At the mere mention of David Sanborn’s name, I mistakenly flash back to his pop instrumental/”smooth jazz” days. I tend to forget that I once saw him honkin’ and howlin’ with the best of ’em as a member of Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band way back before that. And in all honesty, the wildly eclectic NBC-TV show “Night Music” that he hosted from 1988-89 (produced by the King of Eclectism Hal Willner) is still the best network music television program ever to be broadcast.
Still, I’ll admit that my main interest in this show was to catch the saxman in an organ trio setting with Joey DeFrancesco, which I hoped would push him in a grittier, bluesier direction. And I was not disappointed. Not in the slightest.
Dressed in black from head to toe and looking disturbingly gaunt behind stacked monitor speakers that obscured him to most of the sold-out crowd from the waist down, Sanborn lit into the night with “Comin’ Home Baby,” a tasteful, but undeniably funky rendition that built from a slow-burn to a house a-fire – complete with a first-song drum solo from the third member of the band, dynamic drummer Byron Landham.
And there was no cooling off after that.
The lean trio served up a great, big, fat R&B sound as they paid tribute to such soul-pop icons as Sam Cooke (“You Send Me”) and Michael Jackson (“The Way You Make Me Feel”), but it was the heartfelt homage to Ray Charles, “Brother Ray,” that was the linchpin of the evening.
Sanborn explained that two of Charles’ great saxophonists – Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman – “were the guys who made me want to play the saxophone in the first place.” And he went on to prove it with a jumpin’, deep-in-the-groove rendition of Crawford’s “The Peeper.” Sanborn wailed, DeFrancesco leaned hard on the organ and Landham kept the sizzle on the cymbals as the trio turned up the heat with each succeeding chorus… from simmer to smoulder to absolutely scorchin’.
There was a lot more on the plate – from the breathy ballad “Lisa” to the rambunctious sing-along “Let the Good Times Roll” (DeFrancesco’s only vocal turn of the evening) to the mile-wide strut through the old chestnut “Basin Street Blues” (with Sanborn weaving in a bit of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”) – but nothing else came as close to the heart as the unholy honk of “The Peeper.”
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Sanborn’s playing was marvelous: restless and zippy in up tempo tunes, using all of the horn to extract all of the feelings in each song, and warmly expressive at slower tempos. DeFrancesco provided both the highly alert accompaniment any soloist dreams of having and solos as brilliantly imagined and perfectly played as Sanborn’s. DeFrancesco and Lanham kept the music deep in the pocket — what great grooves they played. And what a happy, giving band they were. With a bigger crew behind him, Sanborn naturally tends to play less, sharing the spotlight. But a trio might be the ideal format for him because he has a lot to say with each song. The excitement of ‘The Peeper/Let the Good Time Roll’ and the tenderness of ‘Lisa’ really sparkled, special highlights in a show that was actually all highlights.”
THE DAVID SANBORN TRIO SET LIST
Comin’ Home Baby
Let the Good Times Roll
You Send Me (Sam Cooke)
Basin Street Blues
The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson)