When Sade Says ‘Bring Me Home’ How Can I Refuse?

Bring her home? Okay, but she’ll have to sleep on the couch.

Whenever bands past their prime want to boost ticket sales they inevitably bill it as “The Last Tour.” Dinosaurs such as The Eagles and Kiss have played this card quite successfully.  It’s been a slick way to put butts in the seats despite having done next to nothing in recording any new material. There’s gold in cranking out the moldy oldies for the faithful one mo’ time.

Sade has no need to sucker the fans with this sort of cheap trick. The 2011 Once In A Lifetime tour started in April and ended in December with playing 106 shows in America, Canada, Europe, South America and Australia before 800,000 people and grossing over $53 million dollars. After a decade away from touring the devout fans of Sade know full well it might be another ten years gone before Sade steps back on stage.

The past two years have been unusually fertile ones for Sade with a new album, a new “best of” and a lengthy tour. This spurt of activity will probably be followed by another long hibernation as Sade slips back into another extended stay on the sidelines. Then again, Sade doesn’t play the game of making a record, touring to support it, take a breather then go back out on the road until time to do it all over again. As she always has, Sade Adu ignores what everyone else is doing to do exactly as she pleases.

Both the video and companion CD accurately capture the dazzling audio-visual extravaganza of Sade’s lavish stage show. Adu along with director Sophie Mueller and lighting and production designer Baz Halpin have created a dynamic presentation featuring a jumbo LED screen projecting images while the band performs on a stage featuring hydraulic lifts that raise and lower Adu and the eight musicians and vocalists.

Visually dazzling and freed from wires and speakers the band run through 21 of Sade’s biggest hits while the Smooth Operator herself sings, struts, and dances barefoot for two hours. The concert draws heavily from Soldier of Love and songs that underwhelmed in the studio,  “Bring Me Home,” “Skin” and “Morning Bird” are improved in the live venue. Sade has never been a bona fide jazz act (remember: Sade is a band. Sade Adu is the singer) and “Love Is Found” answers the question, “Does Sade rock?” Yes, she does as the dual guitar attack led by Stuart Matthewman and Ryan Waters offers ample evidence.

There has been no drop off in Adu’s voice though it does get husky at points. Adu has always been more of a stylish stylist who doesn’t rely upon volume and vocal power to overwhelm the listener. The secret weapon is Matthewman’s greatly underrated saxophone stylings, though there isn’t a weak link among the instrumentalists.

Sophie Mueller’s direction is to keep the cameras on the stage where the action is. There are a few shots of the audience happily applauding and dancing, but the star is Adu. At 53, she is still graceful and poised and has no need to express herself the way Madonna desperately seeks validation she’s still sexy. Adu conserves her energy for the elaborate show and seldom engages the audience in patter.

The extras include a 20-minute documentary directed by Muller is the typical “behind the scenes” shots of Sade looking out the window of her tour bus, applying make-up, changing outfits between songs and singing a pretty version of “Amazing Grace” with her back-up singers. It might be worth a look once, but with no interview with Sade Adu herself, it feels unnecessary as if someone said, “Maybe we ought to throw in something as an extra.”

The obvious usage of backing tracks is a minor cheat as the military-style drumming launching “Soldier of Love” too precisely echoes the original recording and there is a string section that accompanies Adu on “Pearls” that is heard, but not seen.

That minor quibble aside, Bring Me Home does an exceptional job of capturing the sophisticated pleasures of the two words that delighted thousands of admiring fans around the world: “Sade Live.”

DVD: Soldier of Love; Your Love Is King; Skin; Kiss of Life; In Another Time; Smooth Operator; Jezebel; Bring Me Home; Is It A Crime; Love Is Stronger Than Pride; All About Our Love; Paradise; Nothing Can Come Between Us; Morning Bird; King of Sorrow; The Sweetest Taboo; The Moon and the Sky; Pearls; No Ordinary Love; By Your Side; Cherish the Day

CD: Soldier of Love; Skin; Kiss of Life; Love Is Found; In Another Time; Jezebel; All About Our Love; Paradise/Nothing Can Come Between Us; Morning Bird; The Moon and the Sky; No Ordinary Love; By Your Side; Cherish the Day

Sade Adu: vocals; Stuart Matthewman: guitar, saxophone; Andrew Hale: keyboards; Paul S. Denman: bass; Leroy Osbourne: vocals, guitar; Tony Momrelle: vocals; Pete Lewinson: drums; Ryan Waters: guitar; Karl Vanden Bossche: percussion

Running Time: 122 minutes Extras: 20 minute behind-the-scenes documentary; short technical documentary, crew outtakes.

