David Sanborn’s sax voice is unmistakable. Rooted in jazz and informed by R&B, pop and rock, it is instantly recognizable, a sound that has inspired legions of emulators and earned the veteran saxophonist a slew of accolades. On Time and the River, Sanborn deploys that familiar alto in a series of richly textured settings that are both fresh and familiar.
Bassist and longtime Sanborn friend and collaborator Marcus Miller produced the album and brought a strong, intricately detailed groove element to it. Tribal percussion and Miller’s funky bass underpin Sanborn’s R&B-flavored lead on “A La Verticale,” while subtle percussion and ringing keyboards create an atmospheric foundation for the sax and bass on the languid, slow-grooving “Drift.”
Sanborn covers “I Can’t Get Next to You,” with Tower of Power singer Larry Braggs guesting on vocals. The song is well known as a chart-topping hit for the Temptations, but Sanborn’s horn-driven, soul-jazzy take references Al Green’s version, recreating its slow-burning loping groove. Singer Randy Crawford and Sanborn scored a hit in 1989 with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” that also featured Eric Clapton, and Crawford reteams with Sanborn here for a percolating version of “Windmills of Your Mind.”
But it’s not all funk grooves on Time and the River. “Oublie Moi” features Sanborn’s potent saxophone within a dreamy soundscape, and the sax glides over a hypnotic, organ-infused rhythmic bed on the slow, sultry “Ordinary People.”
This year marks 40 years since Sanborn released his first solo album, Taking Off, and Time and the River makes clear that while Sanborn hasn’t abandoned his signature sound, he continues to find new and intriguing musical avenues to explore.