Adding a group of all-star musicians and singers to this already exciting album, along with producer, bassist, composer Brian Bromberg puts Sweet Drive over the top. Thirteen tracks bring back sweet memories. Adding some spunky originals keeps the listener hooked during the entire album.
JazzReview: This is a marvelous album. It has been playing since I got it. You provided a lot of variety and included lots of memories in this CD. I understand your goal was to challenge yourself to elevate your art form while striving to emulate the lofty standards. How do you feel about the outcome of this exciting CD?
LesSsabler: It’s exactly what I was hoping for. I enjoy listening to it, personally. I think I’ve definitely achieved my goal.
JazzReview: I’ve visited your web site and listened to some of your past music. This album is completely different. How did you make the switch? What was in your mind when you switched over to this style of jazz?
LesSabler: For one thing, I selected material written by other writers. In the past I wrote most of the music, except for a couple of songs.
Another issue is: on the previous recordings, most of the tracks were sequenced with synthesizers, with some live instruments on them. This time, it’s all live. I’m using live drums and percussion, rather than drum machine or programming. Also, the other recordings were recorded in Florida, and I was quite happy with the way they turned out. But, I always wanted to do a recording in Los Angeles with the top session guys. It makes a big difference.
JazzReview: It does make a tremendous difference. The interplay between musicians and vocalists is exciting-as if sitting right in front of a live performance.
You open this CD with a Stevie Wonder tune, "You’ve Got It Bad, Girl." How did you decide to open with this song?
LesSabler: When I was compiling the selection of material, I wanted to find some covers that I could do in this style of music that hadn’t been previously done. To accomplish that, I went through my old record collection and I came across a 1973 record by Quincy Jones containing the title of that tune and "Daydreaming." It had never made it out on CD. I found three tracks on there that I felt strongly about. I ended up doing two out of the three.
I felt very satisfied with those two songs. That was the starting point for putting together this project. I then went through several other songs. Friends presented many songs to me. I wrote one and Brian Bromberg also presented several songs to me So that’s how this came about.
JazzReview: What a great opening! After "You’ve Got It Bad, Girl," you come back with the title track, "Sweet Drive." It is like a ride along the ocean on a Sunday afternoon.
LesSabler That song has a good pulse and gives the sensation it would be a good song to be cruising with. It was written by a good friend, Allon Sams-who co-produced my last album with me.
JazzReview: You come back with the mega hit of Aretha Franklin, "Daydreaming." Gary Meek adds an extra dimension on flute. You did this song with impeccable delivery, making your guitar almost talk. How did you find Gary Meek?
LesSabler: I had a vision to add a string arrangement to sort of give it a lush feel. With the percussion of Alex Acuna-it gave it a nice feel to the song. We didn’t originally have the flute on there. But, when we were working on producing the song and the vocals were in place, we all just heard it. It had a place on this song. Gary’s a friend of Brian so Brian asked him to sit in with us. Gary just came in one night and laid down the flute and we could all feel how the song took a quantum leap. It adds a fabulous dynamic with that instrument. I’m very grateful for his contribution.
Also, Richard Jackson, a friend who lives here in town, is the lead vocal on there., adding great dimension.
JazzReview: Yes, he has a very deep, sensual, commanding voice. His interaction with Rahsaan Patterson and Toni Scruggs’ background vocals is amazing. This song is infectious.
LesSabler It’s one of my favorite on the album. My other favorite is number 7, "Struttin," just because it’s a guitar song. I didn’t overstate the guitar. Though I’m a guitarist, I didn’t want my work to be the entire focal point of the album. I really wanted it to be a song people wanted to listen to-not strictly about the guitar. Without putting myself in the background, I wanted the guitar to be at a good level on this to stand out but not overtake the others on this record.
JazzReview: I think you achieved that goal quite well. I would be surprised personally if this album does not go to the top of the charts.
I hear a lot of good albums where one artist tries to showcase throughout the album. After a couple of songs, it just becomes repetitious. Your album does not do that.
