“Slam Dunk” is an apropos title. With a direct influence of James Brown as well as the Philly International and Motown sound, Gerald Albright’s infectious new album delivers the goods by taking us on a journey of musical discovery.
Co-produced by Chris “Big Dog” Davis, “Slam Dunk” continues Albright’s reign as one of the most compelling and consistent artists in jazz. In addition to showcasing his amazing sax prowess, Albright displays his skills as bassist and vocalist on “Slam Dunk”, with ebullient arrangements of classic covers as well as his own compositions.
Highlights on “Slam Dunk” include Albright’s take on songs by James Brown (“It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World”) and Phil Collins (“True Colors”) as well as his own touching tribute to longtime friend George Duke (“The Duke”). If that’s not enough, Albright even brings in special guest vocalist Peabo Bryson for an impassioned performance on the track “Where Did We Go Wrong”.
“Slam Dunk” will be released on August 5th. I had the pleasure of speaking with Albright about his wonderful new album.
Where does the title “Slam Dunk” come from?
Well, it's not a basketball term [laughs]. It's a bit more cliché'. It’s about being at a good point in your life when everything is kind of clicking. The premise behind this whole project was to take some of the instruments that I’ve loved to play for many years and bring them to the forefront. The bass guitar, the flute solos, the little singing that I do - and of course, all of the saxophones. It's a project where I really got to spread my wings, and "Slam Dunk" is a title that reflects that.
What was your criteria for choosing songs to cover for this album?
For me, the song has to feel good and have a wonderful melody that I can play on the saxophone. If it translates well to the sax then I'll really feel the tune as opposed to trying to make a melody work from a particular song.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Slam Dunk. “True Colors”
I used to perform “True Colors” back when I was on the road with Phil Collins. He did a wonderful arrangement of it. I had a featured soprano sax solo during his show and always looked forward to doing that song. I remember making a mental note at the time that if I ever had a chance to do my own rendition of it I would do it. We did it for this album.
Tell me a little about your James Brown influence and particularly on the song, “It's a Man's Man's Man's World".
I've been channeling James Brown for years. In fact, on all of my contemporary projects you'll hear hints of James somewhere within one or more of the songs. That's because as early as age 8, I was literally listening to every recorded album of James Brown that my brother had playing in the household. It was what I was digesting on a daily basis. Of course, with James being so funky and then having Maceo Parker who was just as funky playing alto – that became my first influence on the alto saxophone. James plays a big part in my musical journey and I wanted to do “Man's World” because it's one of those tunes that you can slow down, dig into and really have a conversation with the horn. I think we were very successful..
“Because of You”.
That was a song I wrote with my co-producer, Chris "Big Dog" Davis. It was a song that I dedicated to my wife and one where I'm doing all of the background vocals. I get to channel George Duke and his falsetto on that one!
Speaking of George Duke, you pay tribute to him on the song “The Duke”.
I affectionately called him Poppa G. George was someone you could always approach and he would always give you time. He was a real special spirit in the music business that made you feel comfortable whenever you were around him. I had a chance to record and play live shows with George and he really influenced me in my music and as a person for many years. I deeply miss him and wanted to give him a tribute on the project. We did that song for Duke.
“Where Did We Go Wrong” – With Peabro Bryson.
I was doing the Berks Jazz Festival. Peabro was also there and I remember there was a point in the show where I was standing in the wings and was just amazed at how wonderful his voice is. He hasn't lost a beat and I thought it would be great to have him on this new record. After the show, we were both back in the dressing room and I asked him if he'd be willing to do a song on the album and he said “Absolutely”. He did a wonderful job.
What was it like working with Chris “Big Dog” Davis?
‘Big Dog’ brought a new energy to this project that was really exciting. He’s one of those user-friendly types of producers who can really do any type of music. We pretty much co-wrote and produced the whole album together. I'm so happy with the way it came out.
Will you also be touring to support this album?
Yes! We're talking about major touring at the end of the year and into 2015. We definitely have to tour on Slam Dunk. I wouldn't have it any other way.
You also have some more dates lined up with Summer Horns. What’s it like touring with Dave Koz, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliott?
It's exciting to share the stage with Koz, Mindi and Richard. It's a mutual admiration type of platform. We always have a lot of fun on stage together and I think people can really zone in on that.
Did you always know music would be your calling?
I did. Music was the only thing that ever really made me feel comfortable. I've always geared my energy towards some path of music. Whether it was being in the recording studio with other artists, out on the road or doing my own solo projects – music is home for me. I started out on piano when I was eight years old. I didn't like it so my private teacher put me on saxophone and thank God that he did because that was the instrument that I was inclined to play.
What makes jazz such a great form of music?
It's the timeless, American art form. You can put on a Nat King Cole or Miles Davis record and it would sound like it was recorded yesterday. There's an allegiance and commitment to this music that’s unlike any other genre.
What advice would you give to someone starting out who has dreams of a career in music?
First and foremost, you really have to be fluent on the instrument. There are no shortcuts and that means you have to practice and put in the time. Music is also a relationship business, so you've got to go where the action is. Refine your instrument and then refine the business aspect to develop relationships with people who can help you enhance it. You can always learn something today that you didn't know yesterday. It's limitless what you can do.