More than a few jazz critics have been quick to dismiss Mindi Abair as just another lightweight contributor to the Kenny G/Dave Koz/Richard Elliot school of bland smooth jazz saxophone playing. But even though Abair has recorded her share of generic fluff, the alto and soprano saxophonist does have chops – and In Hi-Fi Stereo, it turns out, is a pleasant surprise because her chops usually aren't wasted this time. Most of In Hi-Fi Stereo, in fact, is really more soul-jazz than smooth jazz. Abair has plenty of room to stretch out and blow on this 2010 release, and her saxophone playing isn't smothered by layers and layers of unnecessary production. Actually, the album's title says a lot about what Abair was going for. The phrase "in hi-fidelity stereo" was used a lot back in the 1960s, and this 48-minute CD often recalls the improvisatory soul-jazz recordings of the '60s and ‘70s. Direct or indirect influences like the Crusaders, the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Tom Scott's L.A. Express, Grover Washington, Jr., David "Fathead" Newman, and Hank Crawford serve Abair well on an album that is mostly instrumental but also contains a few vocal offerings. The most memorable is a remake of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," which boasts a bluesy performance by singer Lalah Hathaway (daughter of the late soul legend Donny Hathaway). And the album's weakest moments come when the thin-voiced Abair tries to sing. Of course, having a thin voice doesn't mean that one cannot provide meaningful vocals but Abair's vocals have been flat-out embarrassing at times (in 2006, she absolutely butchered Rickie Lee Jones' "It Must Be Love"). Thankfully, Abair doesn't do a lot of singing on In Hi-Fi Stereo. She does, however, do a lot of saxophone playing on this album – most of it gritty, soulful, and pleasingly inspired. And 90 percent of the time, In Hi-Fi Stereo is an album that Abair can be proud of.
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