A different version of this review appeared at All About Jazz.

When Sade says bring me home you bring her home.

Sade in Concert: Who Says It’s Never As Good As the First Time?

Falling in love is easy.  It’s staying in love that’s hard.

Coming off a long-awaited studio album (Soldier of Love) that was just okay and followed by a greatest hits compilation that was threadbare and felt more like product than anything inspired, I had resigned myself to missing Sade when her tour rolled into the Jerome Schottenstein Center on July 11.

Much to my considerable surprise, my old Columbus Post colleague, Charles Farmer, must have listened to “A Little Help From My Friends” because he came through with the hook-up and the next thing I knew I’m squeezing into the extremely cramped, absolutely no leg room seats of the Schottenstein Center.

Like I really cared about the seating arrangements.  Sade apologized for the long interval between appearances (10 years!).   The last time I saw Sade live was on September 10, 2001 and the next day the world went mad and wiped away any lasting memories.

This was my third time seeing Sade in concert and I think I know what the big difference this time where she always put on a great show, now she was upping the ante and going for a great performance.

i briefly thought about writing a review of the show, but you can read some perfectly adequate ones here, here and here.  It’s the same show in New York as it is in Columbus as it will be in Kansas City.  The songs remain the same.  The outfits she wears remain the same.   The set list of songs remain the same.

Which is not to say it all doesn’t totally kick ass.  Maybe it’s because she made us wait a decade for this, but as Sade told Rolling Stone in June before kicking off her North America tour in Baltimore, “When I do something, I want it to be great, like I want it to be the best suit you’ve ever made if you’re a tailor, not polyester.”

Anyway, I’ve never understood what the point was to concert reviews were in the first place?   If you went, you already know what you thought of the show.   if you didn’t, what good is it to tell you what you missed?   With a movie review you may or may not go see the film.   A book or CD review probably won’t convince you to buy it if you dislike the author or musician.   If you didn’t catch Sade in Columbus are you going to fly

"Heard ya missed me. Well, I'm back."

When you’re 52 years old, still smokin’ hot, still able to sell out arenas where other acts can’t, you know you’ve got something special going on and that’s always been what sets Sade apart from anyone else.  She doesn’t have to parade around in her underwear (though she did show a bit more cleavage in her third wardrobe change of the night., but I’m only observing, not complaining).   She can get away with some pretty exorbiant ticket prices because nobody knows when she might do this again.  Maybe sooner than another ten years and maybe not ever again.  You just never can say for certain when the subject is Sade.

That’s not entirely true.  I can say for certainly a few things.

Songs that didn’t work for me on the album sound better performed live:  I have complained Sade’s last two albums (Soldier of Love, Lovers Rock) were much too low-key and low energy.  You could gently sway to them, but there wasn’t a lot of danceable tracks anywhere to be found.  But “Bring Me Home” and “Skin” really come alive live.

Sade is a Band.  And with nine people on stage it’s a big band at that.  Sade takes the stage with her usual suspects, Paul S. Denman, Andrew Hale and their secret weapon Stuart Matthewman, who can go ahead and release a solo album any time now because he’s a damn fine saxophonist.  There’s an extra guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist  and two background singers.  What surprised me most was there’s a LOT of guitars on stage as at some points during the two hours and 15 minutes of the concert, there are four guys on guitar and bass while the Lady is doing her thing.   Sade isn’t just a band, they are a rock band when they wanna be,

Production values are first-rate: The sound mixing is nearly perfect even in a converted basketball arena.  I’ve seen Sade in a smaller hall, an outdoor venue and now an arena.  This time the mix was terrific as the drums kicked, the guitars twanged and the vocals were clear and clean.  The stage features platforms that rise and lower the band and trap doors where Sade enters and exits.   There’s no messing around as opening act John Legend started his set promptly at 7:30 and was off by 8:30 and Sade was on by 9:00.  This train runs smooth and on time.

The torch I carry for Sade had never dimmed, but had flickered somewhat due to the half-speed effort of Soldier of Love and The Ultimate Collection.   I need not have doubted, because whatever she was holding back she’s giving it all on the stage.  When she stands alone on the stage to sing “Pearls” it’s all out there and she’s singing as powerfully as she ever has.  Sade has never had great range, but she has a great discography of hits and album tracks that are just as beloved as the songs you know by heart.

