After years of touring in some combination with Rick Braun, Peter White and Jonathan Butler (as part of RnR or Jazz Attack) or as a member of Guitars & Saxes, Richard Elliot spent the spring and summer of 2011 performing with Norman Brown--a longtime friend who he had never actually had the opportunity to share significant stage time with. The two toured throughout the U.S. on a dual bill called Summer Jam.
Elliot is currently celebrating the release of his new album In The Zone, which finds the energized as ever tenor saxophonist paying homage to the pioneering instrumental artists of his formative years in the 70’s and early 80s. Drawing on the influences of legends like Grover Washington, Jr., Bob James and David Sanborn, Elliot fashions the perfect contemporary jazz complement to Rock Steady, his 2009 recording that was inspired by the great R&B artists he grew up listening to. That collection debuted at #5 on the Billboard Jazz Album chart and remained on the list for over 40 weeks. The new album marks an incredible 25 years since the release of Elliot’s debut album Initial Approach.
In the Zone includes a cool cover of “Inner City Blues/Makes Me Want To Holler,” a Marvin Gaye staple whose original instrumental version marked Washington’s first session as a leader. There are also nine retro soul-flavored originals written by Elliot and co-producer Jeff Lorber, who have worked together numerous times onstage and in the studio over the past decade. Lorber, who began recording as leader of the Jeff Lorber Fusion in the late 70s, brings his unique dual history as a jazz fusion pioneer and R&B producer and re-mixer to the session. In addition to his array of keyboards, including the Fender Rhodes, In The Zone features the input of longtime Elliot associates Nate Phillips (bass), Tony Moore and L’il John Roberts (drums), Dwight Sills and Michael Thompson (guitar) and percussionist Lenny Castro. The same way that Bob James’ horn arrangements created a powerful sonic magic behind Washington’s early recordings like “Mister Magic,” arranger David Mann creates dreamy retro-atmospheres with a subtle mix of muted trumpets, flute and bass clarinet that transport Elliot deeper In The Zone.
Highlights include the first single, “Boom Town,” which has an aggressive, high energy tenor hook that does Sanborn proud—it’s intense but has that cool slick pop flavor Elliot creates so well. Offering a unique duality that represents different states of mind, Elliot launches the set with the playful and lilting tropical chill vacation “Island Style,” then gets back to the city on the moody and ambient mid tempo ballad “Metropolis,” which as it evolves includes Elliot’s rich improvisations and heart pulling power. A similar mood swing happens at the end of the set when he follows the bubbly jam “Panarema” with the tender, late night ballad “Golden Triangle.”
Elliot’s latest is definitely one where the title speaks for itself. If you’ve enjoyed being In The Zone with the saxman in the past, you’ll love his latest.