Gerald Albright - Sax for Stax (2008)

Gerald Albright
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For over 20 years now, session musician-turned solo superstar saxophonist Gerald Albright has become synonymous with smooth and sultry music; performing with an impressive list of who's who in jazz and R&B (Quincy Jones, Teena Marie, Phil Collins and Chaka Khan, to name a few), Mr. Albright has accomplished the feat of making his main instrument---the sax---as expressive as any vocal, which is why his thirteenth release, Sax For Stax, is such a delectable listen.

For over 20 years now, session musician-turned solo superstar saxophonist Gerald Albright has become synonymous with smooth and sultry music; performing with an impressive list of who's who in jazz and R&B (Quincy Jones, Teena Marie, Phil Collins and Chaka Khan, to name a few), Mr. Albright has accomplished the feat of making his main instrument---the sax---as expressive as any vocal, which is why his thirteenth release, Sax For Stax, is such a delectable listen.

The re-emergence of Stax Record (the label home for southern-flavored soul in the 1960's and 70's) gave the musician a ripe opportunity to put his stamp on some of soul's most beloved classics; anyone expecting a rote reenactment of the hits will be sorely disappointed, since Mr. Albright adds a unique imprint to each one. The raucous disco smash, "Knock on Wood," is reinterpreted as a sultry mid-tempo, and the once-brash "Respect Yourself" becomes more blues than funk, thanks to Ledisi's gritty turn.  "Cheaper to Keep Her" retains the same urgency as the Johnny Taylor original, as does "Who's Making Love," but they are transformed into a different shade of emotion altogether. Will Downing's understated vocals on the already-vulnerable ballad "Never Can say Goodbye" make it that much more tremulous, and Philip Bailey adds sinew to his customary falsetto in "What You See Is What You Get," helping the cover to retain its bold stance. Since he couldn't help but to draw inspiration from such a prolific and influential era, Mr. Albright also includes a trio of self-composed Stax-flavored songs; the soothing, Quiet-Storm-ready "Memphis Passion," the plucky and upbeat "W.C. Handy Hop" and "Walkin' Down Beale Street, " a delightful duet that pairs Mr. Albright with another solo star in his own right, Kirk Whalum.

Sax For Stax is a summertime treat that has enough verve and variety to be savored all year long; except for the fact that he could've added another song or two (wouldn't it have been something to hear his take on Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" or Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour"?), even the most discriminating listener would be hard-pressed to find anything substantial worth quibbling about. This disc is a perfect ingredient for any party, family reunion or cozy evening for two, so Mr. Albright can proudly count this collection as one of the very best in his catalog of supple, yet sensational moments in sax.  

By Melody Charles

 
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