David Sanborn serenades with smooth sax

Jazz has existed in numerous forms for nearly 100 years, yet still the six-time Grammy-winning David Sanborn is treading new ground, consistently delivering foot-tapping, chill-out tunes for anyone who takes the time to listen to them.

In a genre with such rich history, it’s impossible not to find inspiration. In his latest effort Here and Gone, Sanborn reflects on just that: the various blues artists that inspired him and helped him master his instrument of choice, the alto saxophone.

Sanborn started off as a session and live player with the Butterfield Blues Band, going on to work with top-notch musicians like the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, the Eagles and David Bowie.

Reanalyzing his musical ambitions, he later decided to take the more difficult solo route, putting out his first record in 1975, the same year as his breakout solo on Bowie’s “Young American.” His record count is now 23.

Earlier this month, Sanborn and his four-man band took the Ferst Center stage, playing a mixture of new and old songs, which is expected of a guy with over 40 years of musical experience.

“Full House,” from his ’92 release Upfront, was the first song of the evening, and it came as no surprise that Sanborn and crew were already warmed up and ready to go. Groovy keyboard and bass anchored the solo-driven track, and Sanborn’s slick improvisation fit seamlessly with the equally impressive work of guitarist Nick Moroch.

“Brother Ray,” an old blues-pop track that has been rerecorded for the new record, followed. It exemplifies the “smooth jazz” tag that Sanborn often receives, using a catchy, sunny-day sax chorus to hold it down.

The feel-good mood of Sanborn and company continued throughout the set, occasionally dropping a few lighter, bluesier tracks to mix up the show. On these, drummer Gene Lake and bassist Richard Patterson built on each other nicely, carrying the background rhythmic load while allowing Sanborn to go to work.

Live jazz sees remarkably complex collaboration since improv is used so often, and it was apparent that these guys know each other inside and out. They have been playing together for years and ever since ex-Sanborn guitarist Hiram Bullock left the band, Nick Moroch has filled in spectacularly, complementing Sandborn’s high-flying lead whenever he gets the cue.

On Percie Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” (also on the new record), the saxophone sounds like the only instrument capable of getting the job done. Sanborn had ultra-crisp delivery, jumping up to the high register of the instrument without trouble, seemingly having fun over all else.

When Sanborn talks about the new record’s sound, he cites original influences such as Ray Charles, David Newman and Hank Crawford. Crawford arranged three of the tracks on Here and Gone, which goes with the vision of the record – a tribute to the old-school blues developed by the greats.

Sadly, Newman and Crawford passed away in January, so the mid-2008 record could not have come a better time. The performance tried to capture the personality of the record, and by playing several Crawford and Charles-inspired pieces.

The band returned for an encore after their ten-song set, but dishearteningly for only one, slow song. Could they really end on that? They did, so I guess so.

The band built up the mood immaculately and then killed it by ending on a song that did not allow the audience to hear Sanborn and crew wail one last time. Even with the band’s poor choice of encore, the performance as a whole was everything a seasoned Sanborn fan would expect, with an impressive outing from the side players.