Summer Horns is the first studio album from Dave Koz since 2010's Hello Tomorrow. That said, it's not solely billed to him. The "and Friends" on the bill refers to three other contemporary jazz saxophonists: Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, and Richard Elliot. Produced by Paul Brown, this is a big up-front horn section record, full of jazz, funk, and R&B covers, alternately by Greg Adams, Tom Scott, Gordon Goodwin, and Albright. The four-sax line is augmented by brass in various places, too. While Brown's production sound stays within the genre of contemporary jazz -- it's both clean and bright -- the feel is all groove. Early on there is a finger-popping open-road vibe in the take on Herb Alpert's "Rise," and an atypical jazzy read of Sly Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime," with Brian Culbertson adding a trombone solo and chorus vocals by Jonathan Butler and Jeffrey Osborne. Abair's lead alto on the cover of Paul Desmond's iconic "Take Five" is slippery and warm, and rides the time signature beautifully; the multi-horn arrangement by Goodwin, with its layered and interweaving solos and upright bass in place of the piano and drums, is a nice touch. Michael McDonald's vocal on Tower of Power's "So Very Hard to Go" is every bit as soulful as the Motown covers on his own records. Koz's lead alto breaks are tasty. Adams' chart substitutes elegance for grittiness, but the emotion remains. While Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" and James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" suffer a tad for their lack of wildness, both have interesting guitar touches and fine solos by Koz and Albright, respectively. Led by Elliot's expressive tenor, Charles Stepney and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons" is a groove-laden midtempo babymaker and a set high point. Rick Braun's trumpet solo and Butler's gospel moaning vocal turn Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothin'" into one of the set's dancefloor shakers. Albright's horn chart is funky, chunky, and righteous. The lone original here is the title track. It's pure contemporary jazz, with Koz delivering a nice soprano solo followed by Elliot's fine tenor break. Lenny Castro's percussion and Roberto Vally's bassline keep the groove fluid and deep. Summer Horns doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is: a good-time record that sounds like it was as much fun to make as it is to listen to.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek