REVIEW: David Sanborn Band plus John Scofield/Jon Cleary at the Barbican

David Sanborn. Soundcheck at the Barbican April 2015
Photo Credit: Paul Wood

David Sanborn Band/John Scofield & Jon Cleary
(Double Bill,  Barbican Halll, 11th April 2015. Review by Rob Mallows

This double bill was a gig of real contrasts. On the one hand, Sanborn’s return to his fusion heyday and his renowned electric live sound of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties; on the other, the stripped back, down and dirty New Orleans sound of Jon Cleary and John Scofield. Massively different sounds and moods.

Jon Cleary and John Scofield’s duet was a pleasant surprise. Jon Cleary is steeped in the New Orleans blues-y jazz sound. His booming iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove voice straight out of Basin Street, non-stop stomping right foot rhythm and rootsiest of piano sounds, all left-hand swing and right-hand pyrotechnics, dominated the stage. Scofield was content at times to just harmonise with Cleary’s groove, before breaking out his angular, horn-like guitar lines and sonorous harmonic chords. Sco’s guitar tone was the right side of dirty and complemented Cleary’s more conventional sound, so that they worked surprisingly well as a duo.

There were few surprises in the set list of Cleary songs, the ballads and up-tempo tunes all conveying his signature sound, but it was his brio and showmanship on tracks like opener Fever, Cuttin’ in and My baby’s in love with another guy which cut through. Scofield’s playing was exemplary – the loss of a string on Soothe me made no difference and he made do with five for the rest of the set – and full of groove, the ecstatic whoops from the audience at the end of each solo demonstrating that whatever genre he plays, he brings a sense of adventure and out-on-a-limb tonality in his playing. Yet, he was clearly prepared to give much of the spotlight to Cleary (literally, in many cases moving out of the beam into the shadow).

Jon Cleary. Soundcheck at the Barbican April 2015
Photo Credit: Paul Wood
Scofield Cleary’s simple stage show was something of a musical palette cleanser to the fusion pyrotechnics of the David Sanborn Band.

Jazz fusion may not be the coolest of jazz genres – particularly not its clean, precision-engineered ‘eighties/‘nineties variant – but when it’s done well it has the capacity to blow an audience away as it did at the (surprisingly not full) Barbican Hall. David Sanborn is now 69 and subject to, in his words, the odd “senior moment’ on stage, such as forgetting the title of second track Brother Ray. Yet, put an alto sax in his hands, and feed it through an effects mixing desk, and he blows with just the same soul, groove and pin-point definition of 1988’s Grammy-winning Close Up album, which provided the musical fulcrum for this journey back to his electric-fusion heartlands, hinted at by set opener Coming home. Buoyed up by a new album, the recently released Time and the River full of smooth studio-friendly sounds and produced by Marcus Miller, their first collaboration for fifteen years, on stage Sanborn clearly has more capacity to let rip and give full reign to playing that’s made him the go-to guy for rock, jazz and pop artistes over four decades.

Sanborn was backed by a group of crack musicians – Nicholas Moroch on guitars, Chris Coleman on drums, Karl Vanden Bossche on percussion and Ricky Peterson on keyboards, with standout group member bassist Andre Barry, providing the Marcus Miller-like slap and pop on tracks the Miller-penned Maputo and Camel island and grabbing centre stage for five minutes of Jimi-Hendrix-style bass pyrotechnics on Run for Cover which got the biggest holler of the night from the audience. As a band, they had punch and cut-through (and credit to the sound desk for a fantastic mix!) to conquer such a big venue with their faultless group playing. Alongside the up-tempo crowd favourites were new tracks like Ordinary people, a moving lament to the economic plight of the average Joe, written after watching too much network news back home, alongside familiar ballads like set encore The dream

Scofield and Sanborn. Two old masters, showing how it’s done. A real treat.

John Scofield. Soundcheck at the Barbican April 2015
Photo Credit: Paul Wood

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