Contemporary jazz guitarist Les Sabler soars to lofty heights on new album
Grammy winner Paul Brown produced “Flying High,” which drops February 3.
NASHVILLE (12 January 2023): When two-time Grammy-winning producer Paul Brown (George Benson, Larry Carlton, Norman Brown, Boney James, Kirk Whalum) agreed to produce contemporary jazz guitarist Les Sabler’s “Tranquility” album, it led to a transformational project by the fretman. With Brown at the helm, Sabler hit a new creative zenith on that 2021 album. For his ninth album, Sabler reunited with Brown to record “Flying High,” which is slated to arrive on February 3 from New Vista Records.
Brown’s fingerprints are all over “Tranquility.” His suggestion that Sabler get a vintage 1967 Gibson Johnny Smith guitar reshaped the guitarist’s sound, inspiring his best performances. Bringing in songwriters Shane Theriot (Hall & Oates, Dr. John, Neville Brothers) and Lew Laing (Norman Brown, Marion Meadows, Raheem DeVaughn) to write songs with him equipped Sabler with richly melodic material incorporating an array of jazz, R&B, funk and pop nuances. The teaming proved to be transcendent, ushering Sabler into the number one spot on the Mediabase chart with the gorgeous and graceful nylon stringed “Esselle’s Dance,” which also hit number five on the Billboard chart. The compelling collection, along with the impassioned and nimble guitarwork featured within, led to Sabler being profiled in Vintage Guitar magazine.
“I’m at the top of my game, hitting my creative stride on the last album (“Tranquility”). ‘Flying High’ takes it to another level,” said Sabler who reassembled the same team for the new disc.
Actually, Sabler added one key figure to the “Flying High” creative outfit. It was brought to Sabler’s attention that Abbey Road Studios mastering engineer Geoff Pesche named “Tranquility” as his favorite album of 2021. That spurred Sabler to invite Pesche to master “Flying High” in the iconic studio made famous by The Beatles.
With Brown back in the producer’s chair and cowriting all seven original songs for “Flying High,” Sabler again finds himself keeping frequent company with Theriot (keyboards, rhythm guitar, bass, drum programming), who cowrote five tunes on the new offering, including the album opener, “Over The Top,” a cool and confident midtempo mood-setter that gets an assist from Greg Vail’s whimsical flute.
Exemplifying self-assurance, Sabler stretches his artistic muse on the searing “Compared To What,” a jam recorded by jazz pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969. In addition to Sabler’s incendiary finger work, this version burns via the firepower of keyboardist Marco Basci, trumpeter Ron King, and Vail’s sax over percolating rhythms cooked up by drummer Joel Taylor, bassist Travis Carlton, and percussionist Lenny Castro.
“I’ve been a fan of McCann’s for decades and was fortunate to meet and spend some time with the legend at the 1990 JazzTimes convention in New Orleans. As luck had it, they put us in adjacent hotel rooms,” Sabler recalled fondly.
Laing (keyboards, bass, drum programming) and Sabler pushed the limits with the single “Keep Pushin’” for “Tranquility,” and their reunion bodes to be equally luminous. “Moonlight” builds on their chemistry as Sabler’s sinewy electric guitar beams amidst the shimmering track.
The title cut ascends on its rousing chorus launched by a Gorden Campbell drum groove. Sabler defers to the warmth of his nylon stringed guitar on “Old Friends,” despite fostering a sense of exotic adventure. “New Bossa,” a multicultural amalgam powered by a vibrantly animate melody, is Sabler’s latest single to instantly dance onto the SiriusXM Watercolors playlist and has begun its ascent of three national jazz charts simultaneously.
Venturing into standards territory, Sabler interprets Academy Award-winning “The Windmills Of Your Mind” from 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” as a somber and sultry staccato Latin groove, using his nylon string guitar to emote eloquently and exchange elegant banter with Lou Pomanti’s (Michael Bublé, Gordon Lightfoot) keyboard poetics. Sabler credits Dusty Springfield’s version as his influence.
Sabler’s inspiration for another modern classic, “Summer In The City,” came from a version Quincy Jones recorded in 1973. Sabler’s reimagination is steamy and creates tension like The Lovin’ Spoonful’s original, but the guitarist is buttressed by a robust horn arrangement that includes Vail’s bellowing saxophone. After, “Soft and Smooth” dials down the intensity. Despite the slower, more deliberate cadence, Sabler’s loquacious guitar licks leap to the fore in a lyrical repartee.
“Double Jeopardy” is seductive, mysterious and alluring, highlighted by Sabler’s nylon string overtures and King’s soulful trumpet coos. Sabler pays homage to one of his influences, guitar legend Kenny Burrell, on “A Child Is Born,” which closes the collection. Burrell recorded the Thad Jones gem in 1971.
“This arrangement differs from the original 3/4-meter as it is performed in straight 4/4, however, it retains the expressive flavor of the beautiful composition,” said Sabler.
A native of Montreal who makes his home in Nashville, Sabler recorded the score for a Canadian Television Network documentary about the lost treasures of the Titanic in 1989, seeding the release his debut album, “Hidden Treasure,” the following year. His catalogue boasts collaborations with Grammy winners Jeff Lorber, Vinnie Colaiuta and Jerry Hey as well as Grammy nominees Brian Bromberg, Eric Marienthal, Richard Elliot and Alex Acuna. Sabler earned a Jazz Artist of the Year nomination from the Canadian Indie Awards while his albums have been nominated multiple times for Album of the Year by the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, which also honored him twice as a Guitarist of the Year nominee. On stage, Sabler has headlined or opened for artists such as Lorber, Elliot, Spyro Gyra, Michael Lington and Diane Schuur.
“Flying High” contains the following songs:
“Over The Top”
“Compared To What”
“The Windmills Of Your Mind”
“Summer In The City”
“Soft and Smooth”
“A Child Is Born”