Marking his 30th anniversary as a solo recording artist this year, saxophonist Richard Elliot delivers Lip Service, an amiable but predictable set filled with the kind of R&B-informed contemporary jazz that has made the former Tower of Power member a mainstay of jazz radio. The album centers on themes of love and romance, but the tracks are relatively free of sentimentality; Elliot’s not a showy player, and here he articulates the melodies in a straightforward manner, evoking a relationship built on direct communication rather than artifice.
The title track is funky yet easygoing; the warm, catchy “Sweet Spot” includes delicate guitar accents from album producer Paul Brown; and the romantic ballad “Sookie Sookie” features an intimate arrangement and lyrical sax. Elliot takes on Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man,” keeping the original’s spare arrangement intact, gospel piano and B3 organ accompanying the robust sax melody. Elliot sounds slightly stiff at the start of his version of the Manhattans’ oft-covered chestnut “Shining Star,” but finds his groove as the arrangement builds into an expansive power ballad featuring a horn section arranged by fellow Tower of Power alum Greg Adams.
Lip Service is an enjoyable album with many elements that make it worthwhile, but adventurousness is not among them. It’s a solid smooth-jazz outing that doesn’t take many stylistic risks or introduce any new ideas. Elliot’s got the goods: a supple, appealing sax voice, a gift for melody and decades of experience as a leader and as a member of an ensemble. As he moves into his fourth decade as a solo artist, hopefully he will choose to apply that combination of talents to some fresher contexts.