No one can accuse pianist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn of cashing in on the platinum success achieved by their 1986 release, Double Vision, with a hastily issued encore. The two Grammy-winners finally got together again in the studio late last year to record Quartette Humaine, an acoustic session inspired by the special chemistry that marked the collaborations of pianist Dave Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond.
Don’t look here, though, for yet another take on “Take Five” or “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” Instead, James and Sanborn, with a big assist from bassist James Genus and drummer Steve Gadd, sought to conjure the interplay of the iconic Brubeck Quartet while performing original tunes and arrangements. James’ “Follow Me,” an odd-meter delight, whimsically underscores the Brubeck-Desmond connection, but for the most part Quartette Humaine succeeds on its own familiar terms, brightened by Sanborn’s keening, often-passionate alto and graced by James’ fluid improvisations, nimble counterpoint and romantic bent. The rhythmic pull created by Gadd’s brushwork and Genus’ resonant tone is consistently appealing, and the pairings of James and Sanborn are colorfully varied—though for sheer soulfulness nothing tops the welcome rekindling of “My Old Flame.” That the album should close with James’ catchy “Deep in the Weeds” seems only fitting, since this R&B-triggered excursion is bound to get a big rise out of festivalgoers when the quartet tours this summer.