Why David Sanborn has been recruited for recording sessions by everyone from James Brown to James Taylor is no mystery. Perhaps the most active alto saxophonist heard on radio today, Sanborn favors a bright, keening sound rooted in rhythm and blues but lustrous enough to complement the commercial sheen of most pop recordings.
At the Carter Barron Amphitheater Saturday night, under a cloudless sky, Sanborn performed in a setting not far removed from the organ/sax/guitar combos popular 25 years ago.
Every tune, including a couple by bassist Marcus Miller (who on this occasion was replaced by Ray Bardini), possessed an upbeat party flavor. Sharply syncopated and thoroughly danceable rhythms were wed to exuberant crowd-pleasing solos, played at length by both Sanborn and guitarist Hiram Bullock. To this, keyboard player James "Sugar Bear" Skelton, formerly with Sam and Dave, added resonant gospel chords and bluesy fills.
As exponents of this kind of ebullient pop jazz, the band proved quite successful, largely because Sanborn and Bullock, who is the guitarist on the David Letterman show, think and play so much alike. Both know how to excite a crowd through shifting dynamics, varied tonal effects and repetitive patterns. Whenever the two collaborated closely on a passage, they built up a head of steam with impressive ease.