Smooth Jazz Concert Reviews
Our review of various smooth jazz concerts.
Talk about spreading Christmas cheer and joy! The Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour was certainly dead-on in their mission to do just that at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore last Thursday night. The Center was filled to the rafters with the air and feel of the season.
One thing that I’ve always noted about a Dave Koz show, especially one with a theme such as this one: He knows how to create such a powerful atmosphere and irresistible aura around the show.
That Thursday night at the Modell Center, the friends he brought were the friends you know you love, as well: The wonderfully talented and beautiful keyboardist/composer/humanitarian/storyteller Keiko Matsui, the always effervescent and oh-so-spiritual guitarist/vocalist/composer Jonathan Butler, and the lovely nightingale Oleta Adams, along with a rock-solid group of backing musicians that included musical director/guitarist Randy Jacobs. Now, I ask you: Would they not be enough decoration on and around your Christmas tree?
Kicking it off in the theater full of excitedly buzzing fans, the announcer called out from the audience a violinist with whom I was not familiar before that night, one Aaron Weinstein (I now understand that he has been a part of the Koz Christmas show in the past), and the two proceeded with a humorous chat in a brief skit which ultimately found Weinstein onstage intentionally making a horrid mess of “Jingle Bells” before launching into the more seriously competent playing of the same piece, arousing the appreciative fans to cheers.
We were then shown a brief film where Koz is lying in his bed, thumb-in-mouth and clearly annoyed at the announcer who’s attempting to wake him to get him ready for his show – a show for which he’s supposedly late. Hilarious.
The “real” show finally gets underway with Koz wailing away to the intro to “Get Ready” before morphing into “Winter Wonderland.” Now, we’re really cookin’.
Shortly thereafter, Butler entered with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” If you’ve ever witnessed Butler’s vocals and overall spirit that comes through in those heartfelt vocals, I needn’t say more. Spectacular. Koz and Butler then tore it up holiday-style with “Sleigh Ride.”
Following the pair was the Japanese princess of contemporary jazz, Keiko Matsui, with a wonderful acoustic piano version of “My Favorite Things.” Heavenly.
Enter the lovely Oleta Adams with a swaying and cool “Let It Snow.” Ah, the Christmas season has officially arrived.
Just to toss in a delightful wrinkle, the band hopped into the Jimi Hendrix intro to “Who Knows” from the late guitar king’s only Band of Gypsies live recording. That slipped seamlessly into “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” To those of you who know the Band of Gypsies tune I’ve just referenced: Try to imagine the Santa carol stemming from that! Pure genius, to say the least!
So many bright moments filled this night, from Matsui’s offering of her “Black Lion” track from her latest release, Soul Quest, to the stirring duets featuring Adams and Butler on “The Christmas Song”, Koz and Adams and Butler and Matsui on a humorous version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Koz and Weinstein on a spirited Hanukah tune, to Butler’s offering of “Little Drummer Boy,” including a rousing prelude in his native South African tongue. This enchanting piece can be found on his Merry Christmas to You latest release. Speaking of Butler, absolutely one of the most spirited and soul-stirring moments in the show was his rendering of “O Holy Night.” The audience was beside itself with appreciation as it offered a prolonged and deserved standing ovation.
While the night was full of Christmas spirit, there was still room for each artist to offer one of their most favorite tunes in an “Unplugged” segment. In that segment, Matsui dazzled the audience with a Chopin/Beethoven classical offering while Butler riveted the audience with his take on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Koz offered “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and showed off some superb vocal chops, and Adams offered “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
In addition to the “Unplugged” segment, there was also time for each artist to offer one of the tunes from their more “conventional” releases, which included “You Make Me Smile” from Koz, Matsui’s “Safari,” Adams’ “Get Here,” and Butler’s spirited “Brand New Day” (accompanied by a joyfully participating audience).
With so many moments, so much enthralling music, and such a fullness of spirit, this is one Christmas show, that, if it is coming to a venue near you, you will be doing yourself a gross injustice by not attending. Christmastime and the generous over-two-hour Dave Koz & Friends Christmas show — what a wonderful joy to the world. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Aira Olave
Birchmere Music Hall
November 24, 2013, 7:30 PM
Tonight, the sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, known for its incredible hospitality, good food, and reputation for featuring top contemporary jazz artists, kicked off a Thanksgiving holiday week with a fabulous concert by the renowned UK group Acoustic Alchemy. This very exciting ensemble of musicians with its own unique style and sound and led by guitarists Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale and anchored by local talents bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Greg Grainger and UK keyboardist Fred White played some of the best music from their 23 albums, and I can definitely tell you that the band spared no talent. Check out how they did it.
Through the initial darkness of the stage, the band entered to rousing applause and opened with their album Arcanum’s “Homecoming.” The mid-tempo groove quickly captured the audience as Carmichael and Gilderdale demonstrated masterful riffs.
These cats kept everyone rocking with their next tune “Overnight Sleeper” from the Natural Elements album. Gilderdale’s solo on the tune was magical. White, adding to the recipe of rocking tunes on the keys, majestically enhanced the guitars. If you like rock, you would have loved seeing Gilderdale strumming the strings on “No Messing” from the 2003 Radio Contact and “Shorty” from the Roseland project.
Among the many musical treats the group offered were their reggae-tinged melody “Jamaica Heartbeat,” which can be found on both the Arcanum and Back On The Case albums, and “Sand In Her Eyes” from the Roseland CD.
At one point slowing the tempo; the band graced us with a traditional style of jazz on the track “Clear Air for Miles” from the Back On The Case album. The performance was just the “breather” that the exhausted audience needed at the time. The impressive tune highlighted the talents of Gilderdale, Carmichael, and White.
Let’s talk about the Grainger siblings and what I consider to be one the night’s most memorable moments. It started with Greg’s dynamic drumming during the performance of “Trail Blazer” from The Beautiful Game venture. Gary’s bass runs on the tune transformed it into an exciting funk-laden track. Next, to further satisfy the audience’s pallet, the band followed up with the reggae-rich title track from The Beautiful Game.
With the audience already energized, the band started jamming the tune titled “Tuff Puzzle” from the Aart CD, and the Grainger brothers initiated an amazing bass and drum duel for several minutes that brought us jazzers to our feet. The band then approached center stage, took a well-deserved bow, and exited the hall only to return at the request of the fans for an encore. That led to their signature hit from the Arcanum project “Mr. Chow.” The Far East-tinged melody fused with delicate reggae features the guitars in beautiful harmony and proved to be an excellent choice to take us into the night.
The buzz around the hall was most cheerful and positive. Although some members have come and gone, the legacy remains. Acoustic Alchemy will always have a home here. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
The Birchmere Music Hall
Oct. 19, 7:30 pm
This concert was actually reviewed by two editors here at The Ride. Both reviews are presented here (most redundancies having been removed) because we felt that it was a concert very worthy of more than one witnessing voice.
If the musical heavens could be opened by the sheer vision of one painting a gorgeous landscape with one’s music, jazz pianist/keyboardist virtuoso Keiko Matsui would have had us looking skyward at that beautiful sight long ago…25 albums ago to be exact, with 24 being released here in the States. Seeing and feeling her portraits of sound and life come to fruition in concert is yet another extraordinary experience.
The lovely artist once again put on a display of her unmatched musical charms at the sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in VA on last Saturday night. The saying “You had to be there” could not be truer in this case, but I’ve attempted to put into words what this aural gift looked like to me.
Matsui appeared with an entirely new band (at least for us) consisting of guitarist J.P. Mourao, bassist Rico Belled and drummer Dave Karasony (both of The Rippingtons fame), and saxophonist Randy Gist. With these guys poised to jam, the pianist gracefully strode onto the stage amidst wild applause and immediately put her soul on display through song with two from her latest release, Soul Quest. The first was the funky mid-tempo “Dream Seeker” immediately followed by the powerful up-tempo “Black Lion,” a track for which she offered a wonderful story about her motivation to create the tune (a painting she spotted in the country of Georgia outside of a restaurant called – what else? – Black Lion. It turns out that there was quite a story behind the artist which further motivated her to write the piece).
Throughout her glowing performance, all eyes and ears were glued on her, and you could plainly see the audience appreciating the depth to which she delved into her soul to pour out her essence in such abundance.
Older gems like 1997’s “Kappa” (from her No Borders release), the story of the elf who kept the Japanese forests alive as long as he lived, and the moving motivations for “Deep Blue” from the 2001 release of the same name, as well as the newer “Antarctica: A Call to Action” from Soul Quest were laid bare for all to witness.
In the audience were a few young witnesses, one at my own table who was a 10-year-old aspiring pianist, and they were clearly in awe of the moments Matsui had created. Living, personified motivation. Who can better embody that than this Japanese princess of boundless musical horizons?
A first for me was the sight of Matsui strolling through the mesmerized audience, serenading all with her keytar. It only proved how much she values the appreciation of and interaction with her audiences.
In addition to one of her signature tunes, “Forever Forever” from her 1998 Full Moon and The Shrine release (a tune where she pays tribute to her younger daughter, then just 2 years old), the pianist graced us with a couple of additional funky tracks from Soul Quest including “A Night With Cha Cha” (you simply must hear her tell the story of her motivation for this one) and her tribute to one of her favorite artists – legendary rocker Sting – on a track called “Stingo” (a first-time live performance of the track). She also fascinated us with her signature “Bridge Over the Stars” from her 1996 Dream Walk release and the classic “Safari” from her 1995 Sapphire release which rocked out the house.
Another track I would be remiss for not mentioning is the sweet and bluesy “Embrace & Surrender.” It’s truly a track for lovers. This night, she surely made someone fall in love all over again.
The very body language of the pianist as she interacted with the keys told several stories. At several points, you could see the emotion take form in her eyes as she fought back tears brought on from the strong driving forces that took her to those wonderful musical places. I know, because I was as overwhelmed and could clearly – oh-so-clearly — understand and feel what she felt.
This is not just music, my friends. No, this is life experienced and imagined to its fullest. To witness Keiko Matsui on her records is one super powerful thing; to see her live out those songs in concert is simply beyond words. Speaking of words, witness the following take on the adventure by editor Mike Sutton – Ronald Jackson
As Ron has already stated, we were blessed tonight with the presence and music of the world-renowned keyboardist and composer Keiko Matsui at the sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. I am talking about a concert filled with emotion, fun, and passion as each song performed seemed to paint a lively memorable picture, in my opinion, that is beyond comparison.
I must also offer kudos to the remarkable band which featured great solos from drummer Karasony, saxman Gist, and guitarist Mourao during different stages of the night’s performance. Needless to say, the audience demonstrated their appreciation with a standing ovation.
All of the tunes offered were exemplary, and the finale certainly was no exception. That song, “Antarctica: A Call to Action,” is a track dedicated to environmental awareness and spotlighted saxman Gist and bassist Belled. While these cats turned up energy, Matsui played the keys with elevating intensity.
The true end of the night found the pianist rendering two more tunes in her encore: “Safari” from her 1995 Sapphire release and the title track from her 2001 Deep Blue release. These two tunes were definitely a fine way to end this memorable night of smooth jazz. What a ride!
Keiko - contemporary jazzers here in the DC/MD/VA region – like fans all over the world– love you and your music, and The Smooth Jazz Ride would like to thank you for celebrating your 25th anniversary in the music industry with us. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Aira Olave
Big NY’s Jazz & Funk Extravaganza
K2 Restaurant & Lounge
Oct. 11, 2013, 9 pm
Let me first start off by saying that this concert was not slated as a concert we would review. We attended solely for the purpose of enjoying some great jazz entertainment just as anyone else who attended. As it turned out, what was touted as a back-by-popular-demand concert by the literally big bassist of our region, accompanied by two stellar comrades and a marvelous band, became a show very much warranting a review. So, I went from being a member of the audience, settling back for an impressive evening, to a familiar role as concert reviewer, pen in hand.
Why was this performance so compelling as to prompt this review? Along with the stage presence of the talented, cool, and looming bassist Christian “Big NY” De Mesones, witnessing the extraordinary talents and stage presence of saxman Jaared Arosemena and the effervescent keyboardist extraordinaire Elliot Levine was simply astounding and as moving as an earthquake. I will venture to say that there is most likely not one single member of that evening’s audience who would disagree with me.
Joining this power trio were guitarist Mike Gamble, percussionist Eddie Montalvo, and drummer Jay Jones (the last two were making their debut appearance with Big NY). Hearing the result of this union made it quite clear that something much stronger than simply a mojo was at work here.
From the opening notes of Levine’s jammin’ “Fenton Street,” in the first set to the final notes of the second set’s finale, De Mesones’ “Brother to Brother” (the stirringly beautiful nod to another looming personality — the late super-talented and charismatic bassist Wayman Tisdale), K2 was alive with feel-good vibes and happy spirits.
