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Smooth Jazz Concert Reviews

Our review of various smooth jazz concerts.

Kevin Howard
The Carlyle Club
Alexandria, VA
Thursday July 20, 2017, 7:30 pm

Along with possessing totally adept, almost second nature skill, keyboardist/pianist Kevin Howard is one of the most humble, personable, centered artists I have ever met. His humility is so evident that you wonder how he stays so focused in an industry chock full of bloated egos that are often more pronounced than the level of talent. Still, he does so brilliantly.

At the classy, quaint, acoustics-friendlyCarlyle Club in Alexandria, VA, on last Thursday night, Howard – who I have seen and heard on a couple of other occasions with less than complimentary acoustics – put on a display of smooth jazz and general keyboard/piano mastery that had to be heard and seen to truly appreciate.

Equipped with a baby grand, synth, and keyboard and accompanied by impressively skilled support musicians –Chris Ghee on drums (who was absolutely explosive), in-the-pocket Wardell Howell on bass, and Isaac Parnham on saxes), Howard aroused and wowed the audience both with his choice of material and a few choice theatrics.

Now living in the Washington, DC area in Waldorf, MD, the keyboardist attracted the locals who were most appreciative and supportive of his work. While not a huge audience, I’m sure that the attendees would all agree that this is one true musician who should have long ago been placed in a very conspicuous place on the map of most competent smooth jazz artists. If the smooth jazz “umbrella” is truly inclusive, Howard should have definitely been invited under it ages ago.

Opening with a snappy version of the Bill Withers’ classic “Lovely Day,” Howard quickly set the tone for the evening. He transitioned from there to his own classy and abundantly smooth “In Motion” from his Travels CD. Following with an impressive cover of the Ronnie Laws classic “Always There,” it was obvious that he had secured the audience’s undivided attention for the evening.

Settling down to the luscious groove “Desert Morning” from his Travels CD, the mood became quickly transformed to a cushiony, relaxed one – but not for long as he then introduced his original “Random Groove” tune, a spirited piece that turned out to be the showstopper as he rolled out his personal pièce de résistance, reaching an intense crescendo of action by playing with his elbows, playing backwards, and even playing with his face – that’s right, his face! Remarkable is a most insufficient word to describe this point in the performance. As performers and their impressive theatrics go, Brian Culbertson and James Lloyd should truly create a space for Howard on that particular stage.

Wrapping things up with a handsomely soulful version of Usher’s “Here I Stand,” his own “Tahoe,” and the title track from his Travels release, Howard left quite a mark on the Washington, DC metro area’s smooth jazz goers in attendance. Along with his outgoing personality, his music should take hold here easily. – Ronald Jackson

Photos by Dwynn Barr

  

Gerald Albright and Jonathan Butler
Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
June 21, 2017, 7:30 pm

The Fourth of July came early as one of the best musical dynamic duos you could ever put together for a live performance – saxman/multi-instrumentalist Gerald Albright and guitarist/vocalist/ inspirationalist Jonathan Butler (I will affectionately refer to them respectively as “G” and “JB” from this point on in this review) — appeared in full and true form at the completely sold-out legendary Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. The funk was there, the jazz-filled smooth grooves were there, the uplifting and glorifying testimony was there, the enthusiastic and receptive fans were there, the very soul of music was there – and it all completely permeated the air.

It’s always a wonderful thing to experience musically talented artists at work in a live performance, but it’s something else again to witness superior talent combined with the most attractive of personalities. With Albright and Butler, you have two genuinely personable, lovable gentlemen who just happen to know and love their craft so well. The combination of attributes is simply incomparable. These guys talk to you with sincerity, enjoyment, and excitement not because it’s part of their set act, but because, as I and a whole host of others believe, it is who they are to the soul. I would bet on that with huge confidence. It wasn’t only the audience’s party – it was the artists’ party as well. That they are paid for this is just icing on their respective cakes. How blessed they must feel!

To ignite the flame for this smooth jazz/revival set, the pair opened with JB’s movin’, groovin’ “African Breeze” from his Living My Dream release. It was full of that beautiful, wonderful South African spirit and cultural vividness that the guitarist brings with him everywhere. It’s the kind of tune that will forever endear fans worldwide to his music and his magnetism.

That lively opener was followed by G’s solid groove “G & Lee” from his Smooth release. Just two tunes in, and the audience was already riveted and flying high.

JB then further launched into his Living My Dream release, offering the spirited title track and his moving slow jam “Do You Love Me?” The latter tune featured some great support musician talent as keyboardist Arlington Jones and guitarist Rick Watford took the spotlight for a few moments to razzle and dazzle.

