is consistently soulful and expressive, not to mention swinging. Donaldson is also humorous; his entertaining vocals on Big Bill Broonzy's "It Was a Dream" and his own "Whiskey Drinkin' Woman" explode the myth that jazz musicians can't have a good laugh now and then. Although it falls short of essential, Relaxing at Sea Live on the QE2 is a solid, pleasing addition to Donaldson's huge catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson