Smooth Jazz Concert Reviews
Our review of various smooth jazz concerts.
Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club
Jan. 9, 2014, 7:30 pm
For the few days leading up to yesterday, we were all mostly in a good replica of Siberia, with temperatures plunging to ridiculous lows. Yesterday, we here on the East coast began to experience a bit of a thaw, and here in the DC/MD/VA area, that thaw was accelerated by the warm—often hot– sounds of saxman Andrew Neu as he lit up the stage with his brand of great eclectic jazz.
Neu, clearly one of the newest members my “musician of musicians,” displayed his exceptional musical skills and imagination for two solid –and I mean solid—and continuous hours with a remarkable support group of musicians (keyboardist/musical director Demetrius Pappas, guitarist Richard Tucker , bassist Jason Long, and drummer Matt Curran). As if Neu wasn’t enough of a high-octane combustible commodity alone, the band was also in need of a fire extinguisher all night long as they followed and were often showcased (as was the case with Pappas, Tucker, and Curran) with Neu along his path of musical paradise.
Neu played with as much intensity and energy as if he were playing before thousands at a stadium instead of in a quaint supper club. Of course, the many who attended were clearly mesmerized and in heaven with appreciation for the saxman, and if you were one of the souls who just happened to miss this display (and heaven knows I hope it wasn’t because you were concerned about the weather, which really was a non-factor), what you missed was perfection personified.
Truly one of singer Bobby Caldwell’s main and most respected men, Neu started us off in fine fashion with the driving, hot jam “Poolside” from his latest release Everything Happens For A Reason. Having sufficiently warmed the audience for more, he then took a seductive turn and serenaded the fans with another from the same album, the sweet, sexy, soulfully jazzy “Hit Me Up.”
Never one to pass on the opportunity to give kudos to a man he so admires and who so admires him, Neu then offered the track on which he and Caldwell collaborated on Neu’s latest, a tune called “What Would I Do?” This finely sculptured tune was initially so titled to refer to Neu’s love of music and his question to himself, “What would I do if I weren’t playing this wonderful music?” Caldwell later convinced him to consider changing the meaning so that those who do not play an instrument could relate. Thus, Neu chose to pose the question instead: In essence, “What would I do without the one I love?” It worked perfectly. The tune is one powerful piece of seriously romantic jazz.
From this point, Neu chose to segue into another from the album, a tune called “Night of the Mojito,” an up-tempo jazz/blues/boogaloo (young people: Ask a seasoned music aficionado what the term ”boogaloo” means if you don’t know). Tucker’s guitar was totally on fire on this one as was Curran’s drums.
Tucker again showed out on Neu’s funky version of Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take 5.”
To provide even more variety, the saxman rolled over to his Try Something Neu release and allowed his sax to sing the title track and the slow, sultry “Open Mind.”
Touching on songs from every one of his albums plus imaginative covers like Steely Dan’s “Peg” and the romantic Coltrane/Hartman standard “My One and Only Love,” Neu was as thorough as he was good.
Closing with the Latin-tinged “Midnight Buffet” from his debut release, Inspire, Neu left everyone in attendance without a doubt as to why he is so favored by Bobby Caldwell and why so many in contemporary jazz (Jeff Lorber, Steve Oliver, Brian Bromberg, Rick Braun, etc., etc.) bought into his latest release, offering their contributions. Here is polish, poise, and skill personified. If you haven’t yet seen him live, you owe yourself. Many thanks, Andrew, for a night of dazzling jazz and showmanship. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Dwynn Barr
Talk about spreading Christmas cheer and joy! The Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour was certainly dead-on in their mission to do just that at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore last Thursday night. The Center was filled to the rafters with the air and feel of the season.
One thing that I’ve always noted about a Dave Koz show, especially one with a theme such as this one: He knows how to create such a powerful atmosphere and irresistible aura around the show.
That Thursday night at the Modell Center, the friends he brought were the friends you know you love, as well: The wonderfully talented and beautiful keyboardist/composer/humanitarian/storyteller Keiko Matsui, the always effervescent and oh-so-spiritual guitarist/vocalist/composer Jonathan Butler, and the lovely nightingale Oleta Adams, along with a rock-solid group of backing musicians that included musical director/guitarist Randy Jacobs. Now, I ask you: Would they not be enough decoration on and around your Christmas tree?
Kicking it off in the theater full of excitedly buzzing fans, the announcer called out from the audience a violinist with whom I was not familiar before that night, one Aaron Weinstein (I now understand that he has been a part of the Koz Christmas show in the past), and the two proceeded with a humorous chat in a brief skit which ultimately found Weinstein onstage intentionally making a horrid mess of “Jingle Bells” before launching into the more seriously competent playing of the same piece, arousing the appreciative fans to cheers.
We were then shown a brief film where Koz is lying in his bed, thumb-in-mouth and clearly annoyed at the announcer who’s attempting to wake him to get him ready for his show – a show for which he’s supposedly late. Hilarious.
