Tonight though, whilst happy feeding homesick fans the old classics, was much more than a salute to some seminal records. It was a chance to hear material from the pair’s already-critically praised, stripped-back to acoustic, swing-heavy new disc, and thus, another side to the rousing interplay between these two legendary artists.
As befits a gig that calls for an even balance of subtlety, impeccable in-the-pocket groove playing and (when required) bottomless chops, James and Sanborn’s signing-up of rising double bassist Scott Colley, and veteran drummer Steve Gadd was a no brainer.
And fervent fans on the front-row didn’t have to wait long to hear each member of this dream team to flex their worth, as James’ off-beat samba “Montezuma” kicked open the set, building towards a hipper disco feel that proved a springboard for some jaw-dropping solos from all.
With all whistles and cheer eventually hushed by a brief piano prelude from James, an early ballad in “Geste Humain” retired Colley and Gadd to the lull of soft strumming and scratchy brush-work, allowing James and a typically-skirling Sanborn to rewind and re-frame the infectious melody of this succinct, but seductive piece.
It was during slow-burning ballads like this, and a tender tribute to his wife “Sofia”, that not only brought out Sanborn’s most soulful side, but formed a runway to build on some impassioned solos.
Snug amongst the new tunes, and devoid of any of the creamy synths or programmed percussion that fleshed-out the pair’s last release as leaders together – 1987’s Double Vision -, fresh arrangements of “More Than Friends” and “Maputo” stirred squeals of delight around the hall.
Hearing these old favourites re-imagined by this virtuosic quartet – beside a Brubeck-informed, odd-time swinger like “Follow Me” and the military, blasé beat Gadd steamrolled through the funky “Deep in the Weeds” – more than met the expectations of all the long-time fans. But it was more about these celebrated leaders of jazz-funk raising their game, delivering a slice of something new, without loosening their grip on their big apple.