After releasing a CD of Babyface songs, not too original but still kind of inspired, sax man Kirk Whalum gets props for crafting an all-original concept CD with a twist that—hold onto your hats—may become the next rage. Whalum’s idea, a winning one, was to travel back to his Memphis roots and to the place where his career began, in hot and steamy Houston nightclubs. As part of that, he’s re-recorded some of his earlier material, including “Afterthought” from his debut CD of 22 years ago. He also smoothed out some of the edges on “Desperately” from 1989 and on “Glow” and the “The Wave,” both from his 1987 album And You Know That!
Are the new recordings better? Of course they are. The originals were fantastic, but their anachronistic nature has been laid to rest with crisp production and a back-from-the-past freshness by producers Philippe Saisse, Rex Rideout and James McMillan. Add a few well-known guitarists such as Earl Klugh and Jeff Golub, and the result is amazing. Especially convincing is “The Wave,” whose familiar melody sounds as fresh now as during the big-hair 1980s. Among the tunes is one, “Ruby Ruby Ruby,” that first appeared on Bob James’ 12 CD from 1984. It’s a loving tribute to Whalum’s wife of 27 years.
The new songs, with their old-but-new style, show the saxophonist at his best, as a purveyor of a pop-jazz with a keen mainstream sensibility. You could place many of Whalum’s songs in a trio or quartet setting and mainstreamers might listen to them. Intriguing, too, is the selection “In a Whisper,” in which Kim Fields—yep, Tootie from The Facts of Life but now a filmmaker and spoken-word artist—talk-raps about the synergy of old and new. Pretty hip. And Caleb the Bridge raps on “Back in the Day,” the part of the Roundtrip in which the musician is faced with the present.
In addition to being a personal CD for Whalum, Roundtrip features several family members: uncle Peanuts Whalum on piano, nephew Kenneth Whalum on sax and son Kyle Whalum on bass.