You could say I was impressed.  The only place I would have rather been that night was backstage after the show, but I would have only made a babbling fool of myself, so it’s probably for the best we were both spared the embarrassment.

If this time is the last time it was a mighty fine time indeed.

Sade’s “Ultimate Collection” Isn’t.

"I'm very excited by this album.. Can't you tell?"

Did the world really need a new Sade “best of” album? Possibly, since it has been 17 years since The Best of Sade (Epic,1994), even if there has only been two albums worth of new material since then. But actually it’s Sade who needed to put out this double disc. The timing of The Ultimate Collection is in no small part related to the fact Sade is off on her first world tour in a decade and since Soldier of Love (Epic, 2010) is a year old now she needed to some “new” product to whet the appetite of the fans.

Despite there being twice as many songs on The Ulitmate Collection than the The Best of Sade, there is still some noticeable padding included with three unreleased (and mostly unremarkable) tracks and two remixes, including Sade’s first collaboration with another artist other than her typical bandmates. Unfortunately, she chose the rapper, Jay-Z and the result of this duet that really isn’t a duet at all is a train wreck of two totally incompatible styles colliding headlong (yes, it is THAT bad).

All the expected hits are here (“Smooth Operator,” “Hang On to Your Love,” “Never As Good As the First Time” “No Ordinary Love”) while dropping “Like A Tattoo” and “Please Send Me Someone to Love ” to be replaced with the new additions “Feel No Pain” and “Bullet Proof Soul” from Love Deluxe, five tracks from Lovers Rock and three from Soldier of Love.

The inclusion of five selections from the leaden Lovers Rockis a small mystery, but a bigger one is why three of the album best songs, (“Lovers Rock,” “Somebody Already Broke My Heart,” and “Every Word”) aren’t here while three of the most sparse tracks, (“Flow,” “King of Sorrow” and “The Sweetest Gift”) are.

The three “new” songs are likely leftovers from the Solider of Love and Lovers Rock sessions. It’s hard to tell as the track information doesn’t make it clear. “Still In Love” is a ballad by the late Phil Lynott, the frontman of the rock band Tthin Lizzy. It’s okay, if not particularly dazzling. “Love is Found” has a bit more energy along the lines of “Soldier of Love” though Sade still delivers it with her customary world-weariness, but it’s far superior to “I Would Never Have Guessed,” a trite trifle which should have stayed locked in whatever vault it was left in.

A "duet" nobody asked for and nobody wanted.

WhySade decided her first collaboration with another artist should be Jay-Z is anyone’s guess (was Beyonce busy?) , but it is obvious at no time were they even in the same time zone when he added his pointless contribution to the remix of “The Moon and the Sky.” Sade has never cared before about trends and the “rent-a-rapper” gimmick has become commonplace. If she really wanted to create a buzz for she should have whistled up a true peer like Prince or Maxwell for a guest appearance.

All things considered there’s not much “ultimate” about this collection. There’s no liner notes detailing anything more than musicians, producers and studios, no observations from The Lady herself or even a hired essayists to muse of the larger meaning to Sade’s music. There’s only two photos of Sade in the eight page booklet and none of her bandmates. So much for the “Sade is a band” line The Ultimate Collection could have lived up to title with less skimpy packaging and if it had finally collected one of Sade’s few genuine “jazz” performances, “Killer Blow” from the 1986 film Absolute Beginners.

No such luck. As things stand, a more accurate title would be “The Adequate Collection” because there’s little ultimate about this bare bones piece of product.

Seeing Sade Live: The Tickets Are Too Damn High!

Still looking good, but sounding good? It's going to cost you to find out.

Knowing how much of a fan I am, my sister sent me an e-mail to tell me Sade is coming to Columbus in July for the first time since her September 10, 2001 concert.   I hope she puts on a good show (and from seeing her in the past I have no doubt she will) and I pray there’s no day after as historic for all the wrong reasons as the last time she came to town.

However, I won’t be at there to find out.

I like Sade’s Soldier of Love but I do not love Soldier of Love. I hoped maybe over time I would, but nope.  One year after its release it’s still just second-rate Sade and when you’re demanding hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars to see someone perform songs from a “okay” album live,  I had better be truly, madly deeply in love with it.

