Gerald Albright: Sax for Stax

Kirk Whalum may be a resident artist at the Stax Music Academy in his hometown of Memphis, but fellow smooth jazz saxophonist and Coloradan Gerald Albright has beaten him to the punch with a tribute to the resurrected Stax Records. (To be fair, Whalum released Into My Soul in 2003, which he called a tribute to Memphis music.) All is cool in the smooth world, however, as Whalum blessed the recording with a guest spot on “Walkin’ Down Beale Street,” one of three originals. The others are “Memphis Passion” and a rollicking, very 2008 tribute to the father of blues, “W.C. Handy Bop.”

Stax, of course, had and still has a gritty rep that contrasted with rival Motown’s sweet soul music. Albright, a veteran, conveys that style to maximum effect while clearly enjoying the contemporary sounds he’s known for. He’s chosen his eight cover songs well, highlighted by a swinging “Knock on Wood” and a dynamic “What You See Is What You Get” with vocals by Philip Bailey. Will Downing sings the refrain on “Never Can Say Goodbye,” which gets its inspiration more from Isaac Hayes than from the original by the Jackson 5. Albright also tackles Hayes’ “Theme From ‘The Men,'” the obscure theme to a short-lived 1970s TV crime series, here delightfully retro with a disco sting arrangement by Marc Cargill.