Live Music: The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum in “Hooray For Hollywood”

August 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Pasadena, CA.  The warm months of summer always bring a luscious banquet of musical events, much of it presented in colorful outdoor venues. One of the best has begun to emerge in the performances of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra under the baton of Michael Feinstein, amid the gorgeous greenery of the L.A. Arboretum.

And Saturday night’s performance, titled “Hooray For Hollywood,” was a perfect blend of all those elements, brought to their peak under the guidance of Feinstein, who matched his appealing singing and precise conducting with a scholarly knowledge of the rich and diversified music of Hollywood, past, present and future.

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

Add to that the line-up of appealing performers that Feinstein, with the aid and support of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) also added to evening in an obvious quest to create an immensely enjoyable performance. Among the headliners: Debby Boone, Maureen McGovern, Kevin Earley, Alan Bergman, Paul Williams and much more.

The far-ranging tone of the performance began early, with Feinstein’s whimsical reading of (appropriately) “Hooray For Hollywood,” supplemented with some humorous new lyrics as well as Feinstein’s ever amusing sidebar comments.

“I wanted to grow up to be like Alan Ladd, and I did,” he noted, with a smile. (Although he did not look in Paul Williams’ direction when he said it.)

Michael Feinstein conducts the Pasadena Pops

The heart of the show, and the highlight of the vocal performances were energized by tunes from what might accurately be called The Great Hollywood Songbook. Consider the following:

Paul Williams singing “The Rainbow Connection,” a song he wrote for Kermit the Frog in Sesame Street.

Maureen McGovern‘s rich voice, soaring through a sequence of gripping interpretations, vividly bringing to life a medley of songs from”The Sound Of Music.”

Debby Boone‘s “You Light Up My Life,” a song classic from the film of the same name, still completely owned, in every musical manner, by Boone’s still-vibrant singing.

The talented young Kevin Early displaying his musical versatility with convincing versions of a pair of very different tunes: “The Way You Look Tonight” (from Swing Time) and “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (from The Harvey Girls).”

And, perhaps best of all, Alan Bergman‘s stunning reading of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair, with lyrics by Bergman and his wife, Marilyn, music by Michel Legrand. I’ve heard Alan sing it many times, and been deeply moved by each performance.

The music of Hollywood is not just song, of course. Michael Feinstein’s “Hooray For Hollywood” \thoroughly explored that other area – the soundtracks that are essential to a film’s emotional flow. And with an orchestra as adept as the Pasadena Pops, the results could only be world class. As they were.

Among the numerous highlights, there were selections from such familiar film names as Johnny Green, Elmer Bernstein, the Sherman Brothers, Michael Giachino, Erich Korngold, and more:

- The overture to Mary Poppins. The Raintree County overture. Music from The Magnificent Seven. The Prologue to The Sound of Music. Themes from Silverado.(conducted by composer Bruce Broughten),l And the Overture to Funny Girl.

Call it an amazing evening of music, and fascinating glance at the role it plays in the creative workshops of Hollywood. And let me add a coda of thanks to Michael Feinstein, his gifted orchestra and line up of stars, all of whom provided one of the Summer of 2014’s most pleasant experiences.

While I’m at it, Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, along with guest stars, return on Saturday, Sept. 6, for a show that promises to produce similar musical pleasures: “New York! New York!” I’d say don’t miss it. Especially if you’re an expatriate New Yorker.

 


Live Music: ZZ Top and Jeff Beck at the Greek Theatre

August 18, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Cool is one of those qualities that, although hard to precisely define, we sure do recognize when we see it. On Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons, two of the coolest guitar personalities to ever spank the plank, shared a double bill, and also found time to share the stage. These are two who have the cool  in their delivery and style. And as both approach 70 years old their continued prowess with their instruments is inspiring. For guitar enthusiasts this was must see live work and it satisfied mightily.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck went onstage shortly after sundown in a black vest, a wrapped scarf, and the same haircut we have known him with for nearly 50 years. The silhouette is very familiar. For years from the seventies on, his bands have featured him playing with one talented keyboardist or another (Max Middleton and Jan Hammer are notable alums). On Wednesday, there were no keyboards, instead he had a second guitar player, a dynamic young female bassist and a monster drummer… and for more than half of his set he had ex-Wet Willie vocalist and long time collaborator, Jimmy Hall, singing a batch of his more bluesy, guitar-and-vocals oriented tunes.

