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
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
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
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
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
- Anne Aufderheide