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Dave Koz and Friends - Summer Horns II: From A to Z

It’s easy to see why Dave Koz wanted to record a part two to his Summer Horns album. Part 1, which dropped in 2013, brought together four of contemporary jazz’s best-known saxophonists – Koz, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, and Richard Elliott - to cover tunes from pop and R&B bands that had world famous horn sections. The original Summer Horns featured cuts by Chicago, Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, the Beatles and Earth, Wind & Fire (actually two EW&F songs, since their 1978 cover of the Fab Four’s “Got to Get You Into My Life” served as the inspiration for the track included on Summer Horns.)

Summer Horns became a commercial and creative success, earning a Grammy nod, and receiving considerable airplay on terrestrial, satellite and internet radio. The band also spent two years touring following its release. With all that positivity surrounding the original, a sequel could be viewed as an economic necessity. However, the music industry is like a river in that artists never creatively cross twice. It’s been five years since the original Summer Horns dropped, and so it’s not surprising that the four principles were not in the same place.

Changing times presented Koz with an opportunity to make the same type of album different, and he took advantage on Summer Horns II: From A to Z by adding trumpeter Rick Braun and trombonist and vocalist Aubrey Logan to give the brass ensemble a larger and more diverse sound to accompany the returning Albright and Elliott. Summer Horns II also features more vocals from Logan, as well as Kenny Lattimore, Shelea, Gloria Estefan and Jonathan Butler.

The addition of trumpet and trombone seemed to inform the album’s musical selections. “This Will Be,” the album’s best track, opens with a honking baritone saxophone and is joined in with the other players giving the track a big band sound. And while the balance of the track plays it pretty close to Natalie Cole’s original, the decision to turn the cut into a duet featuring Lattimore and Shelea pays off, as they transform Cole’s loving soliloquy about the eternal nature of that special love into a swinging yet sensual conversation between two lovers.

The horns combine with the African infused percussion, backing vocals and Jonathan Butler’s acoustic guitar work and rangy vocals on the cover of Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening.” Whereas Simon’s vocals were subdued and wry, Butler brings elements of his gospel roots to this soulful rendition.

Acoustic bass and the harmonic horn play combine with Logan’s vocals to create a swinging version of “Route 66.” The vocal tracks on Summer Horns II are so strong that I had to wonder if the group missed some opportunities with sticking primarily with instrumentals on several covers. I would love to see what creative arrangements Koz and his crew could have come up with if Lattimore had been turned loose on “More Today than Yesterday,” “Before I Let Go,” or if paired in duet with Estefan (who paired with Logan on a remake of her 1986 hit “Conga”) on “If You Really Love Me.” But, my desire for a few more vocals aside, this is a worthy follow up to the smash original collaboration, and an extremely enjoyable soundtrack to Summer 2018. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

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