Monday, August 27, 2007


Soft Jazz/Soul Funk Review

Went with old friends to David Sanborn opening for Tower of Power at the Paramount downtown (I think I saw Bambi there about half a century ago when it was a movie theater). The funny thing is that the tickets just said David Sanborn. I guess he was having trouble following ToP's high energy (or generating many ticket sales alone). I have to admit that I never got to critical mass with jazz--oh, I own a few records (even some by Sanborn), but I'm not a fan and I don't seek it out. None the less, I liked David Sanborn a lot. His band was OK to good; I didn't like the guitarist's style although he was competent. He's good to excellent on the alto sax, smooth as silk sprayed with teflon, and I was nodding in time to nearly all his songs. He even had a couple of the Tower of Power guys help him on the next to last piece. Lot of energy from that move.

The sax, I think, is nearly a human voice replacement, although of course it can't make words (so no intellectual content) but it does have mood and emotional content and just sounds good to my ears. That being said, there is no reason for Sanborn to name his songs. He should just start playing, because few of us pseudo fans could have identified more than one he played, if that. Failing that, he should just do song 1, song 2, etc. On the other hand, he was pretty funny introducing the songs; my favorite was he was about to play a song he wrote for an ex-girlfriend and he felt ready to "because the statute of limitations on bitterness has run." Very clever that, and true, in my experience. Now on to the unmentioned headliners.

I own their first two albums and last saw Tower of Power, a ten man soul/funk band from Oakland, CA in San Francisco in 1973. I liked them a lot. So it's 34 years later and at least a few in the band are the originals--do they still have the stuff? Sadly, I have to answer 'no'. Time, and music, have moved on and left them in the irrelevant eddies. This is the roughest thing I'll write about them--they didn't make me want to dance. I could barely get into the head nodding groove. The leader, and original, Emilio Castillo (pictured above), was angry at the people like me for not standing and demanded we stand up. He called us lazy. No, just not that into you. Don't get mad at us for your failure. And don't call us names because the bloom is off your rose.

Still, I would recommend them to first timers for the great show they can still put on and for old timers, like me, at least for the staying power they have shown. It is my memory that at least one of the first two lead singers they had were forced to leave the band to go to prison for murder. The new lead singer is pretty good (he's pictured above too)--but not the gruff baritone the first one was or even the suaver stylings of the second. He actually soars in his vocals. Petty amazing. Nearly everything they do is on the James Brown one. That will mean something to soul music fans. Long explanation needed otherwise. Some other time.

After forty years, these guys know what they're doing. They do a lot to make it fun and pleasurable and for the life of me I can't tell you what was missing. They sang late in the set--I'm back, ba-ack, back on the street again... No, not really--off the streets and back in the concert hall again. Not quite the same. Knock yourself out.


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