In the 20-plus years he toured the world with Paul Simon, Andy Snitzer not only provided the band’s powerhouse horn muscle, but got a premiere nightly view of the master’s perfectionism in action. “If there were eight bars in his arrangement that didn’t thrill him,” the saxophonist says, “he would work until those eight bars were something magical. His goal was constantly, relentlessly, keeping his arrangments interesting, dynamic; making every note matter.”
A remarkable 26 years after the release of his debut album Ties That Bind, Snitzer is equally passionate and unsatisfiable as a solo artist, infusing every nuance with purpose as a player, writer, producer, arranger and curator. While he often refers to his 2011 album Traveler – an epic chronicle of his years on the road – as the best record he’ll ever make, he launches his second quarter century as an artist with an album whose title says it all about his current and future intentions. Musically, artistically, aesthetically, every which way, he wants to take us Higher.
The follow up to his equally acclaimed 2015 album American Beauty, Higher offers a richly textured, melodically, rhythmically and atmospherically eclectic and vibey ten track journey through a soundscape that has it all - tight and brassy, in the pocket funk, sensual romantic balladry, bluesy old school soul-jazz, balmy and exotic island and Bossa nova flavors and trippy, film score lush atmospheric expressions. Seeking to add a subtle but distinctive human touch to the otherwise full-on instrumental mix, Snitzer adds unique spoken word details to four tracks – including the high energy “Miracle” (featuring the innocent 2-year-old voice of his now six-year-old daughter Madeleine) and Higher’s first two singles “Non Stop” and “Higher.”
“Non Stop,” which features the sensual French whispering of Carolyn Croissier and dreamy flute-tinged atmospheres, is a soulful and infectious, classic styled drive time tune with a laid back funk groove and a vibrant, textured horn hook. “Higher”, the vibrant title track and first single features a cool, easy thumping groove, Snitzer’s trademark sax sizzle (fire-blended on the hook with Kent Smith’s trumpet), moody atmospheres, static-tinged old time radio voices and hip, old school keyboard harmonies and solos from Alain Mallet, Snitzer’s one-time Paul Simon bandmate.
Throughout his multi-faceted career – which also includes touring with Billy Joel, joining the Rolling Stones’ famed Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon tours, performances with Sting, and touring throughout 2018/19 with Chris Botti – Snitzer has learned the fine art and necessity of building a team with optimal collaborators. On Higher, his ensemble is anchored by Alain Mallet, who played a smaller role on previous albums (including Traveler, American Beauty, 2008’s Cool Struttin’ and 2013’s The Rhythm) but whose shape shifting contributions (including synths, percussion and arrangements) to each track on Higher earned him Co-Producer credit. The other key members of Snitzer’s team are guitarists Bernd Schoenhart, James Harrah and Leonardo Armeudo; bassists Tim Lefebvre and Reggie Hamilton; and drummers Gary Novak, Graham Hawthorne, and Michael White. The album was mixed by another longtime associate David Mann, who has played that role on each Snitzer album since Traveler.
While the lockdown due to the pandemic has forced countless jazz musicians to shift gears from the live studio setting to compiling and editing tracks from remote work spaces, that’s been Snitzer’s preferred wheelhouse for years. The saxman worked the approach to his great sonic advantage on Higher, building from enormous palettes of sounds to create arrangements he couldn’t have imagined when he originated each track with his sax and machine generated drums, bass and keys. He sent those bare bones elements first to his bass players, then to his drummers and on to Mallet, guitar players, and finally to the horn section. The saxophonist then used his MIDI and Pro Tools to compile, edit and shift textures to other sections (where necessary) to build the final stellar tracks.
“By recording this way as opposed to specifically managing players within in a three-hour live studio session,” Snitzer says, “each musician was given free reign to contribute their own unique creativity to the original track. “I’ve come to love this way of working because it empowers everyone to self-create and self-direct. If you pick the right partners, you can attain performances that you could never get in a typical live session. Everyone that played on Higher brought the full force of their energy and musicality to bear, which in turn pushed my artistry to my next level.”
“Besides the opportunity to record new projects and having players available who would otherwise be on the road, if there’s a silver lining to the pandemic for musicians, it’s that everyone’s adapting to creating in this digital space,” he adds. “Even when the opportunity to record at commercial studios comes back, I think this new way of doing business will remain part of the industry in a more impactful way. In line with the theme of the album, it’s an opportunity for everyone to take their artistic sensibilities Higher.”