Picks of the Week: July 31 – Aug. 5

July 31, 2012

 By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Overtone

- July 31. (Tues.)  Overtone.  This impressive sextet of a cappella singers from South Africa are on the verge of breaking onto the international music scene.  Discovered by Clint and Dina Eastwood, they’ve got the right support to match their extraordinary potential.  Let’s hope they have a few more dates in the Southland. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 1. (Wed.)  Bob McChesney Quintet.  If there’s a better trombonist than McChesney – technically, creatively and inventively – I’d like to hear him (her).  In the meantime, here’s a chance to hear Bob in action, backed by the fine support of pianist Andy Langham, saxophonist Rob Lockart, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Peter ErskineVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

The Neville Bros.

- Aug. 1. (Wed.)  The Neville Bros. Farewell Tour.  The inimitable Neville’s celebrate their more than three decades of prominence as a New Orleans icon.  Also on the bill, the funky exuberance of Trombone Shorty and the Crescent City roots-rock of Roddie RomeroThe Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 1. (Wed.)  Miles Evans Big Band.  Trumpeter Evans is the son of the legendary arranger/composer Gil Evans.  The mission of his band, he says, is to “pick up where Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorious and Rashied Ali left the notes on the page.”  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 2. (Thurs.)  All Beethoven.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lionel Bringuier conducting, perform Beethoven’s lively Symphony No. 7.  And violinist Renaud Capucon joins the ensemble for Beethoven’s only Violin Concerto. The Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 2. (Thurs.)  The Alaev Family.  The Tajikistani Alaev Family, with eight, multi-generational musicians and drummers, performs the music of Central Asia, Turkey, Persia and Russia, along with the Jewish music of Bukhara.  Expect a party atmosphere. Skirball Center Sunset Concerts.   (310) 440-4500.

Ravi Coltrane

- Aug. 2 – 5.) Thurs. – Sun.  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  The son of the iconic jazz great, John Coltrane, Ravi Coltrane – also playing the tenor and soprano saxophones – has carved out a uniquely inventive style of his own.  His playing deserves to be heard at every opportunity.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 3. (Fri.) Sony Holland.  Her singing has been critically praised, but Holland has not yet received the popular response that she deserves.  She’ll be performing with the prime ensemble of pianist Andy Langham, bassist Hussain Jiffrey, drummer Kendall Kay and her husband, guitarist Jerry HollandVitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Aug. 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Pixar in Concert.  The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins presents an evening of music and video celebrating characters from such memorable Pixar films as Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E and more.  The Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

Strunz & Farah

- Aug. 4. (Sat.)  Strunz and Farah.  Niyaz.  A pair of superb groups – early leaders in the emergence of the World Music genre appear on the same stage.  Strunz and Farah with their remarkable 2-guitar excursions; Niyaz led by the soaring vocals of Azam Ali.  Grand Performances.    Niyaz also appears Aug. 9 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Orange County.

- Aug. 4. (Sat.)  “Cosmic Oscar” The Music of Oscar Brown, Jr.  One couldn’t ask for a more entertaining and illuminating program than the songs of Oscar Brown.  Add that the presence of precisely the right performers: Dwight Trible & Co., with Trevor Ware, bass; Breeze Smith, percussion and soundscape artist; Paul Lagaspi, drums; John Beasley, piano.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at Boston Court. (310) 271-9039.

San Francisco

- Aug. 4 & 5. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Family Stone. Still keeping alive the memory and the music of one of the great groups of the ‘60s and ‘70s, some of the original members revive the great Stone classics.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- Aug. 2 – 5. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  More than three decades since they arrived on the New Orleans seen, the DDBB is continuing to prove that traditional New Orleans style has plenty of room to encompass bebop, funk and beyond.  Jazz Alley.  http://www.jazzalley.com/calendar.asp  (206) 441-9729.

New York

Jane Monheit

- Aug. 1 – 5. (Wed. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit. The mellow-voiced Monheit celebrates her first decade as a performer a five night run, singing selections from the 10th anniversary album, Home. The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

- Aug. 2 – Sat. (Thurs.- Sat. )  Irabagon Fest. Irabagon, winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk saxophone competition, demonstrates his creative versatility on three  consecutive nights, with three different ensembles: Thurs., Jon Irabagon Trio; Fri.,, the Barry Altschul Group; and Sat., the Jon Irabagon Jazz Quartet.    Cornelia St. Café.  (212) 989-9319.

