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Too tame

By David Sanborn

Elektra Records: 1992

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This review first appeared in the May 29, 1992 issue of the North County Blade-Citizen (now North County Times).

The first thing one ought to say about David Sanborn is that he doesn't really play jazz. It is marketed as jazz, it is promoted as jazz, but it is not jazz. These are not merely the grumblings of a discontented jazz purist, but an easily proven argument with which even Sanborn would agree.

One of the main characteristics setting jazz apart from other musics is the inclusion of improvisational passages, in which the song does not have a set script, but allow the artist to play from the heart whatever variations on the theme come to her/him.

Sanborn's music does not have this. Rather than jazz, he plays popular music with jazz instrumentation and stylings. And, to be honest, he plays it rather well.

"Upfront" is a decent outing from Sanborn, one of the leading practitioners of pop-jazz, but not one of his best. If pleasing, the album contains only a few of the instrumental highlights that have made Sanborn perhaps the best-known saxophonist working today. Produced by super-session man Marcus Miller, who also produced the late Miles Davis' "Tutu" album, "Upfront" nevertheless falls a little flat.

Only on the uptempo funk tune "Hey" and the Latin "Bang Bang" does the band hit that syncopatic groove that has been the hallmark of Sanborn's best work. Even Eric Clapton's solo on "Full House" falls victim to the sense of ennui at work here, and a cover of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'" seems more like a cheap imitation of the Ohio Players than a tribute to one of jazz' most innovative pioneers.

While not a bad album, neither is "Upfront" a very good one; given Sanborn's track record, it is somewhat of a disappointment.