The cozy confines of the Chrome Showroom located inside the Santa Fe Station Hotel and Casino provided the stage for a stop on the annual summer tour of jazz's premier performers they simply call "Guitars and Saxes". Smooth jazz fans in Las Vegas were treated to a musical feast of supreme sensory satisfaction and non-stop excitement as the lineup this year is equal to the marvelous pairings of past years. Featured were guitarists Jeff Golub and Peter White, saxophonists Gerald Albright and Jessy J, and keyboard master Jeff Lorber. The super-solid rhythm section was expertly manned by the funky groove bass playing of Dwayne "Smitty" Smith and the expert drumming of Eric Valentine. Each player is a superstar in their own right (with Jessy J a future superstar) and this 2008 ensemble features a perfect balance of urban funk, retro soul rhythms, and hints of blues rock, all mixed together with breezy melodic guitars. The supergroup concept is very entertaining with each participant bringing their own unique vibe to the mix. Also, each is able to draw hits from their extensive back catalogs while still focusing primarily on their most current CDs to provide the audience with lots of familiar favorites. After a quick review of upcoming jazz concerts by host and local jazz event fixture/DJ, Cat Lee, the show was off and running.
The opening medley began with Lorber's "Tune 88" (a great funk filled song originally from Water Sign (1980), then rekindled on his 2005 Flipside CD), then moved to "Promenade" (the title cut from Peter White's hit 1993 CD). Jeff Golub then helped the medley really pick up momentum after doing a breakneck guitar run that seques into the former number 1 song across the nation "Ain't No Woman" from his most current and outstanding CD Grand Central. His cover of the classic Four Tops song exhibited Golub's immense range and versatility and it sounded so good. The medley then flowed "To The Max" (a big hit on smooth jazz radio co-written by Gerald Albright and Jeff Lorber) from Albright's "Kickin' It Up" to end the masterful medley to a thunderous reception. When each of the players has a complete mastery of their respective instruments, such as tonight, it makes it easy for them to communicate amongst themselves. What they are communicating tonight is "let's have some fun". They immediately have the crowd in the palm of their hands.
Peter White's Playing Favorites CD provides the tandem treat that comes next. The first of the pair is his take on the legendary Grover Washington Jr. classic "Mr. Magic". The second is "What Does It Take". Peter clearly plays from his heart, as his talented fingers convey deep heart-felt emotions that touch the listener with their undeniable beauty.
Lorber gets reintroduced, and "Toads Place" provides the vehicle for some great keyboards overlaid with Golub's great tasty licks as the entire band cooks. Proficient Eric Valentine grooves on his Sabien cymbals and Jessy J also sounds great and she fits right in alongside the veterans. Golub is so cool and funky, a guitar slinger who stalks the stage like a predatory cat, a tiger hunting game. He too shows deep emotive feeling with his play, and he is definitely on his game tonight. His weapons of choice this evening are a beautiful brown classic Gibson ES-355 (similarly to B.B. King's Lucille) that he starts the show with, and then his trusty red 1965 Fender Stratocaster that he utilizes for the rest of the night.
Albright comes back out and the crowd "gives it up" for Gerald. The house is showing Gerald Albright "love" all night and he returns it while maintaining his assured stage presence with a confident swagger. "YA HAVING FUN LAS VEGAS," he asks. You can imagine the response he's looking for .and receives! He then states: "I'm excited to be here in Las Vegas, and excited about telling you about my new album coming out. It's called Sax for Stax and it celebrates Stax Records and their celebration of 50 years of wonderful songs. Stuff like Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd, Staple Singers, and The Dramatics. We'd like to do a selection from that very CD entitled "Never Can Say Goodbye"." The song, a hit for Isaac Hayes, the godfather of "gruntin' get down funk" and also Motown's Jackson 5 is played with loving respect by all involved. I predict this upcoming album will be a massive seller, as Gerald mines the rich ore that is the Stax back-catalog.
"Dangerous Curves" has Lorber layin' down a groovin' rhythm for Golub to soar over. He plays his axe with heart and conviction, and a tone that is stunningly splendid.
Golub then steps to the mic for some serious stage patter. He begins by stating he's from a small town in Ohio, and later moved to New York City. As he relates ."I didn't move to NYC until I was an adult and it was quite a shock. When I first got there, I was a little overwhelmed by being around so many people all the time. So I wrote this song I was tryin' to capture the emotion of being surrounded by nine million people; but being lonely and all by myself. This is the title track off the second Avenue Blue CD .it's called "Naked City"." And to this observer Jeff did capture the emotion perfectly, as one could easily imagine being in the heart of the beast that is NYC. He is effervescent and makes his guitar cry in a manner reminiscent of the late, great Roy Buchanan.