There’s no love at these prices.  If gas is too damn high and groceries are too damn high and the rent is too damn high, the best seats in the house .

The tickets at Value City Arena start at $109 for a seat in the terrace and top out at $449 to sit somewhere in section F3.   It’s not the nosebleed section, but it’s certainly not close enough to count Sade’s nose hairs either.

If I’m dropping over $900 bucks for two tickets I’m going to expect a backstage pass and champagne with Sade after the show.   Of course, maybe I’m just cheap.  The going price for a “top” ticket at the Staples Center in Los Angeles tops out at a measly $5,292!

When you look at the seating chart at Value City and what is unavailable to the public the first question is why paying top dollar doesn’t get you the best seats?

The answer of course is, the best seats never are available to the public.  The ticket brokers offer what is known as “pre-sale” tickets, but that won’t guarantee you a front-row seat .  The big shots and insiders get those.  You can’t touch this.

A fan on the Sade website explained how this process works (or in the case of the fan, doesn’t).

A credit card company or a fan club or Facebook is allotted a certain group of seats for a pre-sale. Every seat is pre-determined and chosen ahead of time. They then get the right to sell those exact seats in their pre-sales. Usually, there is a selection of every type of seat in the group – some good ones, some average ones, and some that aren’t so great.

Participating in a pre-sale doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get great seats. It just guarantees that you’ll get seats from that alloted group. They can work great for concerts that will sell out in minutes during the general sales, but if a concert isn’t going to sell out instantly, you can often get seats that are just as good or better in the general sale. It’s a little riskier though.

Even by participating in fan club presales, I’ve still never been able to get first, second, or third row for any concert ever. I talked to a Ticketmaster representative about this, and she told me that’s because those seats are generally held back for super premium sales, contests, well-connected people, etc.. They are near impossible to get in a pre-sale of any sort.

Hang on to your love? Hang on to your wallet is more like it.

The bloated price of a concert ticket can be blamed on many factors, but often its the artist themselves who take the hit.  Google “ticket prices” and a lot of pissed-off facts roar back in response.  Even on Sade’s official site one fan wrote,  “I, too am appalled by how much Sade concert tickets are. Her last show at Madison Square Garden was so good and I was really looking forward to seeing her again someday. But this seems like she’s trying to make up money from years of not earning. A lot of her fans won’t be able to pay this, and some of those who can will be disgusted to do so. Not cool, Sade. Don’t say “everyone” is doing it, because they’re not. I don’t want to assume you’re greedy, so I’ll believe you got in some trouble with a bookie or something like that instead.”

According to an ABC News report, with the collapse of record sales, artists now make up to 62 percent of their income from touring.  They have every incentive to keep the cost of a ticket high. That isn’t entirely without justification.  When Sade takes the stage it’s not as if  she strolls to the microphone wearing torn blue jeans with a guitar and a couple of backing musicians.    It’s a production putting on a major show and it takes lots of money to put it together, move it from city to city and employ anywhere to 50 to over 100 supporting staff.   Big acts put on big shows and demand big bucks. Cheap, it is not.

Downloading–illegal and otherwise–has reached right into the artist’s pocket.  Radio and record companies no longer break a new song or sell albums in the way they once did.   There is a generation of consumers whom only listen to singles, not albums and they have grown to expect the music should be made available to them as cheap as possible if not totally free.

But that’s no justification to gouge the fans $449 for a freaking two-hour concert.  The price is ridiculous.   For that kind of paper, I don’t want to see a one-hit wonder like John Legend as an opening act.   Throw in Stevie Wonder and Prince and I might be able that kind of outlay.  The operative phrase there being, ” I might.”

It’s not as if Sade is constantly on the road.   After a decade of silence, she dropped Soldier of Love, but then took another year  before going out to tour behind it.  To fill that lay-off, a new best-of CD,  The Ultimate Collection (featuring a Jay-Z 🙄 rap on one track) drops in May just before the America tour kicks off June in Baltimore.  That’s kind of weird, but then Sade is a weird kind of artist.

Unlike Kiss, the Eagles or the Rolling Stones, bands whom are always threatening that the next tour will be the last tour,  with Sade its more likely when she walks off the stage you won’t soon be seeing her again.   Simply cranking out the old hits  for big bucks has never seemed to be her prime motivation.

Which is not to say even Sade is immune to holding out the teasing temptation, “Well, are you sure you don’t want to see me one last time?”