Speaking of backing musicians, joining this party were bassist and musical director Dan Lutz and dynamic drummer Jay Williams. Talk about energized support!

G then hopped into the snappy “Champagne Life” track from the joint album with famed guitarist Norman Brown, 24/7. This started a mini seismic event in the audience with some robust singalongs. Since the ground was still under our feet, he then pulled out his powerful version of the late James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” covered on G’s Slam Dunk release. “Killer” is a word that simply cannot begin to describe the performance of this classic. It was met with a standing ovation – one of many to follow.

Speaking of standing Os, JB had the audience completely and spiritually transfixed as he rendered his version of the late Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” calling on everyone to pick up on the inspirational message there. They did. Truly a heartfelt church moment!

Shifting back to the party mode, the effervescent guitarist/vocalist then kicked off a robust version of his classic “Sarah Sarah” which was again met with enthusiastic singalongs and dancing in the seats.

What followed next just had to be witnessed in person as G displayed some saxercises on his “Boom Boom” tune from his latest album G. Words do little to describe the command this cat has over the sax. The playing/breathing technique and performance quite naturally drew loud cheers and a standing ovation.
After a seriously bluesy tribute to the classic “Georgia On My Mind,” featuring some blistering, emotional guitar work from Watford, the band slipped into a hip hip/R&B/funk mashup as a finale which included chants of “Ain’t No Party Like An East Coast Party” but not before the duo convinced members of the audience to get down in a classic “Soul Train Line” which paraded through the venue, ignited excited screams and cheers of appreciation. It was now time for the fire extinguishers!

A tribute to the late Al Jarreau, choosing an apropos song, “We’re In This Love Together,” served as the encore and capped off a night of musical glee not to be forgotten.

Great music is great music, but great music in conjunction with artists partying right along with you in earnest is a total treasure. If you’ve yet to catch this duo this year, make it your business to do so – in your town or wherever you can. – Ronald Jackson

Photos by Dwynn Barr

 

Tony Craddock, Jr. & Cold Front
Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club
Bethesda, MD
June 14, 2017, 8:00 pm

Let me start by saying that saxman/meteorologist Tony Craddock, Jr. and his band Cold Front do have a great onstage presence, theme, and motif. The strategy to capture and keep the attention of the audience seemed to be quite effective.

While the saxman doesn’t have an abundance of original material in his repertoire at this time (he is working on a third album, however), his choice of tunes for his set clearly demonstrated his grasp on how to fire up his live performance. Let me walk you through the cool late-Spring breeze that wafted through the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club last Wednesday night before a packed house of concert-goers.

The first sign that Craddock takes his live set seriously and gives much thought as to how to make it strong was his introduction. With the rest of the band assembled onstage, Craddock spoke offstage in a commanding yet soothing, refreshing tone as he introduced himself and his background and the rationale for the theme that drives his show. To rousing applause, he then walked onto the stage with a beaming smile and the backdrop of rolling clouds (one of many visuals that would prove to be as integral a part of his stage presence as the set itself).

Opening with the title track from his 2013 Convection release, the DC-area resident quickly whipped the supportive and attentive audience into a groove that would last all night.

Cold Front is comprised of Ashli Rice (vocals), Felipe Paccagnella (piano/keyboards), Johnnie Castro (bass), Corey Wilson (drums), and Eric Perez (percussion), and they collectively proved to be a very competent and solid group thoroughly enjoying itself and the audience’s appreciation. Throughout the evening, members would step forward to exhibit their individual strong talents (Rice’s strong vocals, Paccagnella’s masterful piano skills, Castro’s commanding bass work, Wilson’s solid drumming, and Perez’s rhythmic dance on percussion all more than complemented Craddock’s sax.

In addition to a few Craddock originals, the band offered very clever interpretations and improvisations on such tunes as Jeff Lorber’s “Rain Dance” (wonderful demo on how well the saxman works the fusion element), the late Wayman Tisdale’s “Brazilia,” another great display of the groove mechanics of fusion on Chick Corea’s “Spain,” Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” They also offered an interesting arrangement of Ronny Jordan’s “After Hours,” setting the late acid jazz guitarist’s smooth riffs to sax. Nicely done, but I’m still a huge fan of the Jordan original as I feel that particular track is definitely better suited for guitar. Still, Craddock sold his version well, judging from the audience’s robust reaction.