Beck’s set began instrumentally with “Loaded,” and the band stretched out nicely over a cover of “You Know You Know,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Bassist Rhonda Smith in particular, shined on this,serving up a contrasting mix of slapping and undulating bends.

Lately, no Jeff Beck show is without his instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” On Wednesday that tune was classic JB, with all the dynamics and nuance he is famous for injecting into his interpretations.  Much has been written over the years about his style and he truly stands alone in that nobody else does what he does and if they try to, we know where they got the ideas. It is his multitasking right hand that sets him apart. That right hand often does two or three things at once.  Whether he is tapping the strings, delicately nudging the vibrato arm, working the volume knob, or just ripping open a power chord it all takes a beautiful form. He hangs his hat on controlling chaos in his sound. It blows like a tornado and then stops and pivots on a dime.

Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall

Halfway through the set, Hall came onstage and they reached way back to the Truth album for “Morning Dew.” It’s a powerful song, whether sung by Rod Stewart (on Truth) or by Hall this time. And it’s a great example of how much more than the sum of the parts a vocal line and guitar line can elevate to. They also continued on to cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

But the direction of the evening was shown with last two selections of “Goin’ Down,” from Rough and Ready, and the British blues/rock staple, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” At the end of his set, his “Aw Shucks” grin and slouch said it all. But we would see Beck again, later in the evening.

ZZ Top came on next as the headliner, and put on a uniquely stylized rock ‘n’ roll show. The stage set had a distinctly automotive theme to it, from the red and green lights in the bass drums, to the truck smokestacks that supported the mike stands, and there were many projected slides of sparkplugs displayed like fine hors d’oeuvres.

One really can’t discuss ZZ Top without acknowledging the presence of the beards. Both bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons have beards down past their sternums and also wear black sunglasses, dark hats and similar but happily not identical black pants, coats and shoes. You could say they each look like a cross between Cousin It (Addam’s family) and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers…but can they ever play and dance. The way they carry themselves onstage is one of a kind. Together it’s magic, a comic combination of effortless, confident, and impressive. … and all of these are key strands of cool.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Both Gibbons and Hill are thinner than you might imagine, and light on their feet in a laid back way. Gibbons is pretty much gaunt, but he slides around stage with the same cool fluidity he exudes on guitar.  The two beards can still dance the choreographed steps they learned in the bars and roadhouses of Texas coming up through the ranks. Who knew the dancing and their style would get them noticed, big-time, on MTV in the 80’s? It does look cool, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound like ZZ Top.

For a three-piece band, ZZT puts out a lot of sound. They keep the riffs and the riff-support simple but it sounds tremendous. The bass and guitar are usually playing in unison to make the figure sound as big as possible. The drums were thunderous and on one of the toms there was a huge reverb trigger at work. But on top of it all is Billy Gibbons’ legendary guitar tone…and that’s what sets ZZ Top’s sound apart.

One has to hear Gibbons’ tone to appreciate it. On Wednesday he played a customized old gold top Les Paul. He often plays with a quarter or a peso instead of a guitar pick, and this enables him to put all sorts of overtones off the top of the string with the metal on metal contact. He also has his amps dialed in for huge but not overblown sustain, and very little dirt in his distortion. The end result is a tremendous, clean and bright, clear and soft, lead tone and a magnificently overdriven, but clean rhythm tone.

