Veteran Jamaican tenor sax player and session man Dean Fraser has been a fixture in the island's studios since the late '70s, playing on countless tracks and albums, and even releasing quite a few of his own. On Sax of Life, Fraser gives several rocksteady and reggae standards a light pop and jazz spin, soloing in his signature Far Eastern-sounding style. Among the highlights are versions of Bob Marley's "Nice Time" and Bunny Wailer's "Ballroom Floor." Two songs originally done in Jamaica by Slim Smith are also covered, "Blessed Are the Meek" (here called "Stormy Days") and "Watch This Sound" (here called "Watch the Sound"), which was itself a cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." Using culturally known rhythms gives these tracks a warm, nostalgic depth, allowing Fraser to kind of circle the listener's memory of the original song. "Alkeda," for instance, uses the "Engine 54" rhythm, which can't help but conjure the original version by Leonard Dillon and the Ethiopians. In the end, Sax of Life sounds somewhat like smooth jazz, but those jagged rhythms give everything an edgy feel, and Fraser manages to have it both ways at once, creating a sequence that tilts even as it glides.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett