The Jazz Attack Tour 2009 marched into Las Vegas for a highly energetic musical assault on the aural sensory nerves, both entertainingly pleasing and extremely satisfying. Piloted by a blend of world-renown musicians including master trumpeter Rick Braun, peerless tenor saxophonist Richard Elliot, and charismatic guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Butler; this version of the perennial crowd favorite concert attraction packed plenty of punch into a 100 minute presentation of great musicianship and dramatic showmanship. Magnificently anchoring the group, and expertly setting the table for the headliners were the foursome of guitarist Dwight Sills, bassist Nate Phillips, keyboardist Arlington Jones, and drummer Sergio Gonzalez.
The lights dimmed and the stalwart sidemen began the show playing the melody from "Tijuana Dance?," the opening song from Braun’s new release All It Takes. After a minute or so, Braun came strolling down the center aisle from the back of the room trumpeting while the crowd cheered. A bright spotlight followed his leisurely journey, as he made his way to the front of the room. Braun gracefully hopped up to sit on the stage ledge where he continued to play brilliantly, never missing a note. With accomplished agility and poise, he rose to his feet and circled the concert stage performing his dynamic new song. Sills added a brief, but potent, guitar lead. The song, by the way, is a respectful tribute to one of Rick’s trumpet idols: the influential Herb Alpert, who rose to fame as leader of The Tijuana Brass.
Braun then introduced his longtime friend Richard Elliot who entered from the wings carrying his trademark zebra stripped tenor saxophone. Elliot, like Braun, also has a tremendous new CD not to be missed. His is entitled Rock Steady, and the group commenced playing the vigorous soulful title track. The song, one of Aretha Franklin’s most stirring anthems, is a perfect vehicle for Elliot. The Scottish born sax man, who spent time in the Bay Area funk/rock band Tower of Power, applied pure emotion and deep-felt sincerity into every robust note he squeezed out of his sax. Without taking a moment’s break, the band broke into another song from Rock Steady, the chart climbing "Move On Up." The entire band was sweltering, especially Elliot, as they gave the song an extended treatment, longer than Richard’s recorded take. In concert, the song approached the length and passion instilled in the song by its celebrated creator, the late great Curtis Mayfield. Dwight Sills mimicked Mayfield’s trademark guitar style beautifully. His technique, paired with the full-of-life rhythm section of drummer Gonzalez and bassist Phillips, took the song to a fervent level.
South-African born Jonathan Butler was introduced, and he entered to exhibit some beautiful Spanish-flamingo influenced jazz guitar on "Wake Up." The left-handed Butler used his thumb sans guitar pick to parade blistering leads. The song also included an inspired drum solo from Sergio, as well as charged keyboards by Arlington Jones and thumping bass from Nate Phillips. Jonathan then informed the audience that he would perform a song from the 80’s. The song Butler was referring to was "Sarah, Sarah," a mid-tempo ballad that featured his beautifully inspired vocals in addition to Richard Elliot’s wizardry on the E.W.I. (electronic wind instrument). Butler sang with rare conviction, passionate and clear, and was simply breath-taking in his delivery.
Jonathan left the stage to staggering applause. Braun took a minute to let the band catch their breath, and gave out website information for an upcoming Smooth Jazz Cruise, naming some top performers who’d be in attendance. In addition to himself and Elliot, he named other major stars such as Boney James and David Sanborn. Rick Braun then demonstrated that he can also wail away on flugelhorn, as the group performed a spirited rendition of his hit "Notorious."
Richard Elliot then presented a quick introduction to his Metro Blue CD remake of the long-ago classic by the vocal group the Stylistics; the perpetual concert crowd favorite "People Make The World Go Round." Elliot braided tremendous emotion into the fabric of the song; displaying fully his tenor sax gifts as he powerfully pulled long majestic notes, as well as passages that resembled lion roars from his instrument. Braun supplied some tasty muted trumpet, but the spotlight was squarely on Elliot, who showed all in attendance why many consider his passion and skills unparalleled on the tenor saxophone. As always transpires, the crowd loudly sang the song’s refrain, showing appreciation of the hardworking artist’s exertion.
Richard Elliot and Rick Braun left the stage for a brief break during which Jonathan Butler led the band in an impassioned version of the Bob Marley classic "No Woman No Cry." Butler’s intense vocals were superb, as was his guitar interplay with Dwight Sills. Butler possesses the gift of singing deep from his heart and soul, and gives each performance a full 100 percent effort.
The entire group had a lot of fun with "Lies," his Grammy nominated song from the late eighties. Sills and Phillips, who previously had largely been stationary in their stage positions, on this song danced around the stage as Butler gave another memorable vocal performance. Jonathan, who proudly proclaimed his grandfather status, loosened up for this presentation by doing a few pushups, to prepare him for the entire group’s athletic antics.
The encore for this evening was the Hugh Masakela good-time song "Grazin’ In The Grass," which Braun had adeptly covered on his extremely successful recording collaboration with Boney James. The amount of raw energy created by these musical masters on this night would almost equal the magnitude produced by the electrical circuitry of the nearby Hoover Dam. Seeing two of the most significant living legends of contemporary jazz (Rick Braun and Richard Elliot) together with the inspirational Jonathan Butler and all the rest made for an unforgettable concert. It was impossible to witness this show and not be charged with an adrenaline rush. Jazz Attack honestly describes the aggressive assault felt on your senses, a byproduct of this stimulating union of musical geniuses.