- July 31 – Aug. 4. (Sat.)  The Masters Quartet.  For the line up of Steve Kuhn, Dave Liebman, Steve Swallow and Billy Drummond, “Masters” is the only appropriate title.  Expect to hear music as rich and bracing as a vintage bottle of Chateau Lafitte Rothschild..  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

- Aug. 3 & 4. (Fri. & Sat.)  Legends of Latin Jazz.  The Classic Jazz Series, celebrating the 1012 Olympics, features two evenings of great Latin jazz, performed by the U.K.’s top jazz artists.    Ronnie Scott’s.    (0) 20 7439 0747.

Paris

Patti Austin

- Aug. 2 (Thurs.)  Patti Austin Group.   Versatile Patti Austin can sing anything from pop to soul to r&b, blues and jazz.  And do so with authenticity, swing and sheer entertainment panache.  She may not be a huge name, but she’s a great vocal artist.  New Morning.    01 45 23  51 41.

Tokyo

- Aug. 5 – 7. (Sun. – Tues.)  The Count Basie Orchestra.  Yes, the Count Basie Orchestra still lives – with vibrancy and rhythm, performing some of the most memorable big band classics in the history of jazz.  Don’t miss this one.  Blue Note Tokyo.   03. 5485.0088.


Here, There & Everywhere: Micah Altshuler Sings About A La La Dream…

July 31, 2012

By Don Heckman

When iRoM’s London-based, European correspondent Ella Leya told me she’d written a song for her ambitious teen-age son, Micah, I was intrigued.  I knew Ella was a gifted singer/songwriter – her songs have been featured on such films and TV shows as Ocean’s Twelve, PU-239, My Sassy Girl, Dirty Sexy Money, and Samantha Who.  But I didn’t know that musical ambition had arrived in the next generation.

When she sent me a video of Micah doing the song, I was even more intrigued.  I’m not familiar with the music aimed at young teen demographics, and I was surprised by the relatively mature subject matter of the song – until I discovered that today’s young teen music is not about prom nights and puppy love.  And Micah, in his stoic, but charming way, tells the song’s story with exactly the right trace of detached intensity.   Here’s a colorfully atmospheric video of Micah and the song.  Posted on a special day.

Happy birthday Micah…


CD Review: Greg Lewis “Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black”

July 28, 2012

Greg Lewis

 Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black

By Brian Arsenault

Listening to jazz genius Thelonious Monk has always made me anxious after about eight minutes, confirming son Kurt’s belief that I am a music primitive.  Interestingly, however, it’s Greg Lewis’ composition on the second track of Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black, not surprisingly titled “In the Black,” that gave me my first taste of Monkxiety on the album.

The first track, a Monk composition like most of the album, entitled “Little Rootie Tootie” is this jumpy little tune about Monk’s then infant son. Maybe it’s Lewis’ big Hammond organ sound that smoothes out the dissonance of Monk for me.

Greg Lewis

Lewis is said to be self taught on the Hammond, imbued with Queens New York church music.  And we’re not talking the church music of New England Congregationalists here. Listen to “Ugly Beauty” to get my drift.

But it is Monk that is Lewis’ primary musical love. “Uwo” — for short, it means the number two in an African dialect — is the second in a Monk trilogy Lewis has dedicated himself to accomplishing.

“Little Rootie Tootie” is but one of the songs with family ties on the album. The other-worldly but plain-titled “Skippy” is dedicated to Monk’s sister.  Was she extraterrestrial? I’ve always thought Thelonious was from a place where rhythm and tempo are different, just as I believe Charlie Parker was from some faraway place where music is better.

Continuing the family based songs, there’s Lewis’ tune “Zion’s Walk,” written for one of his sons, and Monk’s beautiful “Crepuscule with Nellie,” a dedication to his wife.  (For the uninitiated, “crepuscule” means “twilight.”)

Isn’t it funny that we don’t commonly think of cool jazz guys composing about kids, spouses and family? The songs have to be odes to good scotch and late and nasty nightlife, right?  It shows that hipsters too can fall into cliches and base prejudices.