LesSabler: Thank you. I tried to make this a group project with much variety. You know, not too many vocals, mix it up with different tempos and feels, different styles of percussion. You tread a fine line doing it that way. I’m not trying to hide my sphere by understating it, but sometimes adding these other elements creates a bigger impact.
JazzReview: You did a good job at that. "Club Street" is energetic, yet mellow. Along with your guitar work, Brian Bromberg stands out on bass. He also produced this disc. Please, a little on Brian.
LesSabler: I was introduced to Brian by a mutual acquaintance here, in Tampa. I met him face to face at the 2005 NAMM show out in Anaheim at the music equipment, trade show they have there every year. I discussed with him the possibility of working together, which we ended up doing. He was interested in pursuing it. He had a great track record producing this kind of music. In fact, he produced a number one recording in Smooth Jazz with guitarist, Richard Smith. I felt 100% confident that working with Brian was the way to go. We worked together well, enjoyed each other’s company and since that’s such an important element --because we had to spend so much time together while working, it made this project better. You can’t go into a studio and just throw something together. I mean, you can. But, if you want a quality recording, it takes time.
You have to go in, work on the project, step back and give your brain a chance to rest. Then, go back and revisit it-giving you a chance to keep perspective of the project. Brian was very patient in that regard, especially given my situation. I’m eager to get this out there. He gave me some excellent guidance to make sure this progressed along the proper timeline to be completed properly. He has a tremendous wealth of experience and has fabulous working relationships within the business, particularly with those I had an interest in working with. I’m very happy we got together; and, with his work on this project and the result of this album. Brian took this work personally and is very proud of his effort. Brian’s help means a lot to me.
JazzReview: I certainly agree. This is a great assembling of songs and talents.
Richard Jackson stands out with his sultry vocals on "Can You Stop The Rain," a song made famous by Peabo Bryson. Each note on your guitar is clean, clear, heartfelt-just as Bryson intended when he sang this tune.
You used several different guitars during this album, including acoustic, and nylon string. Please tell me which guitar you used during this song and the difference in the sounds of these guitars?
LesSabler: I use many different guitars. This was a Ramirez Classical guitar for this song. It’s one of the oldest brands made in Spain-a beautiful guitar. Very expressive when played properly. Actually, this song I played with my group about 10 years ago. I always felt one day I wanted to record it. It’s a beautiful song, something that allows you to really feel the emotion.
JazzReview: You didn’t rush through the song. You did not try to just ‘get through’ it. You played it meticulously. Each note delivered impeccably.
LesSabler: I try to feel the notes when I play them rather than just plucking a string. I try to connect the notes to where my heart or emotions are. That is important to me. I felt something special because when I was recording the demo here in Tampa with Allon Sams, it began to rain. Allon looked outside the window and said, "Look. It’s raining. Maybe that means something." We just kind of looked at each other We used his keyboard parts on there. I replaced the guitar from the demo and Richard had already laid down the vocals at the demo session so we kept those on there. He did a beautiful job. He really complemented what I was playing on the guitar, as did Toni.
JazzReview: Please can you tell me the difference in sound between acoustic guitar, nylon string and the one you just spoke of?
LesSabler: A nylon string is a classical guitar. Acoustic guitar would primarily refer to a steel string guitar. Actually on "Can You Stop The Rain" and "Who Am I,’ .I’m playing acoustic steel string guitar and I’m doing some finger picking-some strumming. On one of my earlier projects, I had the steel string acoustic guitar as the lead instrumentation on a couple of tracks, but not on this one. The electric guitar is obviously what it is. Sometimes, I’ll use a clean sound. And, sometimes I’ll use an overdrive to get more of a rock kind of sound. On "Could You Be," I also have the classic nylon string guitar.
JazzReview: I appreciate that. On this song, "I’m Not The Same," a dreamy smooth tune, your guitar work is outstanding once again. Vinnie Colaiuta keeps a nice backbeat. Vinnie is widely known in the world of music. A word about him, please?