The band cruised through crowd favorites such as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “ Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and even covered Jimi Hendrix with an impressive rendition of “Foxy Lady.” But perhaps the most telling song was their cover of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” There’s just something about the way ZZ Top plays blues that isn’t remotely like so many other bands that just rock the blues into a distorted and boring cliche. While they do turn it up, ZZ Top’s rhythm section takes a less is definitely more approach for the blues. And again, Gibbons’ guitar tone, just squeezing out the sparks and wheezes was phenomenal. They linked the elusive sparsely powerful intimacy of the old Chicago blues with the big oomph of power trio rock music…not so easy to do well.

ZZ Top’s encore was the big treat and the moment of anticipation- Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons on the same stage.  Bring it on. It wasn’t so much a showdown as a chance for us to finally corral two of the more distinctive rock guitar stylists ever on one stage. Many guitar players who share a stage with Jeff Beck are in awe. Gibbons was simply playing with a peer, so there was no tension to break. Gibbons switched to a Fender Telecaster, so as not to overpower Beck’s Stratocaster.  They Played “La Grange,” and “Tush,” of course, but the coolest song had to be a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Between Gibbons’ low, murmuring growls on the vocal, it was a fine showcase of the two styles and in the end the winner was the audience.

Cool is one of those qualities we tend to associate with youth but it’s really quite remarkable to see older folks retain it and wear it so effortlessly. Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are still two of the cooler cats you’ll ever see nearing seventy years old and playing killer guitar.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Music: “Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration” at the Hollywood Bowl

August 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood CA. The Hollywood Bowl‘s diverse set of Wednesday night programs – from jazz and pop to blues and soul – hit a peak this week with an entertaining tribute to the incomparable James Brown, timed, no doubt, to the recent release of the Brown biopic, Get On Up.

Given the “Godfather of Soul”’s vast catalog of hits, combined with the far-ranging stylistic genres present in that catalog, there was a lot from which to choose in the planning of the program. And the results were well worth the effort.

FH

Christian McBride

Christian McBride

It didn’t take long for the evening to get up to speed, perfectly managed by bassist and Brown fan Christian McBride. Starting with a slide show illustrating Brown highlights, the music, ornamented by a pair of busy dancers, switched quickly into “live” mode with a set by a 14 piece House Band featuring such members of the original Brown band as saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummer Clyde Stubblefield. And it was no surprise that the music was a characteristically hard-driving blend of funk and blues with a seasoning of jazz.

The balance of the evening was handled by four singers, performing with the sort of spirit and enthusiasm that could only be characterized by dedicated Brown disciples. Performances dedicated to artists who have passed away sometimes emerge as imitations without authenticity. But not with this group of singers, all talented in their own right, all thoroughly tapped into the Brown artistry.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette has never quite received the accolades her soul-driven singing style deserves. But, at 68, she can still bring a song to life, as she did in her set, which peaked with a stunning interpretation of “It’s A Man’s World.” Captured by the intensity of her version, clearly inspired by Brown, one couldn’t help but hope to see LaVette again soon in a performance dedicated to her own dynamic interpretations.

Up next, singer Aloe Blacc charged on stage with Brown-like dynamism. And, at 35, with skills as an instrumentalist (trumpet) and complete ease in genres reaching from r&b to jazz and funk to hip hop, he brought his unique diversity and high spirits to a Brown program that began with “The Payback” and ended with “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.”

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo

Benin’s Angelique Kidjo added another intriguing aspect to a richly colorful program. Describing the impact Brown’s music had upon her as a child growing up in Africa, she applied her irresistibly charismatic powers to “Say It Loud” and “I Feel Good.” Stalking the stage, she demanded more interaction with the crowd, dancing across the curved walkway in the garden section, bringing her listeners into her ecstatic calls for musical action. Kidjo has always been an incredibly kinetic performer, and – captivated by the Brown aura — she was even more exciting in her remarkable set.

D Angelo

D Angelo

The evening climaxed with yet another high voltage performance, this one by singer/keyboardist producer D’Angelo. Adding yet another musical slant to an evening overflowing with uniquely engaging efforts to honor James Brown, D’Angelo was joined onstage by actor Chad Boseman, who portrays Brown in the Get On Up biopic. Together they urged the crowd to join them in a spirited singalong version of “Soul Power” – an appropriate ending for a musical evening to remember.

