Gerald Albright has a generous invitation for fans of his hit 2014 album: If you thought that mix of deep funk and simmering sensuality was a Slam Dunk, wait’ll you get a load of G. It’s that album’s high octane sequel, which draws even deeper connections to that in-your-face horn-section-magic, of classic bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power.
Early in his career, the versatile saxophonist was often told by his labels to “be funky, but not too funky” – but after 30 years at the top of his game as one of contemporary urban jazz’s core artists and sonic innovators, the eight-time Grammy nominee is letting loose like never before. What we get from G is nothing less than Genuine Gerald, with powerful support from his co-producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis and legendary special guests Michael McDonald and Doug E. Fresh.
When Albright titled his 2006 album New Beginnings, he was referring to the move he and his family made to Colorado after a lifetime in Southern California. Ten years later, he’s in a similar mode, blazing into the next phase of his storied career with the release of his first album ever as an indie artist, after decades on major and major affiliated labels. Like a lot of his peers in the genre, he realized that the business models of those big companies don’t fit into the current economic structures of urban jazz. Inspired by a loyal fan base of thousands throughout the world, he knew it was time to leverage his hard won success, step out in faith, and create a company that could not only release his music but also serve as a legacy for his family. Choosing the name Bright Music Records, just as in calling the album G, was not only a play on his name but also reflective of his great optimism in embarking on an endeavor that uniquely defines who he is.
G gets right down to business, celebrating his fresh start by titling the thick and feisty, brass fired and groove intensive opening jam “Taking Control.” He creates all the horn sections himself, texturing alto, tenor and baritone around the lead melody, while handling the thick bottom via bass guitar. With Davis (one of urban jazz’s top hit makers, who has worked with everyone from Najee to Maysa, Phil Perry, and Kim Waters) creating an array of keyboard sounds, Albright infuses many of the other tracks with a mix of horns and other instruments. His passionate, high flying soul-jazz fusion spin through Bill Withers’ classic “Lovely Day” features McDonald on lead vocals and G himself mixing alto, C flutes and bass flutes while holding down the spirited rhythms on bass. Likewise, the exotic, briskly paced old school horn-fired jam “We Came To Play (La Calle)” features G on alto, tenor, bass, a bass solo and C flutes. On the tight, edgy “G and Doug E.,” a whimsical self-portrait with Fresh fashioning a tribute to Albright in rhyme, G also plays the organ. The soaring, emotional power ballad “I Miss You” features the saxophonist on alto, tenor and bari, in addition to C flutes, alto flutes and bass flute and bass guitar. It also features his daughter Selina – a solo artist in her own right – on background vocals.
Other highlights on G include “Frankie B,” a simmering, horn-drenched light funk ode to his dear friend Frankie Beverly and one of Albright’s favorite bands, Maze; the mystical soul ballad “Boom Boom” and buoyant, free-wheeling horn explosion “Funkism,” both of which showcase G’s every deepening skills as a jazz improviser; a sly, seductive cover of Avant’s 2003 R&B vocal hit “Read Your Mind”; and the sensual, ambient “Closure”, a simply arranged ballad that wraps the set in a romantic mood.
Albright says that the big, multi-faceted sound of the album, particularly his use of multiple flutes, is a throwback to the way he came up in music. “I’ve been implementing them over the past few projects, using flute seasonings strategically with certain songs, and it was exciting to take those sounds to the next level,” he adds. “I come from that orchestral big band sound that defined my high school years playing in the 70s, and had great teachers who believed that musicians should never take shortcuts. In those jazz band days, I doubled on other instruments besides sax, and coming from that world, it’s always been hard to neglect those instincts. I like having a lot of sonic options. I use everything as a facility to bring my music to another level. When I think of those EWF and TOP horns, they were so ‘in your face, present and clear’. That’s what I was striving for on G.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Albright was already an accomplished saxophonist by the time he enrolled at the University of Redlands, but he switched to bass after he saw Louis Johnson in concert. A few months after graduating from college, he joined jazz pianist/R&B singer Patrice Rushen, who was in the process of forming her own band. Later, when the bass player left in the middle of a tour, Albright replaced him and finished the tour on bass guitar. Playing both sax and bass, he became the consummate session and touring musician in the 80s, working with everyone from Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Jr., Atlantic Starr, The Temptations and Maurice White to Les McCann, Teena Marie, the Winans and Whitney Houston.
He launched his solo career in the infancy of what became the smooth jazz format, with Just Between Us in 1987 and has been a core part of the genre with chart-topping albums, countless radio hits and as a member of many all star tours, including Guitars & Saxes and Groovin’ For Grover. In the late 90s, he fronted a big band for and toured with pop star Phil Collins and did a dual recording with vocal great Will Downing called Pleasures of the Night. Between his last two Grammy-nominated solo albums Pushing The Envelope (2010) and Slam Dunk (2014), he enjoyed hit collaborations with two huge hits – 24/7 with guitarist Norman Brown and Summer Horns by Dave Koz and Friends (including Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot), which were also Grammy-nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Albums. He toured with Brown and Summer Horns, and most recently has been on the road with South Africa gospel/jazz singer and guitarist Jonathan Butler. Albright’s other albums whose titles perfectly reflect their flow include Smooth (1994), Groovology (2002), Kickin’ It Up (2004) and Sax for Stax (2008).
Because Albright’s musical muse has taken him to so many fascinating locales along the contemporary R&B/urban jazz spectrum, he’s joyfully defied easy categorizations. Roland S. Martin, Host/Managing Editor, NewsOneNow, TV One, at last has found a way to explain all the things that make G who he is. “For two decades,” he says, “jazz artists like Gerald have been placed in the suffocating box known as ‘smooth jazz.’ But in my years as an Albright fan, I much prefer to call him a funky, ice cold jazz impresario who can make your head bob while cruising down the freeway with the sunroof open or make you do the scrunchy stank face of a George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic.”
“Top to bottom,” Albright says, “I wanted my new album G to take the listener on a musical journey with different textures, rhythms, chord progressions and moods. I want people to know where I’ve been and where I’m going, and to let them hear that I’m in a really good place in my life.”