August 1st, 2010
Title: In Hi-Fi Stereo
Artist: Mindi Abair
Label: Heads Up International
Catalog No.: HUI-31837-02
Release Date: May 18, 2010
This album is a toss-up. Is it another schlocky “smooth jazz” sax-fest or is it a new melding of the kind of music David Sanborn played in the 1970′s with older styles of funk and soul? It turns out to be both, and although she’s on the wrong side of the smooth jazz line a few times, Mindi Abair has put together an interesting batch of songs that are played and recorded very well. It’s also hard to resist the premise of an album with a cover featuring a pretty blonde surrounded by LP records! Abair has turned on its head and updated the classic “cheesecake cover” concept.
As for the music, Abair is a Berklee-trained multi-instrumentalist whose focus is sax. She plays with a confident gusto, at times reminiscent of an old-school sax wailer like Sil Austin but also able to play mellow and with great articulation. But on many tracks, she’s almost a sound-alike to David Sanborn in the years he played with David Bowie and started his solo career. If that music was not your taste, this album will not be your cup of tea either.
Abair grew up in a musical family, spending parts of her childhood on the road with her father’s regional band out of Florida. Her grandmother was an opera singer, and she apparently caught the music bug early, beginning piano lessons at age 5. Before her solo career, she played behind John Tesh and the Backstreet Boys, among others. The pop influences are very clear on this album.
Abair’s press materials and album notes indicate she was on a tangent of listening to older soul and funk records when she started putting together material for this album (Al Green, Alain Toussaint, Junior Walker, King Curtis, and Archie Bell and the Drells are a few she names). Working with keyboardist/producer Rex Rideout, she crafted a series of up-beat numbers with a heavier, funkier beat than typical “smooth jazz” or pop. With Berklee classmate and friend, the R&B singer Lalah Hathaway, Abair turns out a respectable cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Abair sings too, along with David Ryan Harris, on “Be Beautiful.”
The album benefited from a decent production budget: it was recorded at Sonora Recorders and The Village Studios in L.A. and mastered by sonic ace Paul Blakemore at Telarc International. The overall sound product is pleasing to listen to, slickly produced and punchy. Both Heads Up and Telarc are owned by Concord Music Group.
Summarizing, this album is, well, summery. It sounds great on the way to the beach or hanging out on the deck. It’s not a heavy meal, more a summer salad with perhaps too much sugar in the dressing. Abair is a capable musician who would benefit from more material on the funky side of the line.
Reviewed by Tom Fine
Review Genre(s): Jazz