Yes, I would like to see Sade one more time.  No, I won’t pay more for a couple of tickets more than I pay on my monthly mortgage.

I’ve seen Sade twice before.  It’s going to hurt a bit knowing she’s in town and I’m not there, but if I don’t see again I’ll take a Gloria Gaynor approach to it:  I will survive.

It’s never as good as the first time anyway.

"$449 for a ticket? Sure, I'm worth it."

One Year in Jazz: Nine of the Best and One of the Worst.

"Best Album of the Year? Me?"

1. Chris Standring/Blue Bolero: Playing jazz in America would serve as a great cover for someone in the witness protection program. A musician can labor at jazz for years and put together a nice body of work, but the music industry, the media, and the public may barely notice in their search for the next teenage pop star.

Chris Standring has never made an album quite like Blue Bolero. Standring could have stayed in a smooth jazz comfort zone of safe and innocuous music. Low risk can mean high reward, but Standring chose to go a different, riskier and far more ambitious route. The result is an album he should be both pleased with and proud of.

There are signature moments in a musician’s career when they make an album that both defines them and sets the course for their future. Herbie Hancock had his with Head Hunters (Columbia, 1973), Weather Report reached their summit with Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977), and George Benson took off with Breezin’ (Warner Brothers, 1976). Whether or not Blue Bolero belongs in that kind of distinguished company is a judgment call, but it is the best album Standring has made yet.

2.  Fourplay/Let’s Touch the Sky: For Fourplay, it’s all a numbers game. 2011 marks the band’s 20th anniversary, Let’s Touch the Sky is their 12th album, and “new guy,” Chuck Loeb is both Fourplay’s third personnel change and third guitarist replacing Larry Carlton, who stepped in for Lee Ritenour in 1998.

Loeb has the advantage of appearing on several of James’ solo albums, and that familiarity serves him well, as his guitar is featured early on his own “3rd Degree.” Loeb’s style meshes well with the signature Fourplay radio friendly tunes, but his playing is noticeably funkier than Carlton, and his familiarity with James would seem to indicate his period of adjustment into this supergroup will be a relatively quick one.

Changes in personnel can be leading indicators of a band reaching the end of the line. Not this time. If anything James, Mason and East seem invigorated by their new playmate. Loeb is a perfect fit, and with his addition to the group as both a composer and player, Fourplay is well situated to continue on both artistically and commercially as a force with which to be reckoned.

3.  Stanley Clarke/The Stanley Clarke Band: Stanley Clarke is still playing the bass the way he wants to, still pulling sounds out of his assortment of electric, acoustic and Alembic basses like nobody else, and still slapping, plucking and thumbing his way through contemporary, fusion jazz, rock, funk and whatever else he puts his mind to.

Clarke, in all his improvisations and incarnations as an artist, has never distanced himself from his jazz-rock roots. “Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu’s Report,” despite its clumsy title, is a well-intentioned homage to the genre’s giants including drummer Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Weather Report, trumpeter Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra among others.

There’s a sense of closure from The Stanley Clarke Band and it’s quite deliberate. Clarke says he’s done with making electric albums for a while. Aged 59, Clarke has considerable and deserved pride in what he’s accomplished as a composer and musician and whatever direction his future endeavors take him in, his legacy is already secured. He is to the electric bass what Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar; an unparalleled virtuoso who sets the standard for others to follow even as they create their own legacies.

4. The Trio of Oz: The dilemma for modern jazz artists is how to grab the ears of younger audiences, while remaining respectful of the legacy of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong without recycling yet another variation of “So What?” The eclectic and restless musical tastes of drummer Omar Hakim and pianist Rachel Nicolazzo (aka Rachel Z) offer some mighty impressive bait to reel them in, The Trio of Oz‘s repertoire reading like an hour’s worth of college radio station programming.

Whenever jazz is in danger of becoming safe, static and scared to stray out of its comfort zone, that’s when it’s in the fast lane to becoming the Muzak for museums naysayers already claim it is. The Trio of Oz strikes that delicate balance between respecting tradition while refusing to be handcuffed by it. There’s a lot here, in one of 2010’s most brilliant debuts for both purists and pioneers to admire.

5. George Duke/Deja Vu: Duke is a proven funk master, highly successful producer, underrated pianist and masterful entertainer who, while never taking himself too seriously, never takes his jazz roots for granted, no matter how often he’s accused of abandoning them. Déjà Vu is a splendid, high energy and completely satisfying record by Duke, who has mastered the delicate art of looking back while simultaneously moving forward.