It’s truly one thing to master an instrument or instruments and play it/them convincingly in a live setting. It’s quite another to offer so much personality, character, feel, and overall stage presence while doing so that it all overwhelms the audience in pleasure and rapture. Setting aside the wonderful music of De Mesones, Levine, and Jaared, watching the interaction between the audience and Jaared as he strode about, sax in play, mesmerizing the women and eliciting respect from the men was a sight to behold. Add to that the interaction between Levine, his keys, and the very internal mechanism that stirs this man so profoundly that he’s been nicknamed “The Animal,” and you’ve got total artistry personified.
Balanced sound, the clearest of notes, a powerful set list thoughtfully divided equally among the trio’s compositions, and that oomph that can only be witnessed in person all undoubtedly led to this band’s encore invitation from K2 and certainly this writer’s compulsion to pen this review.
If you’ve never witnessed this ensemble, which includes – among other high points — Jaared’s remarkable vocals, Levine’s mind-blowing Ipad 3 Synth Keytar keyboard solo, and De Mesones’ rousing tribute to his late father on “Don Pedro,” you truly owe the experience to yourself.
What I’m now awaiting is what should really be inevitable in my estimation: A studio album from this trio and its most talented band. At that point, my words here will ring truer than true, and you the jazz/funk aficionado will undoubtedly hear exactly what I’ve heard. This, my friends, is the “shot in the arm” from which so-called smooth jazz should benefit. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Aira Olave
Joel Del Rosario & Surewill
Side By Side CD Release Bash
4935 Bar and Kitchen Restaurant
September 27, 2013, 7:00 PM
Tonight, an impromptu smooth jazz jam session led by keyboardist Will ‘Surewill’ Clark and guitarist Joel Del Rosario made a perfect treat for jazzers at the 4935 Bar and Kitchen restaurant in Bethesda, MD. Joining the pair as headliners were saxophonists Dee Lucas and Tony Exum Jr., All standout artists in their own right, each commanded the stage, performing traditional and contemporary jazz grooves. In all, twelve performers, including the vocalists, came together for the bash, playing original tracks and covers that captivated the intimate venue’s audience. Others in the band included keyboardist Kevin Howard, bassist Kevin Walker, keyboardist Vince Evans, and drummer Greg Morris. Come with me on this smooth jazz ride as I recall that rockin’ performance that left the audience delighted and wanting more.
Promptly at 7:00 PM, traditional jazz ballads featuring Maryland’s own local vocalists Brian Christopher, Kenny Wesley, Geneva Renee, and Mycah Chevalier set the mood and warmed the stage highlighting Christopher’s original track “Alone With You” and Renee and Chevalier’s duet on “Beautiful Wonder” – a lovely and tasteful start for the promising evening.
Following those tunes, the band laid into the late, great Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much.” Rosario’s amazing guitar riffs definitely excited listeners on the up-tempo cut. Next, Lucas and Rosario teamed up on “Bring It On” for another powerful instrumental duet. Exum then came to the stage and took us on an old school journey with a soulful rendition of the Isley Brothers’ classic “For the Love Of You.” The sax and guitar solos were both powerful and mesmerizing.
Soon after a smooth and engaging piece from Surewill called “By My Side,” demonstrating the artist’s prowess on the keyboards, Rosario, Howard, Exum, and Lucas brought the funk on Rosario’s title track from his 2011 release Coast To Coast. The performance drew a rousing standing ovation from the excited fans.
The stunning Chevalier and Renee returned to the stage singing their versions of Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” and Jill Scott’s “Golden.” I must say that these elegant and talented ladies proved to be a fine addition to the show.
Herbie Hancock’s’ 70s hit “Chameleon” set off a firestorm of funk-laden solos that jazz aficionados would consider one of this year’s best. Exum and Lucas superbly tag- teamed on the jam. Evans on the synthesizer and Surewill’s keyboard showing were electrifying. Howard’s outstanding keyboard solo also had all the fans up on their feet. He even played the keys literally with his face!
We then received a dose of Walker’s funky bass, and what a fantastic performance it was! Slapping and popping the strings with finesse and speed, he pumped out some of finest chops of the night. Exum came back with his own expression of B.T. Express’ “Do It ‘Til You’re Satisfied.” Morris’s magnificent and powerful drum solo was also not to be missed. The exhausted audience stood for another few minutes, displaying their appreciation with wild and deserving applause.
A moving tribute for the late Art Porter Jr. and George Howard was next. The two talented sax men, Exum and Lucas, accomplished that pleasant task brilliantly. Their renditions of Porter’s “Inside Myself” and Howard’s “Love Will Find A Way” were wonderful examples of the chemistry between the two and the rest of the band.
The finale, the title track from Rosario’s and Surewill’s new joint release, Side By Side, has a very smooth tempo and melody that favors dance club steppers. I could see the smiles of approval throughout the audience.
After attentively listening to the post-show chatter around the establishment, I am sure that all attendees would agree with me that this was one great, electrifying concert indeed. Thanks to local promoter Derrick Hooks for putting together such a fine evening of contemporary jazz. I am sure these cats will collaborate on future projects, and the Smooth Jazz Ride will be there again– Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Birchmere Music Hall
Sept. 13, 2013, 8:00 PM
The cool autumn night brought good fortune for contemporary jazz fans geared up for an electrifying night of music from a supreme smooth jazz saxophonist who hails from Maryland, Hagerstown’s one and only Euge Groove. The saxman’s anticipated appearance sold out the jam-packed Birchmere Music Hall and, let me tell you, from foundation to finish, everyone in the hall partied hard with the master builder of the House of Groove. I’ll tell you how this cat constructed one of this year’s best concerts.
Euge teamed up with some of the genre’s most outstanding musicians, affectionately known as the Funky Bunch, and approached center stage with fierce energy and swagger. The band, keyboardist Ron Reinhart, drummer Jay Williams, guitarist Peter Mongaya and bassist Tim George provided a huge intro with the power-packed and funk-laden title track from his 2012 House of Groove release.
Next up was “Faithful Central,” another mid- tempo track from the same CD that kept us rocking.
Euge quickly took control of the audience by charismatically engaging the listeners on hot tune “Funky Bunch” from the 2011 release S7even Large soon followed. Bringing in hard-charging tracks and rhythms that would last all night, Euge seemed that he just couldn’t slow down. The groove was too much for even him to resist.
The next level of the performance took us to the title track from the S7even Large CD. The funky saxman laid down the up-tempo track with a dynamic performance along with bassist George’s solid licks, and Reinhart matched the duo with a stellar solo on his Roland A-7 keyboard. The impact was simply amazing.
Taking a step back in time, the sweat-drenched Grooveman drew massive applause as he launched into his classic “Sneak a Peak” from his self-titled debut CD released in 2000. The track known for its smooth, jazzy and mellow tempo that crescendos into something larger than life was played with intensity. Euge, striding from one side of the stage to the other, dazzled the audience as the powerful track seemed to build layer upon powerful layer, and as usual, with amazing style and emotion. He took the notes to the rafters. The audience went wild and rendered a standing ovation.
“Slam Dunk,” another funk-laden mid- tempo tune from the 2002 Play Date CD was next, and Mongaya was back showing off his prowess with another superior guitar solo. Euge then switched to tenor sax on the track “Chillaxing,” the 2007 Just Feels Right project. By this time, he had everyone’s hands in the air, and swaying side to side from the front to the back of the hall. The man and his fans were on fire.
Slowing the tempo for the exhausted fans, Euge played the legendary Temptations’ track “Just My Imagination,” also a cover from his Just Feels Right CD, additionally mixing in melodies and lyrics from the late Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” You can find that jam on the Play Date project. The audience participated on cue.
“Slow Jam” continued a sexy set of heartwarming sax play as Euge performed the tune together with Rinehart’s elegant solo on the keyboards. Euge left the stage to serenade the fans performing the sensual track to their delight. The song ended with a salute to the Nation’s unformed services and their sacrifice for freedom with a stirring version of “God Bless America.”
The pace picked up again with a House of Groove cut “Old.Edu (Old School).” The funky track reminded me of the days old school soul ruled radio, and the fans loved every moment as Euge led the chant “Ain’t No School Like the Old School” resulting in another excited standing ovation.
“XXL” from the 2004 CD Livin’ Large was next, and the ever-present electricity grew even more intense. Mongaya delivered another top-notch guitar solo with Euge joining in for a harmonious duet. The pair followed one another note for note.
Soon after that, the band played “Rewind,” also from the Play Date CD. The pulsating tracks were the last bricks in the house that Euge built. By this time, I could see thrilled fans sweating, delightfully drained from the seemingly endless energy of the Grooveman and his band. With a gracious bow, they all exited the stage to another prolonged standing ovation and calls for an encore.
The band obliged the fans’ request for an encore and jammed the title track “Born 2 Groove” from the 2007 CD of the same title followed by another Play Date CD track “From the Top.”
Euge then played and invited the audience to sing the chorus to the Tower of Power hit “What is Hip” from his years performing with the legendary group. I couldn’t see a soul sitting down. The House of Groove stands as strong in the DC/MD/VA area as it does anywhere else that embraces contemporary jazz – Mike Sutton
Photos by Aira Olave
Birchmere Music Hall
Sept. 1, 2013, 8:00 PM
Tonight, contemporary jazz fans wrapped their hearts around a national and international symbol of vocal superiority who hails from TSJR’s neck of the woods, Baltimore’s one and only Maysa. The songstress appeared at the jam-packed and sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. I am talking about a concert full of emotional soul and jazz, laughter, fun, and passion.
Most notable as lead singer for the world renowned band Incognito, Maysa crooned songs from earlier compositions with that band as well as from her latest Blue Velvet Soul project and earlier material. Let’s take a smooth jazz ride with Maysa.
Before the show, fans were greeted with packages of chocolate kisses for everyone at every table from Maysa as a “thank you for your love” message. Another uniquely gracious gesture from the wonderful songstress. From the first musical note, the audience was glued to center stage as we received the mega-talented songbird with a huge round of applause.
Accompanying her onstage with all of the impressive equipment were sensational vocalists Angela Phillips and Sol Edler, musical director and keyboardist Will Brock, bassist Charlie Baldwin, guitarist Richard Tucker, drummer Timmy Hutson, and percussionist Kevin Prince. The brass section included Paul Arbogast on trombone, Leon Jordan Jr. on trumpet, Carl Cox on tenor sax, and Damon Bennett on flute and keyboards — all focused on fascinating the excited audience. Up came the spotlight, and it was on and poppin’.
The band set off a sizzling up-tempo medley of tracks from earlier releases. The tunes included “JFS,” “Simpatico,” “Higher,” and “Am I Wrong.” Maysa sang each piece with amazing range, style, and grace.
Moments after the medley, Maysa kicked off her shoes for the next track “Sophisticated Lover” from her newly released Blue Velvet Soul CD. Her versatility as an artist was clearly on display as she fascinated the audience with a sexy French rap.
Maysa then served up a funk-laden, mid- tempo tune, “Be There,” also from the Blue Velvet Soul CD. The songstress at that time commented about the love she has received from the song’s popularity on one of our area’s local radio station WHUR. Always humble, she expressed her appreciation for their support.
In the next medley, she took us on a smooth jazz ride of songs from 1995: “What About Our Love,” “Black Heaven,” “Rain Drops,” “Hypnotic Love,” and “Out of The Blue.”
In keeping with the mood of the night, the background lights accented Maysa’s sultry silhouette during the jam session. Highlighting the medley, trumpeter Jordan played a very fine and mellow solo, along with Prince’s impresive percussion work and Bennett’s entertaining flute solo. Maysa’s scatting technique was, as usual, phenomenal. The medley ended with Baldwin providing deep bass licks on “Out Of The Blue,” the title track from Maysa’s 2002 release. Simply priceless!
“Honey Bee” from her Woman in Love CD opened with Brock on the keys and later literally directing the band as an orchestra conductor might. This was followed by the cover of legendary Nancy Wilson’s “Quiet Fire.” It was a first listen for a Maysa audience, and I think all will agree that she performed the track to perfection with mesmerizing range. She received a moving standing ovation for the incredible rendition, and I bet Ms. Wilson would have been proud. Stay with me because there are even more exciting moments ahead.
As we cruised down what I would call “Relationship Blvd” to the Motions of Love CD, Maysa expressed an array of feelings through song on the track “Come Dance With Me,” igniting a frenzy of support from the ladies. “You Won’t Find Your Way” soon followed, and the songstress went deep into her own feelings and experiences to deliver the tune with heartfelt sincerity and intensity. Her extraordinary technique for performing an amazing a capella away from the microphone left everyone totally in awe – Bravo!
Incognito’s “Deep Water” was next, and I might add, it was one tasty treat for the thrilled audience who sang the chorus. The deep blue lights on stage set the mood as the ballad pulled you in. During the mellow medley, Maysa gracefully added a few lyrics from R&B icons Whitney Houston, Donna Summers, and Janet Jackson – an excellent touch, I might add.
Maysa then took the concert to another level by inviting a fan in the front row to join her center stage for an impromptu duet. I don’t believe anyone expected the fan to bring it like that. She was great! Maysa gave her a warm hug, and the place went wild. Consider it the OMG moment of the evening.
