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Sax Across America by Bruce Abbott & North Star Jazz Ensemble

At best, "Sax Across America" is the type of music you’d hear when you are trying to talk to a warm body at your bank which recently has been swallowed up by a larger bank and they put you on indefinite hold. They figure you can wait. So, you wait and wait but they play insipid music and you’re forced to listen because it may be the only chance of actually connecting with somebody. You are annoyed to be on hold and the music is supposed to soothe you. But the saccharine of the music is so toxic that you feel like tossing the phone across the room and screaming at some poor soul who is stuck at some corporate phone bank in the middle of some industrial park in a sea of parking spaces off some freeway interchange in the middle of nowhere.

This music might catch on with banks and other corporate entities because there is a pretense that this music is all very American. The front cover of the CD reinforces this by displaying the Stars and Stripes with a silhouette of a saxophone player, but at first glance you’d swear it was a soldier with a rifle. The cover simply explains that the album is "an instrumental tribute to America on Saxophone with Strings." However, the tribute is so indistinctive and inoffensive it could, for their purposes, work as piped-in music anywhere in these States.

The featured pieces are popular songs chosen for different regions in America. There’s "Moonlight in Vermont’, ‘Old Cape Cod’ and ‘New York State of Mind’ representing the East Coast. The South gets ‘Tennessee Waltz’, ‘Georgia on My Mind’, and ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?’ The West is represented by ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ and ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ The Midwest is underrepresented by only getting ‘Wichita Lineman.’ ‘America the Beautiful’ and Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’ serve as bookends.

East, West, South, the songs all feel sanitized. It’s too bad, because most of the material comes right out of the Great American Songbook and you can do a lot with them if you really tried to make each piece sound unique and tell a story or convey a mood of a particular region. But they don’t. The purveyors of this album give you a homogenized feel-good mush that has all the richness and distinction of another corporate entity. This is one depressing album.

You’d be better off buying an album of Johnny Cash or John Coltrane.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bruce Abbott & North Star Jazz Ensemble
  • CD Title: Sax Across America
  • Genre: Ambient Jazz
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: North Star Music
  • Tracks: America the Beautiful, Moonlight in Vermont, Shenandoah/My Old Kentucky Home, Georgia On My Mind, Wichita Lineman, Old Cape Cod, New York State of Mind, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, Tennessee Waltz, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?, America
  • Musicians: Bruce Abbott (tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flute), Mart Ballou (bass, guitar), Ron Fournier (piano), Paul Mason (drums), the Hawthorne String Quartet
  • Rating: One Star
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