Whether you’ve heard his albums or not, chances are you’ve heard the music of David Sanborn. The alto saxophone great has played on classic records by Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Elton John, Billy Joel, James Taylor, David Bowie, and dozens of others. Now, Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint has delivered a comprehensive survey of Sanborn’s 20+ years for the Warner family of labels. Anything You Want: The Warner-Reprise-Elektra Years 1975-1996 draws on 17 of his albums as a leader and showcases his multiple chart hits.
Indeed, the Florida-born musician first flourished in the era of fusion. He earned his jazz bona fides at CTI (one of the foremost homes of crossover jazz, incorporating strains of soul, blues, funk, and pop) playing with the likes of Joe Beck, George Benson, and Idris Muhammad while becoming an in-demand session player for Todd Rundgren, Linda Ronstadt, James Brown, and Eagles. Sanborn – a four-year veteran of Paul Butterfield and his Blues Band, with whom Sanborn played at Woodstock) – always kept his feet in the realms of both pop and jazz, exploring their intersection on fusion albums by Bob James, The Brecker Brothers, Steve Khan, Larry Coryell, and others. Anything You Want amply reveals Sanborn’s versatility as an artist, a composer, and an interpreter via album cuts, single versions, remixes, and live tracks.
A quick glimpse at the collection’s credits reveal a “Who’s Who” of players from a range of musical disciplines who joined Sanborn for his solo albums: Dr. John, Hugh McCracken, Marcus Miller, Ralph MacDonald, Steve Khan, The Brecker Brothers, The Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, Nile Rodgers, Bill Frisell, and Steve Gadd to name a few. Vocalists of the same high caliber include Linda Ronstadt, Luther Vandross, Howard Hewett, Valerie Simpson, Patti Austin, Diva Gray, and Lani Groves.
The collection curated by liner note author and co-producer A. Scott Galloway isn’t presented in chronological fashion but rather as three thematic discs. The first, New York Dave and The Cali-Crossover Express, chronicles the sound of New York fusion in the 1970s and the crossover with the L.A. scene. Think of the bi-coastal likes of Carly Simon and James Taylor, both of whom are represented here. There’s “Carly’s Song” (an instrumental on which Sanborn hoped Simon would set lyrics) as well as a cover of “Nobody Does It Better” which Simon introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me. Oleta Adams brings a slow-burning soul to the Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager film theme. “Benjamin,” James Taylor’s song inspired by his and Simon’s son, gets a low-key reading from Sanborn. A couple of familiar favorites are given the Sanborn spin, too. He evokes a moody evening on Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” featuring a beautiful Johnny Mandel arrangement and production by Tommy LiPuma from 1995’s chart-topping Pearls. The intimate and languid 1976 duet on Paul Simon’s “I Do It for Your Love” with Richard Tee on the Fender Rhodes was produced by Phil Ramone who helmed the original version on Still Crazy After All These Years (an album which featured Sanborn and many of his frequent collaborators).
Disc Two, Sanborn: Soul Man, spotlights the R&B side of his oeuvre including his first of six Grammy winning performances (“All I Need Is You”) and five chart entries. The joyful big-band Latin sound of 1992’s “Bang! Bang!” earned Sanborn his most sizeable hit. The Joe Cuba/Jimmy Sabater song only barely missed the top half of the Billboard Hot 100 while also charting in the top 25 on the Adult Contemporary survey. The Grammy-winning “Chicago Song” (1987, No. 25 AC/No. 35 R&B) boasts a sleek Marcus Miller production very much of its time; Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” (1984, No. 103 Pop/No. 66 R&B) has Miller again as producer and bassist, updating the Hi Records classic for the eighties, with Hamish Stuart on lead vocals. Miller very much defined Sanborn’s sound during this period; his production of “Slam” (1988, No. 50 R&B) welcomed Nile Rodgers with the CHIC frontman’s instantly recognizable guitar licks. Luther Vandross was among the background vocals on the smooth revival of Jim Weatherly’s staple “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” which reached No. 56 R&B in 1983. Another highlight is Sanborn’s throbbing “Got to Give It Up” on which accomplished soul man Howard Hewett subbed for Marvin Gaye. It’s presented in its remix edit. Miller’s upbeat “Believer” was another bid for the dancefloor in its 12-inch version included here.