The party was certainly in high gear as Maysa took us down what I would call “Old School Lane” with an R&B medley of hits featuring “Wishing on a Star” by Rolls Royce, the maestro Barry White’s “Playing Your Game,” and Norman Connor’s “Starship.”
“I Try” validated another example of Maysa’s power and range on her tribute to the great Angela Bofill’s1979 album Angel of the Night. The duet featured vocalist Phillips’ sensational and sexy solo followed by Edler’s stellar vocal performance. The pair verified that their talents were certainly tasty ingredients in this recipe of one fantastic concert.
As we continued our ride, Maysa sang more Blue Velvet Soul tracks. On “Good Morning Sunrise,” the chemistry with Edler on the duet was refreshing and uplifting.
Maysa then cranked up the intensity with the funky track “Day and Night.” She then broke into another medley of disco hits: “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep, “Take Your Time (Do it Right)” by The S.O.S Band, “Just A Touch of Love” by Slave, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward. People were on their feet, and once again, the entire audience was on fire – Electrifying!
The finale “Love Me Good” featured a surprise guest appearance by Lorenzo Johnson who wrote and arranged the track for Blue Velvet Soul. An artist in his own right, he humbly took his place at Brocks’ keyboard and played every chord of the funky track to perfection.
At the end of the night, Maysa, after totally exhausting the audience, took her bow and a beautiful bouquet of flowers given to her by a fan, blew some kisses, and exited the stage to almost endless applause.
Maysa, as a contemporary jazz lover, I’d like to thank you for sharing your beautiful voice, talent, and presence with us. You are a gem and an ambassador for contemporary jazz. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Jeff Golub & Brian Auger
The Hamilton Live
Aug. 25, 2013, 8:00 PM
Sunday night was filled with the excitement of the rocking blues style of guitarist Jeff Golub as he, together with a strong assembly of musicians, dazzled the Washington, DC, audience with a night of smooth jazz & gritty blues at The Hamilton Live, a really clean, quaint, classy venue situated downtown near The White House.
The charming and respected guitarist teamed up with renowned Hammond B3 organist/keyboardist Brian Auger, whose wit and humor were simply fantastic. Supporting the duo were Conrad Korsch on bass and Steve Williams on drums, setting off a tasteful collection of tunes that complemented the intimate atmosphere of the venue.
As Golub approached center stage and took a stool, he was immediately met with appreciative cheers and howls from the audience. Read on, and see if you don’t agree that Golub brought his “A” game that night – as is his tradition.
The excitement began promptly at 8:00 PM. The set opened with the blues boogie jam “The Cat” from Train Keeps A Rolling, Golub’s latest release. The up-tempo jam set the pace for a night of head bobbing and finger popping.
During moments of interaction with the fans after the tune, Auger provided some hilarious stories of his relationship with Golub over the years. They then jammed to a track written by Auger for the new CD while spotlighting Auger on his Hammond B3 for a remarkable solo show on the up-tempo piece.
After changing his guitar for the particular sound he wanted, Golub then launched into the title track from his earlier Naked City release. He played the soulful instrumental to perfection, delivering his irresistibly smooth chords and riffs effortlessly.
Changing his guitar again, he and Auger rocked the classic Curtis Mayfield tune “Pusherman,” notably from the 70s movie Superfly.
Golub opened the next track “Whenever You’re Ready,” originally from Auger’s Oblivion Express album Closer to It! from 1973. The up-tempo track featured Auger on vocals and Williams’ driving drums. Williams’ solo performance was especially exciting because he played with such a relaxed poise while lighting up the stage.
“Freedom Jazz Dance,” from the 1972 Oblivion Express album Second Wind and re-released on CD in 2006, was next. The flavor these cats put on this track reminds me of that cool DC style of music with the bass and drums resembling the late Go-Go king, Chuck Brown, and his rendition of “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Yeah, Chuck Brown fans know that original DC Go-Go sound.
An added treat was a version of Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here.” It was a first-time play for Golub before an audience. Auger, of course, promptly fired up the keys on this one as he had all night.
The all-engaging Auger continued to wow the audience as he directed the band on the next couple of tracks Golub’s “J&B” and Auger’s “Happiness is Just Around the Bend.” Looking around, it was easy to see that the audience was totally drinking in all of this and loving it immensely.
The quartet closed with the bluesy finale “I Love the Life I Live.” A fitting way to end this wonderful night of blues. I am sure that this night ranks among the top concerts at the Hamilton and in Washington, DC this year – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Nick Colionne & Steve Cole
Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club
Aug. 11, 2013, 7:30 PM
A birthday bash, a wonderful Autumn evening, and a lot of excited fans converged on the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club to witness the electricity emitted from a well-respected pair of contemporary jazz artists, guitarist Nick Colionne and saxman Steve Cole. The congenial atmosphere and good cuisine was accentuated by some delicious birthday cake for both entertainers before the rockin’ performance that the two would present that night.
If instruments could talk – independent of those who play them – Colionne’s guitar and Cole’s sax would chatter excitedly about how lucky they are to belong to these two masterful musicians. The workout that Colionne’s hollow-body Epiphone guitar and the sax handed down to Cole by his dad left all in the club mesmerized, drained, and buzzing by the evening’s end.
After a period of mingling with the fans, the duo disappeared backstage. When they re-emerged, the atmosphere became charged thrice-fold.
Strutting onto the stage to a fired-up “Did You Know” from Colionne’s Just Come On In release, the always nattily dressed guitarist drew loud applause for his all-white suit matched with coral and salmon colored shirt, tie, and shoes. Cole sported a tie and dark jacket that he would later refuse to take off because of what he was sure would be a totally sweat-drenched shirt. Easy to understand since they both played with such intensity that it could have been felt blocks away.
Joining Cole & Colionne onstage were bassist David Dyson, keyboardist Benji Perecki, and drummer Jason Grant — definitely a quality backing section.
Following the intro tune, the group then launched into Cole’s powerful “Bounce” from his True release. Bassist Dyson displayed his thunderous and fluid playing on that tune.
If anyone has ever wondered about either Colionne’s or Cole’s stage presence, let me set the record straight now. These guys could be as comfortable doing a comedy skit as they are playing rock-solid jazz. They were as engaging and entertaining just talking to and joking with the audience as they were laying down the grooves.
Both being from Chicago, Cole ran off a list of fellow Chicagoans who’ve impacted our lives in one way or the other at some point. To that end, the duo performed Cole’s “Curtis,” written in honor of one of R&B’s most prolific and influential artists: Curtis Mayfield. This is another track found on his True album. Lots of Cole presence on this slow, smooth, and sweet tune.
It was then time for some Colionne magic as he rolled into “Some Funky” from his Feel the Heat release. By this time, the audience was beside itself in gleeful energy as the guitarist flashed his playing prowess and eventually broke a string while jamming on this tune (a “G” string — not a lighter “E” or “B!”). Colionne joked that he’d “never popped a G string before.” Ok, read into that what you will. Playing without the string, the guitarist demonstrated how the show must go on, especially in the middle of funk, by not missing a note and jamming on.
No Colionne show would be complete without the baritone’s version of Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” recorded on Colionne’s Keepin’ It Cool release. As usual, it was a soulful, rich, and silky performance. I did note that he’s substituted his fiery playing at the crescendo in the tune for a more pronounced chord-based ending. The phrasing and use of some of the sweetest chording I’ve heard in a while proved to be well worth the change.
Another highlight was the tribute to Stanley Turrentine as the two launched into “Sugar,” doing it serious justice. Colionne stepped off the stage to seduce the ladies via his Epiphone buddy.
Covering another great track, they then performed The Stylistics’ “Hurry Up This Way Again” to the audience’s delight. Of course, you can imagine how that prompted an impromptu sing-along.
As if all of this weren’t enough, the duo closed the set with “Godfather J” from Colionne’s No Limits release. The wildly excited audience punctuated the night’s finale by turning the dining area into a dance hall, with yours truly in the mix and Colionne dancing in the midst several adoring ladies.
No disappointments whatsoever on this night. Running true to form, both artists proved again how great performances and audiences’ undying love for this genre will keep contemporary jazz alive for many, many years to come. Happy Birthday, guys, and a ton of thanks for doing what you do! – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Big NY’s Smooth Jazz Birthday Bash
K2 Restaurant and Lounge
July 19, 2013, 8:00 PM
A hot summer night stimulated hot smooth jazz, when an impromptu jam session led by bassist Christian De Mesones, affectionately known as Big NY, celebrated his birthday in first class style. The K2 Restaurant and Lounge, in Woodbridge, Virginia opened its doors to De Mesones, of Groove Skool Band fame, and seven masterful musicians for a bash to remember. The charismatic artist teamed up with a few of the most talented musicians in the genre. As the band was setting up for the show, you couldn’t help but notice all of the congratulatory comments De Mesones received when he entered the venue. Stay with us as we board the smooth jazz train for an evening of fun and celebration.
The excitement began promptly at 8:00 PM. Introduced were keyboardist and songwriter Wayne ‘Big Pat’ Patterson, special guest saxophonist Jaared Arosemena (Jaared), percussionist Burt Jackson, keyboard master Elliot Levine, and a young sax sensation Tony Craddock Jr. Anchoring the cast was guitarist Mike Gamble and drummer Nick Costa, also of Groove Skool Band fame.
Set one opened with Earth Wind and Fire’s cover song “Sun Goddess,” underscored by a dueling sax performance from Jaared and Craddock Jr. Patterson and Levine’s solo added fire on the mid-tempo track and set the tone of the evening.
Gamble, Costa, and Jackson maintained the band’s “Hybrid Jazz” rhythms all night long. Rufus’ and Chaka Khan’s’ “Ain’t Nobody “featured Levine on his IPAD playing an incredible keyboard solo. Pure joy at its best.
De Mesones and Craddock Jr teamed up on trumpeter Chuck Mangione’s mega hit “Feels So Good.” The refreshing blast from the past captivated the audience as Jaared, Gamble, and Levine played their sizzlin’ solos, complementing each other on the song.
De Mesones showcased a new talent, vocalist Quinton Jay, on “Good Ole Days,” a sample from De Mesones’ upcoming CD currently in development. Another special guest percussionist, De Jesus, joined the band on the Latin tune “Cubano Sandwich” with a captivating performance on the bongo drums for the guest of honor. Jaared and Craddock Jr’s duet on their saxes left you in a pleasant state of awe.
Next, Big NY changed from his six–string bass to the four-string bass on Herb Alpert’s “Rise.” Talking about bringing the funk, De Mesones took center stage in classic fashion for his solo, and the audience grooved right along. Certainly a gift worth waiting for.
Set two began with the tune “You Only Live Twice” featuring each artist’s solo efforts on the up-tempo melody. They continued to rock the house on the cover jam “Ain’t Leaving Without You,” originally performed by R&B singer Jaheim. Levine’s electrifying organ solo was amazing.
The surprise moment of the evening was Jaared’s rendition of the Hall and Oats classic “Sarah Smile.” Who knew that this cat was a crooner, as well? I certainly didn’t. Soulful and soothing, the sax man belted the lyrics to the pleasantly stunned audience. Strolling through the lounge of spellbound fans, he stopped to serenade a couple with a sax solo to die for. He returned to center stage, sang the final verse, and closed in a fashion more than worthy of the standing ovation he received. Two thumbs up!
Patterson and the band charmed the audience on their interpretation of Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies.” The track was cleverly arranged to spotlight the saxmen as Patterson directed the groove.
Jay rejoined the band, singing Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” The arrangement was not only creative but a wonderful tribute to the late pop superstar.
The finale “Royal Homage” featured De Mesones complemented by Levine’s keys solo. The single is an original piece from his New Color project currently in development. Patterson’s’ keyboard performance was as refreshing as ever.
These cats jammed into early morning, ending with everyone singing a birthday song to Big NY. All in attendance appeared to be thoroughly pleased with the night’s performance. All birthday bashes should be this good. — Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Potomac Jazz & Seafood Festival
St. Clement’s Island
Colton’s Point, MD
July 13, 2013, 3:00 PM
The sold-out riverside Potomac Jazz & Seafood Festival celebrated its fourteenth year this year with a stellar smooth jazz lineup featuring Jessy J, Urban Jazz Coalition (UJC), and Greg Adams and East Bay Soul. Despite the heat, humidity, and some occasional rain, fans were served some delicious entertainment throughout the afternoon and evening.
Washington DC’s Shadz of Soul opened the show with their soulful sounds and harmony. They were truly a delight and a treat for our ready ears. Following them and opening for the actual jazz festival was the lovely Latina sax lady, Jessy J, flanked by supportive Urban Jazz Coalition (UJC) band members Phil Raney on bass, Hector Maldonado on percussion, Rich “Rico” Adams on drums, and Duane Tribune on guitar. Needless to say, the saxtress lit up the stage, showcasing hits from her various albums. The set began with a cover of the up-tempo Chaka Khan hit “I’m Every Woman.” “Remember the Night” from Jessy’s 2011 Hot Sauce CD followed, fully demonstrating her versatility and pleasurable style.
