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Saxophonic by Dave Koz

Dave Koz’s music generally makes me think of cruising along an ocean-front highway somewhere in a top-down convertible; it’s just nice music that makes you feel that all is right in your world.

Saxophonic is Koz’s latest offering in what has become a consistantly pleasing oeuvre of musical works. The album is divided into three acts of four songs each and a “curtain call.” The first song on the album, “Honey-Dipped,” has been well-received (it was number one of Radio & Records‘ Smooth Jazz Chart and nominated for a Grammy), and it’s easy to hear why–the song is a feel-good way to kick off the album.

The following song, “Love Changes Everything,” brings things down a notch, but not so low that you wonder what happened; it’s more like an easing up on the accelerator. Brian McKnight offers smooth vocals in the background, but with Koz’s work the vocals never over-reach the music. There are only four repeated lines of lyrics that seem to drift and hang around the real centerpiece, which is Koz’s playing.

One of the things to like about Koz’s music is that the saxophone speaks for itself. While the songs often sound as if they’d be composed to have lyrics–what I’m saying, really, is that the songs sound complete and well-crafted–it becomes clear that vocals aren’t actually necessary or even lacking. The listener understands exactly what’s being said without having to be told verbally. When Koz does opt to use singers (which he wisely does sparingly), it only enhances the work as opposed to obscuring it.

Act II of the album starts with “Let it Free,” which calls to mind the image of walking down a crowded city street without a care, neatly avoiding people even as you walk against the grain.

The title track, “Saxophonic” is a departure from everything that comes before it, with almost a hip-hop sound. It gives the sense of a bachelor readying his pad for a romantic interlude, although that may be due to the sous titre, which is “Come on Up.”

The act is rounded out by “Definition of Beautiful,” which enters the pop music space and features singer Javier.

“Sound of the Underground” opens Act III on the album, and this is possibly the best piece on Saxophonic. It begins just as the title implies: the sound of a lonely, busking sax player. But the saxpohone is soon joined by an ensemble and the song moves on to something I’d expect to hear playing over a heist film like Ocean’s Eleven or Catch Me if You Can. It’s a fun piece of music, instantly likeable.

“I Believe” sends you back to that city called to mind in “Let it Free,” only this time it’s night and it’s raining. This is the cinematic moment in which the lead (John Cusack maybe) is wandering the city and wondering how to win the girl back. Koz’s playing is complete in the mix of despondancy with a touch of hope, that sound that tells the audience that “it’s all going to be okay in the end.”

“A View from Above” seals the deal. This is the album’s happy ending, the point at which the couple stands on a balcony or roofdeck and embraces, then the camera does a skysweeping pan of the cityscape and fades to ending credits. This is where Saxophonic should end. But, as the name suggests, like Columbo coming back into the room to irritate somebody, the Curtain Call piece “One Last Thing” is the album’s afterthought. “One Last Thing” isn’t a bad piece of music, but it’s something of a downer to end on.

All in all, Koz has another solid album on his hands with Saxophonic. His music is versatile–and I mean this in the best possible way–as it can be enjoyed by an active listener and functions just as well as background music at a party. . . or, yes, at a grocery store or in an elevator. . . It’s music that’s appropriate anytime and anywhere, basically. This isn’t “snooze” jazz; it won’t put you to sleep. Koz is telling you a story, if you’re only willing to listen, to see it in your mind’s eye.

I always know a Dave Koz piece when I hear it. It’s a sound that’s easy to pick out of the cacophony, probably because it’s light enough to rise above it.

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