|David Sanbor. Photo credit Rhonda M.Lane from David Sanborn’s Facebook page|
David Sanborn Trio feat. Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham
(Ronnie Scott’s, Thursday 25th September. 2nd of three nights. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
David Sanborn’s emotional, keening wail on alto saxophone is one of the most distinctive and widely-heard sounds in jazz. Since the early 70’s it has graced hundreds of sessions, encompassing music with David Bowie, James Brown and – for several unforgettable years – the blissful blaze of the Gil Evans Orchestra. Sanborn’s own groups have taken him from electronic fusion to Americana, and as an instrumentalist he has influenced a generation of alto players including Kenny Garrett and Chris Hunter.
This eagerly-anticipated appearance at Ronnie Scott’s dispensed with large aggregations and complex arrangements, and focused on the directness and simplicity of Sanborn’s acknowledged heroes from Ray Charles’ bands of the 50s and 60s, Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman.
Sanborn delivered a single set of 100 minutes to a sell-out crowd that was unusually quiet and attentive. His beautiful tone dominated the opener, Ben Tucker’s catchy Comin’ Home Baby, and Joey DeFrancesco upped the ante with a magnificent double-time passage on Hammond organ. What Will I Tell My Heart? was underpinned by drummer Byron Landham’s delicate brushwork, and distinguished by DeFrancesco’s muted trumpet as he simultaneously used the bass pedals. During these opening pieces, Sanborn strung together a multitude of magnificently-conceived phrases.
The band was in full flight for The Peeper, but – after Sanborn’s repeated, tension-building notes and high squeals – a minor tragedy occurred: the organ suddenly packed up. The tune was brought to an abrupt end as technicians tried to fix the fault. During an awkward hiatus, Sanborn related a story, and DeFrancesco told a joke. The good humour began to wear off when it seemed that a repair was not imminent; the organist considered moving to the piano and having a Fender Rhodes hauled from backstage. Never have I heard so much bad language coming from the stage of Ronnie Scott’s.
As soon as the problem was resolved, The Peeper continued with a vengeance and DeFrancesco beat the hell out of his instrument. After segueing into Let the Good Times Roll, the mood lightened, DeFrancesco sang the melody, Sanborn chanted the refrain, and the audience clapped along on the offbeat. Here and elsewhere, Landham’s subtle contribution – from boogaloo to ballad – was spot on.
Sanborn’s best and most cogent work came during Brother Ray, and the gentle Infant Eyes contained an unexpectedly swinging middle section. There was a hint of smooth jazz during Michael Sembello’s The Dream, which was an unadorned saxophonic tour-de-force.
As the gig went on, one sensed that Sanborn had been understandably affected by the interruptions. The fluency and power of expression which had been their earlier seemed to pass him by. But really, that didn’t matter. The searing power and quality of Sanborn’s sound were as great as ever, and that’s why he is loved and revered.