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Full stage, McBride, LaVette and Kidjo photos by Faith Frenz.  D’Angelo photo courtesy of D’Angelo.

 

 


Picks of the Week: August 4 – 10 in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York City, London, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow and Tokyo

August 4, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Aug. 5. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. The official release party for Pat Kelley‘s new CD, Overtones 4 Two Guitars. With Pisano, Kelley, Kendall Kay, drums, and John Belzaguy, bass. Viva Cantina. (818) 845-2425.

- Aug. 5 & 6. (Tues. & Wed.) The Gypsy Allstars. If you like the Gipsy Kings, you’ll be equally impressed by the Gypsy All-Stars who play a similar repertoire, energized by Gipsy Kings alumni Ced Leonardi and Mario Reyes. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

- Aug. 6. (Wed.) Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter. A classic jazz night at the Bowl. On the bill: orchestral renderings (arranged by Vince Mendoza) of selections from the Hancock songbook; and a program of song by jazz vocal star, Porter. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 7. (Thurs.) The Haden Triplets. Charlie Haden’s talented three daughters carry on the Haden tradition of family music making Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- Aug. 7. (Thurs.) Michael McDonald and Toto. McDonald and Toto have been getting together to make music for years, dating back to the 1986 album, Farenheit.  Expect musical excitement from this compelling musical reunion.  The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857

 

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

- Aug. 7. (Thurs.) Judy Wexler. The versatile musical story-teller with a briskly swinging style performs with the sterling backing of Jeff Colella, piano, Kenny Wild, bass and Devin Kelly, Drums. The Merc at 42051 Main St. in Temecula. (866) 653-8696.

- Aug. 8. (Fri.) Kamasi Washington and the Next Step. Saxophonist Washington is rapidly establishing himself as one of the Southland’s must-hear jazz artists. Jazz at LACMA. (323) 857-6000.

- Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Gladys Knight and Kool and the Gang. Grammy-winning soul queen Knight is joined by funksters Kool and the Gang for an evening of rhythmic and vocal delights. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Jay Leonhart and Josh Nelson. Bassist Leonhart is often called “the wittiest man in jazz” for his whimsical narratives, but he’s also a world class player as well. Writing in the L.A. Times, Don Heckman described Leonhart as “the Fred Astaire of jazz.” The pairing of Leonhart with the gifted young pianist Josh Nelson should produce some irresistibly intriguing musical results. On Friday at Vitello’s;  on Saturday at Cornerstone Music Conservatory on West Pico Blvd.

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan

- Aug. 8 – 10. (Fri. – Sun.) Stanley Jordan Trio. There’s no one quite like Jordan, who plays guitar with a tapping technique that allows him to create textures, sounds and harmonic clusters rarely heard on the instrument. Add to that his inventive gifts as a jazz improviser. Don’t miss this chance to hear this remarkable artist in action. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 9. (Sat.) The Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band. Violinist Susie Hansen may be a blonde mid-Westerner, but she’s been leading authentically exciting Latin jazz bands for more than two decades. since the early ’90s. As Don Heckman noted in the L.A. Times, “Susie creates a brand of music that is as physically moving as it is intellectually stimulating.” Knott’s Berry Farm. 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park.  (714) 220-5200.

