Smooth Jazz Concert Reviews
Our review of various smooth jazz concerts.
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