Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Over the last twenty years , and with the possible exceptions of Grover Washington Jr and Kirk Whalum, only Gerald Albright can be credited as having made a genuinely genre framing contribution to sax driven contemporary jazz. In fact Albright has been setting the agenda since the advent of his1987 solo debut Just Between Us. Since then he has released a succession of CD’s the latest of which is Sax For Stax, Albright’s tribute to the legendary record label that defined southern soul from the 1950’s to the mid 1970’s. The release of the album, which consists of eight passionately rendered covers of Stax classics plus three originals written with Memphis in mind, coincides both with the 50th anniversary of Stax and Concord Music Group’s re-launch of the famous label. It’s a collection with all the drive and energy one associates with the golden age of soul that Stax represents and the entire project is enhanced by the stellar array of guest performers who step up to play a part.
The revered reputation as a session musician that Albright still retains was crystallizing long before the launch of Just Between Us. Almost right out of college this native of South Central Los Angeles was working with Patrice Rushen, Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Jr., Atlantic Starr, Olivia Newton-John, The Temptations, Maurice White and many more besides. He played the famed signature tenor solo on Rushen’s smash hit ‘Forget Me Nots’ and in the early eighties struck up an enduring collaboration with Jeff Lorber when, as a young sax man, he replaced the soon to be famous Kenny G in The Jeff Lorber Fusion band. Albright has sold over 1,000,000 solo albums in the U.S. alone. He was one of the ten featured saxophonists who performed at President Clinton’s inauguration and has also featured at several private functions for the Clinton’s. Fact is Albright oozes class and with Sax For Stax he has never sounded better.
The album opens in feisty style with the Isaac Hayes composition ‘Theme From The Men’. Brilliantly evocative of the period it is electrified by violinist Mark Cargill whose string arrangements are excellent throughout. Of course Isaac Hayes was a considerable presence in the Stax stable. Albright takes ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ which appeared on Hayes 1971 release Black Moses and, complete with vocals from Will Downing, turns it into a stunning delight. Later he does much the same with another Hayes classic, the spine tingling ‘I Stand Accused’. The original, from the Isaac Hayes Movement, was an eleven minute plus odyssey but here Albright condenses it into the sexiest five minutes of instrumental R & B you will hear anywhere.
Ledisi is one of the most promising R & B vocalists around today and her contribution to the ultra earthy Staples Singers smash ‘Respect Yourself’ is outstanding. Other notable guest performances include that by Earth Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey on ‘What You See Is What You Get’, which was a hit for The Dramatics back in 1971, and also Kirk Whalum who steps up to add his unmistakable tenor sax to the Albright original composition ‘Walkin Down Beale Street’.
Albright delves into the Stax songbook to pull out two real gems from Johnnie Taylor. First he puts a jazzy spin on Taylor’s 1973 hit ‘Cheaper To Keep Her’ and follows up with an ultra funky take of his 1968 breakthrough ‘Who’s Making Love’. Albright transfers this same funky vibe to his very own retro tinged ‘W. C. Handy’ Hop’ which he infuses with more of the emotion so evident in his version of the familiar Eddie Floyd chartbuster ‘Knock On Wood’. Selected as the first track to be lifted for airplay it is already making an impression on the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio. Yet, amid the riches of some of the best music ever made, it’s a Gerald Albright original that steals the show. ‘Memphis Passion’ is a tremendous example of Albright’s soulfully jazzy playing and solidifies his position as one of the most successful saxophonists to have straddled the fence of jazz and R & B.
Co-produced by Albright and Rex Rideout Sax For Stax is, for many, the chance to revisit a magical era in the annals of popular music. For those who did not experience it the first time around there has never been a better moment to start. For more go to www.geraldalbright.com.Posted by Denis Poole at July 27, 2008 6:50 PM