Dave Koz and Friends – Summer Horns (2013)

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No summer barbecue is complete without the right soundtrack, and as a host, you have several choices: You can select straight ahead rock or some good soul music. For those who prefer a softer side, sax man Dave Koz’s new album Summer Horns serves as a pleasant alternative. Along with fellow horn players Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, and Richard Elliot, Koz delivers mostly covers of well-known summer hits in addition to a few surprising choices.

The quartet performs horn-heavy renditions of soul classics like Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Reasons,” a ballad that works well within the contemporary jazz format. They also perform the legendary band’s arrangement of “Got to Get You into My Life,” a Beatles track that works largely due to the horn section. Herb Alpert’s “Rise” gets a makeover in that Koz and company’s version de-emphasizes the track’s disco aspects and focuses more on its R&B components.

Koz’s smooth approach can rob some tracks of their original punch. Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” remains a funk standard due to its strong beat and gospel-tinged vocals; here the vocals are limited to the title phrase, and the beat is restrained for a mellower approach. Most of Stone’s work barely approached “mellow,” so this treatment simply does not benefit the original song’s organic soul feel.

The quartet also remakes “25 or 6 to 4,” the Chicago hit that succeeded due to its strong horn section. However, it incorporated rock elements, lending the original version a harder edge. By removing the harder edges such as a rougher-sounding electric guitar, “25 or 6 to 4” loses its distinctive grooves.

Summer Horns does contain some interesting choices, such as the Tower of Power’s biggest hit “So Very Far to Go.” Released in the summer of 1973, the single stands as the funky horn players’ most notable success (other than another song released around the same time, the soul classic “What Is Hip?”). This time Michael McDonald takes over on lead vocals, and his warm voice lends additional soul power to this unjustly overlooked track. The group also tackles “Take Five,” although why it was included on a summer-themed collection is a mystery. Finally, their rendition of Bille Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” features Jeffrey Osborne singing the famous lyrics, although he tends to over-vocalize the poetic words.

Koz, Albright, Abair, and Elliot have delivered a pleasant set for smooth jazz aficionados, and many of Summer Horns’ tracks allow the quartet to flaunt their considerable skills. They deserve credit for not picking entirely obvious songs for summer, and the album will serve as a calm soundtrack for many parties this warm season. Those who like their soul and funk heavier may find Summer Horns a bit frustrating, and instead turn to the original versions. Summer Horns will easily find a home on contemporary jazz radio, as Koz and Friends (as they are billed on this album) have produced what their fans have come to expect: relaxing, smooth music with hints of jazz and soul.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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