Deeper, New York singer-saxophonist-pianist Pete Belasco’s second album, floats a magnetic set of vintage vibes. Throughout most of the collection Belasco works primarily with co-producer and guitarist JK (not of England’s Jamiroquai), smoothly exhaling composed r&b ballads such as “Hurry Hurry,” “Keep On,” and “Wonderful Woman” in the manner of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and other close-mic’d soul guns. Elsewhere, Belasco plays fastidiously schooled sax instrumentals like a pop-soul fan imagining Sonny Rollins. In both cases, Belasco’s songwriting places a high premium on melody—not applied to hit-mongering, diva-making, or campfire singing, but uncorked with a casually profound awareness of how melody permits long moments of backlit phrasing, how it can expose lightly shadowed harmonic fires.
The music is challenging to describe, yet easy to hear. This is doubly true because Belasco and JK encase all their r&b recitations, all their Kenny G and David Sanborn reversals, in the sort of lushly contoured, woody, screechlessly digital soundscape that was groundbreaking when Sade debuted in 1984. But because Belasco steadies such an essentialized grip on Deeper, decades of stylistic and technological ecstasies cohere and expand. Many enterprising neo-soul renovators push slick new collections for contemporary interiors. Only, Belasco steals in, fires the contractors, and whispers to the homeowners: “You need this.”