- Aug. 9. (Sat.) The Tom Peterson Quartet. Saxophonist and woodwind artist Peterson is a first call player, with good reasons. Here’s a chance to hear him in the spotlight with a stellar rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Seattle

Fourplay

- Aug. 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.) Fourplay. Bob James, Chuck Loeb, Nathan East, Harvey Mason. They’ve got a reputation for funk and contemporary styles, but this veteran band of superb, veteran jazz artists bring everything they have to whatever genre-of-the-moment they’re playing. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

- August 7. (Thurs.) Charles McPherson. Well-known for his long run with the Charles Mingus band of the ’60s, alto saxophonist/flutist McPherson is also a convincing practitioner of classic bebop. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

- Aug. 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)Django Reinhardt NY Festival “15th Anniversary Celebration.” It’s one of the great annual jazz celebrations, recalling the glories of the great Django Reinhardt with some of his finest musical descendants. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Michel_Legrand

Michel_Legrand

- Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Michel Legrand Trio. Pianist/composer/songwriter does it all – writing songs (often with the Bergmans), scoring films, performing with his jazz trio – and he does it with stunning brilliance. He isn’t heard often in clubs, so don’t overlook this rare opportunity to hear him. Ronnie Scott’s  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Berlin

- Aug. 6 & 7. (Wed. & Thurs.) Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove and his band were in Paris last week. Keeping his numerous European fans happy, Hargrove appears this week in Berlin. A-Trane Jazz. +49 30 3132550.

Stockholm

- Aug. 9. (Sat.) Sonny Fortune Quintet. “In the Spirit of Miles.” Alto saxophonist/woodwind player Fortune, a veteran of Miles Davis’ group of the mid-’70s – brings striking authenticity to his Davis musical celebration. Fasching Jazz Nightclub.  08-20 00 66.

Moscow

- Aug. 5. (Tues.) Alexander Vinitsky. Russian guitarist Vinitsky may not be well-known (yet) in the U.S., but he’s a gifted player who deserves wider international exposure. Igor Butman Jazz Club.  (+7 495) 792-21-09.

Tokyo

- Aug. 9 & 10. (Sat. & Sun.) Akiko Yano Trio. Eclectic artist Yano moves comfortably from piano playing to composition to singing and songwriting. This time out, she’s in a trio setting with bassist Will Lee and drummer Chris Parker. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Picks of the Week: July 29 – Aug. 3 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another hot week, with a lot of venues still in the midst of their Summer hiatuses.  But there’s still some fine, selective music to hear.

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

- July 29. (Tues.) Amanda McBroom and George Ball. Musical theatre and cabaret star Amanda McBroom and actor/singer George Ball present a program of classic songs. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- July 30. (Wed.) Lola Haag, Mark Massey and Friends. The sultry voice of Lola Haag is backed by the jazz piano stylings of Mark Massey and his stellar group. Steamers7.  (714) 871-8800.

- July 31. (Thurs.) Chuck Manning & Steve Huffsteter Quartet. A pair of Los Angeles’ world class jazz artists – saxophonist Manning and trumpeter  Huffsteter take a break from their busy bookings as sidemen to step into the spotlight.  They perform in a piano-less quartet with bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Matt GordyVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) “Hair.”  The classic rock musical of the sixties takes over the Bowl for a rare three night run. A must-see for all boomers. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- Aug. 2. (Sat.) Strunz & Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah are back, making a second L.A. appearance in the past two weeks. Don’t miss them. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

(July 31 – Aug. 3.(Thurs. – Sun.) Vinicius Cantuaria Sings Jobim. Guitarist/singer Canturia, one of bossa nova’s most authentic interpreters, illuminates the Antonio Carlos Jobim catalog of songs. SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Melba Moore

Melba Moore

- Aug. 1 & 2. (Friday & Sat.) Melba Moore. Grammy-nominated, Tony-Award winning r&b, soul, and blues singer Moore is a master of contemporary pop music styles with hits reaching back to the ’70s. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

 New York City

- July 31 – Aug. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.) The legendary Count Basie Orchestra. The irresistible rhythms and big band classics of the Count Basie Orchestra live on, with trumpeter Scotty Barnhart leading the way. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

London

- July 28 – Aug. 2 (Mon. – Sat.) The Average White Band. Four decades after their hit-making years of the ’70s and ’80s, the Scottish Average White Band is still playing their soul, r&b and funk classics. Two original members – Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre – are still present, along with three new members from the U.S. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

Aug. 1 ;& 2. (Fri. & Sat.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Versatile trumpeter Hargrove steps away from his big band to lead a swinging quintet of jazz stars. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 29.  ( Tues.)  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The classic sounds of New Orleans jazz are alive and well in the swinging playing of the preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 


Live Music: Gloria Estefan and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in an “America & Americans” Concert at the Hollywood Bowl

July 28, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Many music purists and snobs might balk at the mere mention of Gloria Estefan and dismiss her as being just another celebrity pop-star.  But Estefan proved to be a stellar musician with the chops, versatility, and stage presence of a great jazz singer at The Hollywood Bowl Saturday evening.

