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Endless Highway

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Album Review

It isn't hard to understand why smooth jazz has been the whipping boy of everyone from fusion guitarists to Dixieland cornetists to free jazz firebrands to the neo-classicist Young Lions of hard bop and post-bop. A lot of smooth jazz — not all of it, but a lot of it — has been appallingly devoid of creativity. Nonetheless, it's best to judge smooth jazz on an album-by-album basis instead of condemning smooth jazz in general. That brings us to Tom Braxton's Endless Highway, which favors the more R&B-minded side of smooth jazz. Endless Highway has some positive attributes; Braxton is a skillful tenor, alto and soprano saxophonist, and this 2009 release isn't just an album of mindless elevator music. But Endless Highway could have been much better. Braxton offers his share of likable grooves; the problem is that most of the time, this CD is a victim of its own production. The disc's producers, who include Tim Gant, Eric Willis, Jay Rowe and Braxton himself, all have a tendency to overproduce. Braxton isn't given nearly enough room to stretch out and improvise, and his saxophone playing is smothered by the excessive production. Of course, heavily produced albums definitely have their place — technology has been a major asset in electronica and hip-hop — but jazz, as a rule, is better served by a more organic production style. That is true of straight-ahead jazz (be it hard bop, post-bop, Dixieland, swing, avant-garde jazz or cool jazz), and it's also true of a crossover disc like Endless Highway — which is so overproduced and overarranged that most of Braxton's solos never really go anywhere. Braxton simmers, but opportunities to burn are few and far between. Again, Endless Highway isn't a bad album. But Braxton is capable of much more., Rovi

Endless Highway, Tom Braxton
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