I know he has been dissed and bashed over the years like almost no other musician but what is the real essence of saxophonist Kenny G‘s new album “Brazilian Nights” please? There are some enjoyable moments on his 1982 debut LP and the follow-up a year later when artists like Jeff Lorber or Kashif had some input to his work. But somehow since the mid-to late 80s, his formulaic, soft and cushioned sound has sold millions and millions so why change the format? Maybe that’s the answer.
In the liner notes, G says that “my goal was not only to make a bossa nova album that pays tribute to the “Masters” who I’ve been listening to but also to write and record original bossa novas that I hope can “hold their own” in this distinguished company”. He also says that he’s been listening to the Stan Getz album “Getz For Lovers” almost every day for the past five years. So deep was his research and love for the music that he only listened to a compilation album which only had four tracks from the classic “Getz/Gilberto” album on it. And no, I don’t think the five original tracks can hold their own. They actually all sound the same and the whole music was recorded with synths, drum and percussion programming and a real piano played by longtime friend and co-producer Walter Afanasieff, audible briefly in the muzaky “April Rain”.
So there are totally forgettable versions of Paul Desmond‘s “Bossa Antigua” or the repetitive Jobim classic “Corcovado”. Who should listen to this version when the original from the 1963 sessions is all over the place? G comes closest to a Brazilian sound and style on the Luis Antonio classic “Menina Moca”, made famous by Miltinho, and the original “Bu Bossa”. On the rest of the album, I can’t help but wonder what exactly took one year and a half to come up with this project.
The Penguin Guide to Jazz says about “Cannonball’s Bossa Nova”, the 1962 album by Cannonball Adderley which was the other major inspiration for this album: “Little more than a sweet-natured excursion into some of the indigenous music, it’s a pleasing diversion.” G delivers anything but a pleasing version of “Clouds”, the opening track to the Adderley album. It is displayed in such an annoying and tedious manner that is only topped by his superfluous “Girl From Ipanema”.
I remember seeing him perform in the 80s as the support act for George Benson which was cool at the time. What he’s up to in his own live performances? You can find out yourself when he plays Yoshis in Oakland from March 6th to 9th.