Alto saxophonist Mindi Abair thinks that, with every recording project you do, "it should be a snapshot of what you are in life, right that moment, as a person."
If that’s the case, "In Hi-Fi Stereo" represents a loving look back at the R&B legends who preceded and influenced her. Abair’s six previous albums showcased her as a solid instrumentalist and even a bit of a singer, but "Stereo" goes for rootsy authenticity.
Speaking by phone from her Los Angeles home last week, Abair — who will be the latest in a line of guest performers at Michael Paulo’s "Smooth Jazz Nights" shows in Waikiki — said "every album I’ve done has had a different flavor and style. With each one, you can hear what I was as a performer, instrumentalist and writer at the time.
"This new record I particularly love, because it’s got that old soul flavor. I keep players like Junior Walker and King Curtis close to my heart, remembering those old, dusty records I listened to when I was a child."
‘SMOOTH JAZZ NIGHTS’
Featuring Mindi Abair, Greg Adams, Freddie Washington and Michael Paulo
Where: Royal Hawaiian Theatre, Royal Hawaiian Center
When: 8 p.m. tonight
Cost: $45, $85 and $125, available through Honolulu Box Office
Abair admits she had to step up her sax work a bit for the album because, even though her singing voice "usually doesn’t go there, as a player, I live there, so I definitely had to emote and ‘scream’ a little more on this record. The sound of the sax is the closest to the human voice, and I’m the lead vocalist here and I love it. Even though I have this ‘white girl’ voice, on the sax, I can scream and yell."
Even though Abair has made her previous reputation as a player who wears her rock-pop-soul influence on her sleeve, she surrounded herself on "Stereo" with some cream-of-the-crop L.A. studio veterans, like bassist Reggie McBride and drummer James Gadson.
"James is 71, and he played on every Bill Withers hit, plus others over the years like Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock and Nikka Costa. I originally met him when we appeared on a Playing for Change video, but we never talked. Later, I heard he was doing a gig at a nearby Santa Monica blues club, so I made it a point to meet up with him there and talk about my ideas for the new record — how it was going to be soulful, organic and just doing our thing.
"I was thrilled when he said ‘absolutely,’ and he made so much magic of what I had written on my charts. He added so much love and spirit to the music."
Abair also enjoyed the album’s various collaborations: one with her regular touring band, heard on the closing jam-inspired "The Alley"; playing off Lalah Hathaway’s vocal on a cover of James Brown’s "It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World"; doing the simple ballad "Be Beautiful" with its writer, David Ryan Harris of John Mayer’s band; and having her father, Lance, do a guest Hammond B3 organ solo on "The Alley."
"I grew up on the road during the early 1970s when my dad was playing in a soul band called the Entertainers. He played the B3 and saxophone, but because of a recent autoimmune disorder, his left hand is not as strong as it used to be. But I told him, ‘I want you on this record,’ and because the B3 is mostly played with the right, he said, ‘Yeah, I would love to do it.’
"Lalah and I went to college together at Berklee Music, and she has a beautiful spirit, and I’ve always thought she sang like a musician. We’ve worked off and on over the years, and for this record, we were inspired by the version of ‘Man’s’ that James Brown did with Luciano Pavarotti, who sang his verse in Italian. And it worked, even though they’re of different worlds, so we thought why not do our own version? Plus it’s always good to acknowledge a little woman power in the jazz world."
Abair loves visiting the islands — especially New Year’s Eve in Hana — and is looking forward to playing with Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams and "Ready Freddie" Washington tonight.
"I’ll be definitely be bringing my songs and attitude and energy to the stage," she said.