The set had the elements of style and grace. An example was Jessy’s take on Gloria Estefan’s’ “Congas” and “Oye Como Va,” Tito Puente’s composition that became a staple for rock guitarist Carlos Santana. Another example was the title track from Jessy’s 2008 release Tequila Moon, which allowed the fans to see an up-close and personal side of the artist as she left the stage to mill about the audience, enticing all with a funky serenade. Oh yeah, this sultry saxophonist knows how to start a party.
A bit later, and almost on cue, a sudden drizzle fell from the sky as Jessy started playing “Tropical Rain” from her True Love CD. The drizzle soon ceased and was followed by the clouds opening to sunshine. Talk about timing. The audience joined her singing “Baila!” a track also from the True Love release. “Rainbow Gold,” a track featuring iconic pianist Joe Sample on her Hot Sauce release, closed the hot set with the audience happily joining in on the vocals.
Already warmed up from the previous smokin’ set, bassist Phil Raney and his band Urban Jazz Coalition followed with their own powerfully funky set featuring tracks from their newly released CD One Step Closer. Their rendition of Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go” fit the mood of the day like a glove. They then laid into their funky “Coburg Street” from the new album. It featured the group’s talented keyboardist Brandon Howard. That was followed by the smooth, silky, and laid-back groove “Be With Me Tonight.” “My Sunshine,” a soulful melody highlighting saxman Richard Randolph’s musical skills during his solo, was superb. Howard then delighted the fans with his intro of “Piano in the Dark.” The band soon joined in on the Brenda Russell hit clearly motivating the fired-up jazzers to sway and dance.
The cover of Jeff Lorber’s “Surreptitious,” a jazz fusion track, continued spotlighting the incredible talents of Randolph and Howard.
Percussions received their share of the spotlight as percussionist Maldonado and drummer Adams delivered a breathtaking demonstration during the introduction of “Dancing in the Sun,” originally performed by the late George Howard. During the breakdown, Maldonado took drumsticks literally to the stage floor from one side to the other, creating and maintaining the beat while Adams held his own on drums, exhibiting amazing synchronization.
They didn’t stop there. Raney stepped off the stage onto the lawn for an electrifying bass solo while strolling through the audience. The mega-talented bassist was laying down some funky chords and chops, and the fans were eating it up. Getting back on stage after a huge and well-deserved standing ovation, Raney and the rest of the band resumed playing the Howard tune.
Following that, the band performed a sweet, slow groove entitled “Ocean View.” They then picked up the tempo on the late great Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much.” Randolph’s chops were right on the money for this jam.
Turning up the heat on “Uptown Gruv” UJC’s swagger took over the entire festival lawn. “Birdland,” a composition originally written and performed by Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul, again focused on each musician’s individual talent.
Just when you thought the set was over, the band transitioned into a tight cover of legendary rock band Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” How appropriate for such a smokin’ band playing by the Potomac River!
Shortly thereafter, we experienced the smooth jazz invasion of trumpeter Greg Adams and his East Bay Soul band. Adams, founder of the famous R&B band Tower of Power (TOP), and his top-shelf accompaniment took to the stage and immediately began mesmerizing the audience with tracks from their 2012 2.0 album release. Like TOP, Adams was centered in a sea of extraordinary brass supported by funky bassist Roberto Vally, guitarist James Wirrick, keyboardist Joey Navarro, drummer Dave Hooper, and percussionist Johnny Sandoval. The sax section featured Greg Vail and Jonnie Bamount on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and flute, Lee Thornburg on trumpet, and Darryl Walker on sax and first-class vocals.
“Brassalicious” opened the set with that famous TOP horn flavor to which we have had the pleasure of listening for decades. Next, Walker demonstrated his strong, soulful vocal skills, crooning “The Devil You Know” from the new 2.0 release.
The band then took us on a rhythmic Caribbean journey with “Moon Over Panilla” from his Hidden Agenda CD. Simply fascinating.
After Walker demonstrated his super vocal prowess on the 2009 EBS track “Someone New,” from the East Bay Soul release, Adams again took center stage on “To Catch a Thief.” Note for note, Adams’ flugelhorn sent a melodious, comfortable message to all in attendance.
Walker pleased the listeners once again with stirring vocals on “Reading Lips,” also from the 2.0 project. He also laid it down on a dynamic sax solo.
The EBS 2009 chant “Jump, Shout, and Holler” kept the fire burning on stage as the audience joined in on the lyrics. Walker then led the classic Marvin Gaye hit “What’s Going On,” further exciting the pleasantly exhausted audience.
After introducing the band, Adams launched into “One Night in Rio,” from his 2006 Cool To The Touch album, and on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” the latter tune again with Walker on vocals. The fans sang along with Walker into dusk.
“Burma Road” from the Hidden Agenda CD was the final song served, and what a treat it was. Fans were on their feet, rocking to the groove as Adams led the brass parade onto and around the lawn where fans greeted them with huge applause. After returning to the stage, the band prepared to make its exit…until it was met with the constant “encore” chant from the electrified audience. The band obliged with “Survival of the Hippest” from the 2009 self-titled album. Now, that’s was the way to end one hot festival.
During the concert, I had the chance to talk with the artists as they made their rounds, visiting the fans. I must agree with Phil Raney of UJC that this venue hosts one of the best, if not the best small festival in the nation. From the delectable seafood to the magnificent talent, this was truly an A+ event – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
The Blue Dolphin Seafood Bar & Grill
May 02, 2013, 8:00 PM
A night of fun, good food, and tasty contemporary jazz treats was served for dinner in the suburbs of Crofton, MD, on May 2 when sax lady Jeanette Harris graced the stage at The Blue Dolphin Seafood Bar and Grill.
The pre-weekend concert started off magically as the artistic alto saxophonist, wearing an elegant blue cocktail dress, took the stage. Flanking her were bassist Patrick Olvera, guitarist Ron Thomas, and keyboardist Trindle Thomas all hailing from the DC/Baltimore area. Harris’ brother, Michael Harris, completed the talented ensemble of musicians.
From the first note, the venue audience was alive. Showcasing her newly released fourth CD, Summer Rain, the set began with the up-tempo track “You Can Dance.” Harris immediately connected with the audience with a dazzling sax performance while dancing across the stage. Here’s someone who knows how to set it off.
On the next new track, “Oh So Good,” Harris quickly demonstrated her sultriness on this pleasurable tune that makes the listener feel that natural high of the smooth jazz experience. “Passing Time” showed off Harris’ swagger, and the audience was clearly already in her hand.
The band highlighted their respective talents on “Ja’licious”. While showing off her prowess on sax, Harris requested a breakdown of the groove to share the spotlight. Olvera stepped to the center of the stage and laid down a superior funky bass solo. Harris, while jamming with the tambourine, turned to her brother on drums who responded with a dynamic solo, resulting in claps, screams, and a rousing standing ovation from the audience.
Next up was “Boogie Tonight” featuring a silky smooth performance from Thomas on keyboards. This cat brought his “A” game on the piece. Again, Olvera played the bass to perfection, slapping the instrument, laying down some solid chords, and just bringing the funk. Harris, feeling the groove, took a tour through the captivated audience, stopping at almost every table to serenade.
On the next palate-pleaser, Harris played the new album’s title track in studio quality. Then, there was her rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do,” which rocked the party, igniting a hand-dancing frenzy in the rear of the dining room.
The saxtress continued to charm the audience with “Just Keep Holding On” from the new album. This track has made it to number 15 on the Billboard, and you can believe that it will keep climbing.
For her finale, Harris demonstrated her passion for the diversity of this genre by offering the tune “Muy Caliente“ from her new release — a fashionable Brazilian melody that encourages one to samba. The audience vigorously responded with dancing to the jam, and another standing ovation lasting several minutes occurred.
Harris clearly did not disappoint that night, and I would bet that we are witnessing another genuinely adept artist emerging on the smooth jazz scene–Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Birchmere Music Hall
May 01, 2013, 8:00 PM
For me, there is no better way to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month than to enjoy a Fourplay concert. We are talking about four remarkable musicians on one stage for a night of smooth jazz who can literally take your breath away. As noted for their individual jazz accomplishments as they are as a group, the four collaborate to create a sound superbly crafted and soothing to the soul.
The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, knows well how to seduce and prepare an audience. Sporting tantalizing entrees and appetizers before the show, there was approving chatter all through the hall. On the stage was all of the dazzling equipment that the contemporary jazz legends have mastered, just waiting to fascinate the excited audience. The hall was filled to capacity as the band approached a rousing round of applause. Up came the spotlight, and it was on and popping. Let’s just say this band has redefined the meaning of synchronization. Read further, and, hopefully, you too will be in a state of awe.
It was 8:00 pm, and the band set off a sizzling tune from the Esprit De Four album titled “December Dreams” to start the jam session. Gracing the stage from left to right were renowned keyboardist Bob James, phenomenal bassist/vocalist Nathan East, the nimble-fingered veteran guitarist (who’d made quite a name for himself even before joining this dynamic band) Chuck Loeb, and the exciting, renowned drummer Harvey Mason.
James then kicked off the popular up-tempo jam “Max-O-Man” from the band’s self-titled release. The tune was highlighted by Loeb’s expertly fluid guitar licks.
Next up, East began another super-popular track, “Chant,” from their 1993 Between the Sheets album — again featuring Loeb’s crisp guitar and spotlighting Mason for a drum solo for the ages. This time, each member graciously introduced the other. From 2010’s Let’s Touch the Sky, “Gentle Giant,” a heartfelt tribute to the late Hank Jones, featured James and East (the latter playing upright bass) was most memorable.
Undoubtedly the best!
The track “Sonny Moon,” also from the Esprit De Four album displayed the artistry of James and East as they grooved back and forth. These guys had the audience’s undivided attention and ultimately earned them a standing ovation.
The funky up-tempo “101 Eastbound,” also from the self-titled release, had all the capacity crowd bouncing in their seats. Loeb’s guitar was flawless as he stroked the strings and pressed pedals that emitted everything he must have been feeling. Mason was holding that steady groove as Loeb satisfied the audience in a rock star-like wide-legged stance note for note. Awesome!
East was super hot on the vocals as he crooned the blues melody of “All I Wanna Do,” also from the Esprit De Four album. This was the time to hold your significant other affectionately close. Somehow, smooth jazz just does that.
“3rd Degree,” from the Let’s Touch The Sky album, mesmerized the audience again as Loeb rocked the guitar, while East and James played off each other seamlessly. This time, Mason’s riveting drum solo was the highlight. Holding the steady beat at first, then exploding into a high-hat frenzy, he commanded attention as he dropped the funk on the listeners.
On the silky mellow tune “Bali Bun” from the self-titled release, James ran his fingers over the ivories again while East laid it down on the upright bass. The standing ovation was well-deserved.
As the foursome strode offstage at the end of their set, the audience asked for an encore, and the gentlemen obliged. Showcasing their chemistry, the band swayed the audience with “More Than a Dream” from the Let’s Touch The Sky album. All four played for us what, for me, was one of the best encore presentations ever.
“Westchester Lady,” from their Heartfelt release featured the band playing this track with the spotlight moving from one soloist to the other, from left to right and back again. Starting at a slow pace, the groove started with James, to East, to Loeb, and to Mason. They steadily increased the song’s tempo to where all heads followed the spotlight on each artist from left to right rapidly, totally fascinating the audience. Never missing a note, the entire track flowed perfectly. Precision and entertainment at its best. This is the same band, never one to bore an audience, that mesmerized fans everywhere with their “freeze” move several years ago where it would simply freeze in mid-song (the tune was “Blues Force” from their Yes Please release, I’m sure) for what felt like a good 4-5 minutes, driving audiences wild, only to come back right where they left off!. Now, I strongly suspect that the spotlight play is the new attraction. Was it ever impactful!
Yes, we want more!
The DC/MD/VA was certainly granted what can arguably be the smooth jazz concert of the year. If one should question how four great jazz artists can create such a masterful and entertaining performance, just look at and listen to this ensemble. Chatter around the hall after the show described these cats as supernatural. As our own TSJR chief put it: “That is simply ‘crazy’ talent!”
As it took its final bow for the night, the band proved once again that their iron-clad legacy still withstands the test of time. Fourplay—the band of bands. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Birchmere Music Hall
March 22, 2013, 8:00 PM
Spring, cherry blossoms, and a Phil Perry concert make up all the ingredients for a night of good vibes and smooth jazz to cherish for a lifetime. The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, welcomed a true living legend in a low blue light setting. Every seat was filled as the band gathered and started to jam in preparation of the marvelous crooner. People stirred excitedly in their seats as they prepared for what they knew would be a vocal performance only a handful of artists can achieve. Keep reading, and you will, hopefully, be transported to that magical night as the veteran R&B/ jazz great, as always, brought his “A” game.
