REVIEW: David Sanborn’s Electric Band at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

David Sanborn at Cheltenham 2016.
Photo credit John Watson /(c) 
David Sanborn’s Electric Band
(Big Top, Cheltenham. May 1st 2016. Review by Peter Jones)

Green and purple lighting filtered through the dry ice billowing from the side of the stage, which was set for the appearance of alto saxophone legend David Sanborn and his merry men. As the band played the intro to Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, out came the leader, a somewhat frail-looking 70-year-old (he suffered from polio in his youth). He perched on the edge of a precarious-looking stool in front of a flimsy perspex screen, presumably designed to shield his ears from the noise coming from behind.

A fusion pioneer, Sanborn is garlanded with Grammys, and over the course of half a century, he’s notched up big album sales from the days when people bought albums in large quantities. He would probably find it quicker to mention the stars of pop and jazz he hasn’t played with, rather than those he has. His touring schedule is punishing enough to put younger men to shame, and he still honks and shrills with tremendous gusto.

The material consisted largely of what we now consider to be smooth jazz, in the sense that everything is set up with a solid groove and relatively few chord changes. The best moment was a bitter rant about the present state of American political life (which he described as a ‘clown car’) which served to introduce a slow, soulful tune entitled Ordinary People, about the poor working stiffs who are just trying to feed their families in the teeth of a wretchedly dispiriting election campaign.

As one would expect, the band (Ricky Peterson – keys, Nicky Moroch - guitar, Andre Berry – bass, Billy Kilson – drums, Karl Vanden Bossche – percussion) revealed chops of breathtaking skill, but the gig was not without moments of doubt. Oddly, Peterson’s keyboard was out of tune for the first couple of numbers, and Sanborn himself didn’t always quite get to the high notes he was reaching for. I got the feeling something wasn't quite right. At the end there were calls for an encore, but no dice - the band seemed in quite a hurry to leave the stage, and failed to re-appear. A shame. I'd had high expectations but this gig didn't quite live up to them.

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