“GCP”, is named for the Grand Central Parkway in Queens, New York, where the liner notes (of course they aren’t “liner notes” anymore, are they?) say the song first came to Monk.  Puts me in mind of James Joyce walking endlessly around Dublin coming up with story lines. Even if you sometimes have trouble with the intricacies and complexities of jazz generally and Monk specifically, you’ll easily follow this bouncer. And like it.

Throughout the album, Lewis’ organ playing alternates from crescendos indicating that angels are about to arrive to soft, ‘crane to listen’ melodiousness.  He’s balanced by sometimes downright scary drumming by Nasheet Waits and sings harmony with tenor saxophonist Reginald Woods.  (Note to Woods, if I was even half as accomplished at anything I’d want to be known as “Reggie”.) Guitarist Ron Jackson fills in where Reggie doesn’t.

There’s a stretch in the middle of the album led off by “GCP” and including “Stuffy Turkey” and “Bright Mississippi” which will make the whole house feel good on a bright Sunday morning.  I’d call it happy time but that doesn’t do the tunes justice singularly or collectively. Joyous works.

The album concludes with “52nd Street Theme,” which Monk wrote but never recorded. I think he should have.

Photo courtesy of All About Jazz.

“November and Other Tales”

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Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart.  To check it out, click HERE..

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Live Music: The Los Angeles Philharmonic Performs Ravel, Gershwin and Bernstein at the Hollywood Bowl

July 28, 2012

By Don Heckman

French and American musics of the early 20th century were linked by many common interests, not the least of which was jazz.  On Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the baton of Stéphane Denève, gave an illuminating performance of works by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel revealing an intriguing interlacing of classical ambitions, French spirit and jazz rhythms, along with occasional traces of blues-tinged harmonies.

Leonard Bernstein

It was no surprise to hear the jazz qualities in Bernstein’s On the Town and his overture to Candide. Both works display his capacity to avoid literal connections, instead applying the subtly underplayed use of jazz elements as imaginative musical enhancements.  Solo passages – convincingly performed by trumpeter Donald Green on “Lonely Town” and alto saxophonist James Rotter on “New York, New York” – added more jazz timbres to the mix.

George Gershwin

Gershwin, of course, did have a more literal connection to jazz.  And his An American In Paris is a stirring example of the French/American jazz connection.  Memorable to many for its showcase visibility in the 1951 MGM musical of the same name, the music itself reaches well beyond its use as a ballet number for Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.  In the hands of the Philharmonic – which includes so many players whose skills reach beyond the demands of the classical repertoire – the results were captivating, simmering with gorgeous melodies and irresistible rhythms.

Maurice Ravel

The same was true, from a somewhat different perspective, of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. A lyrical adagio movement surrounded by a high powered opening Allegramente and followed by an equally dynamic Presto, the work reaches from fast-fingered, driving energies to balladic lyricism. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet soared through the demanding score with ease.  Technically masterful, he found the rhythmic lift Ravel invested in the fast passages, as well as the lyricism of the second movement.

The emphasis shifted dramatically toward the French side of the evening with the performance of Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe,” originally commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes.  Its embracing melodic themes and lush harmonies, however, have established it as one of the classics of the Impressionist repertoire.  And, once again, the marvelous players of the Philharmonic offered as adept and communicative a rendering of this work as they did with the evening’s more diverse material.

The most significant solo segments of Daphnis and Chloe – a sequence of atmospheric flute passages – were delivered with ease by flutist David Buck.

However, from a contrarian viewpoint, it’s also worth mentioning the evening’s only questionable aspect — that Denève’s conducting, lacking in focus for the early part of the performance, seemed far more in touch with the subtleties of the Ravel score than with the Bernstein and Gershwin works, in which the rhythmic electricity appeared to be sparked more by the energies of the players than by Denève’s baton.

Appropriately, given the often expressed view of jazz as the “sound of surprise,” the Program closed with a sudden, unannounced event, when the Philharmonic unexpectedly began a reprise of Candide, and the Bowl’s pyrotechnic masters kicked off a stunning display of fireworks.  Perfectly linking the Bernstein work’s surging rhythms to the equally exciting overhead display of fire and lightning, it was the ideal climax for a musically stirring evening.


Dance and Visual Art: Sharon Lockhart/Noa Eshkol at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through September 9

July 25, 2012

By Jane Rosenberg

Modern art and dance had a unique relationship in the world of twentieth century performance.  To name a few collaborations: Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham, Alex Katz and Paul Taylor, Isamu Noguchi and Martha Graham.  And early in the century, Ballet Russes choreographers such as Fokine, Massine, Nijinsky, and Nijinska utilized the artistic genius of Bakst, Benois, Goncharova, Picasso, and Matisse.

At LACMA, in a somewhat different vein, a singular collaboration between artist and choreographer is on view.  Consisting of five freestanding screens, a film installation by artist Sharon Lockhart displays dancers from Noa Eshkol’s Israeli company performing her system of movement.  Visually arresting, these horizontal screens inhabit the galleries, offering the viewer an intimate relationship with the dancers, who, projected life-size, move across our field of vision in hypnotic patterns.

To be precise, the photographer/filmmaker Sharon Lockhart’s collaboration is with the Noa Eshkol Foundation.  The Israeli choreographer died in 2007 at the age of 83, and it was her foundation that approved the filmmaker’s proposal in 2008.  The company, consisting of both younger and older dancers, offers us a glimpse into the mind of Eshkol, largely unknown outside of Israel.  Eshkol, along with architect Avraham Wachman, created the Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation system, “a combination of symbols and numbers to define the motion of any limb around its joint, this system can describe virtually every perceptible movement of the body.”

Faces impassive, dressed in black footless tights and black leotards, the dancers, move to the rhythm of a metronome, the only “music” in any of the dances.  To call them dances seems somehow imprecise.  It might be more appropriate to call them kinetic sculpture. Sometimes circling one another like warriors, sometimes moving like sleepwalkers on a nighttime prowl, or shamans praising the sun, the dancers offer up a catalogue of Eshkol’s fascinating gestures, putting the viewer in mind of tai chi, tribal rituals, animals and birds.  The LACMA website describes her work as “dance practice”; Eshkol chose to call it chamber dance – either description fits; and seen in five minute segments, it rewards the spectator who is willing to stand and focus.

Interestingly, there are no benches provided, and many museum goers gave the dances a cursory glance and moved on, which made me ask: is this work that can be sustained in live performance as dance concert or is it simply illustrated notation brought to life – a demonstration rather than a performance?  No matter what the answer, the conceptual and minimalist nature of Eshkol’s practice seems most aligned to the investigations of the visual artists who rose to prominence in the sixties and seventies, such as Sol Lewitt, Kenneth Snelson, and Agnes Martin to name a few.  Further proof of Eshkol’s allegiance to minimalist structures is evidenced in Sharon Lockhart’s attractive photos of wire and mesh models created by Eshkol and Wachman as teaching tools.  They are described as “models of Orbits in the System of Reference.” These beautifully constructed pieces illuminate in three dimensions the Eshkol/Wachman system and bring to mind Russian Constructivism, an art movement that had a profound impact on the Minimalist art that followed. Pages of notation, drawings, and archival material shown alongside the photos shed light on Eshkol’s concerns.

Also on display are “wall carpets” created by Eshkol from found and donated fabric scraps, which are entirely independent of her dance investigations.  Lockhart found these textiles interesting and chose to place them in the films as improvised set design.  This is not only the weakest decision in the show, but also absolutely contrary to Eshkol’s desire to have her dances performed without the interference of sets or costumes.  Unhappily, Lockhart manages to not only distract us from the dances, but also undermines the purity of her own filmmaking as well as the purity of the choreographer’s compositions.

Nevertheless, without Lockhart’s efforts to intertwine their two sensibilities, the “dialogue” between filmmaker and choreographer would not exist and those of us outside Israel would have been the poorer for it.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets

Jane is also the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORYa: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children

To read more reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.



Picks of the Week: July 24 – 29

July 25, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Street Corner Renaissance

- July 25. (Wed.) Street Corner Renaissance. With a quintet of singers whose age ranges from 50 to 72, the lush a cappella harmonies and crisp rhythms of the Renaissance convincingly bring the sound of groups such as the Ink Spots and the Chiffons vividly into the present. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466=2210.

