Gerald Albright - Slam Dunk (2014)

Gerald Albright
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Contemporary jazz fans know Gerald Albright as one of the genre’s leading saxophonists. Less known is that Albright spent a portion of his career as a professional musician playing the bass. Albright started his music training on the piano and eventually gravitated to the saxophone when he received a sax that belonged to his piano teacher.

Some aspiring bassists witnessed Louis Johnson, the great bassist for the Brothers Johnson, and decided to choose another career path. Others saw Johnson and were inspired to pick up a bass. Albright falls into the latter camp. He say a Brothers Johnson concert and switched from sax to bass. The switch was temporary, and Albright resumed playing the saxophone when he joined Patrice Rushen’s band shortly after graduating from college. However, Albright found himself pressed into duty on the bass when Rushen’s regular bassist left the group.

Contemporary jazz fans know Gerald Albright as one of the genre’s leading saxophonists. Less known is that Albright spent a portion of his career as a professional musician playing the bass. Albright started his music training on the piano and eventually gravitated to the saxophone when he received a sax that belonged to his piano teacher.

Some aspiring bassists witnessed Louis Johnson, the great bassist for the Brothers Johnson, and decided to choose another career path. Others saw Johnson and were inspired to pick up a bass. Albright falls into the latter camp. He say a Brothers Johnson concert and switched from sax to bass. The switch was temporary, and Albright resumed playing the saxophone when he joined Patrice Rushen’s band shortly after graduating from college. However, Albright found himself pressed into duty on the bass when Rushen’s regular bassist left the group.

That history adds some background to Albright’s decision to add bassist to his saxophone playing duties on his new CD, Slam Dunk. In addition to playing the bass, Albright also plays the saxophone on flute on Slam Dunk. Albright’s saxophone chops are well established, but it’s logical to wonder how he holds up as a bassist.  The short answer is that Albright’s bass playing holds up fine. Slam Dunk contains plenty of moments where he displays a mastery of the aggressive style of funk playing that made Johnson famous. Albright starts strong on the opening title track, combining the thumping with his trademark creativity on the saxophone.

“Split Decision” is a better example of the ease in which Albright makes the transition to bass. His playing on that track is both melodic with improvised riffs and rhythmic featuring the plucks and thumps that are familiar to ay fan of 1970s funk.

Albright’s saxophone playing shines on Slam Dunk’s slow tracks, such as his blues inspired version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.” Albright, like so many artists, counted himself as a James Brown fan, and that comes through in the way he brings out the saxophone’s vocal qualities – especially on the high notes.

Albright mixes up the tempo with a good mix of fast, slow and mid-tempo tracks, and the vocal numbers bring even more variety to Slam Dunk. The best of vocal cuts is “Where Did We Go Wrong,” which will reintroduce many soul music fans to Peabo Bryson. Peabo’s voice has more depth at the bottom, but the range is still there.

Albright’s decision to play the bass on Slam Dunk might have been the result of a fit of nostalgia, but the move added a challenge to the creative process, and Albright responds with highly competent bass playing and creative and inspired sax playing. It reminds his fans of the broad talent that this music man possesses and gives a fresh, personal sound to this solid release.  Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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