Other cool iterations of some classics were offered, and they all obviously further endeared the riveted audience to the saxman.

A warm night outside met a cool set inside, and the contrast was much appreciated — as was the impressive set by the weatherman with a penchant for sax and smooth jazz. — Ronald Jackson 

Photos by Dwynn Barr

 

Big NY & the Smooth Jazz All Stars – Smooth Funky Christmas 2
Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club
Bethesda, MD
Dec. 18, 2016, 7:30 pm

One thing about local bassist Christian “Big NY” De Mesones: Along with towering large as life, he is a dedicated showman and musician. He also manages to corral – as he did on this festive musical night at Bethesda, MD’s Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club –some of the finest names among the artists we have come to know well in this area for their spectacular talent – trumpeter Willie Bradley, saxmen Rob Maletick and Eddie Baccus Jr. (the latter of Pieces of a Dream fame), pianist David Bach, guitarist Drew Davidsen, keyboardist Elliot Levine, and special guests vocalist Lindsey Webster and young Minnesota saxman Danny Kusz.

These artists all came together to pour out their best in Christmas cheer and good vibes during this 2nd installment of the bassist’s Smooth Funky Christmas show. Admittedly, the sound system failed them more than once, taking away from what you just knew would have been a gigantic presentation. I understand that it improved after intermission. Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment, I couldn’t stay to witness that resurrection. I do know that, if properly repaired, Big NY, Davidsen, Levine, et al blew the roof off the place. As it was, during the time I was in attendance, they did a great job of presenting classic holiday tunes in a most innovative manner while offering their own stirring originals. Tunes included Levine’s “Urban Groove,” Kusz’s “Eleva8tor Musik,” Davidsen’s “We Three Stringz,” the traditional “O Tannenbaum,” Webster’s “Open Up” and “Back to Your Heart,” and Big NY’s own classic “Latin Jive” and “Don Pedro.” The set, a very generous one, included many more crowd pleasers.

While our physical vantage point wasn’t the best as media go, considering the constant foot traffic around our location in the crowded venue, we were able feel the strong groove whenever and wherever possible.

Big NY’s commitment to this holiday event is to be highly commended, and I think that the support staff (soundmen, etc.) owe it to him and that commitment to present him and his cohorts in the best light possible. They deserve it, as they certainly showed in the first such show held a year ago. Would I attend again? You bet as I suspect those audio hiccups will be absent if I know Big NY’s commitment to excellence, Overall, a very gallant effort with a wonderful lineup. – Ronald Jackson

Photos by Aira Olave

 

Brian Culbertson – The Funk!Tour
The Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
Wed., Nov. 2, 2016, 7:30 pm

Not living in an area prone to earthquakes, I’m not sure if one ever gets a real warning that such an event is on the way. Here in the DC/MD/VA area, quakes are pretty much nonexistent (except for the freakish one a few years back), but we were given ample warning of the musical earthquake that was about to shake The Birchmere Music Hall down to its foundation. Yes, the Brian Culbertson Funk! tour was rolling in. It arrived on November 2 and stayed through November 3, bringing with it a tidal wave of talent and F-U-N-K. Mere words cannot sufficiently describe the event, but here goes.
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After the sold-out Birchmere had served its patrons selections from its delicious menu and the excited chatter was abuzz for about two hours after the doors opened, we were treated to a huge “boom” that jolted the audience to wide-eyed attention, focused on the stage where drummer Chris Miskel literally kicked it all off, his lighted drum kit forming a huge presence emerging from the darkened stage. Experience number one. That was followed by the booming announcement of Culbertson and the “quake” that would follow.

Parading out among crazed cheers from the wired-up, fired-up crowd, the band (consisting of the keys wiz himself – who also magnificently displayed his trombone skills, which have come so very far from his earlier days – drummer Miskel, the charismatic saxman/vocalist Marqueal Jordan, guitarist Tyrone Chase, keyboardist/vocalist Eddie Miller, bassist Mike Harrington, trumpeter Michael Sever, and two of the most renowned support musicians around – trumpeter Patches Stewart and keyboardist/vocalist/Candy Dulfer sidekick/all-around cool and funky guy Chance Howard) dove into the lead track “Get Ready” from Culbertson’s latest Funk! release. If you weren’t ready, that tune brought you there in a hurry!
bc-funk1This was the first set ever where I’d witnessed so many medleys and transitions interwoven throughout the show. From tracks like “Funkin Like My Father,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Morning Glory,” “Feelin’ It,”(from Culbertson’s XII release, featuring Chuck Brown), AWB’s “Pick Up the Pieces,” Kool & The Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” to more tracks from Culbertson’s latest and other releases, I have never seen a man get through several moments so quickly yet make it all last for two hours! Two hours of crazed funk! One had to ask oneself “Can I handle this??” Still, handle it the audience did…for the entire two-hour set.

