True to the diversity of Tony Saunders’ legendary resume, the bassist/composer – while remaining in the melodic, groove-intensive pocket - is always full of stylistic and thematic surprises from project to project. Four years after taking us straight to the heart of his memories of the NYC club scene growing up with Uptown Jazz, he’s delivered bit time on his promise to make the best, most pleasurable and sensually satisfying album yet with the perfectly titled Sexy Somethin. One of the great advantages of having so many years of musical success is Saunder’s ability to attract superstar guests to help him execute his steamy and funky vision.
First on his list – and that of so many others these days - is guitarist, producer and hitmaker Nils, who adds his crisp, fiery energy to Saunders’ relentless tight groovin’ on the opening track, a fresh and feisty instrumental twist on The Whispers’ late 80’s #1 R&B hit “Rock Steady.” Nils also plays foundational roles on two other can’t miss jams. On the uplifting, inspirational “Chasing The Dream,” he fuses the more fluid melodic side of his electric guitar artistry with a hook straight out of in the pocket urban jazz heaven. That chorus pairs the super soulful sax of emerging genre star Jeff Ryan with Saunder’s buoyant bass. Then the arrangement opens up and slows down a bit so that Saunders can solo with a thoughtful funk flow and create cool snippets of soul to soul conversation with Ryan.
Nils later pairs with Saunders and retro-jazz/soul keyboard master Jeff Lorber on the laid back, mid-tempo “After George,” a moody, easy groovin’ meditation on the masterful legacy of the late George Duke. As Duke often did, the track gets funkier, spacier and wilder it grooves on, with Lorber creating an otherworldly trippy synth solo and then a more organic piano improvisation that pay direct homage to the jazz/R&B fusion era Duke so defined.
Nils isn’t the only big-name guitarist featured on Sexy Somethin. For the silky and simmering, anticipation filled self-portrait “Tony’s Romance,” Saunders pairs his tight, snappy bass and a dreamy synth atmosphere with the old school jangle, cool harmony lines and crackling inventive soloing of Paul Jackson, Jr. This isn’t your typical candlelight date, more like an invitation to groove all night long with a dance partner – and Saunders and Jackson are the perfect chaperones.
Later, when Saunders really wants to get down on the hypnotic snare-drum driven title track, he floats his steamy basslines over the jazzy elegance and synth wizardry of another prominent guest star, Gail Johnson. In the middle of the snare funk, he simmers down for a thoughtful reflective moment as if pondering the next phase of his sexy relationship. Johnson also contributes touches of Rhodes magic to another instantly impactful mid-tempo in the pocket joint, “Brock Avenue,” which finds Saunders laying a groovy foundation for co-writer and co-producer Ray Chew’s sparkling piano melody and Paul Brown’s always infectious bluesy guitar.
Besides Ryan, Saunders has features for several other incredibly emotional saxophonists – the always seductive Marion Meadows, helping create the deep dual moonlit romance flow on the instant classic ballad “Whispering Waters”; Norbert Stachtel, who contributes both whimsy and breezy cool to a song whose title says it all about its heartfelt intentions, “So Smooth and Sexy”; and Donald Hayes, who plays it cool and subtle on what is perhaps the collection’s sweetest and sultriest gem, the slightly melancholy but also encouraging “When You Cry.”
Listen to Sexy Somethin here: https://open.spotify.com/album/3bmCfOCQF2wsR7L7XwvMwa