Monday, December 1, 2014

Super Funky Sax "Wazzup?" (1996)

Only for the sax hungry. That's Wazzup.

The third and final in David Matthews' obscure Super Funky Sax series, Wazzup? brings back more funked-up rhythms for this time around in a mostly fairweather set arranged by David Matthews for the pop side of saxophones.

Where 1994's Mo' Better Funk came up short, 1996's Wazzup? sought to improve with only marginal results of more of the same generic, yet catchy Matthews' originals and covers with some impressive players that show off virtuosity on not only the sax but also guitars. Not without improvement, Wazzup? is really for completists of this unknown saga of saxophoning -- or just for people who love saxophones matched with guitars. When you pair the two together, waz not to love?!

Wazzup?, like Mo' Better Funk on the Japan-only Swecca label, is a New York production only released to Japanese audiences (oddly enough), similarly plagued by a somewhat lusterless outcome yet still results in groovy, funkable albeit painfully mediocre arrangements by veteran jazz-funk-orchestra arranger David Matthews whose far greater capabilities aren't on display here.  In fact, he likely poured more soul into other lesser known Japan-only productions like Yamato 2520.

Unlike the original 1980 Super Funky Sax (which is getting a long-overdue reprint this December), Wazzup? carries on with a goofy hip title, tightened but still prone to drawn-out runways for each soloist to display their signatures. Still sounding flat, the rhythm section is too polished and on-track as if each instrument were layered on-top of each other rather than organically played or masterfully mixed.

So what's up err -- Wazzup

The sax players: Kenny Garrett on alto, is back though not in the spotlight as before, Gerald Albright also on alto makes his presence well heard, Tom Scott as smooth as ever, also on alto, and lastly the high registering Chris Hunter also alto, and in Sanborn's wake sounds more spastically tricky and haphazardly scaly than the previous, enough to break away from the inspiring altoist. Though so many altos, each player shows off their own profile well enough not to melt the horns together.

Newcomer Andy Snitzer plays both alto and tenor in a rich style reminiscent of Steve Tavaglione while George Young on tenor, returns for only one solo op, disappointingly, fading to the background on most of these. Roger Rosenberg returns for lonely love for the baritone, to which he speaks well to. 

There's also nicely implemented rock-tinged guitar solos for the sake of balance on more than half the set list by Ira Siegel and Ross Traut -- two members of Matthews' sessions who never really get to flesh out their skills get to here. Rhythm is handled by bassist Mark Egan and drums by Michael White, who mostly go faceless.

Line Drive is an energetic album opener of T.o.P.-style boldness with Scott's alto at the helm, Chris Hunter playing electrifyingly, played out by Traut's rock guitar that begs for more upon fade out. 

Others bode well like a bouncy Groove Alley with Michael White's steady drum, Mark Egan's bass showing through to another crunchy guitar. El Cumbanchero is a take on Marin Rafael Hernandez's original, a speedy latin cover with a trick and slick alto solo by Albright. After Sunset takes the tempo down low with Andy Snitzer in the spotlight, whose balladry on sax turns a little boresome contrast to Wazzup's other fueled efforts. 

The Cat is a Lalo Schifrin cover which attempts to glitz with a drawn-out MIDI organ solo by Jon Werking, ending with Rosenberg's limited solo baritone. Title track Wazzup? is one that has its moments with Snitzer leading the pack for a refreshing plush yet bold tenor sound against a tragically stiff melody.

Music is serviceably dull, yet simplistically upbeat and engaging amounts of energy, still slightly redundant and at times drawn out which was a bigger problem on Mo' Better Funk. Even covers like EW&F's Sing A Song have a recognizable yet flimsy musak quality to it and will never distract from the soloists. 

An enjoyable obscurity that Matthews' third Super Funky Sax is, is really only for Matthews' followers and/or those who just really enjoy saxophones. Can't quite put my fingering on this disc on why it's likably upbeat when not a little robotic, and just why it sounds so stiff -- which is really unusual for David Matthews' productions which typically dazzle in top-notch production values.


NOTABLE TRACKS: El Cumbanchero, Groove Alley, Line Drive
LISTEN FOR Andy Snitzer's robust sound on tenor, Gerald Albright turns out his funky roots here (and away from smooth jazz), Chris Hunter cooks
WINNING SOLOIST goes to Gerald Albright on "El Cumbanchero"
SURPRISINGLY satisfying thick guitar licks and solo time by both Siegel and Traut
STILL not that Super but mostly funky, if a little medicated, sax 

Wazzup? was also re-released and remastered (PCCY-50052) in 2008 on HQCD (Hi-Quality CD), but demands a higher price. We reviewed the 1996 original (PCCY-01072). Both releases can still only be found in Japan.

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