LesSabler: He’s my favorite drummer. I’m a big fan of the music of Frank Zappa. I feel fortunate to meet his drummer. He is a big influence on me in many ways. Vinnie started out playing in Frank’s band, I think in the late 70s. I became familiar with him through his drumming for Frank Zappa. I’ve always been fascinated with his playing. Over the years he’s garnered the reputation as the number one studio drummer. When I got together with Brian, I asked if Vinnie was available. And, sure enough, he was. Brian does a lot of work with him. He’s one of my heroes as are many of these players. But, to me the drums lay down the tone for the whole sound you’re going to listen to and experience. That’s the most important sound for any tune to get the song off the ground for any particular track Vinnie, being the best in the business, gives me a tremendous amount of comfort knowing the song is going to go where it’s suppose to go and where it needs to go. We didn’t tell anybody how to play. We just let them come in and hear what they hear and play how they wanted to play-let them have their own creativity.
Vinnie just got off tour with Jeff Beck when he came into the studio. He’s one of my heroes so it’s very special to me that he would take the time to come in and record this record after touring with Jeff Beck. I can’t explain how much this type of stuff means to me.
JazzReview: These are all seasoned professionals so they have an idea when they walk in the door, what they need to do with the song, don’t they?
The Seawind Hornsprovide a nice backing to your mellow guitar during "Struttin," a song which you wrote. A little about the Seawind Horns please?
LesSabler: Back in the late 70s I was completely fascinated by a group called Seawind. They started out from Hawaii. The remnants of that group formed the Seawind Horns. There’s only one original member remaining, Jerry Hey. He plays trumpet. He’s widely known in the music industry as the best horn arranger in the business. And, the Seawind Horns are known as the best horn section in the business. They’ve been on over 3,000 records. And, on many great music sound tracks. I’ve been a big fan of Jerry’s going back 25 years and have always had a dream one day I’d get to meet him or even get to work with him. So, this is like a dream come true. The Seawind record "Like The Light" came out in 79 and still stands out as one of my top three favorites. Having the opportunity to work with one of the greatest horn arrangers in the business was just an unbelievable opportunity. Having him hear the demo and being willing to work with me; This is a major achievement. That was as meaningful a contribution as anyone could give. That is so important to me. Jerry is a fabulous guy. I had the time of my life the day those guys were in the studio.
JazzReview: It comes through on the album. They add a nice texture but they are not overbearing.
You even include on this album a mega hit of the group Ambrosia, "Biggest Part Of Me." What a great collaboration of talent. How did you choose this song?
LesSabler: It just popped into my head one day as I was driving along. I could just hear the interplay between guitar and sax. I knew right away, I had to do this. I found out after I was deep into doing this that David Pack was already re-doing it. He’s the singer from ambrosia. He put out a solo record right around the time I decided to do this. But I decided, it doesn’t matter because the way I do it will be completely different than a vocal song because I’ll be doing an interplay between guitar and sax. I thought it was a natural--the way I heard it in my head. When I play it live, I see the reaction of people in the audience. I know they instantly recognize the song but they’ve never heard it this way. When someone hears it for the first time, it instantly puts a smile on their face. I’ve seen it. It’s a great melody and sometimes just suggesting the lyrics is all you need to do. It’s a wonderful song. It’s a good vehicle for me to express myself on the guitar.
JazzReview: Oh, I loved it. It brought back many memories.
You also wrote the song, "Food Chain." It’s a very interesting song and a very interesting name-kind of funky, bluesy, yet has lots of spunk. What were you thinking when you wrote it?
LesSabler: It’s primarily a blues structure. I love the blues and I love stuff with a nice groove to it. It certainly reflects my influence from Larry Carlton, my favorite guitar player. I have other favorites but he has always stood out for many reasons. Again, the horn section really added a lot to that song. I didn’t really have a title when I wrote that song. I just knew the melody and when Jeff Lorber was working on the song, he gave it the title, "Food Chain." I was very honored that he would offer a title for a song for me.
JazzReview: Jeff performs some hot piano rolls on this song. He does an excellent job.
LesSabler Oh, yeah. He played with me at the end of the song when we were just jamming and Ricky Peterson had a B3 organ in there. Actually, it’s a fun song to record, a fun song to listen to on the recording and gives a lot of energy. I think I should go more in that direction during future recordings. That’s yet to be seen a little down the road.
