JJ 05/84: David Sanborn – Backstreet

Forty years ago Mark Gilbert hailed the slimmed-down arrangements and vitality of the saxophonist's latest album. First published in Jazz Journal May 1984


There are some unfortunate people who refuse to recognise that David Sanborn is a significant and influential alto stylist. Such people are likely to be suspicious of Sanborn’s use of popular dance rhythms and horrified by his commercial success. Yet any number of younger jazz followers and musicians rate Sanborn’s playing and any number of today’s altoists have been inspired by what Gil Evans called ‘that great cry’.

On the evidence of some of San­born’s earlier work, dismissive attitudes are more easily under­stood. Records like As We Speak (reviewed May ’83) perpetrated so many clichés that Sanborn’s talent was smothered. In the light of such disappointments, Backstreet seems a revelation, for three reasons: the material is simpler and more direct, excess orchestral baggage has been discarded and the production has been cleaned up. The end result is a sleek and powerful small band that gets down to some serious grooving, not only against funk and soul backcloths, but also reggae and African rhythms.

I suspect that some of the thanks for Sanborn’s renaissance must go to young Marcus Miller, who is the only other musician to appear on all the tracks and also features prominently in composer, arranger and producer credits. He plays the greatest number of instruments too. Steve Gadd appears on only two tracks; the rest of the drumwork is tastefully synthesised. Don’t be put off by the apparent proliferation of synths – their insertion is sparing and apposite.

I Told U So; When You Smile At Me; Believer; Backstreet (22.49) – A Tear For Crystal; Bums Cathedral; Blue Beach; Neither One Of Us (21.38)
David Sanborn (as/ss); Marcus Miller (b/g/kyb/syn/pc); Michael Colina (syn/kyb); Hiram Bullock (b/kyb/syn/g); Steve Gadd (d); Ralph MacDonald (cga/pc); various backing vocals. New York, 1983.
(WEA 92-3906-1)