- July 26. (Thurs.) Frank Petrilli Ttrio, A protégé of the great jazz accordionist Frank Marocco, Petrilli continues the musical quest to keep the creative subtleties of the Marocco style alive. He’ll perform with bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Enzo Tedesco. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 26. (Thurs.) Jean-Yves Thibaudet Plays Ravel. French pianist Thibaudet plays the jazz-influenced Ravel Concerto in G on a program rich with other jazz-influenced pieces. Among them: Bernstein’s Cadide and On the Town, along with Gershwin’s An American In Paris. Pure Ravel fans will also be pleased by the presence of his atmospheric Daphnis and Chloe. Stephane Deneve conducts the Los Angeles PhilharmonicHollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Sherry Williams

- July 27. (Fri.) Sherry Williams. She’s always been a fascinating singer, but as Williams has matured, her interpretations have gained rich emotional depth, enhanced by the embracing warmth of her voice and the subtle rhythms of her captivating phrasing. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- July 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) The Producers. Mel Brooks’ riotous story, first an Academy award-winning film, then a hit Broadway musical – the winner of 12 Tony awards – is this year’s annual fully staged Bowl musical, Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- July 28 (Sat.) Bibi Tanga and the Selenites. Multi-instrumentalist Tanga has been effectively blending funk, African rhythms, French cabaret with traces of Prince and Curtis Mayfield, and making it all work as an irresistible mix.  The performance opens with the hip hop breaks and soul jazz grooves of Breakestra.  Grand Performances. (213) 687-2159.

- July 28. (Sat.) The Baked Potato All-Stars. All-Stars is the right label for a stellar band that includes Ernie Watts, saxophone, Mitch Forman, keyboards, Mark Ferber, drums, Brian Bromberg, bass, Jeff Richman, guitar. The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

Bonnie Bowden

- July 29. (Sun.) Bonnie Bowden. Bowden’s impessive resume reaches from singing solos at Disneyland and bossa nova with Brazil 66 to television, musical theatre and gigs as a big jazz band chanteuse. Dipping into her small band jazz routines, she’ll be backed by the world-class support of pianist Llew Matthews, saxophonist Rickey Woodard, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Roy McCurdy  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

- Jul 28 & 29. (Sat. & Sun.) Michael Franks. Singer/songwriter Franks was one of the life-giving musical voices of the ‘70s, bringing appealing traces of jazz and Brazilian music to such endearing songs as “Popsicle Toes” and “Mama Wants To Know.” At 67, he’s still going strong, still an engaging singer and writer. Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

Chicago

- July 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Claudio Roditi Quintet. Brazilian trumpeter Roditi has carved his way into the American jazz scene without losing touch with his Brazilian roots.  Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Jan. 25 – 28. (Wed. – Sat.) Pablo Ziegler’s Tango Connection. A close musical companion of the iconic Astor Piazzolla, pianist/composer Ziegler has been one of the pathfinding exponents of Nuevo Tango. Starting with the Piazzolla style, he’s added improvisational jazz, bossa nova-like harmonies and a crisp, percussive style to his music. He’ll be joined by special guest Regina Carter. Birdland. (212) 581-3080.

Anat Cohen

- July 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Anat Cohen’s Invitation Series. Clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Cohen seems to become more versatile with every performance. This time out, she fully demonstrates her eclecticism in a succession of musical encounters. On Thurs: with guitarist Romero Lubambo. On Fri.: with guitarist Howard Alden. Sat.: On With the Anzic Orchestra. On Sun.: With pianist Fred Hersch. Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

London

- July 26. (Thurs.) Al Jarreau. Tickets may be hard to locate, but it’s worth every effort to hear one of the world’s most uniquely gifted jazz singers up close and personal. Ronnie Scott’s.  (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

- July 28. (Sat.) Roberta Gambarini Quartet. Italian born Gambarini has thoroughly established herself as a jazz singer whose skills transcend her origins, thoroughly linking to the jazz mainstream while bringing new imagination and ideas to everything she sings. New Morning. 01 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 28 – 30. (Sat. – Mon.) Larry Carlton Quartet, Guitarist Carlton has crossed over easily from blues and funk to straight ahead jazz and smooth jazz, blending all those styles into his own personal form of expression.  Blue Note Tokyo. 03.5485.0088.

Street Corner Renaissance photo courtesy of Bobby Holland.

