Philippe Saisse is an extraordinary musician with a particularly wide-ranging musical career as one of the premier multi-talented artists in contemporary jazz and popular music. He reached his undeniable apex with a highly entertaining and engaging work entitled At World’s Edge. His varied musical ventures have included duties as composer, arranger, producer, and keyboard performer extraordinaire. In the liner notes of the CD recorded for the Koch Records label, the French born Saisse credited his cross country relocation from New York to Los Angeles as being the major inspiration for this album. He notes “I dreamed of reuniting with the musicians that had made my past efforts such an incredible musical experience.” His dream was fully realized with the release of the outstanding disc that made a personal and triumphant statement. At World’s Edge remains a celebratory adventure expressed through eleven brilliant original and eclectic compositions that contain exhilarating guest appearances from some of his magnificent friends and musical acquaintances. The song count would be twelve if you count “At World’s Edge” in both its instrumental and vocalized versions separately.
“From Nowhere to Now Here” beings the opus, and presumably tells the story of his relocation to the west coast. A beautifully well-produced song with stirring strings and Saisse’s emotive keyboards, it effectively grabs the listener’s attention. The introduction is classically inspired, and the song itself has the sweeping lushness of a soundtrack recording, with burnished touches of a three-piece jazz unit with attached strings.
“The Rover” comes next, and contains a very accessible melody with unquestionable head nodding grooves. Longtime Saisse drummer Scooter Warner and ace guitarist Jeff Golub provide the accompaniment as Saisse supplies keyboard artistry and a pleasingly potent hook for this ultra-contemporary tune.
Some dynamically stinging guitar licks from Golub are prominently featured in “Billy’s Blues,” along with sassy muted trumpet and flugelhorn from Jason Golley, along with an emphatic biting bass guitar delivery by Ron Jenkins. All these elements perfectly complement Saisse’s insistent blues-tinged keyboards. This jazz/blues song offers a fine example of Saisse’s mastery of different musical styles.
The title track, “At World’s Edge,” makes the first of its two appearances as an instrumental. Played slowly at first by Saisse with evident heart-felt sentiment on the solo piano, the tune turns slightly more upbeat when the bass (Pino Palladino) and drums (Simon Phillips) join in, yet it retains a yearning atmosphere. The mood is in contrast to the surrounding songs, but the sparkling keyboards of Saisse bond everything together seamlessly, as the song ends beautifully.
“Monday Afternoon” contains another memorable melody that showcases Saisse’s compositional skills. Jeff Golub’s guitar again provides just the right amount of fire, and the deft rhythm team of Simon Phillips and Pino Palladino provide strong support to Philippe’s keyboard runs. This song is perfectly suitable for inclusion on a smooth jazz formated radio station; as cool as the other side of the pillow.
The world music infused “Assante Sana” contains a slice of Latin additive and notably features the unique and striking vocals of Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Africa. Kidjo, like Philippe Saisse himself, is known for mining diverse musical influences, as well as for possessing a keen creative sense. Put the two of them together and the result is sure to be pure genius. They don’t disappoint here.
“Roppongi Blues” is a rollicking good time, evoking images of carnival time in Rio de Janeiro. The beat is bouncy, and thanks in part to the zestful horn section (trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and trombonist Michael Davis) the tune is a true winner. The frisky percussion of Lenny Castro, and hard driven rhythms courtesy of drummer Scooter Warner and bassist David Finck add to this flavor-filled mixture. It all becomes fully dressed by Diane Hsu on flute and Saisse’s playful keyboards.
An introspective piano ballad “Through Tainted Glass” follows, and would fit very nicely in a movie score, with a prevalent melancholy mood. Strings float serenely on clouds of sound complimenting Saisse’s tender piano tones that fall as gently as a summer sunrise rain.
“Topanga Moon Dance” is a lovely song that begins slowly and gradually gains momentum. Imagine two lovers dancing closely beneath a full moon and starlit evening sky and you’ll have the desired effect. Keyboards and horns intertwine with the Spanish flavored guitar of virtuoso Marc Antoine, blending deliciously to form the background for a romantic rendezvous.
A reflective solo piano ballad entitled “Junto” is intimate and almost hypnotic. Saisse’s expressive keyboards could wonderfully be telling a story of lost love that has slipped through his fingers.
In its vocal version “At World’s Edge” gains more power, and sounds like the sort of power pop ballad that Peter Cetera used to hit the charts with. Vocalist David Rice is convincingly sincere in his poignant pleadings to his lover. Rice reassures his lady that if they hold on, and believe in each other, they’ll put the pieces of their lives together to salvage a love worth saving. Simon Phillips on drums and Pino Palladino on bass are understated, leaving ample space for Philippe’s keyboards and Rice’s vocals to carry the weight of the tune.
The sound is superb, as are the compositions themselves. Only a true accomplished master such as Philippe Saisse could nimbly pull this expression of contemporary jazz together so marvelously.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com