By MIKE CHAIKEN
If you cue up the album, “Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns,” it sounds likes the recording sessions were great fun for everyone involved
Dave and fellow saxophone players Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, and Mindi Abair take on such cover tracks as The Beatles “Got to Get You Into My Life” (as reworked by Earth, Wind, and Fire), Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothing Yet,” Chicago’s “25 to 6 or 4,” and Sly and Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”
The playing is fun, funky, and just the right thing to pop on your stereo as you drive down the road with the windows open on a breezy summer day.
Dave Koz and Friends come to the Ridgefield Playhouse on Aug. 29.
Calling from California, Dave said if you got the sense the album was a blast to record, “Then we were doing something right.” That was their intention all along.
Asked to talk about the genesis of the idea that brought himself, Albright, Elliot, and Abair—to record a contemporary jazz album, Koz said the idea grew from the thought: what would happen if you put four people together in the recording studio, who normally work as solo performers, and then ask them to work together.
“The idea of the project had been in mind a long time,” said Koz. “It seemed the right time.”
Koz said the idea sounded like a good one. But he also wondered whether it work. Sometimes when you pool people together who aren’t used to being a team, Koz said the chemistry just isn’t right.
Granted, the right ingredients were there for the necessary chemistry.
Koz said the four musicians all had respect for each other’s playing. And they all had respect for each other’s music.
However, was it enough?
“But when we started playing, we all let loose with a big sigh of relief,” said Koz. “It was a total pleasure… (The recording) was relaxed, comfortable and fun.”
When they chose the classic tracks to record for the album, Koz said all four musicians reached back to the music of their upbringing. “The bands represented on the album, these were the bands I listened to as a kid.”
The music came from a golden era of horn-based music, said Koz. “Everyone (in the late 1960s to mid-1970s) had these tight horn sections” that were the focus of the music rather than just something in the background, said Koz.
This sound of horns taking charge of the pop charts was what inspired him to pick up the saxophone in the first place, said Koz.
When the four sax players began to figure what particular songs to record, Koz said, they literally had a list of hundreds to choose from.
Koz, Albright, Elliot, and Abair would get together on weekly conference calls to hash out what songs would make the cut. “It was a spirited conversation,” said Koz.
When they made their choices for “Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns,” Koz said the four musicians knew they had to veer toward tracks that were more melodic and more funky. Some artists, like the Ohio Players, featured a lot of brass. But beyond the funk, the melodies weren’t there for the saxophones to latch onto.
So songs like Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” seemed like a natural mix with its trademark hornlines, said Koz. And Herb Albert’s hit, “Rise,” also easily held up in the translation from trumpet to sax.
“All were fun (to record),” said Koz of the final tracks that made the album. “The recording went very quickly.”
In all, Koz said the tracks were finished within eight days. And along the way, when it came to their playing, “everyone took it to the next level.”
The album also features several guest singers such as Michael McDonald, who takes on the track “So Very Hard to Go” by Tower of Power, and Jeffrey Osborne, who does, “God Bless the Child” from Billie Holliday (as arranged by Blood, Sweat and Tears).
Koz said he had the idea of collaborating with McDonald on the old TOP track and called the former Doobie Brothers singer about the possibility of him handling the vocals. McDonald said it was an eerie coincidence that the sax player had called. McDonald told Koz that he had been shopping at Home Depot when “So Very Hard to Go” came on over the PA system. At that moment, he said he made a mental note to himself that it would be a great song for someone to cover. And two weeks after that mental note, McDonald had received his call from Koz. McDonald told Koz he knew he had to record it.
“It’s one of the great Michael McDonald performances,” said Koz, full of “emotion and vulnerability.”
As for Osborne’s contribution, Koz said he and the R&B singer had been friends for a long time. And as the “Summer Horns” project came together, Koz said he approached Osborne about singing “God Bless the Child.” It was a song Osborne had never tried to sing before and Osborne told Koz he would love to be part of the project.
“As big as a fan as I was (of Osborne),” said Koz, “I’m a bigger one now. (Osborne) crushed it live and he did it in one sitting.”
When Koz comes to perform in Ridgefield, he said a lot of the night will draw from the “Summer Horns” album as well as offer up a few tracks that didn’t make it on to the album.
Although some artists might shy away from delving too deep into a new album (most fans turn out to hear the hits), Koz said in this case the new album is nothing but hits. “This is the soundtrack to everybody’s life,” said Koz. “It reminds you of growing up.”
However, Koz said fans shouldn’t be worried that they won’t hear some of his popular solo material. That definitely is part of the set list.
Dave Koz and Friends come to the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Rd., Ridgefield on Thursday, Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $80.
For more information, go to Ridgefield Playhouse.org or DaveKoz.com