Music review: Sanborn and friends at Egg a hit with humor, fine skill

Forget smooth jazz. The huge, spiky stuff alto saxophonist David Sanborn, organist Joey DeFrancesco

Forget smooth jazz.

The huge, spiky stuff alto saxophonist David Sanborn, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Byron Lanham played at The Egg on Saturday was smooth about like the Himalayas.

The cough and sore throat that Sanborn joked wouldn’t let him sing his “Cats” medley didn’t diminish his amazing mastery of his instrument. At 66, hair graying, he seemed thin enough to hide behind his sax, while DeFrancesco could barely hide behind the organ. Less well known than his band mates, Lanham was every bit their equal in skill, strength and smarts.

These guys looked too happy, playing together, to care if they got paid.

Even if DeFrancesco hadn’t played a note, you’d have wanted him in the band, grinning through his goatee, shouting out encouragement. But he played enough for two people, giving good bass on pedals and keys, his right hand scrambling through endless melodic inventions and echoing anything anyone else played.

In their opener, “Comin’ Home, Baby” segueing into “Time Again,” DeFrancesco held a long, high note in his solo, just as Sanborn had in his. In the funky bebop “Brother Ray,” DeFrancesco ran arpeggios that paralleled those Sanborn had erected in his solo, like a mountain range behind another.

After these up tunes, Sanborn slowed for the breathy ballad “Lisa,” written for an ex-girlfriend, he explained, noting mutual restraining orders had expired and denying bitterness, then proving it by playing so, so sweet.

Paying tribute to his hero Hank Crawford, Sanborn was at his most hyperactive in “The Peeper” and “Let the Good Times Roll,” which raised the tempo again as DeFrancesco led a sing along and Sanborn slid his sax into the back seat. They repeated this dynamite dynamic, pairing “You Send Me” with “Basin Street Blues” — underlining Sanborn’s mastery of blues, rock, ballads and jazz all at once. The latter tune also let Lanham stretch out in his most spectacular and expansive solo of the night — propulsive, highly musical and muscular.

Marcus Miller’s familiar “Maputo” and Michael Jackson’s hit “The Way You Make Me Feel” closed this varied and very good 90-minute show. Then the trio returned for “The Dream,” a big ballad of understated gestures that nonetheless carried convincing emotional boldness.

Sanborn’s playing was marvelous: restless and zippy in up tempo tunes, using all of the horn to extract all of the feelings in each song, and warmly expressive at slower tempos. DeFrancesco provided both the highly alert accompaniment any soloist dreams of having and solos as brilliantly imagined and perfectly played as Sanborn’s. DeFrancesco and Lanham kept the music deep in the pocket — what great grooves they played. And what a happy, giving band they were. With a bigger crew behind him, Sanborn naturally tends to play less, sharing the spotlight. But a trio might be the ideal format for him because he has a lot to say with each song. The excitement of “The Peeper/Let the Good Time Roll” and the tenderness of “Lisa” really sparkled, special highlights in a show that was actually all highlights.

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