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David Sanborn Band, Barbican, London — review

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Monday April 13, 2015

Midway through a scorching and soulful set, American alto saxophonist David Sanborn owned up to watching too many political shows on US television recently. “They just talked about each other,” he said. “It made me angrier and angrier.” He channelled his fury into a new composition, and came up with “Ordinary People”, a bittersweet lament which he played movingly.

But the passion and focus didn’t end there. From start to finish, Sanborn and his band never let up. Each solo built to a peak, each line had something to say, and the band followed every step. One minute Sanborn was wailing high above the normal alto sax range, the next minute the groove was hanging by a thread, sustained by a single cymbal ping or bass drum thump.

The Sanborn aesthetic joins angular modern jazz to the shouts and hollers of soul; he opened with a cover of “Comin’ Home Baby” and, later in the set, played “Brother Ray”, a homage to Ray Charles. But Sanborn hit his stride in the early 1980s when funk dominated and bass guitarist Marcus Miller was in the producer’s chair. In these songs, sharp-edged runs that seethe with discontent are supported by evolving textures and precision-engineered grooves that let the music breathe. This was the repertoire Sanborn referenced at the Barbican, updated in his latest collaboration with Miller, the newly released album Time and the River .

Sanborn was the dominant personality, climaxing his solos with moans and wails that would make a soul singer proud. But other voices also came into play. Guitarist Nick Moroch delivered exciting, albeit somewhat generic, funky rock and Ricky Peterson on keyboards matched the leader for excitement and soul. And the immaculate drummer Chris Coleman, who played superbly all night, had a highlight duet with percussionist Karl Vanden Bossche.

Normally, this would signal the end of the show, but at this performance, it was bass guitarist Andre Berry who had the final say. His feature, “Run for Cover”, morphed from Marcus Miller-style melodic finesse and bone-crunching slap to a blur of strums and thwacks that were all his own. The encore, “The Dream”, was short, sweet and kept sentiment at bay.

To read more by Mike Hobart in Financial Times click here