It's been a hard few decades for the saxophone. After the halcyon days of the 50s and 60s, when the instrument had as many voices as it did players, it seems like blandness became fashionable and a sterile fog of conformity descended. The wild child of music donned a cardigan and sold out to advertising chocolate, car insurance and cheesy romance.
A few players kept the faith though, and none more diligently than Pete Thomas, who returns the saxophone to its roots, both tonally and musically, with Midnight in the Naked City. It's an aptly-titled offering, capturing the full gamut of emotions encountered on a sleazy night out with the only instrument that has the chutzpah to carry it off.
The guilty expectancy of the opening track, Another Night in the Naked City (Part 2), sets the scene superbly and perfectly captures that heady mix of desire and temptation you feel as you flick a comb through your hair one last time before stepping out into the night. The second track, Imperial, offers a brief romantic interlude, a suggestion perhaps of a nobler force at work - though there's undoubtedly a dark side to the solo - but the unabashed lustiness of Big Girls' Blues soon puts paid to that, and shows that despite its rich gravitas the baritone sax can punch just as hard as any tenor.
From here on in Pete Thomas drags you kicking and screaming through your night out, punctuating the hedonistic sensuality of Shed Full of Blues and the furtiveness of Mystery Man with the wistful musings of Another Kind of Blue and the regret of a warm, lilting soprano on Love Them. Slinky simply oozes like a slow, sly glance at something you shouldn't be looking at, and replaces the harsh and brittle tone that seems to be the alto's voice these days with the sort of luxurious slinkiness you won't have heard since Paul Desmond became the epitome of cool. There's even a chance encounter with a stranger at the bar in the boozy resignation of Lowdown, where trombonist Tom White plays the perfect laconic foil to Pete's meandering baritone in a celebration of a passing friendship. And at the end
of the night Pete takes you home with as poignant a version of Harlem Nocturne as you'll ever hear and a cut of Night Train that makes you want to go out the next night and do it all again.
The whole album is an unrestrained homage to the only instrument that's like a best friend who can't quite be trusted, but without whom a night out is just a couple of drinks and a bus ride home. Naughtier than a pocketful of firecrackers, seedier than the back of a bike shed and more life-affirming than an ice-cold shower.
released November 1, 2011