The sax appeal of David Sanborn to liven jazz fest

Renowned the world over for his slick, funky and Rhythm & Blues-influenced jazz style, Sanborn, whose major instrument is the alto-saxophone, is a multi-Grammy Award winner

If you ever tuned in to Late Date on KBC’s English Service then you might recall the signature song that ushered in the programme. It is called The Seduction. The composer is none other than David Sanborn, the jazzist who conjures up all sorts of memories and ideas musical. Here’s a saxophonist whose sound has been heard in recordings ranging from soul, pop, R&B, funk, and jazz for over four decades.

The younger generation are discovering him as a remarkable modern jazz artiste, and to the not-so-young they are reminiscing about him with a fleeting hint of nostalgia for his various world-class performances with among others; Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and George Benson.

Just why news that Sanborn will headline the third edition of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival on Saturday, February 26, at the Kasarani Training Grounds, Nairobi, is generating excitement among Kenya’s jazz aficionados.

In addition, the 71 year old saxophonist will share the stage with five other foreigners among them The Hazelnuts Trio from Jerusalem, Israel, the Ray Lema Quartet from Paris, France, South Africa’s Bokani Dyer, clarinetist Arun Ghosh from Britain, and Taxi Wars, a jazz fusion group based in Brussels, Belgium.

Then there are three local bands: Shamsi Music, Nairobi Horns Project, and Mwai and The Truth, all afro-fusion groups which performed during last year’s Safaricom Jazz Festival.

Renowned the world over for his slick, funky and Rhythm & Blues-influenced jazz style, Sanborn, whose major instrument is the alto-saxophone, is a multi-Grammy Award winner and has released more than 20 albums as a leader in a career spanning over 40 years.

Sanborn, however, is perhaps mostly revered by jazz enthusiasts for his 1991 album, Another Hand, featuring jazz stalwarts the late bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarists Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot. Also, he has jammed with legends Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Joe Sample.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said “David Sanborn is a prolific musician and performer with wide appeal, and he will be joined on stage by an equally talented line-up drawn from the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa at the event, whose theme is: Music That Moves.”

Sanborn came to wide attention through his tenure with the Gil Evans Orchestra, where his soaring and blues-wailing improvisations, like the one featured on the track Short Visit, from Evans Priestess album attests; a very memorable performance to date.

Famous for taking chances while playing various styles of music, Sanborn has been featured in projects led by other notable artists, who include the late “King of Soul” James Brown, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Michael Franks, David Bowie, and Rickie Lee Jones. Since then, he struck out as a solo artist in 1975 with his debut album Taking Off. Subsequent albums like Sanborn, Heart To Heart, Hideaway, and Voyeur brought him a wide, jazz-fusion following.

Performing alongside Sanborn will be Ray Lema (Raymond Lema A’nsi Nzinga), a Congelese pianist-guitarist-composer based in France. He left the then Zaire in 1979 for  USA under the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation.

He returned 32 years later to what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to immigrating, he had performed with bands like Africa Jazz, led by the late Joseph Kabasele, L’Afrisa Internationale of the late Tabu Ley Rochereau, and T.P.O.K. Jazz led by the late guitarist Franco Luanzo Makiadi.

Lema’s music style is reminiscent of his younger compatriot Lokua Kanza’s, a Congolese based in France.  Their styles blend various African rhythms with Caribbean’s Salsa and Zouk, Latin America’s Pachanga, Samba and Cha-cha-cha; America’s Soul and Jazz; and Europe’s Classical and Pop to create a unique musical fusion.

The Taxi Wars’ music is highly-spirited, inspired by abrupt musical structures and improvisations but swinging groove styles inspired by jazz greats such as saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, and bassist Charles Mingus. The band is composed of saxophonist Robin Verheyen, Nicolas Thys on bass, drummer Antoine Pierre, and Tom Barman on vocals.

The Hazelnuts is a new all-girls vocal trio based in Jerusalem and has embraced swing jazz as its main style. The singers are renowned in Israel and Europe for their powerful infectious harmonies and unique improvisations that are inspired by great American jazz singers like the Manhattan Transfer.

The trio is made up of Yifeat Ziv, Talya Amzaleg, and Shira Z. Carmel with Ariel Givant on bass, Dotan Cohen on guitar, and Yoav Elkayam on washboard-a percussion instrument with a wooden frame and fitted with metal pieces strummed, tapped or scratched.

This festival will serve as another occasion to assess the budding Kenyan jazz musicians.