In the liner notes to Brazilian Nights, Kenny G declares, “I’ve been in love with bossa nova my whole life.” Whether that’s actually true or just a marketing line, the smooth-jazz saxophonist demonstrates a genuine affinity for Brazilian music on this album, a mix of classics and original tracks composed by G and his longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff, all performed with palpable enthusiasm.
G, who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxes here, doesn’t stray too far from the sound that made him a commercial behemoth. Those who love his lyrical melodies punctuated by those trademark fluttering, rapid-fire runs won’t be disappointed, and those who consider G a blight on jazz probably won’t have their minds changed by this album.
But while G places his unmistakable stylistic stamp on the tracks on Brazilian Nights, he also demonstrates a willingness to seek new ways to present some very well-known tunes. He offers a bright, cheery take on Paul Desmond’s “Bossa Antigua,” the tempo picked up slightly, and delivers an expansive version of the Jobim classic “Corcovado” that’s both lyrical and agile.
Brazilian Nights suffers from the lack of a human rhythm section. The drums and percussion are programmed, and too often the leaden, robotic rhythms weigh down the melodies. On “Corcovado,” G’s performance is burdened by clanking, plodding beats, while metronomic percussion encumbers the gentle sway of the sweet title track. A more organic rhythmic approach and more inventive arrangements would have served G better.