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Smooth Jazz Concert Reviews

Our review of various smooth jazz concerts.

Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2013
Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric
Baltimore, MD
Thurs., Dec. 5, 2013, 8:00 pm
Whole Koz group

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 makiKoz&Butler1ng 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.Keiko2 @ Xmas show
 
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 oOleta at Xmas showf 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


Acoustic Alchemy
Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, Virginia
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 Acoustic Alchemy_18own 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 siblingsAcoustic Alchemy_19 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

 

Keiko Matsui
The Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
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. DSC_0352

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).

DSC_0371Throughout 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 DSC_0393her 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 thDSC_0442e 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. DSC_0509

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
Woodbridge, VA
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 bacBig NY & Jarredk-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 Big NYWayman 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
Bethesda, MD

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 Surewill N Joel Rel Show_22Dee 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 Surewill N Joel Rel Show_52standing 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 Surewill N Joel Rel Show_61wonderful 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

 

Euge Groove
Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
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 Euge1aappearance 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 Euge3a 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 ImaginEuge4ation,” 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.

Euge6Soon 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

 

Maysa
Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
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-outMaysa_3 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 Maysa_15Wrong.” 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 Maysa_0on “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  Maysa_4believe 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
Washington DC
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, Jeff n Brian_6a 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 Jeff n Brian_18years. 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.Jeff n Brian_10

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
Bethesda, MD
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 Nick n Steve_Bethesda_8some 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.
Nick n Steve_Bethesda_12
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.Nick n Steve_Bethesda_3

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
Woodbridge VA
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 openeK2 Big NY B Day4d 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.  AnoK2 Big NY B Day3ther 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.K2 Big NY B Day19

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, Chesapeake Seafood Festival 23 (1)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.

Chesapeake Seafood Festival 37A 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 lChesapeake Seafood FestivalR21ate 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.
   
Chesapeake Seafood Festival 12“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, Chesapeake Seafood Festival 44and 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

 

Jeanette Harris
The Blue Dolphin Seafood Bar & Grill
Gambrills, Maryland
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.J Harris_10

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.

Slowing the tempo, Harris tJ Harris_22hen took the audience down memory lane, performing her soulful rendition of “Here and Now,” the classic Luther Vandross ballad on which the audience happily joined in.

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.    

“The Ride” featured a fantastic solo from Thomas with Harris later collaborating on the tune. An  A+ effort.  J Harris_19

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


Fourplay

Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, Virginia
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 Fourplay1sound 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.

Fantastic!

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.

Outstanding!

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. ThiFourplay2s 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. 

Rhythmically masterful! 

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!

Pleasure!

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. 4 Play_34

“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.

Legendary!

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.

Awesome!

“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 rapi4 Play 2_5dly, 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

 

Phil Perry
Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
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 BirchmPhil Perry 1ere 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!

Phill Perry_4Next, 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.
Phil Perry 2
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
Woodbridge, VA
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. GrooveSkool1

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.

GrooveSkool2Moments 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.”
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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 

 

Peter White
Blues Alley
Washington, DC
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. Peter White2 @ blues alley

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 muPeter White3 @ blues alleysicianship.  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.
Peter White5 @ blues alley
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

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