James Martin, Keep Movin’ (Independent)

Saxophonist James Martin’s first album, Something’s Gotta Give was a fairly straightforward New Orleans funk album, but there were hints he had something more original up his sleeve—particularly on a track called “Another You,” which crossed the local sound with some vintage singer-songwriter roots. Martin makes good on that promise with his follow-up, which expands on the singing and writing while keeping the saxafunk as his ace in the hole.

As a singer he sounds suave and confident; the last album’s slightly hesitant vocals are long gone (no cover tunes here, either). There’s a definite ’70s vibe to a lot of this, recalling a time when grooves were organic and singers had style. On “French Connection” he sounds comfortable in the leading-man role, and the tune has some interesting changes. “Leaf in a Hurricane” is the kind of ballad that George Benson would’ve been glad to call his own. Another clear influence, Stevie Wonder, comes out in “Ephemeral Affair” and “Rectify,” with both sporting the melodic turns of the Talking Book-era. And how often does one see words like ephemeral and rectify in the titles of a funk album?

The three straight-up funk instrumentals are less surprising but they’re all satisfying; the title track is no less melodic than the vocal tunes. The other members of the band are unknown to me but get some good licks in; particularly tasty is Beck Burger’s free-flowing keyboard solo on “Exit Signs,” and Cesar Bacaro’s congas throughout. Even the funkier tunes keep a fairly romantic feel and a lot of this works well as make-out music—not a bad thing in the ’70s—or now.