JazzReview: I’ve discovered along the way, you did exactly right by including enough famous songs to get people comfortable, bring back memories and put people in a mood. Then, when you introduced the originals on this album people were already open to the sounds you introduced.
A completely original album requires active listening. Some artists get a good song and just make every other song on the album an offshoot of that one and it becomes repetitious. You did not do that. All of your material is interesting, varied and very listenable.
LesSabler: People need something familiar to grab onto. I’ve always been taught the music needs a certain degree of predictability. Having a familiar song gives a sense of predictability to what people are listening to. You want people to relate to the music. I’m not trying to educate them. I’m trying to get them to feel something. I think some of the new music on this disc takes people back to some of the earlier music-familiar jazz sounds. Primarily I like to play music I enjoy playing.
JazzReview: It comes through on the other end when you enjoy playing it. What is your favorite song on this album-for listening?
LesSabler: At the end of the day, there are so many I like. But the favorite would be a toss up between two: one being "Struttin" because its so much fun to play on guitar. I am a guitar player and, it gives me a chance to really stretch out on guitar. The groove with the rhythm and the horns, it just really excites me when I listen to it and perform it. But to just sit back and listen to the sheer quality and performance, I’d have to pick "Daydreaming" vocal version with Toni. I love the strings and I love the texture of their voices and the interplay. The interplay between the male and female vocal is echoed by the guitar and flute. That’s a unique structure. And as I say, with the strings-to me it’s as beautiful a song as I could ever expect to record.
JazzReview: Which song was the most difficult to play-to get just right?
LesSabler: pause-Hmm a trick question. They are all complex They all went really well when recording it. I would have to say the first song I sat down and recorded was "I’m Not The Same." I had to find my comfort level on that one in my new surroundings in Brian’s studio. I think just because I chose to record that first, for my guitar part, I was working on two elements at the same time: one, trying to find my comfort level. And, two: trying to record the song. That was the only challenge I faced. Other than that, I just enjoyed playing. I was quite at home.
JazzReview: A couple comments I’ve read on you: Phil Matlock of MAC (publication) said: "Sabler’s guitar playing is dynamic like John Scofield’s, melodic like George Benson’s and compelling like Jeff Beck’s. But, Sabler’s sound isn’t just a conglomeration of influences. His playing is clearly and refreshingly his own."
I also read: Your major influences were actually George Benson, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. I believe their influences show in your work. Yet, you have established a voice all your own. How did you establish your own voice?
LesSabler: Early on in my development as a guitarist, I spent many hours studying what they were playing, note for note. I transcribed their solos and tried to learn to play exactly like them. I was fascinated by their recordings, and seeing them live just really touched me on a very deep level. So, they had a very strong influence on me and my life. I didn’t want to copy anybody. But you have to have a starting point. You need some music you really feel passionate about. Maybe you can create it out of thin air. But, I think many levels of society contribute to what we want to be like-personalities, architecture or athletes. Each person has someone they look to who inspired them when they started out. As we develop, we tend to put that on the shelf. You don’t consciously try to play like someone else. But, it’s in the back of your mind and kind of filters into what you’re trying to do.
One of the greats-Ellington or maybe Miles Davis, --- said: "You just learn all the particulars of what you need to learn, technically speaking. Then you just get out there and forget about all that stuff. Just go out and play. Don’t even think about it."
If you think of what you’re doing mechanically, then you can’t feel it. So I just don’t think about it when I’m playing. I just play what I feel. I’ve been playing for over 40 years so as time goes on, I just sound like me. Though you can hear the influence of other players, you don’t have to copy them. Part of that is the song. You may reflect some influences of others but hopefully, the song will allow you to stretch and not sound like ‘player x.’ I also have some inflections in my playing which allow me to define my own sound.
JazzReview: Right. I think your originality shows through.
LesSabler The things I do developed over time; Not even consciously but from playing so much. Mixing that with elements of the players I do love-that’s what I am. Most important to me is, I love to get together with the guys, play music and everybody has fun and everyone leaves feeling happy and refreshed.
