Wow. Double wow. Triple wow. It seems like the really solid stuff is coming straight out of left field on indie and self-released albums this year. First there was guitarist Will Sumner's Tracks,
then Patrick Bradley's Under The Sun.
Now someone whose instincts I trust sends me a CD by a guy I've never heard of and it turns out to be the best solo sax CD I've heard since Mark Johnson's self-titled debut in the early 90's. Big talk, but let's face it, people started compromising their music shortly after that and this artist, Richie Cannata, didn't have to. He wasn't going to starve if he didn't smooth out. He was in Billy Joel's touring band, played with the Beach Boys, and owned a studio where luminaries like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Daryl Hall, and Spyro Gyra recorded hit albums. You probably know him best because the sax solo in Billy Joel's “It's Still Rock'n'Roll to Me” is his. Whether you like the song or not, that solo is slammin'. He's got big notoriety as a contemporary jazzer, particularly on the upper east coast where he has hosted numerous jazz jams when he isn't on the road or working in the studio. He came off the road from Billy Joel's last tour, is doing a lot of dates with Bernie Williams and has a long standing relationship with Spyro Gyra that appears to have brought this project into fruition.
This is not an imitative album by a long shot but I will say that if you like Spyro Gyra you will love this, and there is an influence there, but what better influence to have. Especially since Spyro Gyra guitarist Julio Fernandez, who he calls his “musical soul mate” in the liner notes, co-produced the album and co-wrote several of the songs. Former SG drummer Joel Rosenblatt and keyboardist Chris Palmaro, who is on most of Jeff Golub's albums, as well as a cast of the east coast heavy hitter session musicians back him up. There are no covers or vocals and he plays tenor on all but one track. As a sax player his tone is spot-on, his dynamics and control are incredible. He can go from tender and subtle to a powerful blast of notes and run all over the scale without every becoming shriekish or muddy. The opener, “Keep it In The Pocket,” sets the tone with a Palmaro's bluesy B-3 and Fernandez' guitar driving a percolating rhythm section under Cannata's Tenor. Horn sections spice up a lot of the songs, as does some fired up guitar work from Fernandez, who rocks like he does on stage with Spyro Gyra. “Open Road” is a tight uptempo drive-too-fast tune with an irresistible hook. “Tea Time” has the feel of an updated take on some of Spyro Gyra's earlier songs. “Para Ti” opens with Fernandez' lyrical Spanish guitar then tears into a blast of Latin flavored energy fueled by Fernandez' electric guitar work and Don Harris' horn arrangements. There are lyrical ballads like “Living for the Moment” and the lovely acoustic “Anna C,” Latin flavored jams, deep funk and more, all tied together by Cannata's virtuoso sax work and willingness to play out of bounds and a group of backup musicians who are given the space to let it rip. There are no throwaway songs here, nothing formula, no sound alikes and nothing faddish or self consciously trendy. This is solid contemporary jazz with lots of originality, strong songwriting, and so much interesting music being made that you will be blown away by something you didn't hear before every time you listen. Richie Cannata waited until he passed the big 6-0 to put out this self titled solo album and it was well worth the wait.
Visit Richie Cannata's website.
You can hear song samples and purchase the CD or download the album and individual tracks here.