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Review: James "Saxsmo" Gates at the Capital Ale House (May 14)

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Nobody does what Gates does better than Gates. In front of a near-capacity crowd at the Capital Ale House (slightly delayed by the need to clear the room of a crowd still buzzing from the sold-out first set) he soars, preaches, rocks and reflects through a full-throttle 90-minute set drawn from his new CD “Gates Wide Open.”

The saxophonist establishes his mainstream jazz chops early on with a blazing version of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” but straightforward communication is more Gate’s thing than sophisticated harmonic acrobatics. As the set develops through funky workouts and lyrical interludes -- including a “I Cry Out for You” written for his late mother and played seated at stage edge, feet dangling like a little boy’s from a grown-up chair -- categorization seemed beside the point. As much James Brown as Charlie Parker, Gates pours heart and soul into his playing with such charismatic commitment that you can’t dislike his music without disliking him. And with his ready smile, boundless energy and joyful willingness to dive into the audience with his horn to embrace everyone in the creative process, disliking him is something he simply won’t let you do.

Gates’ rollicking attack is supported by a backing band doubled in almost every category: two percussionists, two pianists, two guitars, along with trumpet and bass. All were from Richmond, each gets their turn in the spotlight and each is celebrated by Gates as exemplars of local talent too often taken for granted. The same can be said of the just-a-bit-larger-than-life Gates.

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