JazzReview: You received nominations for Best Guitarist and Best Album at the Inaugural Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards in 2005. You opened for Spyro Gyra. And, you scored soundtracks for the Canadian Television Network’s documentary, "Lost Treasures of the Titanic."
Do you enjoy playing live more or would you prefer to record?
LesSabler: I can’t say I like one better than the other. But, playing in front of the crowd with the guys-I have a great bunch of guys I play with and we have a great amount of respect for each other-They’re excellent musicians. But, getting that instant feedback from the crowd and the energy, it’s incredible.
Now, when you’re in the studio, the feedback doesn’t come the same way. You’re not sure (of the sound) when you’re playing. You think you might be sure. But, you’re really not sure until you listen to it. Then, when you do listen to it, you get the feedback. But it isn’t instantaneous. There’s a delay because you’ve got to record something. Then you’ve got to go listen to it. It’s very critical. Every note has to be precise. When you play live you can lose a small degree of precision and still maintain what you’re trying to accomplish and get your point across. But, when you’re in the studio, there’s no room for error.
You have to wait till you listen to the work then see if it really grabs you. You become the audience along with those around you in the studio. Then you have to give it time to breath. And, share it with other people and try to get their reaction as if you’re playing live. Then you have to gauge their response because a lot of what I do is gauged by ‘how does it make people feel’? The reaction is important when others hear the music.
When we play live, we play things differently each time we play them. When in the studio, there’s a lot of creative elements that come into play. I love both processes. For pure fun, it’s going out playing with the guys. But, recording and getting it perfected then going out and playing it live for the first couple of times and getting that reaction-we get to see the song come to life with the band. When recording, we’re not all together at the same time.
When scoring for a video, you have to watch the film and listen to what they’re talking about. Then go back and create the music that fits every element of the production. You have to find your inspiration from the video. A lot of the music you’re writing, producing , has to be in very short snippets. Whereas an audio recording, you’re talking about 4 to 5 minutes per song. So that’s very different.
JR: Just for a minute, let’s mention your music label-The Music Force.
LesSabler: This is a label started many years ago by Bobby Caldwell and Henry Marx. Remember Bobby Caldwell-had that hit single, "What You Won’t Do For Love,"? He’s one of the pioneers of the Smooth Jazz formant, or as it’s originally called, New Adult Contemporary.
He’s done a tremendous number of records over the years-many of my own favorites. And, he’s written a number of hit songs for people like Chicago and Boz Scaggs. So he and his manager, Henry, formed this label many years ago. I was introduced to them back in the mid 90s. Our relationship built until he put out my record I appreciate what they do and their interest in helping me promote this music.
JazzReview: This album will be sold through your web site?
LesSabler: It’s actually on the market now. And, it is available through all the stores and on line. It’s also available through iTunes. And, it’s available worldwide through Ryko distribution. It’s the greatest distributor you can have for any record company. Music Force has offices in Nashville, New York and L.A. They’re a well established and recognized label.
JazzReview: Anything we didn’t cover you think your fans should know?
LesSabler: I think a lot of credit goes to Tom McCauley, guitar player and engineer. Actually, he’s a heck of an engineer. Sometimes Brian wasn’t in the room and Tom helped guide my playing. Tom is excellent. Engineering is a big part of the project that often goes unrecognized. He deserves a lot of recognition for the part he played in this project and the quality of the sound, along with Brian. All the players are exceptional. In addition, Brian played upright bass on five of these songs. I wasn’t anticipating that.
It means so much to me that everyone contributed so exceptionally. I think the best thing about this album is: you can listen to it many, many times and each time hear something new. There are so many layers and textures, your mind doesn’t get tired of it. There’s so much to focus on.
The other thing I have to say is: I’ve received tremendous support from the local radio station here in Tampa Bay, WSJT. I couldn’t have taken a leap to go this deep into a recording without that kind of support. They gave me the sense it would be worthwhile to do this kind of project. I mean, it’s a very expensive undertaking. You can’t go out on a limb and just do this casually. They’ve given me tremendous support actually since they went on the air, 1995.
If purchasing just one album this year, Les Sabler’s "Sweet Drive" will keep the sounds pouring in-a disc guaranteed to stay in the CD player.