In an unprecedented year in which fear, anxiety and despair are always just outside the door, seeking an opportunity to creep into and derail our day to day flow, we music fans are more grateful than ever for the uplifting songs our favorite artists provide. Yet as we listen, exhaling with and feeling inspired by every four-minute mini-journey they bless us with, we don’t always know the full emotional story behind the song. Especially with smooth jazz artists, whose vibe is so infectious, melodic and grooving that it’s hard to imagine that it could ever come from a place of sorrow and loss.
Such is the case with Detroit based Billboard chart-topping saxophonist Deon Yates’ “When We Meet Again,” a soulful, easy grooving and ultimately soaring mid-tempo ballad that artfully balances poignancy and intimacy with optimism and exuberance. Written and produced by fellow saxman Jackiem Joyner and mixed (brightly and brilliantly as always) by Darren Rahn, it’s the latest lead single from his highly anticipated Quintastic project, following the successful releases of the title track (which has over 260,000 Spotify streams) and “In the Moment.”
Like a lot of artists these days, he dedicates the intensely heart-tugging track to “those we lost to COVID-19 and our ‘Front Line’ Heroes.” On the impressionistic cover of a highway stretching into and endless but cloudy sky, he makes a deeper dedication: “To all of the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every single day, Thank You!” That kind of gratitude is a necessary reminder for all of us, but it’s only part of the story driving the musical narrative of “When We Meet Again.”
The foundation of everything – from the richly textured, horn textured sonic magic to the powerful sense of intimacy expressed – is the friendship of Yates and Joyner. Over the years, the two saxophonists have crossed paths at many festivals and concert events where one or both were featured performers. This gave them the opportunity to hang out together and develop a personal relationship beyond just the commonality of the music.
While many of us just see the grim statistics – and a handful of chronicles of personal tragedies – on the news every day, Yates has been hit hard in a very personal way by COVID-19, losing his oldest brother, other family members and close friends to the disease. For his own personal catharsis and to uplift and offer a moment of hope to others who are going through similar tribulations, the saxman wanted to add a song to Quintastic that was both inspirational and inspiring while expressing his appreciation for the sacrifices our unsung frontline heroes are making.
Working with Joyner, he draws on his trademark horn urgency to hit all of the dynamics of his personal and the universal situation. Underscored and caressed by those sizzling horn textures, we feel him note by note, groove by groove battling his way through the darkness and bursting through with light. “When we Meet Again” is not only a promise to his departed loved ones that he will see them beyond this life, but a commitment to always focus on gratitude and the eternal love that lifts us even on our darkest days.