The idea of Braxton Cook making an R&B album isn’t all that surprising. The seeming ease with which he plays the saxophone always had an amiable quality to it. But when he broke out on vocals on his debut album, Somewhere in Between, last year, it was clear that Cook would be playing in this familiar pocket. Throughout his new album, No Doubt, out now, Cook is out front, either singing or on alto saxophone. The title track and opener begins with a catchy, triumphant energy– Cook’s vocal coos dubbed in the background layered just as smoothly as his runs on the saxophone. This trade never lets up throughout the album, making for a sound that feels like a duality that always should have been, a reminder of things past, and a sensibility in music that feels all too familiar and all too perfect.
“When You Hold Me” has all the chill of the finest R&B, hearkening to the grown folks music of the 90s. There’s a pocket Cook finds in this genre that feels at times nostalgic for this era. In one’s youth, it would be rational to find inspiration in the generation before, to put one’s own signature on past inspirations dd. In Cook’s so doing, melding these into a cohesive statement makes for a brilliantly charming amalgam to play over and over again.
Maxwell’s 1996 debut album, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, had its distinct sound not only because of the clear direction from the artist and producer MUSZE, but also because of that clear voice of Stuart Matthewman’s saxophone, he of Sade fame. There are times throughout No Doubt run that feel like Cook has all these elements, all resulting in as strong a work, wrapped up in one package. “Like You Used To” is that same kind of bedroom jam– sultry, a little broken, dragging just so right. “Wish You Well” captures heartbreak and compersion with equal measure. Cook’s vocal chords sounding just as sweet and complex as his saxophone to convey everything this songs he wrote has to say and having just as much fun saying them.
The return to jazz, “We Major”, is a fun song, hiding its power in its lightness. It’s a song where everyone goes hard in a surprisingly quick pace for the melody to seem so airy, as if a breeze suddenly made way for a warm front bringing with it a bracing wind and departing just as quickly
“Lost Ones” is a grand triumph of a song– big, bold, brash, like waves crashing on a rocky beach. There’s tight mastery here.
The economy of this album is one of the most fascinating thing about it. Nine songs, nothing much longer than five minutes, nothing sacrificing plumbing deep emotions or not adequately exploring the music, but there’s a sense of getting to the core of musical ideas and getting out in due time. He’s making hits, he’s getting play counts, and he’s not overstaying his welcome. Of course, this gives you the listener the option of replaying these earworms again in short order. That, too, may have been by design. It’s clear as Braxton Cook continues to grow in his career, with statements as cool and clear as No Doubt, he seems to know what he’s doing.
No Doubt, the latest album from saxophonist/vocalist Braxton Cook, is out now.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.