There was simply too music to single out each tune here, but trust me when I say this was truly a shake-you-up, shake-you-down, shake-you-all-around kinda earthquake that may have left survivors but left no one sitting motionless unless totally paralyzed by the magnitude of this phenom.

I have been to many a Culbertson concert over the years, dating back to his very young years. Nothing, I repeat, nothing could have prepared me for this. Not only was the music off the rails, the audience was deafening and ecstatic in its appreciation and praise for this man and his cohorts, as well it should have been, considering that this group put on one helluva sweat-filled, funk-laden performance.
bc-funk2
here were so many blinding highlights, it was like watching an intense, fast-paced, action-packed adventure movie — on steroids. There was Culbertson playing insane runs while standing on the other side of his keyboard with his back to the audience in that playing-backwards style I’ve only seen a couple of artists do; there was Harrington’s hot bass solo, the fiery riffs from guitarist Chase, and that oh-so-hot horn section, which, of course, included Culbertson. There were the soul-stirring vocals from Howard and Miller, and there was that overwhelming presence of plain dirty, nasty F-U-N-K, the real star of the show.

By the night’s end, if you chose not to stand, you saw nothing, despite hearing loud and spirited cheers all around you. No, you had to stand or be swallowed up by the enormity of it all. Me? I stood, simply not wanting to miss a single twitch of action onstage.

Culbertson had just kicked his set into another universe with this performance. If you can get to wherever he’s appearing, don’t even think twice about grabbing a ticket. You want to be a part of this funk history, believe me. – Ronald Jackson

Photos by Dwynn Barr

 

The Rippingtons
The Hamilton Theater
Washington, DC
Wed., Oct. 19, 2016, 8:00 pm

Another of this genre’s great creators of astounding imagery through music, guitar guru Russ Freeman delivers like clockwork every single time I’ve seen him and his magnificent band, The Rippingtons. As if glidingalong on invisible wings (or perhaps even riding in on flying dragon wings in some cases), Freeman et al (the et al being Brandon Fields on sax, Bill Heller on keys, Dave Karasony on drums, and Rico Belled on bass) soar higher and higher with each performance, and I’ll bet the perfectionist in the guitarist feels that there’s still room to reach the band’s apex, while the rest of us try to figure out how much higher can they go.the-ripps-at-the-hamilton
Tonight at DC’s Hamilton theater, the band’s first ever appearance here at this venue, they again mesmerized, energized, and held pleasantly captive another audience of simply happy, satisfied patrons.

Kicking things off with the driving “Wild Tales” from their latest release True Stories — their 22nd overall, the band also offered others from this fantastic album including the well-structured mid-tempo “Sundance,“ “Golden Child,” and “Kings Road” with Freeman tearing into his guitar with almost effortless craftsmanship.

Among the early standouts in the show was the wildly hot up-tempo classic “Native Sons of a Distant Land” from their much earlier Sahara release.

Swinging further into yesteryear, they then offered “Welcome to the St. James Club” from the album of the same name. This killer track has always impressed me with its wicked timing and cool jazz flavoring. Exciting is but a mere understatement!

russ-freemanEach tune was performed with stellar skill, synchronization, precision, and professionalism to the hilt. They offered tracks from many in the Ripps’ voluminous library, including tunes from Built to Last, Fountain of Youth, Modern Art, Life in the Tropics, and the 20th Anniversary album. The also dropped in a clever medley and a tribute to some of that good ol’ traditional jazz/blues just to demonstrate that the group is very much proficient in the roots of it all. The entire concert was such a grand exhibition of both spontaneity and controlled orchestration. Madly entertaining.

Saxman Fields was his usual magnificent self, reminding long-time fans of the Ripps of the wonderful period he originally spent with the band. Like good wine, this cat just gets better with time, even outdoing himself from that earlier time!

Drummer Karasony was truly outstanding as he was given some time to unleash a crazy drum solo, putting on a drum clinic like no other.

Later in the set, Belled placed his bass skills on display with some seriously powerful biting, talking runs.

