Don Diego: This Must Be Heaven

With an easygoing alto and effortless piping soprano, Texas-born Don Diego can sound like the saxophonist equivalent of Al Jarreau. This Must Be Heaven (Ichiban International D2 24957-2; 50:27) includes many of sweetly pop-soulful tracks which reinforce that mantle (“S’Nice,” and “This Must Be Heaven” among them), but also reaches out with a few refreshing surprises. Several of the left turns here seem inspired by guest players-the sparsely soulful “Savannah” finds Diego echoing Whitney Marsalis’ nice vocal, and the bouncy “Have a Funky Day” features a spinning, riffing duel between Diego on soprano and Kirk Whalum on tenor. Another highlight here is “Round 12AM,” a lumbering, almost industrial effort, buzzing with dark bass, busy guitar and organ-like keyboards featuring Gerald Albright on alto. Clearly strengthened by these star partnerships, Diego cuts loose and showcases some of his most creative work.