6.  Mindi Abair/In Hi-Fi Stereo: As soul music has vanished from urban radio, driven out by the predominance of rap, hip-hop and Auto Tune, it’s become harder to find real soul made with real instruments, either on record or on the airwaves.

A Mindi Abair album is not the go-to place that comes to mind for a showcase of old school soul and bluesy funk. Abair has carved out a niche as a capable, if not always inspired, smooth jazz saxophonist, cut from the cloth of her contemporaries Kenny G., Richard Elliot and others, whom occasionally dip a toe into R&B, but never totally immerse themselves in the idiom.

Once again, the danger of making assumptions is proven, because with In Hi-Fi Stereo Abair takes the plunge headfirst into the deep end of soul-infused jazz. Equal parts homage to the music of David Sanborn, Hank Crawford and The Crusaders offer a testimony of her own artistic growth. Abair makes a declarative statement that she is a formidable talent who can do far more than smooth jazz noodling.

7.  Hiromi/Place To Be: Some musicians take the tortured artist thing too far. With their on-stage, “in the zone” demeanor, some pianists look as if they’re on the verge of a heart attack. If they relaxed a bit would anyone think less of them? Hiromi Uehara is certainly a serious musician yet never leaves the impression of taking herself too seriously. She’s having too much fun for that.

Since her 2003 debut, Another Mind (Telarc), Hiromi has straddled genres of post-bop, acid jazz, and freewheeling improvisation while refusing to be neatly categorized. A leader in her own right and an accompanist,she’s proven herself to be no neophyte and for seven years through growth and development, she continues to create challenging music that is both edifying and gratifying.

8.  Sade/Soldier of Love: The best thing about Sade Adu is also the worst thing about Sade Adu: her near fanatical commitment to consistency. There’s no difference between vintage Sade and contemporary Sade. She’s the antithesis of the snowfall cliché: with Sade you always know exactly what you’re going to get.

Soldier of Love is Sade’s first album in a decade, and only the sixth by the group in 25 years. Flooding the market with material is not a crime Adu can be accused of. However, while this is a new album it’s the same sort of music Sade has been making all along.

Soldier of Love seems longer than its tidy 41 minutes. It might be because, even on the mid-tempo songs like the title track and “Babyfather,” neither Sade Adu the front woman or Sade the band swing. But then, you don’t buy a Sade album because you want to dance. You buy a Sade album because no matter how bad your day’s been, hers has been worse. A lot worse.

9.   Ronny Jordan/After 8: The ninth best album of the year was actually released in 2004, but I didn’t hear it until 2010 and since it’s my list I get to choose my own qualifying criteria.   There’s no shortage of great guitar players in jazz, but so many of them are only recycling riffs from Wes Montgomery/George Benson.   Jordan is going off in different directions as if to say, “”We’ve done that.  Let’s try this.”

 

In a field full of imitators, Jordan is an original and After 8, he goes beyond the acid-jazz/funk and just kicks back to jam.   The result is an album I listen to repeatedly and with the volume turned up high.

…and the WORST album of 2010 was…

10.  The Jazzmasters/The Jazzmasters VI: To understand why Paul Hardcastle’s latest Jazzmasters album is such a tedious drag its first necessary to understand that the multi-instrumentalist has taken an unfortunate interest in a subdivision of smooth jazz, called Chill.

Chill relies on ambient sounds, airy vocals, quietly tinkling keyboards, and the occasional alto sax bubbling away in the mix. It’s so smoothed-out and laid back that it’s nearly comatose. Chill is less ambitious than smooth jazz but not as lightweight as New Age. Take a marshmallow, pour honey over it, dip it in a sugar bowl, then swallow the gooey, gloppy mess whole in one bite. That’s Chill.

Note:  I really, really hated this album.  When I wrote my first review I just dumped all over it for the cardinal sin of being a lazy-ass waste of time.   The editor at All About Jazz rejected the review and we swapped some terse and tense e-mails back and forth over lines like this:

” This is music to peel potatoes, iron clothes and vacuüm the rug by.  This album is so devoid of an impromptu moment,  Hardcastle probably woke up one morning, sipped a cup of coffee, padded off in his slippers and robe to a home studio, banged this out in a few hours and was finished by lunch.”

