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Published: 2003/12/29
by Brian Ferdman

self-titled – Sam Kininger


Any serious devotee of live music in the New York or Boston area has
probably heard of Sam Kininger. For the last couple of years, this alto sax
player has acted as a sort of free agent on the live music scene. Not only
has Kininger been a vital contributor to The Squad, Lettuce, and Soulive,
but he has also served as a regular special guest during many a late night
jam session. Now he has finally recorded his first solo project, and he's
brought along several of his late night colleagues for the ride.

With his sharp staccato sound, Kininger's forte is a crisp brand of funk.
In his world, there is no time to hang out in a laidback groove. Instead,
he and his musical cohorts consistently attack the beat with precision. The
result is an infinitely danceable collection of driving rhythms.

Employing overdubs, Kininger's staccato is on fine display during "Where Im
Coming From." His layers of brisk saxes counter Chris Loftlin's thick bass
to create a solid backbeat, enabling Kininger to then bop along through a
moving solo. The staccato is put to even greater use on the Marco
Benevento/Joe Russo staple, "Big Whopper." With both members of The Duo in
tow, Kininger perfectly accents the composition by piercing along in unison
with Benevento's speedy organ runs. By the end of the composition, it's
clear that Kininger's sax has turned the heat up on a very intense number.

From a group standpoint, the best song of the entire album is "Late Night."
James Hurt does some things on the keys that would make a young Bernie
Worrell stand up and take notice, pushing the chart into a dark and twisted
place. Loftlin's basswork and Nikki Glaspie's drumming fit hand-in-glove,
and along with Jeff Lockhart's atmospheric guitar, they keep the groove
pulsating while Kininger and Hurt solo with passion. However, Hurt easily
takes the cake on this tune, as he conjures up sounds and figures that make
one's head spin.

On the whole, this album is anything but flawless. A ballad or two
occasionally veers off into dreaded smooth jazz territory, and at times,
some of the more repetitive grooves border on monotonous after six-plus
minutes. However, by and large, this album is full of tight melodies and
skillful ensemble playing. Kininger deserves much credit for assembling an
all-star rotating cast, including Fred Wesley, Neal Evans, Eric Krasno, Adam
Deitch, among others, and yet maintaining a very cohesive sound. Moreover,
it's important to note that Kininger refuses to use this album as an
opportunity to hog the spotlight, choosing instead to share the wealth of
solos amongst his fine ensemble. It's refreshing to hear a solo artist
yield the spotlight to his backing band, but that's not much of a surprise
for Kininger. Rather than stealing the show in a live performance, he
usually acts as a hidden ingredient that spices up the stew. When such a
collection of fine musicians is guided in the studio by an egoless leader
like Sam Kininger, the end product is certainly a well-balanced and
flavorful dish.

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