Richard Elliot: Crush

Sax-idol Richard Elliot is one of the most frequent “guest players” on other artists’ albums, with his soulful, economical work adding noteworthy punch to spotlight solos. So why is his solo work all about the atmosphere? The mystery-shrouding Crush (GRP VERF-01095-2; 42:02) is an album so crowded with sticky-sweet over-arrangements that it leaves its leader with very little play space.

From the overblown ballad “Brand New Love Affair” to the breathy, slow-developing “Q.T.” the emphasis seems to be on slick atmosphere rather than organic musicianship. Even the passionate tenor vocals of Jonathan Butler are undercut by an irritatingly dense arrangement on “If I Kissed You.” Like a sunbeam through cloud cover, the contrast is dramatic when Elliot is afforded cut-loose opportunities, like on the mysterious, hushed noir quality of “Melrose Diner,” and a grooving workout of the Junior Walker classic “Shotgun,” which finds the saxophonist singing out against guest Jeff Golub’s stinging guitar licks. But you can’t help but wonder if even this arrangement could have been raunchier, grungier-and just more fun-if Elliot would just lighten up and let his talent do the talking.