Release Date:
September 25, 2007

Reviewed by:
Anne Aufderheide

I like to discover new artists and I bet you do too.  Have you heard of guitarist Les Sabler?  Well, I don’t know where I’ve been, but I had not.  What first caught my attention is his new CD Sweet Drive has been nominated for two Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.  So I gave it a listen and am glad I did. If you’re a fan of jazz guitar, you’ll want to check it out too.

Sweet Drive is nominated for “Album of the Year” honors at the 2008 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.  Sabler has earned a second nomination for “Guitarist of the Year.”  In addition, Smooth jazz radio program Café Jazz named Sabler the #1 most played Canadian artist in 2007.  Sweet Drive was the #1 most played album by a Canadian artist, and “Club Street” was the #2 most played single by a Canadian artist.

The second thing that caught my attention was the stellar lineup of artists who contributed to Sweet Drive. Ace-bassist Brian Bromberg produced and played on the record. Sabler surrounded himself with some of the best contemporary jazz musicians of the day, including Alex Acuna, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Ricky Peterson, Mark Hollingsworth, and Gary Meek. Most of the brass sections were arranged by Jerry Hey and performed by the Seawind Horns, who are, in fact, Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, Bill Reichenbach, and Dan Higgins. Rahsaan Patterson, Toni Scruggs, and Richard Jackson spice up tracks with some sultry and soulful vocals.  How can one go wrong with all this righteous talent?!

Then I come to find out Sabler has been headlining and opening concerts for artists such as Jeff Lorber, Spyro Gyra, Richard Elliot, Michael Lington, Diane Schurr, and Fattburger.  Now, that’s excellent company to keep.

Sabler studied the artists on the CTI Records label, such as George Benson, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, and Wes Montgomery.  Sabler derived inspiration from pioneering contemporary jazz records from the 1970s; those are the albums that influenced him to become a musician.  The music of that era blended a variety of styles while balancing musical prowess with commercial accessibility. He was also inspired by blues artists like John Lee Hooker and took a tangent for indepth study of the blues.    

A Montreal native, Sabler’s fourth album is a wide-ranging, soulful body of contemporary jazz, R&B, and adult pop, released by The Music Force record label. It has all the right elements for success - masterful performances by Sabler and a star-studded supporting cast, well-crafted songs, and superb production values. The first time I heard the album, it sounded familiar yet fresh and inventive.  Of course, there are cover tunes, but that wasn’t what was so attractively familiar.  This music has chops and class.

From track to track, Sabler changes up style, texture, tempo, and mood revealing a wide range of guitar voices - from edgy electric fusion to cool jazz and warm nylon-string acoustic guitar.  Listeners are treated to an enticing and adept body of music.

 “This is an important record for me and I put everything into it.  There were no compromises,” said Sabler.  “I put a lot of thought into the song selection and trusted Brian Bromberg to guide my performances.  With the gifted players he assembled, it inspired me to bring my ‘A’ game.”

Sweet Drive consists of eight originals and four covers.   “I wrote most of the songs on my first three albums, but for this one, I went through my record collection looking for great songs that hadn’t been recorded before with smooth jazz arrangements,” explained Sabler.  One of the songs he found on an old Quincy Jones album that Stevie Wonder penned, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl,” which opens the CD.  Sabler plays electric guitar accompanied by Eric Marienthal’s velvety sax, Gary Meek’s spirited flute, Brian Bromberg’s dark acoustic bass, and Jeff Lorber’s inspired keys. The silky tones of the Seawind Horns meld with the honeyed vocals from Toni Scruggs and Rahsaan Patterson, creating a gorgeous backdrop for Sabler’s guitar.

The title track is quite simply as fine an example of great smooth jazz as you will hear anywhere. It conjures all that is good and right about this genre. Composed by Sabler’s frequent collaborator, Allon Sams, it has a great groove with Sabler’s fine Montgomery-like chord treatment, cool sax solos by Marienthal, lush Hammond B3 from Peterson, and tight brass sections from the Seawind Horns.

“Daydreaming”is beautifully rendered. The vocal duet by Scruggs and Jackson is superb. This is one of Sabler’s favorite Aretha Franklin songs and his interpretation is outstanding.  Meek's flute carries such delicate inflections.

Guitarist Travis Vega wrote “Club Street,” an up tempo tune with strong potential for stateside radio airplay.   It has elements of chill, hip-hop, funk, and cool.  The melody sits on top of the groove gaining equal attention, along with spirited, pedal-to-the-metal choruses. Meek switches to sax and the interplay with Sabler, Lorber, and Bromberg is dynamic and most satisfying.

Featuring Jackson and Scruggs on backing vocals, “Can You Stop The Rain” brings a deliciously poignant take on this Peabo Bryson classic. Sabler’s nylon-string guitar delivers an impassioned melodic performance, each note chosen and performed with a sensual flow.  The string arrangement by Tom Zink expertly laid the groundwork for this sentimental tune.

Patterson and Scruggs again share backing vocals duty on “I’m Not The Same.” This smoky R&B and smooth jazz ballad features Sabler’s cool-toned guitar and another sizzling sax performance from Meek. 
Accompanied by Lorber’s uncanny keyboard and Hey’s athletic horn section, the mid tempo “Struttin” has Sabler laying down his groove amidst Bromberg’s soft bass vibe.  “It’s my favorite guitar song on the album and it gives me the opportunity to stretch out and really play,” described Sabler.  

Sabler's nylon guitar takes on lyrical qualities in “Who Am I,” demonstrating a talent for emotional expression through his guitar strings.  Vocals from Patterson and Scruggs take on a gentle, dreamy quality here.

“Twenty Two” is one of my favorite tracks, a high-energy, overdrive guitar track accented by the funky horn arrangement from Mark Hollingsworth. It’s an aggressive fusion jam featuring Sabler’s electric guitar trading in-your-face solos with Lorber’s keys, Meek’s sax, the horn section, and Bromberg’s far out bass lines.   

On David Pack’s melody “Biggest Part Of Me,” the Ambrosia pop hit never sounded so sweet with Sabler and Marienthal in “the zone”  “This one tapped me on the shoulder one day while I was driving in the car.  It was a spontaneous idea to have interplay between guitar and sax.  Rahsaan Patterson and Toni Scruggs delivered some pretty complex vocal arrangements that really added a lot,” explained Sabler. 

I was waiting for some blues and here it is!  “Food Chain” is Sabler's own composition.  Lorber steps out here as only he can. The arrangement is complete with the Seawind Horns and Peterson's funky B3. “You can clearly hear the strong Larry Carlton influences on this one. Actually it’s more like Larry Carlton meets Sanford & Son,” Sabler said with a chuckle. “Brian Bromberg played upright bass on the track, which changed the whole texture of the song, making it very unique sounding.” 
Pianist and guitarist Rocky Ramirez has written the alluring, tender “Could You Be” on which Sabler wields an acoustic guitar.  He plays with so much heart on this track. And he generously takes a step back and lets Meek play a wondrous sax solo.

The closing track is an instrumental reprise of “Daydreaming” but it’s not just any reprise. With luxurious space for all musicians to shine, it is glorious! Definitely worth the repetition, I was even inspired to get up out of my comfortable chair and dance!

Between the superb song selections and master performances, this album now ranks high in my music library.  There is great range, deep emotion, a delicious sensuality. If you haven’t already,  it’s time to discover someone new - Les Sabler and Sweet Drive.
- Anne Aufderheide