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James, Sanborn quartet displays its distinctive sound

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:32 p.m.

Bob James and David Sanborn have in their quartet an element that escapes most bands: a distinct sound.

Keyboardist James and alto saxophonist Sanborn brought their band to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side for two shows Oct. 25 and showed they are carving a new chapter in their long careers.

They have moved from the pop-oriented jazz that made them famous in the 1980s and now are touring in a mainstream jazz setting that has a strong identity.

Songs written by James and Sanborn have a great deal to do with creating that nature, but so does the sound — a sound that has some roots in jazz history.

In talking about the band at first concert, James mentioned when he and Sanborn decided to try an acoustic quartet, they noticed it would have the same instrumentation as the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Like the Brubeck band, this one gets its identity from a highly individual sax sound. Brubeck's Paul Desmond had briskness and precison and Sanborn has a reedy, rhythm-and-blues flavor that is identifiable in seconds.

The concert featured new works, ranging from Sanborn's pretty “Sofia,” written for his wife, to James's adventurous “Follow Me,” which also has a Brubeck connection in its odd time signature.

But the quartet also did acoustic versions of songs from “Double Vision,” a James-Sanborn album from 1987 that was a huge hit in its pop-jazz flavor. Now, however, they are taking tunes such as the over-produced “Maputo” and giving it new life in an acousit setting.

It gives Sanborn a change to dig into his R&B style and offer the sound that once let him fill big halls.

Sanborn also stood out in the new quartet material. On “You Better Not Go to College,” he threw in quirky quote from “Carriage With the Fringe on Top” during a long solo.

Only on “Geste Humain” did he seemed to stagger as his solo lost direction and stumbled to its close.

They are touring in with drum giant Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus, who provided some of the most creative solos of the night.

James also stood out all evening. His backup work was so big it had and orchestral richness, but he also put together restrained but inventive solos as on his own “Montezuma.”

He joked at out point about making a mistake on Marcus Miller's “More Than Friends.” But he then added he could get away with fouling up in jazz by saying he “intended to do that.”

It could have been an error, but listening to this band is no mistake.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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