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Jeff Kashiwa: Play

Who knew? Saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa’s last CD was so tepid he almost played himself out of the contemporary-jazz genre and lost whatever momentum he’d crafted over the years. With Play, Kashiwa has not only crafted a superb CD but one that will certainly be at the top of best-of lists for 2007. It’s that good.

So what did Kashiwa do to reinvigorate his sound? Three things. First and foremost, he plays the horn with abandon and with a true jazz sensibility. Even when Kashiwa digs around and finds a melody among the R&B, gospel, funk, jazz and reggae-inspired tunes, he’s still playing instead of recycling rote riffs, as in the past. Second, Kashiwa relies solely on his tenor for a deep and rich tone throughout. No wimpy soprano. Third, he seems to be saying to fans and radio programmers that the days of polite eight-bar solos are over. In other words, take the music or leave it. Kashiwa’s tunes are the better for it and hopefully will signal a new resolve among pop-jazz players to create accessible music with chops.

Play is mostly recorded live with Dave Hooper on drums, Melvin Davis on bass and Allen Hinds on guitar. Guest keyboardist Russell Ferrante from the Yellowjackets invigorates a number of tunes. The result is a live jam-band vibe and a cheery antidote to polished studio perfection. Highlights include the bluesy reggae of “Blue Jeans,” the driving jam of “Forever” and the melancholy, dirge-like power of “Fall.”

It’s hard to imagine a better contemporary jazz saxophone CD will surpass Play in 2007.

Originally Published