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Andy Snitzer: Traveler

I can recall the first time I heard a synth keyboard player showing off a sampled saxophone sound. It was probably in the late '80s and pretty pathetic. The next impression was hearing Miles Davis perform Tutu, which featured some amazing woodwind samples and programming by Marcus Miller. A trained ear could hear the difference, but only about five years had passed and already synth sax was sounding pretty good. Musicians knew there would always be a difference between the inflection and phrasing of a real horn player and the sampled digital performance. They were right, but many listeners don't appreciate such fine details. Audiences still like to see a man holding a saxophone, but the sounds coming out only need to sound sax-like to impress them. It's in this fertile ground of audience apathy and musical mediocrity that our story begins.

Traveler is, for me, a bit like that Rip Van Winkle moment where you wake up and realize the world has passed you by. Except in this version, things have actually degraded. I remember listening to Kirk Whalum on vinyl and David Sanborn backing Carly Simon on 8-track, not to mention a LaserDisc of Grover Washington, Jr.'s entire Winelight album. Considering how much time has elapsed since these moments, one expects real progress. What Andy Snitzer knows about Pro Tools and drum programming might fill a review with accolades, but considering the cover of his album shows the guy fondling a tenor saxophone, were we wrong to expect some horn playing? To be fair, Snitzer plays well enough when he's adding color to a dense track of synth and rhythm. Traveler sounds in its best moments like a score without a film, or some new-age Aebersold play-along for aspiring studio musicians. Textures and emotional soundscapes abound, but not in a way that holds interest. Without more compelling hooks or virtuosic performances, Andy Snitzer is always walking the fine line between human performer and that little button on synthesizers that plays a groovy example track. The sad part is that many of the artists on the record (Chris Botti, Chuck Loeb, James Genus) are capable of so much more.

You never thought about the person that had to program those tracks, did you? Snitzer is clearly that guy, and it's easy to see why he's made some appearances with big-name artists as a backing musician. Hiring one guy who can program a band's worth of sound is just good economics. Snitzer clearly has passion for the sound he's making, and gets just enough of the nuance of his horn playing right to stay in the spotlight as a saxophonist. He carries off almost everything on Traveler with the exception of some attempts to stray from the smooth formula on songs like "Taking Off" or "Veru." His extended solos on these tunes show some pretty fundamental gaps in his jazz education; he's at his best picking away at melodic snippets above churning rhythm tracks, or layering his own horn lines back in through various filters. This kind of thing has a certain audience, but unlike the shoulders of the giants he's standing on, such as Michael Brecker, Snitzer just isn't a master of his horn. There's going to be a long and fruitful marketplace for musicians who master a mixing board and can program or sequence, but we can only hope that more of them attempt to push the envelope further than this.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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