Bonnie Bowden photo by Bob Barry


Live Soul: Smokey Robinson And The Los Angeles Philharmonic At The Hollywood Bowl

July 23, 2012

By Devon Wendell               

Before Smokey stole a piece of the Hollywood Bowl stage forever Friday night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic demonstrated its love for American standards.  Half of the evening’s program was a dedication to the American classic song books of Bernstein, Mancini, and Gershwin by the Philharmonic under the conduction of Sarah Hicks, but it was headliner Smokey Robinson who made the show’s focus about soul and intimacy.

After the “Star Spangled Banner,” the Philharmonic performed a focused reading of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture From Candide and a rather pedestrian rendition of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” as well as a quick run through of selections from George Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess.  As stellar as the orchestra was, however, it didn’t quite seem to fit with the distinct R&B mood and sound established by the King of Motown, Smokey Robinson.

Smokey Robinson

After a brief intermission, Robinson and his band took the Bowl stage and immediately launched into his Motown classic hits (with and without The Miracles): “Going To A Go- Go,” “I Second That Emotion,”  “Tears Of A Clown” and “You Really Got A Hold On Me.”  The instant Smokey came onstage, he owned it for the rest of the evening.  At 73 years young, his charisma and his vocal abilities have only gotten stronger.

This proved to be especially true on slow ballads such as “Quiet Storm,” “Ooh Baby Baby” and a magnificent cover of Bart Howard’s standard “Fly Me To The Moon.”

Smokey then paid tribute to The Temptations, performing a medley of songs that he wrote for his Motown cohorts such as “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “Get Ready” and “My Girl.”  This was a nostalgic moment for those of us who know the importance of Smokey Robinson as a prolific song writer, and an educational survey for the younger people in attendance who may not know.

Smokey’s sensual power and vocal mastery were frighteningly powerful. That silky vibrato, those falsetto notes, breathy pauses, and the way he can hang on a phrase like no one else, made this a performance to remember for a lifetime. Smokey sang like a great jazz instrumentalist in his prime.  One of the many highlights of the evening was a brilliant take on Norah Jones’ hit “Don’ Know Why,” in which Robinson stretched out every verse to emphasize the song’s meaning, making it feel as though this song had been written just for him. He rang out the final verse “Don’ know Why I didn’t Come” like it was his primary purpose in life.

Smokey’s energy seemed to have no bounds. He walked back and fourth on the stage with the intensity of a gospel preacher in the heights of a sermon.  Smokey rubbed his body in a sexual manner as he accompanied the scantily clad lady dancers.  And none of it seemed inappropriate.

Smokey sang an a cappella tribute to Motown founder and best friend Berry Gordy (who was seated close to the stage) in the melancholy “Did You Know?”

Then the orchestra exited for the final portion of the show and Robinson did a set with just his band, starting with one of his newer tunes, “Love Bath,” which was slow, slick, and nasty in all the best ways.  At times, the band played at the level of a whisper in which you barely knew they were there, so as not to take away from Robinson’s electrifying magnetism. It takes a truly great band to pull that off.  Guitarist Robert “Boogie” Bowles played hook after hook along with Demetrious Pappas’ tasteful but psychedelic synthesizer lines in a way that was hypnotic and funky.

Background singers Kari Benoit, Serena Henry and Amon Bourne got to really show off their harmonic skills in this last set, especially on “That Place,” “Just To See Her” amd “Tu Me Besas Muy Rico,” a sexy ballad sung in both English and Spanish.

On “Tracks Of My Tears,” the entire Bowl crowd sang along with every word.  Smokey took his time and the band played a slower arrangement of this Miracles masterpiece. After this highlight of the show, Smokey and company closed with “Cruisin’,” bringing a few audience members onstage and asking sections of the audience to sing along with the song’s chorus.

As the music stopped, it felt as though it could have kept going all night. Smokey Robinson clearly has the key to a universal song book – one that lasts forever in the hearts of anyone lucky enough to experience it it.

Smokey was backed by Demetrious Pappas: musical director and keyboards, Harold “Tony” Lewis: drums, Gary Foote: bass, S’Von Ringo: keyboards, Kenneth Gioffre: saxophone and flute, Robert “Boogie” Bowles: guitar, Karri Benoit, Serena Henry, and Amon Bourne: background vocals, and dancers Tracie Burton and Linda Cevallos French.

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To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell, click HERE. 

 


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