Live At Montreux 1984 (DVD)

David Sanborn

Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2009

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles


Live jazz is risky business, to say the least.  The jazz artist constantly struggles to find that perfect balance between improvisation and arrangement, chaos and order. 

For the contemporary jazz musician -- that is, the musician purposely influenced by both jazz history and the popular music of his or her time -- playing live is an even more dangerous prospect.  Who are they trying to appease?  The traditionalists who will hound you for being too avant-garde?  Or the experimentalists who will say you are not daring enough?  And at what point is it acceptable for the artist to reach beyond their audience’s sensibilities?  These conflicts oft account for lackluster performances, for improvisation may foster questionable choices.  On the flipside, there are times when a jazz performance is so engaging, so soulful and so intricately spontaneous (a juxtaposition, I know) that it almost seems impossible to match.  Such is the performance captured on David Sanborn’s Live At Montreux, 1984.

The DVD hits it off with an aggressively funky but irresistibly melodic tune named “Hideaway,” entrapping the audience with remnants of Grover Washington and Chuck Mangione.  These remnants, although powerful, do not last long.  Through audacious arrangement and key modulations, “Hideaway” explodes into an exciting form of punk jazz.  Alto saxophonist Sanborn and his crew (Larry Willis on keyboards, Hiram Bullock on guitar, Tom Barney on bass and Buddy Williams on drums) consistently increase the intensity from there with a coherent mix of invention and tradition, from the progressive “Smile” to a beautiful rendition of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” featuring Rickie Lee Jones (“Chuck E’s In Love”) on vocals.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The shining star of the DVD is “Straight To The Heart,” a soulful R&B ballad turned head-bobbing funk tune that features Sanborn throughout.  The rhythm section, particularly Bullock’s guitar and Barney’s bass, lock in like synchronized swimmers, following each other with immaculate precision.  Sanborn is the perfect mixture of Charlie Parker and Prince.  He creates an alto sax sound that emulates the sensuality of a falsetto gospel voice as contrived by a skilled bebop interpolator.  This song is as perfect as I can imagine a song being.

But the most impressive of Sanborn’s achievements on this DVD is not his proven musicianship but how he, as a bandleader, lets the other musicians partake in this glory.  They sound like a band—not just four musicians behind a star. Sanborn, whose side credits include David Bowie and Gil Evans, lets his contemporaries shine as we are graced with two lengthy, unaccompanied instrumental solos from Bullock and Willis, respectively.  Both these solos exhibit mastery of improvisation and arrangement.  And while both solos are far too elaborate to detail in this short article, no amount of words could express their emotional magnitude.  If a painting is worth a thousand words, these solos are worth a thousand paintings.  And on top of this—yes, there is more to brag about—the stage presence of this band is unbelievable, thanks mostly to the manic dancing of a barefoot Hiram Bullock.  If Jimi Hendrix would have ventured into jazz, Hiram Bullock might have been what he looked like on stage.

In Live at Montreux, 1984, Sanborn and crew find what jazz musicians constantly seek: a perfect balance of chaos and order, homage to tradition and experimentation and an exciting but challenging rapport with the audience.  This is punk jazz at its best—a musical marriage of discord and assortment that must be experienced to be believed.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2009 Michael Broyles and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eagle Rock Entertainment, and is used for informational purposes only.