The third and final disc, Evening Ember Evocations, is filled with the late-night grooves with which Sanborn is synonymous. With its lush and elegant orchestral takes, Pearls epitomized that sound. Sanborn soars on evergreens from Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (“Come Rain or Come Shine”) and J. Fred Coots and Sam Lewis (“For All We Know,” featuring Jimmy Scott) under LiPuma and Mandel’s aegis. Another Pearls standout, the cool Ray Charles tribute “Brother Ray,” more than earns its spot here. 1999’s Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, Inside, paid tribute to Aretha Franklin with a sensual rendition of her 1972 composition “Day Dreaming” featuring the smoky tones of Cassandra Wilson. The sax man paid tribute to his hero Wayne Shorter with the elder statesman’s “Infant Eyes” from 1996’s Songs from the Night Before, while this disc travels back to 1991 and Sanborn’s No. 1 Traditional Jazz debut on Elektra, Another Hand, for an evocative take on Lou Reed’s “Jesus.” Reed’s frequent collaborator Hal Willner produced the track which features Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot. Sanborn’s version of Randy Newman’s “Same Girl,” from 1988’s Close Up, shines a welcome light on the heartbreaking ballad.
Anything You Want is housed in an eight-panel digipak and includes a 20-page booklet with images of albums and singles as well as A. Scott Galloway’s wonderful oral history of the music, track-by-track with Sanborn, Miller, producers Robert Margouleff and the late Hal Willner, and songwriter Ronnie Foster. It’s difficult to read along while listening as the text is presented chronologically rather than in the order the songs appears on the disc, but the quotes are choice. Nick Robbins has remastered all 46 songs with his customary care.
There’s something for everyone on Anything You Want. It’s a compelling look at the journey of a creative, inspiring artist who continues to break down genre barriers with his music. It’s available now from Cherry Red and SoulMusic Records at the links below.
Disc 1: New York Dave & The Cali-Crossover Express
- It Took a Long Time
- Short Visit
- Stranger’s Arms
- Anything You Want
- As We Speak
- This Masquerade
- Carly’s Song
- Nobody Does It Better
- Lesley Ann (Radio Edit)
- The Dream (Single Edit)
- The Water Is Wide
- I Do It For Your Love
- Smile (Live)
Disc 2: Sanborn – Soul Man
- High Roller
- Duck Ankles!
- Wake Me When It’s Over
- Love & Happiness (Live)
- I Told U So
- Got To Give It Up (Remix Edit)
- Believer (12″ Dance Music Mix)
- Slam (7″ Version)
- Chicago Song (Edit)
- All I Need Is You (Edit)
- Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)
- Let’s Just Say Goodbye
- Bang! Bang! (Single Edit)
Disc 3: Evening Ember Envocations
- It’s You
- Naked Moon
- Infant Eyes
- Brother Ray
- Come Rain Or Come Shine
- Lisa (Live)
- Same Girl
- Come To Me, Nina
- For All We Know
- Lotus Blossom (Live)
Disc 1, Tracks 1-2 and Disc 2, Track 2 from Taking Off (Warner Bros., 1975)
Disc 1, Tracks 3-4 from Heart To Heart (Warner Bros., 1978)
Disc 1, Tracks 5 and 9 from Promise Me The Moon (Warner Bros., 1977)
Disc 1, Tracks 6 and 10 from Hideaway (Warner Bros., 1980)
Disc 1, Track 7 from As We Speak (Warner Bros., 1982)
Disc 1, Tracks 8 and 11 and Disc 3, Tracks 7, 12 and 14 from Pearls (Elektra, 1995)
Disc 1, Track 12 (original version); Disc 2, Track 9 and Disc 3, Track 11 from Close Up (Reprise, 1988)
Disc 1, Track 13 (original version); Disc 2, Tracks 1, 10 (original version) and 15 and Disc 3, Track 10 from A Change Of Heart (Warner Bros., 1987)
Disc 1, Track 14 from Love Songs (Warner Bros., 1995)
Disc 1, Track 15 from David Sanborn (Warner Bros., 1976)
Disc 1, Track 16; Disc 2, Track 4 and Disc 3, Tracks 8 and 15 from Straight To The Heart (Warner Bros., 1984)
Disc 2, Tracks 3, 11 (original version) & 13 and Disc 3, Track 2 from Voyeur (Warner Bros., 1981)
Disc 2, Tracks 5, 8 (original version) and 12 from Backstreet (Warner Bros., 1983)
Disc 2, Tracks 6 and 14 (original version) and Disc 3, Track 1 from Upfront (Elektra, 1992)
Original version of Disc 2, Track 7 from Hearsay (Elektra, 1994)
Disc 3, Track 2 from Double Vision (Warner Bros., 1986)
Disc 3, Tracks 3 and 13 from Another Hand (Elektra, 1991)
Disc 3, Tracks 4, 6 and 9 from Inside (Elektra, 1999)
Disc 3, Track 5 from Songs From The Night Before (Elektra, 1996)