Even if you don’t know David Sanborn, chances are you know his saxophone on David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” Or James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).” Or Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” on which he joined Clarence Clemons and the Brecker Brothers. Though Sanborn is considered a leading light in the “smooth jazz” movement, his background is much more varied. He played the blues with Paul Butterfield at Woodstock, pure jazz with Gil Evans, and R&B with James Brown. Sanborn’s considerable solo output has been collected before, but it’s recently received its most comprehensive survey yet from Rhino. Then Again: The Anthology compiles 29 tracks on two CDs, derived from sixteen of the prolific artist’s albums recorded between 1975 and 1996 for the Warner Bros. family of labels.
Sanborn is doubtless one of the most recognizable saxophonists of all time, with his frequently wailing alto sax. He’s appeared on some of the most recognizable records of all time, not only from those artists mentioned above, but from Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Eagles and so many more. Then Again only compiles his solo work, but it touches on his diverse artistic style. Is this jazz (smooth or otherwise) with an R&B and pop influence? Or is it R&B and pop that just happens to feature an instrumental lead voice?
The first disc is sequenced by Sanborn himself in a largely chronological manner, starting with Don Grolnick’s “The Whisperer” from his 1975 debut Taking Off and ending with Sanborn’s own co-written “Missing You,” from 1996’s Songs from the Night Before. On the second disc, he abandons chronological format, sequenced instead based on mood and theme. Virtually all of Sanborn’s solo albums in that period are represented, with notable exceptions being 1976’s self-titled set and 1994’s Hearsay. The artist’s selections lean heavily towards original material and less on popular “cover” recordings. As a result, some songs that have been anthologized on prior compilations are absent here, even though they show off another side of Sanborn’s versatile skill set. These omitted “covers” include versions of Paul Simon’s “I Do It for Your Love,” Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s “Nobody Does It Better,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s “You Are Everything,” and Jim Weatherly’s “Neither One of Us.”
The song selection is, of course, a matter of taste, but Sanborn does impressively cover a lot of musical ground, from stripped-down, funk-influenced pieces to orchestral compositions. The most represented albums, with four tracks apiece, are Double Vision, his 1986 collaboration with keyboardist Bob James, and 1982’s As We Speak. Sanborn primarily plays his trademark alto sax, but occasionally switches to other horns like the soprano sax. Many of these tracks feature contributions from longtime musical associate like Don Grolnick, Michael Sembello, and Marcus Miller. Renowned bassist Miller produced tracks here from Backstreet (1983), Straight to the Heart (1984), A Change of Heart (1987), Close-Up (1988), and Upfront (1992)
We go close-up with Then Again after the jump!
There’s plenty of tasty interplay with other musicians here, though the annotation woefully lacks information on the personnel who accompanied Sanborn on each track. He found a simpatico partner in Bob James, the CTI veteran and composer of the theme to television’s Taxi, and their “Maputo” throbs with drum machines and modern touches that were a distinct part of Sanborn’s sound. Many of the tracks here are similarly sleek, shiny and modern, leading to the sound being co-opted by “elevator music” and the “smooth jazz” tag (one with which Sanborn has never been completely comfortable). The Miller-composed and produced “Chicago Song” won at the Grammys. With its prevalent drums, well-placed backing vocals and Sanborn’s lead, it gleams like the Windy City’s spires. Michael Brecker lends his familiar tone to “The Whisperer,” from Taking Off.
Though it’s barely a full song at just a minute-and-a-half in length, “Benjamin” (from Promise Me the Moon) is recognizably the work of James Taylor. It has the same easy, laid-back groove as Taylor’s best, a groove which Sanborn easily navigates. A tropical flavor infuses “So Far Away” (not the Carole King song but rather a Sanborn original) while a more raucous Latin rhythm percolates on “Bang Bang.” There are more subdued moments, too, such as Don Grolnick’s lovely “Lotus Blossom,” with piano, sax and vibes blending well, and the standard “Try a Little Tenderness,” on which the wistful quality of Sanborn’s sax is brought out by Tommy LiPuma and Johnny Mandel’s subtle, tasteful and evocative production and arrangement.