The “real” show finally gets underway with Koz wailing away to the intro to “Get Ready” before morphing into “Winter Wonderland.” Now, we’re really cookin’.
Shortly thereafter, Butler entered with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” If you’ve ever witnessed Butler’s vocals and overall spirit that comes through in those heartfelt vocals, I needn’t say more. Spectacular. Koz and Butler then tore it up holiday-style with “Sleigh Ride.”
Following the pair was the Japanese princess of contemporary jazz, Keiko Matsui, with a wonderful acoustic piano version of “My Favorite Things.” Heavenly.
Enter the lovely Oleta Adams with a swaying and cool “Let It Snow.” Ah, the Christmas season has officially arrived.
Just to toss in a delightful wrinkle, the band hopped into the Jimi Hendrix intro to “Who Knows” from the late guitar king’s only Band of Gypsies live recording. That slipped seamlessly into “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” To those of you who know the Band of Gypsies tune I’ve just referenced: Try to imagine the Santa carol stemming from that! Pure genius, to say the least!
So many bright moments filled this night, from Matsui’s offering of her “Black Lion” track from her latest release, Soul Quest, to the stirring duets featuring Adams and Butler on “The Christmas Song”, Koz and Adams and Butler and Matsui on a humorous version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Koz and Weinstein on a spirited Hanukah tune, to Butler’s offering of “Little Drummer Boy,” including a rousing prelude in his native South African tongue. This enchanting piece can be found on his Merry Christmas to You latest release. Speaking of Butler, absolutely one of the most spirited and soul-stirring moments in the show was his rendering of “O Holy Night.” The audience was beside itself with appreciation as it offered a prolonged and deserved standing ovation.
While the night was full of Christmas spirit, there was still room for each artist to offer one of their most favorite tunes in an “Unplugged” segment. In that segment, Matsui dazzled the audience with a Chopin/Beethoven classical offering while Butler riveted the audience with his take on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Koz offered “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and showed off some superb vocal chops, and Adams offered “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
In addition to the “Unplugged” segment, there was also time for each artist to offer one of the tunes from their more “conventional” releases, which included “You Make Me Smile” from Koz, Matsui’s “Safari,” Adams’ “Get Here,” and Butler’s spirited “Brand New Day” (accompanied by a joyfully participating audience).
With so many moments, so much enthralling music, and such a fullness of spirit, this is one Christmas show, that, if it is coming to a venue near you, you will be doing yourself a gross injustice by not attending. Christmastime and the generous over-two-hour Dave Koz & Friends Christmas show — what a wonderful joy to the world. – Ronald Jackson
Photos by Aira Olave
Birchmere Music Hall
Nov. 24, 2013, 7:30 PM
Tonight, the sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, known for its incredible hospitality, good food, and reputation for featuring top contemporary jazz artists, kicked off a Thanksgiving holiday week with a fabulous concert by the renowned UK group Acoustic Alchemy. This very exciting ensemble of musicians with its own unique style and sound and led by guitarists Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale and anchored by local talents bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Greg Grainger and UK keyboardist Fred White played some of the best music from their 23 albums, and I can definitely tell you that the band spared no talent. Check out how they did it.
Through the initial darkness of the stage, the band entered to rousing applause and opened with their album Arcanum’s “Homecoming.” The mid-tempo groove quickly captured the audience as Carmichael and Gilderdale demonstrated masterful riffs.
These cats kept everyone rocking with their next tune “Overnight Sleeper” from the Natural Elements album. Gilderdale’s solo on the tune was magical. White, adding to the recipe of rocking tunes on the keys, majestically enhanced the guitars. If you like rock, you would have loved seeing Gilderdale strumming the strings on “No Messing” from the 2003 Radio Contact and “Shorty” from the Roseland project.
Among the many musical treats the group offered were their reggae-tinged melody “Jamaica Heartbeat,” which can be found on both the Arcanum and Back On The Case albums, and “Sand In Her Eyes” from the Roseland CD.
At one point slowing the tempo; the band graced us with a traditional style of jazz on the track “Clear Air for Miles” from the Back On The Case album. The performance was just the “breather” that the exhausted audience needed at the time. The impressive tune highlighted the talents of Gilderdale, Carmichael, and White.
Let’s talk about the Grainger siblings and what I consider to be one the night’s most memorable moments. It started with Greg’s dynamic drumming during the performance of “Trail Blazer” from The Beautiful Game venture. Gary’s bass runs on the tune transformed it into an exciting funk-laden track. Next, to further satisfy the audience’s pallet, the band followed up with the reggae-rich title track from The Beautiful Game.
With the audience already energized, the band started jamming the tune titled “Tuff Puzzle” from the Aart CD, and the Grainger brothers initiated an amazing bass and drum duel for several minutes that brought us jazzers to our feet. The band then approached center stage, took a well-deserved bow, and exited the hall only to return at the request of the fans for an encore. That led to their signature hit from the Arcanum project “Mr. Chow.” The Far East-tinged melody fused with delicate reggae features the guitars in beautiful harmony and proved to be an excellent choice to take us into the night.