“This is modern day Muzak that should be piped in the overhead speakers of upscale shopping malls and day care centers to lull unruly pre-schoolers into taking their naps.”

“Jazz” is a catch-all for various genres that are only loosely connected to each other.   Paul Hardcastle has carved out a niche for himself as a staple of the smooth jazz/Chill division, but it takes a certain presumption to proclaim oneself as a “Jazzmaster” when the music barely meets the minimum qualifications.”

I don’t usually like ripping a musician a new one, but Jazzmasters VI didn’t just bore and displease me.   It offended me on a fundamental level.  I gave in to the editor’s wish for a more diplomatic review, but I make no apologies for dogging out the record for the utter piece of shit it was.

To find the rose you gotta  risk the thorns.

Everything New is Old Again

"Smile?" "How?"

The best thing about Sade Adu is also the worst thing about Sade Adu: her near fanatical commitment to consistency. There’s no difference between vintage Sade and contemporary Sade. She’s the antithesis of the the snowfall cliché: with Sade you always know exactly what you’re going to get.

Soldier of Love is the first album in nearly a decade from Sade and only the sixth in 25 years. Flooding the market with material is not a crime Miss Adu can be accused of.

Sade is just someone who listened to Joni Mitchell’s Blue a few times too many and came away with the impression, “Aha, that’s how you convey pain and anguish.” But she’s no unimaginative copycat. She likes to keep her music simple, sparse and unadorned with such trappings as guest superstars, cover tunes, or any acknowledgment of what’s hip, hot and happening in modern music. For better or worse, she continues to go her own way, releasing new records only when she feels she has something to say and an iconoclastic disdain for and refusal to acknowledge what’s hip, hot, and happening in music.

It’s that cool detachment that gives Sade whatever jazz cachet she has, but you couldn’t find a less likely “jazz” singer.  It’s her lack of concern (or is it contempt?) for the prevailing trends of pop music that enables to keep their jazz pass.. Sade cares about as much as using Auto-Tune and other studio tricks as Dianne Reeves or Wynton Marsalis even if she has nothing else in common with real jazz artists.

Soldier of Love seems longer than it’s tidy 41 minutes. It might be because even on the mid tempo songs like the title track and “Babyfather” neither Sade Adu the frontwoman or Sade the band swing.    You don’t buy a Sade album because you want to dance.  You buy a Sade album because no matter how bad your day’s been, her’s has been worse.  A lot worse.

The drums click like the heels of a Marine snapping to attention. You can hear the gentle pluck of Paul Denman’s bass and Stuart Matthewman gets a chance to dust off his saxophone, but as Sade Adu’s vocals have moved up as the centerpiece of the previous studio albums, Love Deluxe (1992) and Lovers Rock (2000), the band has receded into a state of anonymity.  They don’t have much else to do but be supportive and back-up Sade, which they dutifully do.

So what’s she been doing for the last decade?  Suffering mostly.  Oh, how she suffers.  She’s been in love.  Out of love.  She’s been hurt, stabbed in the back.  Bruised, battered, betrayed.   Sure she’s wealthy, gorgeous and talented, but her pain threshold is incredible.

Sade’s misery, torment and sad tales of woe permeate the lyric booklet.

“Put me on a plate with petals and a fire/and send me out to sea/Turn my angry sword against my heart/and set me free,” she croaks on “Bring Me Home.”   Who’s the miserable bastard that keeps ripping out Sade’s heart and spitting in the hole?  It gets even worse for her on “The Moon and the Sky, “You lay me down and left me for the lions/A long, long time ago/You left me there dying/But you’ll never let me go.”

"Tear the Roof Off the Sucka?" "You got it!"

Damn, this girl needs a hug!

When you take nearly ten years off between releases you get evaluated differently.   The opinion of critics, good, bad or otherwise,  mean nothing.  If Sade squeezes out a little squeaky fart and it’s recorded, some fan will find it sheer genius.   Soldier of Love is a little better than Lovers Rock which was really listless, but if you load up a multi-disc CD player and hit “shuffle” there isn’t a hell of a difference between Diamond Life and Solider. There’s a lot less piano and percussion and a lot more drippy strings and chilly programmed synth beats and beeps, but otherwise the songs remain  the same.

I like Soldier of Love despite the fact it’s exactly the same as every other Sade album.  It’s probably going to take repeated listening before I love it.  Since I’ll be well into my sixties before Sade makes another album I’ll  have plenty of time.