Estefan performed two sets consisting of her greatest hits and material from her 2013 Grammy nominated album The Standards featuring her own soulful twists on some of the most familiar standards from the American songbook.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

Backed by a focused and subtle band featuring some of the greatest session musicians ( Shelton Berg: piano and musical director, Dean Parks: guitar, Carlos Puerto: bass, Ray Brinker: drums, Edwin Bonilla: percussion, Cynthia Medina and Socrates Perez on backing vocals and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (Conducted by Thomas Wilkins). Estefan kicked off the festivities with “Good Morning Heartache,'” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and Jobim’s “Yo Se Te Voy A Amar.”  Instead of dancing across the stage as she did over 30 years ago, Estefan stood poised, elegantly gripping the microphone like a true jazz crooner. Her voice has deepened with age in all the best ways. Her thick vibrato and dynamic phrasing fit these standards perfectly.  The choice of material never sounded forced for one moment.

Actor Andy Garcia made a guest appearance, playing congas on a very sexy salsa reading of Gershwin’s “You Made Me Love You.” This was a highlight of the evening. Estefan’s smoky yet playful vocals jelled beautifully with the pure Latin jazz horn hooks and percussion delivered by Estefan’s band and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Another program highlight was Estefan’s rendition of Fredrick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” dedicated to Estefan’s hubby of 36 years, Emillio. The band played at the level of a whisper. Berg’s stark and minimalistic piano accompaniment complimented every carefully delivered phrase and nuance by Estefan.

Estefan also played more mature,, jazzier versions of her biggest hits such as “Here We Are,” a slow, jazz-tinged arrangement of “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” giving the show a sense of continuity and focus.

On “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” Estefan was joined by The Youth Orchestra Of Los Angeles. These kids really knew how to swing hard, adding more excitement to the program.

Another guest was Estefan’s teenage daughter Emily, who played acoustic guitar and sang Neil Sedaka’s “Where The Boys Are” with her mom singing background vocals on this doo-wop ballad. Emily sounded a lot like her mother when she was starting out in the late ’70s with the Miami Sound Machine.

After a brief intermission, Estefan presented her second set which was more subdued, aside from her classic pop anthems “Bad Boy” and “1-2-3,” although her classic ballads “I Can’t Stay Away From You,” “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “Anything For You” had a sad and haunting feel to them. The lyrics felt more sincere than when they first hit the charts almost a quarter of a century ago.

Estefan’s renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smile” and “What A Wonderful World” had a beautiful darkness to them, especially Shelton Berg’s arrangement of the Louis Armstrong classic. Estefan has one of the most powerful and rich vocal vibratos I’ve ever heard and I hadn’t heard so vividly until this evening’s performance.

As haunting as the material felt at times, Estefan’s warm and humorous stage presence created a nice balance in the show’s overall mood.

The most interesting experiment of the entire evening was a sexy, R&B fueled take on George Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Dean Parks’ rhythm guitar comping played sweetly along with the steady bass line played by Carlos Puerto. Estefan’s vocal delivery proved that she not only has a strong understanding of the complex chord changes but also a deep felt knowledge of the mature lyrical content which separates a good singer from a great one.

Estefan ended the show with the disco anthem “Turn The Beat Around” accompanied by an incredible fireworks display that was synchronized with the music. All in attendance were having a blast, especially the “Glo-Heads,”Estefan’s most loyal fans who took up a third of the upper portion on the Bowl, sporting purple glow sticks.