The final complete tune was the ever popular “Tourist in Paradise” from the 1989 album of the same name (that album, by the way, featured the late great vocalist carl Anderson). The encore — brought about as the result of loudly appreciative fans — was truly electrifying as Freeman offered his usual tribute to the late legendary guitar king Jimi Hendrix, lighting up abbreviated versions of brandon-fields“Purple Haze” and “Fire,” always a moment I wait for during a Ripps performance. Freeman again demonstrated why he is among the best in delivering expressive and colorful riffs.

While not a lot of attention was paid to that period when Freeman was flaunting his Latin guitar skills and hot, exotic rhythms (how I so loved those couple of albums, despite critics claiming that he had stepped away from his roots in their attempt to pigeonhole him and his music. Albums like Wild Card and Life in the Tropics hold a special place in my heart…but then, so do Built to Last, Sahara, Côte d’ Azur, and on and on)

Not ever the show to miss, you can’t go wrong with a Ripps event. Freeman & Co. always stay true to form, and tonight was no different. Needless to say, when they’re in your neck of the woods, grab a ticket and get set for one helluva ride into jazz, Ripps-style. — Ronald Jackson

 

Keiko Matsui
Birchmere Music Hall
Alexandria, VA
Sunday, Oct. 16, 7:30 pm

When one first walked into the show area of the Birchmere last Sunday evening, where the incredible and lovely Japanese piano/keyboard virtuoso Keiko Matsui performed with her new Acoustic Band, heard on her new album Journey to the Heart, one may have paused at the keiko1
sight of an upright bass, a couple of acoustic guitars, a piano (no keyboard), and drums on stage. “Where’s the electric guitar, the sax, the electric bass, the Yamaha keyboard that the Japanese princess commands so easily? Are we in for a totally different experience?” you may have asked yourself. The answer: A clear yes…and no. The sound — so warm, natural, and fresh — differs a bit from the literally electric feel of her previous sets, but that sizzling vibe and groove are still very, very much intact. In fact, this new sound only further enhances and complements the pianist’s message and vision. It again only goes to prove how deeply she goes within herself to visualize and conceptualize the meaning of her musical creations and how easily she can express them in any manner she chooses.

A statue should be erected in the center of Tokyo in tribute to this phenomenon known as Keiko Matsui for all she has done worldwide keiko3in advancing the consciousness of all things jazz and World music. Never has there been a style and sound as unique as hers, and I doubt that there ever will be (in my lifetime, at least). The art of storytelling and picture painting through music has never seen the likes of her. Standing with as much beauty and elegance as that Asian nation itself, this petite legend’s music has always towered high above the masses who witness her performance, lifting her and her admirers to musical heights simply unimaginable.

Now, let me take a moment to talk about this new band of hers, and what a band it is! Each member exhibits competence and such a great gift of talent, perception, and depth. The bassist, Carlitos Del Puerto of Cuba, demonstrated on every tune his command of the upright bass in a fashion worthy of the utmost respect of bassists everywhere as his fingers danced along the fretless instrument with obvious confidence and joy. The guitarist, the familiar JP Mourao of Brazil, serenaded us sweetly with his Latin and Brazilian flair and nimble fingers. The drummer, Jimmy Branly, also of Cuba, was absolutely electrifying in such an acoustic set, completely owning the often intricate and sophisticated time signatures. Keiko could not have surrounded herself with a better group of true artists.

As for the set, the group opened with “Moving On,” the rousing lead track from Keiko’s latest release, followed by the exotic “Carnival” from the same album, followed by “The Edge of Twilight,” a sweet and melodic offering from the album, as well. keiko2It was this tune that particularly showed off Branly’s command of timing.

Many other delicacies followed, including those from previous albums like Moyo, Sapphire, Soul Quest, Full Moon & The Shrine (one of my all-time favorite albums), and others. Never once did the audience take its eyes off that stage as there was so much color and magic being illustrated there.

The comely artist played almost the entire new album (a treat not often offered by many artists). There was one track that was omitted, and I so wanted her to perform that — the absolutely beautiful and riveting title track, which is perhaps my favorite on the album.  Still, what she did perform was so gripping and so Keiko  that I was in musical heaven in spite of the omission.

