Sanborn Acoustic Band Sizzles With Brecker-Filled Bonanza At Ronnie Scott's



David Sanborn, who has perhaps the most distinctive and influential alto sax sound in contemporary jazz, R&B and funk, is now in his early seventies, but he's still full of surprises. As a sideman his CV is beyond stellar: names like George Benson, the Eagles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen pop out, and in the jazz world he's contributed mightily to work by Gil Evans, the Brecker Brothers, John McLaughlin, Ron Carter, Maynard Ferguson, Bob Berg just to scratch the surface. He's more than a unique player and a name-dropping exercise, however; his own albums down the years, often collaborations with Marcus Miller, are trailblazers of jazz funk, soul and blues.

But in his first set at Ronnie's he chose another direction. Gone were the regular Sanborn 'standards' like 'The Dream', 'Run for Cover', 'Lisa' etc, replaced by three Michael Brecker original compositions from the much-missed tenor sax giant's final Pilgrimage CD. Sanborn kicked off the set with Brecker's exciting 'Tumbleweed', trombonist Wycliffe Gordon taking Herbie Hancock's role in setting up the pensive half-step riff, and the band leader's squally timbre searing through the changes with his trademark chromaticism, split harmonics and blues references. The familiar face on drums was Sanborn and Dave Holland regular Billy Kilson, an electric, powerful presence throughout whose extended solo with its funk references, goofy facial expressions and exclamations, including a beautifully timed 'Really?' brought the house down. In fact the whole band played with a great sense of relaxation and humour; Sanborn even joking 'And I'm not even embarrassed' as he struggled to recall what was next on the setlist. It turned out to be Brecker's haunting 'Half Moon Lane'.

Billed as the Sanborn Acoustic Band, in place of regular electric bassist Andre Berry was double-bass master Ben Williams, whose touring profile took off notably when a member of Pat Metheny's Unity Band. His bounce, deep resonance and sheer funkiness meant Berry's slapping wasn't overly missed on the more groove-oriented tunes.
Sharing the frontline, the imposing figure of Gordon – a former Wynton Marsalis sideman – showed off great power and prowess on trombone, soprano 'bone, trumpet and one extraordinary almost sung solo purely on mouthpiece. His low-note facility and ability with cup and plunger mutes also grabbed the attention. On piano and occasional synths Chris Botti sideman Andy Ezrin added solos of great fluency and taste; and superb synth sounds on a West African take on Sanborn/Miller standard 'Maputo'. The set extended into overtime with a funky 'On The Spot'; Sanborn proving once again that in jazz, advancing years just means more time in which to have reaped the rewards of practice, not a decline in performance.

– Adam McCulloch

– Photo by Ben Amure