As an encore, Estefan performed a heartfelt, bluesy reading of the Carol Leigh standard “Young At Heart” to cool things down. The strings, harp, and brass of The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra sounded perfect behind Estefan, creating a dream like ambiance.

Gloria Estefan performed one of the finest concerts I’ve witnessed in a long time, destroying all notions I had of her just being a pop singer. Estefan can do it all and her mature, sultry performance was the perfect fit for a summer concert at The Hollywood Bowl.

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


Live Music: Robert Davi at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

July 26, 2014

By Don Heckman

Robert Davi was back at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Thursday night. And that was great news for fans of the Great American Songbook – as well as fans of Great American pop singing, which Davi does brilliantly.

A highly visible actor, Davi is one of the most memorable tough guys since the era of Humphrey Bogart. In his first film, Contract On Cherry Street, he shared the spotlight with Frank Sinatra, a forecast of a connection that would unfold in his music career. He was also seen as the villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond film, License To Kill. Add to that his presence in the TV series, Profiler and dozens of other pictures, ranging from Diehard, Showgirls and The Goonies to the more recent films The Iceman and The Expendables 3.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Musically, he’s one of the most authentic successors to the Sinatra style. His recent album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance, hit #6 in Billboard‘s Top 10 Jazz Chart.

But his achievements as an actor and a singer – despite their stylistic orientation – cannot be described as type-casting. Whatever assignment Davi takes on, in both arenas, he makes his own. And his Thursday night performance at Vibrato was a definitive example of how he has transformed his affection for the Sinatra style into a uniquely engaging musical expressiveness. And he has done so while including a substantial number of Sinatra related songs in his catalog.

Singing to a packed house at Vibrato, Davi was backed by the stellar ensemble of pianist/music director Randy Waldman, vibist Emil Richards, guitarist Mitch Holder, saxophonist/flutist Gene “Cip” Cipriano and drummer Dave Tull.

Robert Davi and his band at Vibrato

Robert Davi and his band at Vibrato

As in any Davi performance, the first aspect one noticed was the rich, warm intensity of his voice. Trained operatically, blessed with a superb natural instrument, he used his remarkable vocal assets at the service of his equally impressive interpretive skills.

The program sparkled with Sinatra-related tunes, among them the opening “I’ve Got The World On A String,” as well as “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Tender Trap,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and a lot more. Davi sang most of them while roving among the tables with a wireless microphone, delighting his enthusiastic listeners by delivering his songs with up close musical intimacy.

There were other intriguing moments in the program, as well. Shifting into his humorous mode, Davi – who recently returned from working on a film in Moscow – described meeting the “Russian Sinatra.” Imitating what he heard, Davi sang “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else” with his version of a Russian accent.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

In a very different mode, he offered a dedication to Maya Angelou before singing “Old Man River,” with the full range of his remarkable voice, then following it with “River Stay Away From My Door.” Interestingly both songs were performed by both Sinatra and Paul Robeson.

Add to that the rarely heard Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart song (which was also performed by Sinatra) “I Love My Wife.” In addition, Davi included a touching version of “Send In the Clowns,” yet another example of his expanding catalog of songs.

There was one more aspect to this extraordinary evening which was, in addition to its entertainment, a benefit for the organization “America’s Mighty Warriors.” Davi has long been a supporter of the men and women in America’s armed forces. And, midway through the performance actor Jon Voigt introduced Debbie Lee, founder of the organization, whose son, Marc Allen Lee, was killed in action in Iraq while defending his companions.

To Find Out More about “America’s Mighty Warriors” click HERE.

Appropriately, Davi also sang “The House I Live In,” from the short 1946 film of the same name (which featured Sinatra) opposing anti-semitism and racial prejudice.

In sum, the Thursday night performance at Vibrato was memorable in many ways. And Robert Davi deserves full credit for bringing all its elements together. More than a singer and an actor, he is an artist with his own growing, creative vision.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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