Veteran New Orleans master tenor saxophonist and flautist Amadee Castenell’s latest release, Amadee and His Driving Force, finds him and a crack band in familiar territory. Castenell was a member of Allen Toussaint’s orchestra for many years, and was the musical director of the seminal New Orleans funk band Chocolate Milk. This record is dedicated to and was overseen by his brother André, who tragically died of cancer three months before the album was released.
Throughout the recording, Castenell’s tenor is lyrical with a laid-back yet funky feel that complements impeccable phrasing and his obvious joy in playing. Of the 12 tracks, there are three originals and nine covers, featuring a range of artists including Wham (“Careless Whispers”), Boyz 2 Men (“End Of The Road”), David “Fathead” Newman (“Hard Times”) and more.
The opening track, “Fran’s Song,” sets up a solid groove for Amadee’s typical warm and mellow tone, a solid foundation for a certain tranquility that permeates the entire recording: smooth, but also pop-catchy. One of the early highlights, “Peruvian Party,” is a Castenell original. It would be enticing to hear Amadee and company mine this territory a little deeper as it really provides ample opportunity for everyone to groove. And speaking of groove, “Black Friday” features a sparse drum and percussion accompaniment that creates a trance-like feel—drawing on the long lineage of New Orleans beats that reach back in time and conjures spirits that have long left this realm. The Sade cover, “Sweetest Taboo,” showcases Castenell on flute, while the pop-jazz standard “Willow Weep For Me” allows Boston-based blues chanteuse Toni Lynn Washington to really shine on vocals.
All in all, Amadee and His Driving Force is what you would expect from one of New Orleans’ premier—albeit largely unheralded—saxophone masters. His ability to joyfully cover everything from rhythm and blues, funk to rock—with a contemporary jazz groove—is evidence that his free-spirited and New Orleans-imbued roots continue to shine and evolve.