“David and I realized long ago that Double Vision had become more successful than we originally imagined it could be,” James says. “Ironically, although we’ve met in the studio, doing other people’s projects, we’ve never toured, or performed together live as a band. The exception was a midnight jam session at the Tokyo Jazz Festival a few years ago. We played just a couple of tunes, but it engendered the feeling that a reunion was way overdue.”
On their second go-round, the old masters eschew the pop and R&B production values that mark large chunks of their respective discographies, and offer instead an all-acoustic quartet recital consisting of four new compositions by James, three pieces by Sanborn, and two James-arranged covers (“My Old Flame,” “Geste Humain”). Propelled by legendary drummer Steve Gadd and 21st century bass giant James Genus, the proceedings are reflective, swinging, chock-a-block with unfailingly melodic improvising and beautiful tonalities.
“At this stage of my life, I wanted more than anything to play music that’s challenging and fun, outside the style we’ve been associated with,” Sanborn says. “For various reasons, a lot of my records only reflected one side of the many kinds of music I was doing.” Over the past decade, Sanborn adds, his records “reflect a side of my sensibility that I hadn’t been expressing as much, paying respects to guys like Hank Crawford and David ‘Fathead’ Newman, who inspired me to start when I was a teenager in St. Louis.”
“We felt it’s far more exciting and adventurous to move forward,” James says. “Times have changed. The music business has changed. We have changed.”
It’s a poignant coincidence that the recording sessions occurred in December 2012, a week after the death of Dave Brubeck, who the protagonists were thinking of as they gestated Quartette Humaine. “We talked about the interplay of Brubeck’s quartet with Paul Desmond,” Sanborn says. Coming from that, I assumed we’d make a quartet date. I like being able to really hear all the individual instruments. We had this beautiful 9-foot grand piano, and you can hear its sound ring out. You get more sonic purity without all those other elements.”
Indeed, both the tunes and treatments channel Brubeck’s gift for creating communicative music from highbrow raw materials. “Dave has a similar capability to Paul Desmond-though in a different way-in that the lyric quality of the way they play takes it into an emotional-romantic concept rather than an intellectual one,” James says of Sanborn. “I felt-and I still do when I listen to the Brubeck quartet-that they were taking us on an adventure, and some of the adventure was challenging. Just when you thought you knew where you were going, they’d go somewhere different.”
It’s this adventurous, “in-the-moment” spirit that fuels Sanborn and James on Quartette Humaine. “It’s so much fun to do it this way,” Sanborn reflects. “I used to separate live playing from being in the studio, and got into a mindset of having to labor over a record and make it right. I want the studio to reflect that live experience-the fun of discovery, not knowing what’s going to happen until it happens.”