Goin' All Out is saxophonist Eric Darius' fourth album since 2004, and his Blue Note debut. While the label has released smooth jazz efforts in the past, that trend slowed in the 21st century, favoring instead artists who appealed to a broader range of the ever-shrinking CD-buying market: Norah Jones, Amos Lee, the Bird and the Bee, etc. Apparently it works, since the label continues to pump out these kinds of records regularly. Darius is most decidedly a contemporary jazz artist with a twist. He spent more time listening to the grooves of saxophonists like Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, and Grover Washington, Jr. as well as reggae, funk, gospel, and soul. Darius, with his big raw-toned emotionalism, sense of time, and phrasing, is capable of hanging with anyone in or out of this context. Along with fellow producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Darren Rahn, trumpeter Jason Rahn, occasional bassist Mel Brown, and guitarist Frank Selman, Darius plays his alto and tenor horns with an unrestrained passion, sounding like a young Gato Barbieri playing alto. The downside of Goin' All Out is the lack of live drums. Everything here is programmed. This is a problem because, while the groove is great, when it's lockstep there is only so far Darius can go in a solo. The other downside is that -- besides three tracks -- the bass is a keyboard-driven preprogrammed exchange as well, and if you need proof as to why it works better live, check Mel Brown on the title cut and "Just for the Moment," which also features a guest solo spot by guitarist Norman Brown. The cookin' here between the double-tracked saxes and brass leaves the soloist all the room in the world to use his imagination, while keeping the groove solid. Mel Brown's basslines on these cuts are monstrously huge, dirty, and deeply funky.
Darius constructs grooves to play against with pairs of melodies harmonically entwined, and they are sumptuous. They are very sensual and contain enough old-school soul, gospel, and hip-hop to be something out of the ordinary -- check "Be Without You," with that gorgeous high-register piano line that comes straight out of some Vangelis-inspired soundtrack, and the gorgeous, otherworldly backing vocals by Yvonne Brown. Darius plays in a counter-melody, finding the seam in the middle, and hits it every time, just pouring emotion into it. The hip club sense of "Vibe with Me" contains enough electro and Kraftwerk-esque ice to allow double- and triple-tracked saxophones and trumpets; they exist as disembodied sensual voices inside a dark and icy groove. The hip, funky dancehall feel in "Feelin' da Rhythm" sounds like a cheesy idea, but the three different melodies at work against the junglist looping and percolating rhythm tracks wind it all down tight. This set is a winner as it stands, and it marks a turning point for Darius: he can keep going this route and find his audience dwindling because there is so only so much one can do with loops and saxophones; or he can keep the grooves and gorgeous, well-conceived melodies to stretch them taut against a live rhythm section -- in doing so, he might just create an entirely new direction for contemporary jazz. Goin' All Out, despite its synthetic faults, is a solid winner all the way through. ~ Thom Jurek