Saxophonist Don Braden has made it his career mission to prove there’s no final page in his Great American Songbook.
Rather, it’s a tome that keeps expanding, welcoming new composers and new songs with each passing year. Braden’s own genre-spanning recordings are a testament to that point. They’re full of recognizable tunes by artists who blur the line between jazz and pop. With his latest album, Earth Wind and Wonder, Braden has chosen to honor two of popular music’s most enduring musicians: Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. And though it’s clear he idolizes this music, his arrangements here are inspired and original, not mere cover songs. That he can wring so much complexity from these tunes is evidence of their harmonic elegance and enduring melodic appeal.
As a player, Braden brandishes a clean tone and a rippling soloistic technique, packing plenty of grit without sacrificing sweetness. The saxophonist’s treatment of EWF’s “Can’t Hide Love” exemplifies both his compositional brain and improvisational brawn. The tune begins with the familiar stepwise incantation of the song’s refrain, only Braden has refurbished it to sound like a Coltrane-esque modal wail. During his solo, Braden slaloms and weaves behind his rhythm section’s forward momentum. It’s a pure thrill, driven partly by EWF’s foundational funkiness and Braden’s dazzling interpretation.