It was 8:00 pm, and the set started off sizzling right away with funky rendition of “The World is a Ghetto,.” the classic originally rendered by the R&B/funk icons War. On stage was an electrifying band of talented musicians: sax man Kevin Levy, guitarist Wayne Bruce, drummer Tim Steele, bassist Mark Walker (all from the DC area), and renowned keyboardist/producer Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis.
Styling a smooth black suit, Perry stepped to the mic, looked to his left and to his right, and began to hypnotize us with his passionate vocal power and range. The audience gobbled up his every word. One of Perry’s nuances is the oh-so-cool manner in which he starts a thought, and then steps back from the mic to let the audience complete the obvious second part of that thought, thereby emphasizing that beautifully magical connection between the master crooner and his audience.
As the audience moved to the rhythms, Perry strolled through the crowd in the dim lighting, sweetly serenading as he went.
Perry opened one tune by offering some of best memories of his childhood and advice on love to the captivated audience. Slowing the tempo with his hit “Forever” from the 90’s The Heart of a Man project, he simply melted many of the ladies in attendance. He further wowed the audience by following that with a brief Spanish version of the tune. In a word, OMG!
Next, he sat on the stool and crooned the classic “Everything Must Change” under colorful red lights, again giving a lesson in love with his music. In an impromptu moment, he then signaled thumbs -up to the band, indicating that he too is enjoying what he is hearing.
Perry then introduced an extremely talented and beautiful vocalist, also from DC, Maimouna Youssef as they sang the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway classic duet “Where Is the Love,” also on Perry’s new project. Her strong yet sexy vocals lit up the stage. The pair performed brilliantly, and you can expect to hear a lot more from Youssef really soon. Perry let it be known that he felt the need to showcase this young lady because someone at some point a long while back had given him a chance to shine. Message: Reach back and help someone get there, too. Always the humble, gracious gentleman.
More treats were delivered as Perry honored the ladies’ requests for his 90s number one hit remake of Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me,” also from his album Heart of a Man.
Another highlight was Perry sitting on a stool, sharing his heart and soul on the ballad “If Only You Knew,” a classic Patti Labelle R&B hit, and the entire audience gleefully joined in. Levy contributed a stirring sax solo here under the lights.
Perry and the band then fell into a wonderful rendition of the Stylistics “People Make the World Go Round.” Fans enthusiastically bobbed their heads and clapped to that powerful groove. Bruce hit us first with a fiery guitar solo; then came Walker’s breathtaking bass solo which culminated with a brief nod to “Wade in the Water.” Now that was hot!
Each member of Perry’s band had a turn in the spotlight to strut his stuff, and strut they did! Each solo was filled with a life of its own.
Perry stepped away from the stage, due to unexpected health circumstances, but the band continued with Levy taking the lead on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. The track had every person in attendance on their feet. He then called for everyone to salute Perry for a magnificent show. No convincing was necessary at all as the audience complied with vigor, clapping and shouting words of encouragement to Perry.
Perry planned a very special show for the DC/MD/VA metro area, and did he deliver! As I looked around during the concert, I could see all eyes affixed on the crooner.
If you need some mental stimulus to turn down those lights and turn up the fire in your love life, then get your ticket to a Phil Perry concert.
At one point, Perry asked the audience to remember two words from that night’s show — Say Yes (the title of his new release, of course). He forgot to add one other: Amen. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Groove Skool Band
K2 Restaurant and Lounge
March 15, 2013, 9:00 PM
It was Friday night, the weekend was just beginning, and it started off magically. I was “taken to school” by the provocative sounds of the Groove Skool Band at K2 Restaurant and Lounge, in Woodbridge, VA.
As the crowd and ecxitement began to grow, band members showed their love as they mingled among the fans. This was the golden ticket to ride “The Train.” You’ll read about that later.
The show began promptly at 9:00 PM. Introduced were charismatic bassist Christian de Mesones, keyboardist/songwriter Kevin Grogan, silky veteran saxophonist Keith Anderson, the vibrant guitarist Mike Gamble, the rhythmic driving drummer Nick Costa, and the electrifying percussionist Frank Lloyd.
The opening set began with two mid-tempo tracks, “Cognac” and “Spellbound,” from their Limited Edition CD, highlighted by the smooth sax of Anderson immediately igniting and captivating the audience.
Balladeer Rudy Leeper soon joined the band on stage, crooning to the listeners with his passionate vocal performance of “Superstar,” the Leon Russell tune made famous by The Carpenters and later covered by the great Luther Vandross.
Moments later, the physically looming de Mesones stepped to the center of the stage for a smoking bass solo as he played “Fight Club,” also from the Limited Edition CD, animatedly kickingf his foot in the air forcefully as the groove struck him, while Lloyd played flamboyant rhythms on the congas. Needless to say, the audience went wild.
The band came out for a second set, once again taking us to the school of groove. Keyboardist Grogan laid down some melodious notes, piercing that special place in your soul during the mid-tempo opening song, “Top Down.” On this piece, saxman Anderson put on a dynamic performance as he played the soprano sax that gave us that romantic touch of class reminiscent of the taste of a sweet white wine.
As if that wasn’t enough, Anderson serenaded the audience on his seductive rendition of “Me and Mrs. Jones” of Billy Paul fame that simply left one in awe. That soprano sax was played so smoothly that you would have thought the sax was crooning the words Mrs. Jones itself. Superb!
Leeper came to the stage again performing “Angel,” one of the group’s newest tracks from a project now in development, and R&B singer Jaheim’s “Ain’t Leaving Without You.”
The party ride continued as De Mesones rocked the joint with that funky bass along with Costa and Lloyd as they exchanged a timbre of rhythms and sounds on the track “Bullfighter”. Gambles’ guitar riffs on his solo were brilliant, and he strummed his harmonious chords with such ease.
The track “Blame it on Rio” featured Costa’s breathtaking solo performance. The mix of drums along with Lloyd’s assortment of congas, tambourines, and shakers just took over your soul. Costa’s personality lit up the stage displaying why he is so highly respected as a true drummer. Lloyd was totally awesome as he synchronized all of the percussions, adding an eclectic sound pleasing the attentive ear.
Set three closed the night with all of the performers highlighting their respective talents. Vocalist Leeper joined the band onstage for “Gamble’s Groove,” a funky interlude track from Limited Edition, and sprang the fans out of their seats to the front of the stage where they started dancing.
Now, we were ready to board “The Train.” This is the Groove Skool final exam. If you desired to feel the funk, then you were in the right place. De Mesones played the bass with such crispness that it gave new meaning to the word swagger. Lloyd and Costa stood out as you could hear their unique percussion collaboration on the tune. It reminded me of our go-go grooves — RIP Chuck Brown! You could feel the groove as everyone sang the lyrics and danced “the wobble” in front of the stage.
The show ended with a heartfelt shout-out to the late Wayman Tisdale on the track “Brother to Brother,” reminding us of how much we so miss the late mega-talented bassist with the beaming smile.
We received a serious “Hybrid Jazz” lesson tonight. This was the band’s 14th concert at K2, and we were treated to the same high caliber performance we’ve come to expect from these guys. I can sincerely say that Groove Skool Band had a large graduating class that night – Mike Sutton
Photos by Robert Eubanks
March 9, 2013, 8:00 PM
It’s March Madness in the DC area, and Peter White marched right into Blues Alley in a blaze of smooth class. Strumming his rhythms into the hearts of jazz fans in the sold-out “Blues Alley,” he witnessed the crowd gathered in the world renowned jazz venue to listen to him – one of the greatest smooth jazz artists ever. He spared no talent.
The show began promptly at 8:00 pm after White made his way through the club mingling and greeting many in attendance before stepping on stage. Already on stage, waiting under low lights, were his band members. They wasted no time getting into a jam session I considered second to none. With the likes of keyboardist Gregg Karukas, drummer Chris “Biscuit” Bynum, bassist David Dyson, and the young sax sensation, Vincent Ingala, you knew you were in for a spectacular show.
White opened the show with his hit “Promenade” from the CD of the same name, igniting the fans to his crisp guitar licks. Soon after, he fell into a funky mellow groove “ Could It Be I’m falling in Love,” a classic Spinners smoking tune that kept everyone rock’n in their seats. The groove continued with a hot rendition of The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady.” While displaying his soulful rhythmic and melodic talents, he did a mid-song guitar mini-funkfest medley using the wah wah effect for “Shaft” followed by “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” of Temptations fame. That latter tune hit such a huge energized crescendo then smoothly and with such mellowness morphed back into the Isleys’ tune. What a display of musicianship. The crowd went bananas, especially when he lit up the stage playing a little from the late great rock/blues legend Jimi Hendrix. This proves again that White arranges a show beyond comparison to intimately sooth the audience’s’ soul.
The band followed up with “Here We Go” from White’s latest CD of the same name. On this hot track, he mentioned his collaboration with the legendary David Sanborn on the CD. Tonight, the tune highlighted Ingala’s soulful sax being played to perfection.
Next, the band had the all of us singing and finger popping to Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” and Stevie Wonder’s “My Cheri Amour.” As we crooned the tune and swayed to the rhythm, White and Ingala pulled the crowd into one of sweetest states of being I ever experienced. It was like floating on a summer breeze.
“Caravan of Dreams,” one of White’s hits from the CD of same name, kept the DC crowd moving and grooving as he and Ingala wailed away.
White’s heartfelt tribute to the late great Wayman Tisdale, “Bright,” from his Good Day release, featured bassist Dyson and was so smooth that you knew if the great Tisdale had been in the house himself, he would have been beaming. Following that was Karukas’ snappy “Girl In the Red Dress,” from his Looking Up CD, featuring the keyboardist’s silky smooth keyboard performance. A true artist, that guy!
White followed that with his beautiful acoustic charmer “The View From Your Window” from his 1998 release, Perfect Moment.
Let me not forget to mention the incredible reception the audience gave drummer Bynum when it was his turn in the spotlight. His outstanding incredible drum solo drew claps, screams, and demands for more. It was a 10-carat segue to “Bueno Funk” from White’s Glow CD. This is where the entire band brought the house down. As White strummed his guitar to the smooth and funky Calypso-like beat, Ingala mesmerized the audience with his alto sax. Karukas was gliding his fingers on the keys as the song seemed to grow like a spring flower. Dyson stepped to the front, pumping that funky bass as he and White made us all unable to sit still in our seats. The crowd showed their love in a 5 to 8 minute standing ovation asking for more.
When it was Dyson’s moment in the spotlight, he clearly played a bass solo in such an off-the-hook fashion, my jaw dropped in admiration.
White honored us with one last song of the night, the rousing “Bullseye” from his Glow release. Ingala played so beautifully that you could only utter, Ooh Lord. Karukas was butter-smooth on the keys again, and Bynum was kicking the drums mightily as he took everybody to the school of rhythm. Simply awesome!
What I witnessed was one of the finest jazz shows ever headlined by an artist who takes pride in making and delivering top-shelf quality music on a universal instrument of love. I sat next to a young couple who came to see White for the first time. They were in awe. As I looked around during the concert, I could see all eyes affixed on the stage.
Peter White, thank you for sharing your talent with the world and, on this night, the jazz lovers of the DC area. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
A Peter White Christmas w/Mindi Abair & Rick Braun
The Birchmere Music Hall
Thurs., Dec. 6, 2012, 7:30 pm
Many will certainly agree that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Beautifully shaped snowflakes actually falling or depicted in well-wishing holiday cards, the warm and genuine smiles on the faces of many, the giddiness of children that melts even the hardest of hearts, and the dazzling decorations that scream out “Look at me and feel the glee!” For jazz lovers, a perfect topping is a concert full of that enveloping vibe. Guitarist Peter White’s Xmas show is such a concert. On Dec. 6, at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, concertgoers were treated to everything from the heart-warming tunes of the season to the strongly structured and electrifying jazz tracks from White and his companions this year – sexy saxophonist Mindi Abair (fresh off an undoubtedly rousing tour with rockers Aerosmith) and trumpet sensation Rick Braun.
Bouncing out on “Sleigh Ride,” the trio immediately mesmerized and tickled the spirits of all in attendance. At that early point, we knew this would be a night to remember, as is always the case with White’s Xmas show.
Joining in with solid backing were bassist Nate Phillips, keyboardist Ron Reinhardt, and drummer Stevo Theard.
The show included bits of humor (White doing his best imitation of Elvis on “Blue Christmas,” complete with the signature black hairpiece), sexy bluesiness (Abair doing “I Can’t Wait for Christmas” and “Santa Baby”), very competent a cappella backing vocals from White and Braun, and funkiness (Braun’s notoriously famous “Notorious” from his Body and Soul CD of 1997 and his smooth classic “Cadillac Slim” from his Beat Street release in 1994, White’s “Bueno Funk” from his Glow album in 2001, and Abair’s “Lucy’s” from her hot 2003 debut release It Just Happens That Way).
Talk about variety and a full-bodied presence! This show had it all. The audience was absolutely compelled to smile, clap, bop, and tap, not to mention being totally riveted to the trio’s warm, stirring renditions of “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night” and, from Braun just before launching into “Notorious” a very brief but effective version of “O Come Emmanuel.” In addition to all of that, there was the driving cover of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Grazin’ in the Grass.”
