||| PAUL WAINWRIGHT & SAX SAFARI: Plank Spankin'
Paul Wainwright & Sax
TriActive Records 2006
sample mp3 track: NIGHT SCENE »»
|| Victoria saxman Paul Wainwright and his band Sax Safari have a new CD called Plank Spankin' that might be just the bridge from rock boogie into jazz groove that you've been looking for. No gloomy introspection and instrumental automatism here, but rather a bright street party set of 10 sophisticated spine-snappers. Cross-over? Fusion? Yes, all of that and funk too. "This album is a text-book of early influences," says Paul. "The Crusaders, the Becker Brothers (the Headhunters)... Weather Report, sure. I mean, Track 1, JATO, gives a nod to Spiro Gyro."
JATO? "Jet-assisted takeoff." This baby jumps in G major, with a bop melody... some nice fleugelhorn (trumpet) here by guest sideman Gabriel Mark Hasselbach.
The sense of fusion always comes from the guitar, as a generation of players have come out of rock n roll, whereas the sax is historically rooted in jazz (marching bands aside). Nowhere do you hear this dichotomy more than in JATO which jay-bops its way down main street with PW's powerful tenor sax, then goes down the alley with some punch rock guitar. Dig it? Of course. Honk to you drop, manny.
Playing the big horn ain't easy, has a price. For a while the Saxman was suffering like Dexter Gordon... insomnia, couldn't sleep, and if he did sleep, he had nightmares, went into convulsions. Blowing that tenor takes its toll on the synapses, leaves a red dancing dot in the hypothalamus, the tail flame of the jazz bandit. "Was gigging so much I'd be cataleptic," says Paul. "Start kickin' like crazy at dawn. Then my wife figured out a way to stop it. She'd roll over, put her finger below my nose, on my upper lip... and I'd stop. Saved me, man... that and meditation."
Possibility he was feeling TV News anxiety too, like the rest of us. This is certainly the theme of the only vocal track (7) on the CD, Discover the World. It's a plaintive number, like certain sunsets. A woman in the tower, a siren on the rocks... a soprano sax preludes Paul's excellent vocal. He sings just as he plays, with the same phrasing and nuanced timbre you hear in his sax lines. It's good stuff, makes you want more vocal numbers. Certainly he makes a statement here that simply can't be done with a straight instrumental. The setup is good, has that loping B minor bass that might remind some of the famous BB King "The Thrill Is Gone" -- not the line per se, but the vibe. Nice Knopfler guitar swells too.
Mrs. D (track 8) has a rumba/salsa feel... not surprising, as PW's co-writer and Sax Safari bassist Steve Duben was born and raised in British Guiana (now Guyana, which is just north of Brazil on the map) (think: Jim Jones & the People's Temple), and open to the influence of Caribbean calypso. His mother is the "Mrs D" of title, as she used to host house parties where Steve started playing bass in his Uncle's calypso band. "When I was down in the Dominican Republic," says PW, "I noticed that they hire only local musicians to play in the hotels... it's the law, and it makes sure that they get the work and that their music retains its roots feel. Steve, y'know, brings that with him. Think you can hear that sunny, carefree thing in Mrs D."
Track 9, Kingpin... this is the number that Paul and his band often begin their sets with. Why not? It's downtown all the way, a high-steppin' strut with a dual tenor lead. Pay attention to the great solo by Morry Stearns, the veteran Victoria keyboard player who has rolled with the best. He comps, he bops, he sugar-hops. Presented as a live track, complete with crowd noise and a small room ambience, this track is a perfect example of what you'd hear Sax Safari playing on a Tuesday night at Swan's, down by the big blue bridge.
|| There's a barn somewhere in the Cowichan Valley on southern Vancouver Island. Where the eagles fly and the cougars roam. It's got a stacked recording studio, with the latest digi gear and some of the old analogue stuff too. "There's something about that thunk when the transport grabs the two inch tape, rolls those big reels," says PW. "Did some of the mixing there with the help of Zack Cohen and Dan Patton." He also used Dennis Ferbey, whose studio is "just around the corner" in View Royal. The final mix and mastering was done in L.A.
One cover, and only one: Eric Burdon & War's 1975 hard-butt crack burner "Low Rider". The synth wipe percussion in the startup is something else... you can see the dude with the aviator goggles shifting through a long curve in the canyon north of Hell's Gate, B.C. The "locked-down rhythm" is unlocked, the modality bumped into a minor, and PW rides the funky Steve D Bootsy bass with his soprano. Great percussion, a shuffling Latin shacka shacka two-stroke layer. Chain-drive, baby... and a weeping gasket.
There is a method in the order of these tracks, and you can feel the CD build to the neon funk magic of Night Scene[mp3]. Tom Lang's 7/9 wah chord guitar rhythm is reminiscent of Charles Pitts (Theme From Shaft) or Curtis Mayfield. The number drives with a massed tenor attack, with PW using the old "4 brothers" sax harmony approach. Place your bets, folks, the casino is hot tonight.
Saved the best for last? Could be... but the high-stepper Groove Zone with its dreamy gulf-stream prologue (Rendezvous Now) is also a contender. But then, what about the title track Plank Spankin? [mp3] Slap boogie bass and a Louisiana soprano bird. Sweet. Fact is, all the tracks are prime cut. Mix is good too, sounds fine in the car or your 6:1 stereo matrix or even the cheapo boom box in your kitchen.
Paul's style: King Curtis, for sure... Mr. T (Stanley Turrentine) might come to mind... certainly Tom Scott & the L.A. Express when it comes to arrangement. Melody is strong & extroverted, the arrangements tight & symmetrical... yet there's always room to stretch. "Duke Ellington, Cole Porter... these guys knew how to write," says Paul. "Love the way Cole Porter starts out in a major, then moves into a minor."
The playing on this CD is stellar. Guest percussionist John Ferraro -- you might know him from the Larry Carleton Band or the Boz Scaggs live in Frisco DVD -- certainly adds some west coast kick ass to the bottom end. No mistakes on this gig. Everyone's in the pocket.
Swing into bop, bop into cool, cool into fusion... into groove. Paul Wainwright's sound is pure west coast muscle funk.
And it's spring, folks. The boa vida is just around the corner, and this CD will help you find it. If you're in Victoria, loose on a Saturday afternoon, check out Fat Tuesday's... it's a cellar on the Gorge waterway where the subterraneans hang, diggin the blues and the unexpected. Paul sits in with the house band, Summer & the Sinners, blows through some classics... throat whiskey like Honky Tonk I & II, when he's often joined by a fellow pirate of the tenor, Gene Hardy. They run hot, but stay cool.
You can dance by yourself... but you don't have to.
© Lawrence Russell 3/06
Paul Wainwright & Sax
1 JATO [4:26]
Culture Court | Lawrence Russell | 2006