"Good music touches the Emotions and the Spirit in a way Nothing Else Can." ~ E.W. Ho
On a scorching hot July summer night, two of the most celebrated and distinguished performers in the smooth jazz genre made an exhilarating appearance. The high energy pairing materialized at the 512 seat Ovation Theatre located inside the lavish Green Valley Ranch Station Hotel/Casino. Their inspired performance was just as torrid as the Nevada desert air outside. Trumpet maestro Rick Braun and saxophone superstar Richard Elliot, his ARTizen Music Group labelmate, dazzled the audience with a 90 minute plus horn-drenched show. Also featured were an impressive array of sidemen. The rhythm section, which consisted of worldwide renown drummer Ricky Lawson (former Yellowjacket co-founder) along with the stellar earthy bass of Nate Phillips, was superb. Together, they formed a rock-solid foundation the entire evening. Versatile keyboard player Ron Reinhardt and polished guitarist Dwight Sills completed this formidable lineup. Both Reinhardt and Sills were awesome all night; either in supporting or leading roles. These four sidemen were all seasoned veterans who knew how to best compliment and support the two headliners.
An early show highlight was provided by Richard Elliot with his performance of "People Make The World Go Round". He prefaced the song with a sincere introduction. He stated that the tune was recorded on his Metro Blue CD; which was special and memorable for him due to it being the first co-production project by himself with Rick Braun. He also said that the song was originally done by the classic Philadelphia group The Stylistics. When it came out on the radio, quite a few years ago, nothing really sounded like it. What made it distinctive, he added, was it being appropriate to the times we're living in then, and now. Richard also asked the crowd, if they were familiar with the key part, to join in and sing along. The organ then played a swooshing sound and Elliot began playing. He slowly let the tempo build as he caressed each note lovingly. The band joined in and Braun accented the sweet melody with his muted trumpet. Elliot got down on his knees, coaxed lion-like roars out of his zebra-stripped tenor sax, and played with obvious deep-felt emotion. It was a lovely song and a most stirring moment.
Before the start of the next song, Richard feints surprise to find Rick standing out in the audience. As Braun began playing the crowd favorite "Cadillac Slim" the audience clapped along in time as Rick deftly glided through the crowd. Soon Richard had joined Rick, and was cutting his own path down the aisles. Like all the songs performed during the evening, it received an extended treatment. It was a sizzling showcase of the pair's magnetic charisma and abundant skill. Nate Phillips moved forward to center stage to play a masterful bass solo. This display diverted the crowd's attention for a couple minutes and gave R & R a chance to appear back on stage for the song's conclusion. The crowd stood in unison, with shrill whistles and loud screaming, to show their appreciation.
The single, "Better Times," gave every member of the band an opportunity to exhibit their respective mastery of their instruments with major solo moments. "Better Times" contained classic interplay between trumpet and sax with that impossible-to-resist melody which helped create such a big radio hit. The keyboards, bass, drums, and guitar all took turns in the spotlight. Dwight Sills stepped out of his earlier rhythm guitar role to demonstrate the proper use of his whammy bar to employ some wavy notes from his guitar during his solo time. Ricky Lawson shone brightly on his Pearl® drumkit and showed machine-like precision.
My favorite concert highlight of the evening came with Richard Elliot's rendition of "Your Secret Love". This selection was his contribution a couple years ago to the extremely successful "Forever, For Always, For Luther" project. Elliot's passionate performance on this number was absolutely inspired and soulfully sublime.
Hugh Masakela's infectious "Grazing In The Grass", which had appeared on Rick Braun's "Shake It Up" CD collaboration with Boney James, was dynamic and had the crowd back up on their feet. The band left the stage for a couple minutes, only to return amidst thundering cheers to perform the encore. Bill Withers big hit "Use Me" provided another chance to get the audience further involved. Braun set the microphone stand facing the crowd, and had them joining in to sing the "Til you use me up" repetitive refrain. He maneuvered across the stage from side to side pointing the microphone toward each section of the audience in an attempt to prod them to out sing the last. Everyone in the packed house was up dancing energetically and having a great time.
This concert was a prime example of the old axiom "time flys when you're having fun". The show seemed to be over much too soon. In summation; the marvelous musicianship of R'n'R coupled with their outstanding song selection, deeply touched my emotions and raised my spirit in a way that nothing else could.