A handful of vocal tracks appear here, too. Al Jarreau passionately delivers “Since I Fell for You,” proving a complementary match for Sanborn’s instrumental lead. Linda Ronstadt is ravishing on a gorgeous rendition of “The Water is Wide,” the traditional song as arranged by Grolnick and Taylor, and helmed by Ronstadt’s usual producer, Peter Asher. Swelling strings add to Asher’s cinematic production. Michael (“Maniac”) Sembello contributes the blue-eyed soul vocal to the breezy “Back Again” as well as to “Love Will Come Someday,” although he’s unfortunately uncredited here! Both originated on 1982’s As We Speak.
Other tracks encapsulate the prototypical smooth jazz sound (Sanborn’s “It’s You,” from 1981’s Voyeur) as well as Sanborn’s experimentation with electronic textures (the Miller/Sanborn “Goodbye,” from 1988’s Close-Up). Sanborn shows some his most virtuosic chops on Miller’s “Straight to the Heart” from the 1984 album of the same name, while “One in a Million,” also from Voyeur, showcases Sanborn the composer at his most melodic. The closing trio of songs is an effective finale, consisting of “Goodbye,” “Let’s Just Say Goodbye,” and lastly, a modernized version of Frank Loesser’s delicate “Anywhere I Wander.” Sanborn also has a sense of humor in his sequencing; the second disc began, appropriately enough, with the song entitled “Back Again.”
David Ritz provides lengthy liner notes with significant commentary from Sanborn, while Greg Calbi has terrifically remastered the sound. The biggest drawback to Then Again is the lack of discographical information (only the name of the album from which each song was derived is listed) and any personnel listing. The other musicians who contributed to Sanborn’s ouevre deserve to be credited, as he would likely agree. Then Again makes for a fine, diverse introduction to an artist whose work probably needs no introduction; it’s also one-stop shopping for those who might like just a sampler of the man’s nearly 40-year career in one handy, and handsome, package.
David Sanborn, Then Again: The Anthology (Rhino R2 531614, 2012)
- The Whisperer
- It’s You
- Love Will Come Someday
- As We Speak
- More Than Friends – Bob James and David Sanborn
- Maputo – Bob James and David Sanborn
- Since I Fell for You – Bob James and David Sanborn
- Chicago Song
- The Dream
- So Far Away
- Bang Bang
- Missing You
- Back Again
- Rain on Christmas
- A Tear for Crystal
- Lotus Blossom
- The Water is Wide
- First Song
- Try a Little Tenderness
- Never Enough – Bob James and David Sanborn
- One in a Million
- Straight to the Heart
- Let’s Just Say Goodbye
- Anywhere I Wander
CD 1, Track 1 from Taking Off (Warner Bros., 1975)
CD 1, Track 2 from Promise Me the Moon (Warner Bros., 1977)
CD 1, Track 3 from Hideaway (Warner Bros., 1980)
CD 1, Track 4 and CD 2, Tracks 10 & 13 from Voyeur (Warner Bros., 1981)
CD 1, Tracks 5-6 and CD 2, Tracks 1-2 from As We Speak (Warner Bros., 1982)
CD 1, Track 7 and CD 2, Track 11 from Straight to the Heart (Warner Bros., 1984)
CD 1, Tracks 8-10 and CD 2, Track 9 from Double Vision (Warner Bros., 1986)
CD 1, Track 11 from A Change of Heart (Warner Bros., 1987)
CD 1, Tracks 12-13 and CD 2, Track 12 from Close-Up (Reprise, 1988)
CD 1, Track 14 and CD 2, Track 6 from Upfront (Elektra, 1992)
CD 1, Track 15 from Songs from the Night Before (Elektra, 1996)
CD 2, Track 2 from Backstreet (Warner Bros., 1983)
CD 2, Track 3 and CD 2, Track 14 from Heart to Heart (Warner Bros., 1978)
CD 2, Track 5 from Love Songs (Warner Bros., 1995)
CD 2, Track 7 from Another Hand (Elektra, 1991)
CD 2, Track 8 from Pearls (Elektra, 1995)