Of course, no set of this magnitude would be complete without the pleasure of witnessing the group’s offstage interaction with the audience as they individually glided through past and in front of beaming faces.
Peter White has delighted audiences everywhere for several years with his commitment to the uplifting of spirits at this time of year. He again did not disappoint, nor did Abair or Braun. This group genuinely enjoys contributing to the groove and the mood of the season. For those who have yet to experience this magic, this is truly a must-see/must-feel performance by those who have shown time and again—whatever the time of year, that they can inspire, move, and impact. What a way to fa-la-la. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Norman Brown/Gerald Albright
The Birchmere Music Hall
Thurs., Aug. 23, 2012, 7:30 pm
In a sea of joviality, animated conversation, and networking at the jazz magnet venue known as the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, the lights dimmed at exactly 7:30 pm, and the party began. Over the P.A. system, the announcer’s voice boomed the introduction of what I call the modern day Dynamic Duo, guitarist Norman Brown and saxman Gerald Albright, two of the most bubbly and talented artists in the business.
As the two strode onto the stage amidst thunderous applause, hoots, and hollers, they appeared to loom larger than life as they launched into their opening number “Keep It Moving” from their collaborative new release 24/7.
As I glanced around and observed the powerful equipment ranging from the Korg and Roland keyboards to the Fulltone guitar foot pedal, I was seized by the enormity of this act’s presence and its commitment to deliver the best sound possible for its audiences. Speaking of audiences, needless to say, this particular audience turned out in such fashion as to swell the place to capacity in no time.
Joining Brown and Albright onstage were the lovely keyboardist and Brown musical director Gail Jhonson, a talented recording artist herself, Tracy Carter on keys, Melvin Davis on bass, and Geron Garnett on drums. Together, they offered a new meaning to the word “tight.”
Following “Keep It Moving,” the duo offered tracks–covers and originals–from their individual albums (the title track from Brown’s West Coast Coolin’ release, “Lydian” “After the Storm,” and “For the Love of You”, all three from his After the Storm release, Albright’s ever popular “Bermuda Nights” from the album of the same name, ”My, My, My” from his Dream Come True album, “So Amazing” from his Just Between Us release, and “Georgia On My Mind” from his New Beginnings album) in addition to more 24/7 goodies like “Champagne Life” and a Latin groove called “Buenos Amigos,” offered as their encore.
Some of the live performance highlights included Brown’s masterful handling of his guitar which included a short trip into Hendrix-land with all the power, soul, and grit that would have made the guitar master so very proud and which had the audience bubbling over in awe and appreciation. Albright in turn offered his spectacular demonstration of his range on sax, including his trademark high-pitched “squeak” note used for emphasis and which always proves to be more than effective. His ability to take us back to old school music and memories is uncanny mainly because his warm and personable personality gives you that feeling of familiarity with him. It’s as though you’re sitting in a bar or living room reminiscing with an old friend about those days.
Knowing each other for decades, 24/7 is a project long overdue, but their performance at the Birchmere that night proved the wait to be well worth it. If you’ve haven’t caught the act yet, quickly place it on you ”to do” list and grant yourself the wonderful pleasure of experiencing such polished veteran talent merged together in a flawless collage of pitch perfect jazz. A taste of musical bliss. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Wed., Aug. 15, 2012, 10:00 pm
Bradley, who wasted no time mesmerizing the audience with her soulful performance, was accompanied by a most competent and supportive band comprised of “Wah Wah” LaGrand on guitar, Eli Staples on keys, Dan Cipriano on sax, Hector Lopez on drums, and Ernie Donadelle on bass.
The majority of her explosive set included tracks from her latest release, Unscripted, and she poured every ounce of her being into each and every tune as if she were performing it for the very first time. Actually, she was playing the tunes for the first time here at Blues Alley, a place she says had been on her bucket list for a while. As humorous as she is talented, she elaborated by quipping that “I planned to play here before I kicked the bucket.” Needless to say, the place broke up in laughter.
In addition to her own lively performance, Cipriano, Bradley’s new fiancé (as she proudly announced to us, by the way), was one ball of fire as he rocked, danced, and set the stage ablaze with his demonstration of his range and intensity on sax during many tunes. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this guy launch a solo career in the future. His stage presence was immense and loaded with confidence.
Not to be bested, colorful keyboardist Eli Staples was as animated and displayed as much intensity and adeptness on keys, often interacting with the audience with facial expressions that indicated he was having his own little party there onstage. Bradley pointed out that this was the first time she’d met him. You would never have guessed it, considering that he had such a handle on her music that it seemed as though he’d been a fixture in her band for years.
Guitarist LaGrand was also in true form as he raced across his guitar’s fretboard effortlessly, making the instrument squeal, scream, and sing. How do you make an inanimate object feel emotion? Just ask LaGrand. He apparently had the answer, as did Cipriano, Staples, and the rest of Bradley’s band that night.
Tunes and performances never to be forgotten included the rousing opening tune “Déjà Blue,” “Lifted,” (a track where she introduced her colorful hybrid instrument, the “Flumpet” a cross between the flugelhorn and the trumpet), “Swing Set” from her Bloom debut release, a tune she prefaced with the entertaining and inspiring story of her conquering a bully while in grade school in Buffalo, NY, “Footprints” “A New Day,” and the ever-popular Billboard –ranking track “Massive Transit,” among others, including her fired up finale, another from her Bloom album, “Curves Ahead.” Not one of these tracks found a still person in the place. Heads bopped, feet tapped, fingers popped, and arms raised in approval as the lovely trumpeter and her cohorts proceeded to truly entertain.
Bradley is one of those powerful artists/ performers who hit the ground running with her debut release and was immediately embraced by the contemporary jazz community as one of its “favorite daughters.” Seeing her performance tonight only cemented what I’d suspected from listening to her music: She is a bona fide force with whom to reckon. I am so fortunate to have witnessed first-hand this incredible show of pure talent, finesse, and character. Encore! Encore! – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Potomac Jazz & Seafood Festival
St. Clement’s Island
Colton’s Point, MD
Sat., July 14, 2012, 3:00 pm
One of the finest one-day festivals in the DC/MD/VA metro area has been the Potomac Jazz and Seafood Festival in Colton’s Point, MD. As popular as it is (it completely sold out in less than a week after its announcement), I must admit my ignorance of this extravanganza of music and food until this year. Am I ever glad that I was one of the attendees this year, despite Mother Nature’s decision to make it a soggy event throughout the day and evening. Constant rain and some wind bore down on us relentlessly with only a brief burst of sunshine and a couple of breaks in the rain, but even that couldn’t dampen the love, spirit, and general sense of well-being among the party-goers that day.
Providing some absolutely stratospherically robust and groove-laden music were superb saxophonist Marcus Anderson, renowned guitarist Marc Antoine accompanied by keyboardist/producer Brian Simpson, and saxman Steve Cole who closed the festival in spectacular order. Supporting musicians included “Wah Wah” on guitar (who intentionally used no last name), Billy Heller on keys, Tim George on bass, and Third Richardson on drums.
The day’s sounds were kicked off by the Element of Surprise, a vocally rich group singing some of the best old school tunes of our time with harmonies to die for.
Marcus Anderson then strode on stage and navigated his way through the fire he ignited with tunes from his Now, From the Heart, and My Turn releases, including “Everything’s Clearer,” “M-Powered,” and “That’s the Way It Goes.” Teasing and interacting with the audience by stepping into its midst offstage while playing, the North Carolina native strutted his stuff before blushing ladies and envious but admiring gents, as well. At one high point in his performance, his rendition of the funky and frenetic “Sex Machine” by the late great James Brown placed delighted dancers in the audience on cloud nine. One would be hard-pressed to find a better electrifying opening jazz act.
Following Anderson, the iconic French guitarist Marc Antoine, recently recovered from heart surgery, showed no signs of slowing his or the festival’s pace as he immediately called upon the audience’s lively participation with the help of keys wiz Brian Simpson. The two interacted with plenty of spirit as they tackled Simpson’s “It Could Happen,” “South Beach,” and “Can’t Tell You Why,” among others, and Antoine’s signature “Latin Quarter,” “Sunland,” and his covers of “Mas Que Nada” and “Spooky,” among others. The two were a perfect fit, and Antoine’s high spirits were a great reassurance that the guitarist was back in true form.
The 800-strong audience, nestled in this quaint hideaway in Southern MD along the Potomac River, was not only enjoying the festive music in the rain but also indulging in the delectable seafood, ribs, and chicken being offered. Taste atop taste. Now, that’s how to enjoy oneself.
A raffle for some very handsome prizes was also conducted as we were being prepared for the final act of the day, Steve Cole.
The saxman was summoned to the stage and answered with not only the irresistible appeal of his music, which included tracks spanning his many albums, but with humor, wit, and personality that made his stage presence enormous. Tunes like “Thursday,” “When I Think of You,” “Natural Thang,” his cover of “Undun,” a moving melodic tribute to Curtis Mayfield called “Curtis,” and a fantastic version of the straight-ahead gem “Sugar” earned him huge applause and love all around.
Despite a sometimes-frustrating experience with the continuous rain, the sun was ever-present in the hearts and souls of all who attended. The artists had accomplished what needed to be accomplished: A focus on the beauty of their craft and the shunning of the small obstacle of rain. If any testimony was needed in terms of the event’s success, I personally overheard many a pledge to return next year. To that, I say “count me in.”
Many thanks and congrats to Kim Cullins and the entire team of Potomac Jazz organizers and sponsors for providing such a wonderful outlet for this amazing genre and the patrons who so love it. – Ronald Jackson
SureWill & Joel del Rosario
July 5, 2012, 10:00 pm
If you’re in the market for good, solid live contemporary jazz entertainment, you would have certainly enjoyed yourself thoroughly at the DC hotspot Blues Alley in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC. Tonight, we were treated to the wonderfully talented yet still surprisingly unheralded California guitarist Joel del Rosario and the personable keyboardist Will (“Surewill”) Clark. What a great groove to witness on the day after the 4th of July!
Helping the duo with this powerful set was local saxman Brian Lenair who never disappoints with his passion and energy.
The set opened with thunder as each artist set out to offer tracks from their latest projects, Surewill’s debut release Out of the Shadows and del Rosario’s Coast to Coast album. From the outset, the audience was wired and totally engaged.
A great high point of the show was Surewill’s tribute to his uncle Jim for whom he titled a track –”My Hero (Uncle Jim)” – on his debut album. The track was snappy and electric, with very pronounced chops being provided by del Rosario and Lenair.
More goodies followed as del Rosario ripped into the tight, and surefooted “Seattle” and “Hey It’s the Weekend,” interacting beautifully with the audience who, by this time, was absolutely beside itself in grooveland and solidly riveted to the set.
Saxman Lenair was given his moment as he lit into the rockin’ “I Like the Way You Move.”
Bassist Buddy Jordan and drummer Sam Marshall were each allowed to shine as well, and shine they did, providing the audience with some memorable moments indeed.
The finale, a cover of the late crooner Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Hoiller)” was compelling and alive.
Blues Alley does a great job of booking appealing acts, even some who may not be as familiar to some as to others. On this night, if there were people who were unfamiliar with Surewill and del Rosario, they left with a full sense of who these two are who may seem to have flown under the radar before. Each tune, each solo was sheer pleasure. Del Rosario, a humble, nimble-fingered artist gave much of the credit for his crisp and distinct sound to his equipment and sound system. Personally, I think it was more of the del Rosario finesse and skill than anything else.
Both of these artists proved to me a while back that they are more than competent – they are groove-ready. Their laid-back stage presence and the fact that the entire band appeared to interact so well was a result of simply having big fun doing what they so love best. That certainly came across in an easy message to the audience. Satisfying? Totally without a doubt, and I—like I’m sure so many others in attendance—will surely return to see them whenever they grace this area again. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr
June 2, 2012, 8:00 pm
Last Saturday night was quite special at DC’s Blues Alley as I attended a sold-out concert featuring the very energizing and entertaining Frederic “Fred” Yonnet. Born in France and influenced by the European music culture, we were treated to his unique jazz harmonica style, supported by outstanding musicians such as keyboardist Hope Udobi, lead guitarist Robbie McDonald, bass guitarist Dennis Turner and drummer Chris “Biscuit” Bynum.
I’ve mentioned in a previous article that musicians have a unique and special way of feeding off their audience while on stage, and Yonnet echoed that by indicating our energy would help drive that night’s performance. Needless to say, if you’ve ever attended one of his concerts, you know what it means to be totally engaged and part of the entire production.
The lively opening tune titled “Calling,” had Yonnet playing half the song out of view of everyone, since he was performing upstairs and the entire audience was downstairs. Once he reappeared, playing as he descended the steps, he presented quite the riveting presence as he interacted with the audience enroute to the stage to rejoin the band.
Next, we were treated to the upbeat song “Just Four” that moved the audience to finger snapping in unison. This was not a problem unless the grooving was preventing you from continuing to eat your dinner (hmm…was that such a bad thing for a groove to to??)