The buzz around the hall was most cheerful and positive. Although some members have come and gone, the legacy remains. Acoustic Alchemy will always have a home here. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Dwynn Barr
The Birchmere Music Hall
Oct. 19, 2013, 7:30 pm
This concert was actually reviewed by two editors here at The Ride. Both reviews are presented here (most redundancies having been removed) because we felt that it was a concert very worthy of more than one witnessing voice.
If the musical heavens could be opened by the sheer vision of one painting a gorgeous landscape with one’s music, jazz pianist/keyboardist virtuoso Keiko Matsui would have had us looking skyward at that beautiful sight long ago…25 albums ago to be exact, with 24 being released here in the States. Seeing and feeling her portraits of sound and life come to fruition in concert is yet another extraordinary experience.
The lovely artist once again put on a display of her unmatched musical charms at the sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in VA on last Saturday night. The saying “You had to be there” could not be truer in this case, but I’ve attempted to put into words what this aural gift looked like to me.
Matsui appeared with an entirely new band (at least for us) consisting of guitarist J.P. Mourao, bassist Rico Belled and drummer Dave Karasony (both of The Rippingtons fame), and saxophonist Randy Gist. With these guys poised to jam, the pianist gracefully strode onto the stage amidst wild applause and immediately put her soul on display through song with two from her latest release, Soul Quest. The first was the funky mid-tempo “Dream Seeker” immediately followed by the powerful up-tempo “Black Lion,” a track for which she offered a wonderful story about her motivation to create the tune (a painting she spotted in the country of Georgia outside of a restaurant called – what else? — Black Lion. It turns out that there was quite a story behind the artist which further motivated her to write the piece).
Throughout her glowing performance, all eyes and ears were glued on her, and you could plainly see the audience appreciating the depth to which she delved into her soul to pour out her essence in such abundance.
Older gems like 1997’s “Kappa” (from her No Borders release), the story of the elf who kept the Japanese forests alive as long as he lived, and the moving motivations for “Deep Blue” from the 2001 release of the same name, as well as the newer “Antarctica: A Call to Action” from Soul Quest were laid bare for all to witness.
In the audience were a few young witnesses, one at my own table who was a 10-year-old aspiring pianist, and they were clearly in awe of the moments Matsui had created. Living, personified motivation. Who can better embody that than this Japanese princess of boundless musical horizons?
A first for me was the sight of Matsui strolling through the mesmerized audience, serenading all with her keytar. It only proved how much she values the appreciation of and interaction with her audiences.
In addition to one of her signature tunes, “Forever Forever” from her 1998 Full Moon and The Shrine release (a tune where she pays tribute to her younger daughter, then just 2 years old), the pianist graced us with a couple of additional funky tracks from Soul Quest including “A Night With Cha Cha” (you simply must hear her tell the story of her motivation for this one) and her tribute to one of her favorite artists – legendary rocker Sting – on a track called “Stingo” (a first-time live performance of the track). She also fascinated us with her signature “Bridge Over the Stars” from her 1996 Dream Walk release and the classic “Safari” from her 1995 Sapphire release which rocked out the house.
Another track I would be remiss for not mentioning is the sweet and bluesy “Embrace & Surrender.” It’s truly a track for lovers. This night, she surely made someone fall in love all over again.
The very body language of the pianist as she interacted with the keys told several stories. At several points, you could see the emotion take form in her eyes as she fought back tears brought on from the strong driving forces that took her to those wonderful musical places. I know, because I was as overwhelmed and could clearly – oh-so-clearly — understand and feel what she felt.
This is not just music, my friends. No, this is life experienced and imagined to its fullest. To witness Keiko Matsui on her records is one super powerful thing; to see her live out those songs in concert is simply beyond words. Speaking of words, witness the following take on the adventure by editor Mike Sutton – Ronald Jackson
As Ron has already stated, we were blessed tonight with the presence and music of the world-renowned keyboardist and composer Keiko Matsui at the sold-out Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. I am talking about a concert filled with emotion, fun, and passion as each song performed seemed to paint a lively memorable picture, in my opinion, that is beyond comparison.
I must also offer kudos to the remarkable band which featured great solos from drummer Karasony, saxman Gist, and guitarist Mourao during different stages of the night’s performance. Needless to say, the audience demonstrated their appreciation with a standing ovation.
All of the tunes offered were exemplary, and the finale certainly was no exception. That song, “Antarctica: A Call to Action,” is a track dedicated to environmental awareness and spotlighted saxman Gist and bassist Belled. While these cats turned up energy, Matsui played the keys with elevating intensity.
The true end of the night found the pianist rendering two more tunes in her encore: “Safari” from her 1995 Sapphire release and the title track from her 2001 Deep Blue release. These two tunes were definitely a fine way to end this memorable night of smooth jazz. What a ride!
Keiko – contemporary jazzers here in the DC/MD/VA region – like fans all over the world– love you and your music, and The Smooth Jazz Ride would like to thank you for celebrating your 25th anniversary in the music industry with us. – Mike Sutton
Photos by Aira Olave