Two reunited jazz stars play the Keswick

David Sanborn (left) and Bob James, who won a Grammy with their albumin 1986, had never performed live together before.
David Sanborn (left) and Bob James, who won a Grammy with their albumin 1986, had never performed live together before. (HOLLIS KING / For The Inquirer)
Posted: July 02, 2013

The first collaboration between keyboardist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn, 1986's Grammy-winning, platinum-selling Double Vision, was such a success that it's hard to believe the two smooth-jazz founding fathers took more than a quarter-century to reunite.

The duo had never performed live together until their current tour, which brought them to the Keswick on Friday.

"We're making up for lost time," James explained from the stage.

At the same time, the duo made the surprising decision not to live in the past on their new CD, Quartette Humaine, which forgoes the keyboard-slathered smooth-jazz sound of their previous effort for a straight-ahead acoustic approach.

As James said, they felt an automatic connection to Dave Brubeck's classic quartet featuring saxophonist Paul Desmond, which was enhanced after Brubeck died during the recording of Quartette Humaine.

James penned two tunes in homage to the famed pianist: the wry "You Better Not Go to College," inspired by "In Your Own Sweet Way"; and "Follow Me," explicitly recalling "Blue Rondo à la Turk," to which James challenged the audience to count along.

Veteran drummer Steve Gadd supplied his usual rock-steady grooves while bassist Scott Colley, subbing for the album's James Genus (which repeatedly slipped Sanborn's mind during introductions), brought the evening's most impressive jazz chops, particularly during his fleet and meaty solo on "You Better Not Go to College."

The past wasn't entirely forgotten, however. Sanborn's tart alto singing the melody of Alice Soyer's "Geste Humain" was only a synth and a drum machine away from a quiet-storm radio hit, and the biggest crowd reaction of the night was reserved for the two tunes from Double Vision, both penned by bassist Marcus Miller.

It was refreshing to hear the gentle funk of "More Than Friends" and the African-accented groove of "Maputo" minus the album's oppressive production, and the latter prompted a pounding solo from James that brought the crowd to its feet. The show rarely achieved that level of passion, however, settling more for easy camaraderie and slickly professional virtuosity.

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