As I said at the onset, when one first walks into a venue where this Japanese piano/keyboard virtuoso is performing with her new Acoustic Band, heard on her new album, one may pause at the sight of an upright bass, a couple of acoustic guitars, a piano (no keyboard), and drums on stage. One may have a quizzical look on his/her face, and there may be questions. Then, the band begins to play. Nuff said. – Ronald Jackson

 

Shakatak
The Hideaway Club
Streatham, South London, UK
Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, 7:00 pm

As a mark of the quality of a band, you can’t beat opening a set with a tune that’s at least 30 years old, and that’s exactly what UK acid jazz superstars Shakatak did last night (Oct. 1) at the Hideaway in London. They opened theirshaks-jill set with “Invitation,” a tune from quite literally back in the day, 1982, to be exact, and it’s still popping! If you’re like me, you might not have heard this tune for years, but from the opening bars, you’ll remember it. Another classic, “Easier Said Than Done,” followed, and the trip down memory lane, for me at any rate, continued. The crazy thing is, with these tunes, you not only remember the words and the breaks but the dance steps you used to put on in nightclubs that haven’t stood the test of time in the way that this band has; side, side, slide, kick, turn, repeat! It was the release of “Easier Said Than Done” that gave the band the radio exposure needed for their first top-twenty hit which stayed on the UK Singles chart for 17 weeks.
Hearing these classics again is like looking through a photo album and finding pictures of friends that you haven’t seen for years.

The set continued with “Carry On,” one of the stand-out tracks (for me, anyway) from their excellent new album, Time and Places, and it fitted in just perfectly. It’s a tune that’s got that magical Shakatak touch, simple catchy melody and an evocative, good-times vocal hook that dares you to sit still.

The show was a perfect blend of the old and the new. “Dark Is the Night” came next and the groove was definitely sustained. There was a brief and tasty guitar solo before things went a little quiet, and Alan Wormald began a distinctly Latin-tinged solo introduction to the instrumental “Rio Nights,” another tune from the excellent Shakatak back catalogue! It’s when you watch a musician like Wormald that you realise what excellent musicians are in this band.

shaks-rogerHearing this band live, the sound is almost identical to listening to their recorded material. This in itself is a special thing, and much credit has to be given to the amazing vocals of Jill Seward and the backing singing of Jacqui Hicks and Alan Wormald. They were always right there, providing the unique vocal unison that is the Shakatak trademark.

Sometimes, there is a magic that happens when a group of people come together to create something. That’s what you get with Shakatak. A kind of smooth, soulful, funky magic. It emanates from the understated back beats so excellently produced by Roger Odell, hidden behind his array of cymbals and toms, and then embellished by that warm, fat bass of Mr. George Anderson. This sensual rhythmic mattress underpins the mercurial keyboard playing of Bill Sharpe whose style provides the springboard for Jill Seward’s distinctive vocal refrains. When you see them live, you can see why this band has had 12 entries in the Guinness book of hit singles. They are one of the UK’s musical treasures.

Anyway, back to the show, “On the Corner,” from the album of the same name, found Jill Seward at her percussion station doing the business and looking like a blonde reincarnation of Tito Puente as she leaned back, keeping the rhythm going, to reach the mic for the vocal shots.

Two more from the new album rounded out the first half, George Anderson’s “Head to the Sky,” a beautiful, samba-tinged melody with a thought-provoking vocal line, and the wistful title track Times and Places. Both numbers were delivered perfectly with the later tune being one of those musical moments that you wished could just go on and on. A couple of stunning new numbers.

Mr. Anderson (It’s the Matrix, I can’t resist! Sorry.) came out to start the second set. He made some reference to the others being all exhausted or some such and proceeded to entertain us with his bass. He began gently enough plucking shaks-george-rogerand slapping before settling into a deep groove. Roger Odell slipped behind his kit and propelled Anderson forward, and the groove kicked up a notch or three. So, that was where the power and the funk for Shakatak came from.

As the rest of the band re-joined the rhythm section, they went into the opening track from the new album, a tune called “I Will Be There.” This is classic Shakatak. Catchy vocal hook and gentle undulating rhythms pinning it firmly to the two-step corner of the dance floor!

Another Latin-tinged instrumental followed with Wormald’s guitar again leading the way. He is the master of the catchy blues-drenched lick. His solos are logical audible extensions of those licks delivered through precisely fingered notes that are picked with a jeweller’s precision as he navigates his fretboard before returning to re-state the theme. Wonderful.

Then it was time for a roll through the back catalogue, “Day by Day,” “Steppin’,” and “Living in the UK.” All of these are great tunes, “Steppin’” is especially evocative of an era in UK nightlife. Full of the old stop-start rhythms and 2,3,4 pauses!

Then, it was time for “Night Birds”. This was Shakatak’s first single to reach the top ten, and the album of the same name gave the band their first gold album, entering at number four and remaining in the charts for twenty-eight weeks. Of all the songs from their back catalogue, this tune, more than any of the others, made me realise how much time had passed, how many friends had come and gone, and what good times I had had to the sound of this band’s music!