Early in the set, you could sense that his band would be able to showcase their various skills, and Udobi did such a masterful job on keys when his solo was done. Yonnet joked by saying “That’s all and goodnight.” McDonald was asked if wanted to add anything to what was just played, and he then laid some serious licks on the lead guitar. The next jamming song was titled “Rise” which seemed proper because rise is what everyone did as they bounced to this very danceable vibe. So far this year, Yonnet has worked on a couple of other artists’ projects and shared one upbeat song titled “Toure’” from the 2012 The Toure-Raichel Collective CD titled The Tel Aviv Session, which featured Yonnet.
Yonnet then updated us on his unique “Reed My Lips” CD by indicating that his band is working on the suggestions and recommendations of fans who have purchased downloads from his website. As stated earlier, Yonnet has a way of engaging his audience, and, tonight, a 7-year-old – whose first name also happens to be Frederic – came on stage to join Yonnet in a cool harmonica fest. The younger Frederic, with harmonica in hand, performed each hand and foot movement of the senior Frederic as they made their way across the stage). We so enjoyed the moment of pure joy and love between the two.
One of the songs also heard tonight came from Yonnet’s 2005 CD titled Front & Center. It was the very mellow “Eden Legrand” which seems to be a perfect tune if you need a soothing melody to get you through a period of unease or concerns.
Recalling when we were younger and mostly carefree, the harmonica wiz then played “Kid In Me,” an upbeat song that definitely touched most of us. At this time, Yonnet came offstage to serenade different people in the audience with his pleasing mannerism, and it ended with him being led back on stage while dancing with his wife Carla Sims – all this without missing a beat.
Speaking of not missing a beat, drummer “Biscuit” Bynum was unleashed at this point, and those who had not seen him perform before left tonight knowing what a really good drummer is capable of doing when he or she is at the top of their game. Actually, this was true of Yonnet’s entire band.
Considering his desire to draw on his audience’s energy, and judging from the smiles, hugs, and photos after tonight’s concert, I would say that, not only did Yonnet meet our expectations, but we met his, as well. – Derrick Hooks
Birchmere Music Hall
Sunday, May 20, 2012, 7:30 pm
Tonight, I attended a sold-out concert by saxophonist/flutist Najee at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. You know, I’ve heard the Weather Channel mention a perfect storm. Well, joining Najee for tonight’s concert were Daniel “DP” Powell on drums, Rob Bonner (Walter Beasley) on keyboards, Chuck Johnson on lead guitar and vocals, Rishon O’Dell (Charlie Wilson / Gap Band) on bass guitar, and Pieces of a Dream’s James Lloyd on keys. All combined, these musicians treated the audience to an evening filled with outstanding music, showmanship, dancing, and audience interaction that surely qualified as the musical perfect storm. Sirius Radio was also on hand to record this phenomenal adventure.
Starting off with one of his many standards, Najee delved into his 1990 CD Najee’s Theme, and chose the up-beat title track to set the evening’s mood. This song was followed by the equally alluring “Sweet Summer Nights” from his 2009 CD Mind Over Matter.
Slightly slowing the pace was the charming song “Sounds For Sore Ears” from the 2012 CD Smooth Side Of Soul. Another of the mellow standards performed tonight and also from Najee’s Theme CD was the hit cover of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” How sweet it was to hear the audience singing in unison on this tender piece.
Not to be outdone by the audience’s singing, Chuck Johnson took the lead for the mellow song “Gina” from the 2011 CD Day By Day. Johnson was definitely up to the task, causing all to be swooped into his charming musicality and showmanship. He continued on vocals with the very pleasant song “All I Ever Ask” from the 1992 CD Just An Illusion.
The tempo increased again with the song “Talkin’” from the 1990 CD Tokyo Blue, and the musical skills shown by O’Dell (bass) and Lloyd (keyboards) could be easily described as nothing short of classic and superior.
Another selection from the Smooth Side Of Soul CD was the upbeat “Perfect Nites” tune which featured some good ol’ school hand-dancing from Bonner and O’Dell as they joined two lovely ladies on the floor. Not to be left out of this segment of fun, the entire band (except for Powell on drums) danced amongst themselves on stage to the song “Personality” from the Day By Day CD, which had Najee laughing and ribbing us all on our dance skills. Having the time of our lives, no one seemed to be concerned.
Another mid-tempo R&B selection was from the Mind Over Matter CD – a track entitled “We Gonna Ride” (featuring Eric Benet on vocals on the original). For tonight’s show, Chuck Johnson was back at the microphone again to the delight of many. We also heard the mid-tempo delight “Come What May” from the 2007 Rising Sun CD.
On the Just An Illusion CD, Najee created a song for his son that is one of his signature songs, and he’s played it for high level officials and audiences like us everywhere. Yes, I’m referring to the beautiful and ever-popular “Noah’s Ark.”
The only way to close the curtain on this night was to have the band give us a knockout encore song. The selection was “Betcha Don’t Know” from Najee’s Theme. Oh yes, we knew – that the entire evening was one blast of a party for all of us — Derrick Hooks
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Anita King and Friends
Monday, May 7, 2012, 8 pm
Tonight, I attended a sold-out concert by Washington, DC, jazz vocalist Anita King at the Blues Alley Jazz Club located in her hometown. As the artist’s last name might indicate, the performance was fit for royalty and all music lovers, as well. I reference royalty because she had just returned from a weeklong “A Moscow with Love” tour in Russia last month.
Joining King on stage was an outstanding group of musicians; Thad Wilson on trumpet, Alvin White on lead guitar, Mark Prince another Washingtonian on drums, Vince Evans on keyboards, and David Dyson on bass guitar. This very diverse and entertaining mix of musicians did not disappoint.
At the beginning of the show it was mentioned that the theme throughout the evening would be love; and they produced as advertised from beginning to end.
Singing with tremendous passion, King and friends covered some of our most endearing standards such as “Take The A Train,” the jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn that became the signature tune of the Duke Ellington orchestra. Although I was never able to see him for myself, I felt that the trumpet sounds of Louis Armstrong were captured by Thad Wilson on this song as the vibes bounced off the walls.
King backed up her “evening for love” statement with the mellow jazz ballad “The Nearness of You,” written by Hoagy Carmichael. She approached this song with such power and range, and you could feel that she intended to leave everything she had right there on stage when she was done with her set.
“The Masquerade” is a song written by Leon Russell that became one of George Benson’s signature pieces. This song allowed guitarist Alvin White to showcase his impressive Benson-like style as he seized his moment in the light.
Picking up the pace slightly, King entertained us with the George Gershwin classic “Summertime.” Mark Prince’s drums punctuated the tempo perfectly for the finger-popping, and head-bopping audience.
Then, with no warning, King serenaded us with the Brenda Russell standard “Get Here.” Throughout the years, a number of singers have done outstanding versions of this tune. Tonight, King raised the bar a little bit higher.
David Dyson’s strong bass line influences on the Al Green classic “Let’s Stay Together” was awesome. How many times have you imaged an instrument talking to you? Always the entertainer, Dyson just seems to enjoy showcasing his talents.
As the crowd begged for one more, King ended her set in what I felt was the perfect way to do so at this quaint venue – with the classic “At Last,” written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. The late Etta James made it famous, and tonight, King, along with the keyboard skills of Vince Evans, undoubtedly did Ms. James proud. In all, I was very grateful that, tonight, I was being entertained by another kind of royalty, as King’s pipes should be crowned. – Derrick Hooks
Photos by Chris Walters
Incognito with Maysa
The Robert Glasper Experiment
The Warner Theatre
Tuesday, Apr. 3, 2012, 8 pm
On this mild spring day, I joined some of the Washington, DC, metro area smooth jazz community as we attended the world-renowned iconic acid jazz group Incognito as they performed at the Warner Theatre DC. Accompanying them, and always a sensational treat for true jazz vocals aficionados, was the lovely and mega-talented Maysa. Also accompanying on vocals were Mo Brandis, Natalie Williams, and Vanessa Hayes, each obviously eyeing the direction to their own path to stardom at some point.
At the very beginning of the show, we were treated to a rousing mixture of jazz and hip – hop vibes from the Robert Glasper Experiment performing a few tunes from his 2012 CD titled Black Radio. Quite an enjoyable experience, indeed.
After a brief intermission, Incognito and Maysa arrived on stage, and many of their old standards like the up-tempo “Step Into My Life”, “Still A Friend Of Mine” and “Deep Waters,” the latter featuring her magnificent scatting ability, lit up the audience with excitement and electric energy. All three songs are from the 1994 CD titled Positivity, and needless to say, brought about one of the many thunderous ovations of the night.
We were also treated to the up-tempo instrumental “Colibri” and Maysa singing the inspiring “Change,” both from the 1993 CD Tribes, Vibes & Scribes and with such permeating passion. Only such a fully locked & loaded band could deliver such a powerful experience.
Another fine up-tempo instrumental song “Expresso Madureira,” from the 2010 CD Transatlantic was well-timed for the primed and ready audience.
All of the vocalists who performed on the Incognito set on this night are featured on the just-released CD titled Surreal. We were told during tonight’s show that, for the first time anywhere, two upbeat tracks, “Goodbye To Yesterday” and “Above The Night,” from this latest release were being performed live. If they are any indication of what we can expect from the entire release, are we in for delightful gift!
Attending an Incognito concert is truly one consistently exciting and exhilarating experience. Having thrilled audiences all over the world for over 30 years is testimony enough…and it is my humble opinion that this party has just begun. — Derrick Hooks
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Sunday, Apr. 1, 2012, 8 pm
There aren’t too many better ways to start what you hope will be a lovely week than attending a sold-out truly smokin’ hot jazz concert at Blues Alley in Washington, DC. Tonight’s sizzling performance featured Grammy award-winning, and founding member of the contemporary jazz band Fourplay, guitarist Lee Ritenour.
Starting out in his teen years working in the music industry, Ritenour has always known to surround himself with superior talent. Tonight was no exception, as drummer Sonny Emory, keyboardist Jesse Milliner, and bass guitarist Melvin Lee Davis joined him.
Opening tonight’s session was the very upbeat “Night Rhythms” from the 1991 CD Collection. Ritenour mentioned that it didn’t seem like it had been that many years since he recorded that piece, and I agree it seems like less than half that time since we first started jamming to it.
A musical icon who Ritenour followed closely to help mold his own unique guitar style was Wes Montgomery. In 1993, a tribute to Montgomery was made via the CD Wes Bound, and the title track had such passion from all the performers that to say it did Montgomery justice is an understatement.
Slowing down the pace just a little was the title track from the 1990 Stolen Moments CD. On this piece, the instruments appeared to be speaking their own mesmerizing language. All three supporting musicians treated us to some outstanding solos; which included Milliner tantalizing the keyboards with such jazzy finesse, Davis using a couple of huge bass guitars for some funky licks, and Emory who had such flair that I caught myself in awe of how he could be possibly be rotating the drumsticks so fast and continue maintaining such flawless rhythm.
Before closing tonight’s set, Ritenour mentioned that, in 2009, the concept of the Six String Theory was born, and he wanted to find the best musicians available to help him create the CD project. To further enhance the concept after the CD, a competition to allow the winner to receive a music scholarship was started, and, now, the 3rd annual Yamaha Competition for musicians age 16 years and older is underway and will run through May, 2012 as this now-annual event continues to attract more sponsors with currently four prize values having a combined total worth of over $600,000. If you believe you have what it takes to be the next winner go to the site www.sixstringtheory.com for further details.
All in all, as if you could expect anything less, Rit put on the show of shows and left fans panting for more. Such it is with the man who knows music from every angle viewable. — Derrick Hooks
Note: Due to technical problems, we are unfortunately unable to display photos from this great concert. We sincerely apologize and regret any inconvenience.
Mindi Abair, David Pack, and Jeff Golub
Saturday, Mar. 31, 2012, 8 pm
What a night. It was a capacity-filled jazz concert at The Hamilton nightclub which is operated by the Clyde’s Restaurant Group and located a couple of blocks from the White House in Washington, DC. This impressive 400-seat venue has an international vibe complete with an advanced sound system that has music lovers and artists starting to recognize last summer’s earthquake was not the only event creating a buzz in this region’s landscape.
Blending in perfectly for tonight’s talent laden jazz performance led by saxophonist Mindi Abair were two iconic guitarists: David Pack, multi-Grammy-winning producer and co-founder of the rock group Ambrosia, and Jeff Golub who has an equally impressive resume and is noted for his work from the late 1980s to mid 1990s with rocker Rod Stewart. This latter songwriter/contemporary jazz & blues artist was also the leader of the group Avenue Blue. Joining the trio were bass guitarist Derek Frank, keyboardist Rodney Lee, drummer Jamey Tate, and lead guitarist Jay Gore.