Dictionary.com (a great website btw) thusly describes surreptitious: ..suhr-uhp-TISH-uhs; suh-rep-.., adjective:1. Done, made, or gotten by stealth.2. Acting with or marked by stealth. It's a perfect title for this song, that has a great stealth-like funky bass line, and provides Lorber a chance to show off his considerable & tasty swing chops. "Surrepticius" is one of the great songs contained on creative Jeff Lorber's He Had A Hat CD (primarily mixed by Paul Brown and produced by Bobby Columby, the fabulous drummer from Blood Sweat & Tears, who's now a top-notch producer). Two other songs from "Hat" were performed during the evening: "Anthem for a New America" (played right before Surrepticius, containing smooth lush chords, and familiar to radio listeners) and BC Bop (nice bebop old-school jazz feel) played a bit later in the show. Note that Gerald Albright makes an appearance on the "Hat" CD, along with many other greats, and the recording earned Lorber a 2008 Grammy Nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
Jessy J, the fresh young saxophonist from Paul Brown's live band (she's featured on his title track White Sands) makes the most of her opportunity to grab the spotlight, as she plays her big hit "Tequila Moon" which is the title track of her recent "coming out" CD. She's the "genuine article" and commands a strong stage presence of her own. She possesses a big warm sound on her tenor. She's profiting from each stop of this tour; stepping through this door of opportunity and picking up lots of new fans in the process.
Peter White takes center stage and leads the group in a song from his Reflections CD titled "The Closer I Get To You". He has the talent to take songs we all know (this one from Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack), and make them his own, giving this tune a soothing and peaceful treatment as his fingers gracefully slide along the "Super Ace" guitar's nylon strings. It's followed by one of Peter's signature songs "Bueno Funk", which is another huge crowd favorite, and for good reason. Simply wonderful!
Gerald Albright then takes the spotlight again and asks "Are there any Johnnie Taylor Fans here tonight"? Which leads to another Stax chestnut, the late, great Johnnie Taylor's "Cheaper To Keep Her". He then takes us back to the early nineties for a remake of the Johnny Gill original "My, My, My". It's a song that Gerald shows off his hot soulful intensity as he blends the smooth and beautifully delicate holding of notes to perform a song that would be the concert highlight on most nights. Gerald Albright once said "With every note I play, I really want to move people." This song definitely moved me.
Jeff Golub then states that the band is now going to do a song that he rarely gets the opportunity to perform live. The reason being, it's his stunning duet with Peter White "No Two Ways About It" that is breathtaking to behold. Golub captivates the crowd with his guitar wizardry consisting of equal parts virtuosity and magnetic charisma. Peter White provides the perfect foil with his highly melodic sweet as honey guitar work. Although he plays in a slightly less animated style, Peter's love for his instrument shines brightly for all in attendance to witness.
The band gets "old school" for the performance of "B C Bop" a song that Jeff Lorber states is close to his heart as he goes back to his jazz roots. The entire unit loves playing this number, as Eric Valentine in particular really shines bright. The appreciative audience shows their gratitude with a loud ovation.
Peter White comes front and center and tells the crowd "I grew up listening to the Beatles and Rolling Stones in England, but there was a band in the USA that showed me a whole different way to rock out called The Isley Brothers. If you know the words .sing along there's only three words." "Who's That Lady" is the song he's referenced and it starts out deliberate as the melody is played slowly at first. Another simply beautiful piece that showcases his, and the rest's, amazing talent.
Smitty Smith shows his stuff on a brief nimble bass solo, and then a bit of Sly Stones' funky "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"; Jessy J brings out a flute for a small taste of "Oye Como Va" and then they all groove on a smoking fragment of "Cut the Cake". Some bluesy guitar licks lead into the beautiful "Georgia On My Mind" with the R&B artistry pouring out of Gerald's sax and the crowd loudly providing hoots, whistles, and cheers as everybody is on Cloud 9 and not wanting this show to end.
The perfect encore to a near perfect show is "Ain't Nobody", and Jeff Lorber is laying it down, way down! Saxes join in to sing the ain't nobody parts while Lorber displays his magnificent prowess. It's a jam that sticks in my head for a few days thereafter. Leaving the showroom with an extreme music high I notice that everybody has large smiles on their faces. If you should get the chance to catch Guitars and Saxes on tour, don't miss it! It's an experience to relish and is guaranteed to leave lasting pleasurable memories.