The encore was the anthem, “Down on the Street,” and, by now, the Hideaway, London’s number 1 jazz club, was properly rocking. A great finale to a really good evening’s entertainment.

In this crazy disposable age that we find ourselves living in, it’s refreshing to find there are still some lasting examples of class and quality around. Shakatak is definitely in that category. – Steve Giachardi

Photos by Steve Giachardi

 

The George Anderson Band
The Hideaway Club
Streatham, South London, UK
Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, 9:00 pm

George Anderson has been the bassist for one of the most iconic and enduring jazz funk outfits of all time, the UK band Shakatak. This show at the awesome Hideaway Club, in Streatham, South London, was an opportunity to catch his other regular outfit, The George Anderson Band.DSC_4150

The set opened with the track “Herbie,” and the funk began. A lilting chugging track with the trademark jazz-funk, brit-funk starts and stops, melody complete with gentle four-note cascading key changes that defy you to sit still. The tune came together nicely after a slightly ragged opening, and, as the band coalesced, so the groove smoothed and an excellent piano solo from the talented Raffy Bushman floated across our bopping heads.

They followed that up with a new track, “Wonderful,” that will be featured on the forthcoming new Shakatak album Times and Places due in September. So, there’s something to look forward to, and, trust me, based on the strength of this track alone, you want to get your pre-orders in. It’s a gem. This track has got one of those perfect bass lines, one that reminds you of something but is totally fresh.

DSC_4171Anderson is a gifted composer who has written some absolute jazz-funk gems over the years, and this is just more proof of his talent. It’s a tune that’s got a real old-school bounce and vocal styling to it that fizzes and pops over a gorgeous 80s style soul groove that’s pure GA mixed with a splash of something sort of like Loose-Ends (if you’re old enough to remember them).

The band switched pace and rolled through “High and Mighty Love” before dropping an amazing version of the Jaco Pastorius number “Come On Come Over.” Well, after the restrained soulful stylings of “High and Mighty Love” with its beautiful, sensitive chorus, “Come On Come Over” was like being hit with the funky rhythm stick. The track, originally from Pastorious’ eponymous debut album, was delivered with punch, pace and passion. Anderson showed what an accomplished bass player he is with the speed and precision that he applied to this bass-led tune. Full credit to the horn section and John Fisher on drums for the admirable way they were right there. The horns especially had a challenge in keeping step with that bass line and the sax player, Richard Bessley, always seemed to look relieved when they reached the end of that section.

Anderson took his foot off the gas for the next tune and brought to the stage his long-time friend vocalist Junior Giscombe for a version of “Lay Your Hands On Me,” a track from Anderson’s first solo album Positivity. The interplay between Giscombe and vocalist Debby Bracknell brought this number to life! Giscombe, remembered for that classic track “Mama Used to Say,” is another of the amazing soulful voices that the UK has produced and then chosen to forget. Whether it’s deliberate or unintentional is open for debate, but it does seem incredible that there are so many talented artists that the UK has produced who have never been allowed to reachDSC_4187 their true potential.

“Latin Love” followed, a gorgeous tune with echoes of George Duke sprinkled throughout. The groove played host to some searing trumpet lines from Sid Gauld and encapsulated a fantastic guitar solo from Dave Ital, then climaxed with a terrific, rhythmic drum solo from John Fisher, who had been stellar all evening.

“Back in the Day” came next, and that’s another of those signature Brit-funk tunes, and sweet vocal refrains over shifting, driving, stop-start rhythm lines that just take you back to the eighties while still sounding daisy-fresh in the new millennium. Especially like the Stevie Wonder horn line steal towards the end of this tune, you listen, you’ll hear it.

The second set was the chance for Anderson and the band to run through some old favourites, and this was, to an old soul boy like me, heaven! To watch a band drop faithful renditions of tracks like George Duke’s “Brazilian Love Affair,” Earth Wind and Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love,” (one of my personal all-time favourites!) and “September,” Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Not” and then finish with a Prince medley that included a version of “Purple Rain” that Bracknell owned. Fantastic!

The range of music these folks cover is amazing. They played tunes from the Shakatak canon, including “Day-By-Day,” which featured Giscombe and Bracknell. They also performed classic soul numbers like Jocelyn Brown’s Somebody Else’s Guy,” which vocalist Mary Pearce had more fun with than should be legal. The jazz-funk classics, wherever Anderson led them, were always on point. Tight, danceable, DSC_4154soulful, and fun!