Among the many hits Abair offered were “Any Way You Wanna” and “Be Beautiful,” both from her 2010 In Hi-Fi Stereo, “Mojo” from her 2008 CD Stars, and the get-up-out-of-your-seats dance tunes “Flirt” and Lucy’s” from her It Just Happens That Way debut — and I do mean people were actually dancing in the aisles and at the front of the stage – all just two blocks from the most recognized address in the world: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.
Not to be outdone in any fashion, Golub gladly delivered up his spicy blues with “Sidetracked,” “Freddie’s Midnight Dream” and “Let The Good Times Roll” all from his 2011 CD The Three Kings. Pack then strutted his “You’re The Only Woman” and How Much I Feel” from the 1997 Ambrosia’s Anthology CD. We were also treated to another of his hits, “Biggest Part Of Me,” and the story he shared about the time then-President Clinton had his first inaugural celebration, for which Pack was the musical director for the event, and how this was their first song. Of course, the biggest note was that the President also performed with them on that tune
This up-tempo show delivered so much showmanship from the artists, and they themselves got so caught in the excitement of dancing and hi-fiving with the crowd. Marvelous show, marvelous venue. Two thumbs up. – Derrick Hooks
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Drew Davidsen with Paula Atherton
K2 Restaurant & Lounge
Fri., Mar. 9, 2012, 9 pm
As Friday night parties go, the K2 Restaurant & Lounge in Woodbridge, VA, is rapidly emerging as one of the standard bearers of some of the finest in the area. The constantly transforming and enlarging venue continues to invoke interest and intrigue as it seeks to attract quality contemporary jazz entertainment and fans at a most reasonable price.
Tonight, the lounge brought back one of the area’s finest guitarists – in fact, one of the finest guitarists in all of smooth jazz, as both the American Smooth Jazz Awards and the Oasis Contemporary Jazz Awards can easily testify (both having nominated him in one category or another) – Drew Davidsen. Davidsen brought along with him additional class, some sass, and a lot of beauty in the form of the lovely and super talented saxtress Paula Atherton whose vocal skills are as powerful as her sax skills (many may even argue that the former may slightly edge out the latter, but that’s always debatable). This duo burned up the K2 stage with such energy and heat that it was almost inadvisable to be seated too close to the stage. Actually, it didn’t much matter where you were seated, because the pair brought their act to you where you sat on more than one occasion, along with their very effervescent and talented backup saxman Dave Krug.
In addition to Krug, accompanying Davidsen and Atherton were the awesome Chris Rhodes (bass), the equally awesome Cory Baker (drums), and, yes, the equally awesome Craig Alston (keys). Was this an awesome band? Um, you might say so! Many of their individual (and mind-blowing) skills were on display throughout the night.
Leading off their set with a fired up and bouncy “Don’t Delay” from Davidsen’s current release, Spin Cycle, it became perfectly and pleasantly clear that this would be a K2 night among nights to remember.
Unable to keep the energy contained onstage beyond that opening track, “Around (Again),” from Davidsen’s 2009 album by the same name, found the guitarist, Atherton, and Krug out serenading and weaving through the audience, working their magic, much to the glee of the beaming audience. The telling, blushing faces of the ladies to whom Davidsen and Krug played and the boyish grins on the faces of grown men subjected to the charms of Atherton were proof enough of the power of personal interaction between artist and fan. Invaluable.
Davidsen then turned the set over to the songs of Atherton which included her very sweetly exotic flute piece, “Marimba Island” from her 2009 Groove With Me release. That was followed by Davidsen’s very alluring “Smile” from his Around (Again) release, a pensive yet danceable track that found Atherton dancing with the show’s MC offstage and (almost) out of view and with Davidsen totally on a tear on guitar and Krug wailing away on sax.
In addition to the usually driving, upbeat, and stirring title track from Davidsen’s current release, Spin Cycle, and his demonstrative stage (and offstage) presence, the guitarist has a knack for the blues that is so worth mentioning here. As he launched into a variation of Jimi Hendix’s “Red House” with his own rather humorous live-tailored “Bb Blues,” (to be clear, that’s “B flat blues”), it is obvious that his love of this art form runs deeper than deep.
Then, there are Atherton’s wonderful vocals. In a word: Breathtaking. Her “Send Down An Angel” from her Groove With Me release, as well as her “There Ain’t Nothin’” from the same release shook me to my core, bringing goose bumps to the surface easily. She is truly a voice to be heard. Period.
Closing the show was a hot, rousing version of the always effective “Always There.” When it comes to a great show from the nationally renowned, award-nominated Drew Davidsen, this guitarist is always there. Tonight, with the help of the talented and lovely Paula Atherton (who will grace us with another release shortly, by the way) and the support of a dynamo band, I, for one, found myself praying and hoping that he will always be there contributing to the richness of contemporary jazz in his own inimitable way. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Aira Olave
The U.S. Air Force Band
Guest Artist Series 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
On this brisk winter day in Washington, DC, I attended an annual free special concert at the capacity-filled Constitution Hall featuring the United States Air Force Band and included special guest jazz keyboardist Keiko Matsui.
Providing additional musical support were masterful saxophonist Jackiem Joyner, expressive bass guitarist Eric Baines, the highly driven Chad Wright on drums, and the complete Air Force Band. With the orchestra’s various instruments giving an extra dimension to her music, I experienced the magic that is Keiko Matsui as never before.
As she entered the stage, she was introduced as a person who played “music for the world,” and, if you have ever heard her perform, it is very easy to identify with this statement since her style is even beyond the smooth jazz category in which she is truly an icon. The beautiful, world-renowned pianist indicated that she had just flown in from Japan for this fantastic event honoring the many fine men and women who serve our nation’s military — some of them who were in attendance.
Keeping with the flow of the afternoon, two mellow hits “Forever, Forever” from the 1998 CD Full Moon and the Shrine and the title track from the 2001 Deep Blue CD, simply captivated all in attendance. Following one of the numerous standing ovations she received that afternoon, Matsui then took a moment to share with the audience her feeling that that we all have our own journey, and that her latest release, The Road… was her journey.
Feeding off the energy throughout the hall, she then treated us to two upbeat songs “An Evening in Gibraltar” from the Moyo CD and another from The Road… CD titled “Bohemian Concerto.”
After exiting the stage, Matsui, Joyner, and Wright were asked to return for one final song, and with the help of the wonderful Air Force Band, they gave us the very upbeat song “Across The Sun” also from the Deep Blue CD to complete a very outstanding performance. Keiko Matsui, again proving to all why she is so loved and so renowned. – Derrick Hooks
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Birchmere Music Hall
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Last year, I was blessed to attend the Angela Bofill Experience at the Birchmere Music Hall, and Maysa provided the vocals for this outstanding lady on that winter evening. Tonight this wonderful songstress painted a landscape of her life for us, sharing that her life is being guided through faith, family, and supporters like those in attendance at this sold-out show. One word kept coming to my mind after the show: “Transparent.” I mention this because all of her energy and emotions are displayed when she performs, and her very spirit somehow manages to verbalize the moment.
I recently returned to the Birchmere to witness the Maysa musical production on Jan. 26. The amazing talent that joined Maysa on stage was incredible. I call it a production because of the numerous musicians and vocalists joining her. It included Charles Baldwin on bass guitar, Richard Tucker on lead guitar, Leon Jordan Jr. on trumpet, Damon Bennett on flute and keyboards, Carl Cox on saxophone, Tim Hutson on drums, Angela Phillips on soprano vocals, Mycah Chevalier on alto vocals, Troy “Sol” Edler on tenor and baritone vocals, Kenny Wesley on tenor vocals, Geneva Renee on soprano and alto vocals, Maysa’s musical director Will Brock on keyboards, and two cousins–Jean Leak on soprano vocals and Donna Saunders on soprano and alto vocals.
Among the songs for tonight’s enjoyment were “Day N Night,” “Come Dance With Me,” “You Won’t Find Your Way Back,” “Have Sweet Dreams,” (the latter was written for her by Stevie Wonder who was displaying in song respect to Mrs. Obama supporting her husband, our President). She also performed the title track of her latest CD “Motions In Love” and “I Try,” the latter written by Angela Bofill. During “I Try,” Geneva Renee (remember the name) was called from the audience to help sing this mellow classic, creating one of the many standing ovations of the night. Maysa also treated us to a few classics such as Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Happy Feelings,” The Commodores’ “Zoom,” and Norman Connors’ “You Are My Starship.” She closed out the evening with the much-requested “Deep Waters” by Incognito. The tune had the crowd dancing and cheering with zeal.
I was so emotionally and pleasantly drained from witnessing Maysa’s awesome performance, and just putting these feelings into words places a smile on my face and a song in my heart, literally.
Just a few long-overdue words about the Birchmere: If you have not had a chance to experience a concert there, do plan to attend a show whenever you are in the area. Their team of management and staff makes everyone feel special, and, once you come through the doors, you’ve become part of their extended family.
All in all, one very enjoyable evening to remember — Derrick Hooks
Photos by- Dwynn Barr
Cheikh Ndoye and Friends
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Tonight, I attended a highly energized sold-out jazz concert by bassist Cheikh Ndoye and Friends at the Blues Alley Jazz Club in Washington, DC. The show featured a diverse lineup of outstanding musicians, and after the performance, I realized that this session delivered all the great music and showmanship that I had originally to hear and more.
Along with Ndoye were Karen Briggs on violin, Chieli Minucci (primarily known as the leader of the Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz group Special EFX) on lead guitar, Lao Tizer on keyboards, and Marcus Baylor on percussions and drums. In the audience for the previous night’s performance (that I, unfortunately, missed) was the one and only musical icon, Stevie Wonder. On this night, Frederic Yonnet (of Prince’s Power Generation Band) also joined Ndoye with his outstanding harmonica play.
Included in tonight’s musical selections were Ndoye’s “Amine,” “Alchemy East,” and the title track from his 2009 CD, A Child’s Tale. Also performed were “Scheherazade’s Groove” from Karen Briggs’ 2009 Soulchestral Groove CD, and Chieli Minucci’s “Daybreak” from his 1993 Special EFX CD titled Collection. Before the evening was over, we also heard the not-yet-released single “Below Level” from Ndoye.
Musicians have a way of feeding off the energy and emotions of their audience, and, from the moment Marcus Baylor started the tempo, it was a concert in sync with the audience. Their passion and effort was visible to all, and we tried to match their intensity by partying in our seats from the start to the very end.
From Ndoye and Minucci making their respective guitars speak to us, to Briggs looking as if the violin would be sawed in half from her motions and then tenderly plucking notes with her fingers to Tizer making the keys play so beautifully, this was sheer poetry in motion. Not to be outdone, Baylor was in a zone this entire night with his energy.
In summary, this was a well-coordinated, excellently performed concert among five musically gifted friends onstage and some newly created friends in the audience. – Derrick Hooks
Photo by Dwynn Barr
Tony Exum, Jr., Dee Lucas, and Phaze II
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Tonight was a tremendous way for some jazz lovers to start the new year by attending the special tribute concert for late jazz greats Art Porter Jr. and George Howard, both of whom departed this life too soon.
The entertainment for this evening’s outstanding performance was given by saxophonists Tony Exum Jr. and Dee Lucas, with support from the local DC/MD/VA super group Phaze II. I believe all three will enjoy national stardom in short order.
Opening the musical set, both Dee and Tony performed an original piece from their own individual previously released CDs — “Rebirth of the Smooth” and “Finally,” respectively. Their smooth delivery quickly helped the audience warm from the frigid temperature outside and get this party started.
The musical selections from both Porter’s and Howard’s impressive collections were very clever and expressive and kept the crowd involved the entire night. This was obvious from observing the audience’s swaying, snapping of the fingers, head boppin,’ and clapping to the driving beats.
If your intentions in coming to Blues Alley were just to relax this evening, this was not the right show as the jamming energy thoroughly permeated the air and the artists rocked each selection.
The electricity included cover songs like Porter’s “Inside Myself,” “Lay Your Hands On Me,” “Lake Side Drive,” and the awesomely funky “Flight Time.” Also included were tunes like Howard’s “Hop Scotch,” the groovin’ “Dancing in the Sun,” “When Summer Comes,” and the beautiful “Cross Your Mind” (the latter further enhanced by the vocals of Vince Chapman Jr.). These songs are jazz classics and, combining Phaze II’s stylish backing, they were truly delivered.
Both of the saxophonists seemed to truly capture the styles of the icons they honored. Although I never personally had a chance to see either Porter or Howard perform, it was easy to envision that energy via the interpretations by Exum and Lucas, and am I ever grateful for that experience.
Phaze II — featuring Adrian Norton on bass guitar, Sam Marshall on drums, Kevin Powe on lead guitar, Steve Perkins on percussions, Trenton Thomas on keyboards, and vocalist Vince Chapman Jr. — always has that certain flair when performing that makes one wonder: Is it really that much fun and that easy? The DC metro area has known the Phaze II sound for quite awhile. The band is long overdue for the national spotlight..
Try to make a note of all three of these acts because they won’t stay off the national radar for long. What a way to bring in the new year. — Derrick Hooks
Photo by Dwynn Barr