This was a really good night of great music which featured so many standout moments. One that surprised me was when Giscombe let rip on their version of “Mama Used to Say.” His voice displayed a quality of depth and character that I hadn’t realized he possessed. Awesome.
The vocal pairing of Mary Pearce and Debby Bracknell was delicate, emotive, and powerful all the way through, and, as I said before, Bracknell on “Purple Rain” was phenomenal — but the true star of the show was Mr Anderson. Great composer, great musician, and a true British jazz-funk and soul legend!

The new tune, “Wonderful,” is absolutely that, wonderful. I can’t wait to get my hands on the upcoming Shakatak album, and yes, I have bought my tickets for the Shakatak show on October 1st at the Hideaway. Think I am going to miss that? You mad. – Steve Giachardi

Photos by Steve Giachardi

 

Count Basic
Joe’s Pub (in the Public Theater)
New York, NY
Sat., Aug. 6, 7:00 pm

Most jazz concerts here in the States feature artists we smooth/c-jazz lovers regularly follow and get to see at least once or twice a year. Most are familiar and extraordinarily talented, exciting Count Basic4artists, providing us with those “damn, that was good” moments most every single time. Then, there are the phenomenal artists and groups whom we never get to see. One such group (actually a duo performing with outstanding support musicians as their band) is Count Basic — known to all who have religiously followed smooth jazz since its birth. In fact, smooth jazz radio maintained a pretty good love affair with this fiery, soulful acid jazz outfit until the unfortunate decline of terrestrial smooth jazz radio. The result of that decline was particularly hard to take for fans following such dynamic groups as Shakatak and CouCount Basic1nt Basic, who were not known for U.S. performances, though they continued to distribute their releases here.

Well, that changed last Saturday night in Manhattan as Count Basic brought their electric, soul-infused brand of jazz to perform for the very first time in the U.S. at Joe’s Pub located in the Public Theater there. Was it ever worth the wait!

From the excited buzz of anticipation in the audience prior to the band taking to the stage to the rousing finale, this was major fun personified.

The band came on stage with a slick-dressed horn section (suits and ties, no less! When was the last time you witnessed that old school R&B/jazz garb??) and the main attraction, the casually dressed and wired-for-sound founder/guitarist Peter Legat and the lovely and incredibly sultry vocalist Kellie Sae.

The sizzling night began with the smokin’ up-tempo “All Time High,” the band’s first big hit from their 1995 debut release Life Think It Over. That was quickly followed by “Joy, Peace and Happiness” from the same album. This tune featured — as many songs did that night — the tight, harmonious horn section comprised of Jay Webb on trumpet, Paul Arbogast on slide trombone, and Greg Riley on sax. Boy, were those guys on it! In addition to them, the Count Basic band that night included John Delley on keyboards, Dirk Erchinger on drums, Will Figueroa on percussion, and vocalists Kiki Hawkins and Josette Newsam-Marchak.

Sae’s vocals were infectious, coaxing, and effective throughout the night as she belted out tunes from the new album Count Basic3Sweet Spot (reviewed here on our Smooth Jazz CD Reviews page) and musical treats from earlier releases.

Needless to say, the audience was totally in Grooveland in the jam-packed venue from the very beginning.

As Sae took a short stage break, Legat took to the spotlight with a superior trio of instrumental tracks, thrilling all with his masterful handling of the blues on an original track called “Swamp,” found on their latest release. The track is so titled, he told me later, for the very essence of good blues: sweaty, hot, and going right to the soul. He followed that with the funky “Sir Karl” from their 2007 Love & Light release, and wrapped it all up with the band’s classic “M.L. in the Sunshine” from the debut release. Talk about taking one back to the early enticements of smooth jazz!

Upon her return to the stage, Sae knocked it out of the park with their stellar cover of legendary songbird Gladys Knight’s “Licence to Kill” from the James Bond movie soundtrack of the same name (found on their 2000 More Than the Best release as “License to Kill”). The horn section certainly had the license that night as that tight ensemble totally lit up the chorus.

The songstress went on to ignite the audience to a fever pitch with other electrifying tunes, ending with the rockin’ finale “End of the World” from the new release.

An exciting, very eventful event, for sure…full of fun, hot music, and a sense that we all had finally met old friends with whom we had been communicating for over 20 years but hadn’t yet seen. Let’s not make it so long to see each other again, guys! In fact, do feel free to make U.S. performances a habit now. — Ronald Jackson

Photos by Lisa Jay