By Norton Wright
Los Angeles, CA. Over eleven hundred jazz buffs streamed into the Walt Disney Concert Hall last Saturday night for the first every KJAZZ Radio Summer Benefit Concert to hear three separate groups, each with its own unique style. There was something for every taste.
Kicking off the evening was Harvey Mason’s powerhouse, cutting-edge fusion sextet “Chameleon” —
Followed by the nostalgia of 60-year-old songstress Diane Schuur backed by pianist Alan Broadbent’s quintet. Schuur’s singing of jazz standards still brave and swinging –
And for the concert’s finale, the smooth jazz of pianist David Benoit’s and his quintet — but with an exciting surprise in store!
Walt Disney Concert Hall is an acoustic marvel, so the performances of the evening’s individual soloists were dramatic and wonderfully defined. You’ve got to love the positionings of the “Chameleon” sextet. Harvey Mason at his drum set stage left — Bill Summers stage right with his confectionary of four conga drums, a giant, rattle shaker gourd. assorted bells, chimes, and whistles and a beer bottle (to be explained)! Two keyboardists upstage, Mark De Clive-Lowe on piano and John Beasley on his two synthesizers — And downstage center, Jimmy Haslip playing his throbbing 5-string electronic bass, and Kamasi Washington, the LeBron James of tenor men, a giant stage presence structuring his solos with the power and finesse of a Dexter Gordon.
With Mason opening his set with Wayne Shorter’s composition, “Footprints,” the musical exchanges between “Chameleon’s” all-stars took off. Hard-driving arrangements were juxtaposed with diaphanous, almost mystical ballads. At one point, keyboardists Beasley and Clive-Lowe sitting side by side improvised a duet on their separate synthesizer keyboards creating a mosaic of wind-chime beauty.
And when Mason chose to solo toward the end of the set, instead of a show-off “dreaded drum solo,” his work was organic to the tune being played and a delight to listen to. To fully appreciate the unfolding of Mason’s percussive tapestry, the listener does well to remember the drum figure just played and then hear how it leads on to Mason’s subsequent and inventive variation.
And finally for “Chameleon” fun, Bill Summers abandoned his conga drums, gourd shaker, and tambourine to wow the audience by playing the top of a beer bottle like a flute and creating a series of breathy, reggae-styled whoops and licks. At his solo’s end Summers drank the remaining beer and toasted the audience with his bottle raised on high! He got a standing ovation.
Diane Schuur has always been for me brave and beautiful. Blind since birth, she still comes on stage in a sparkly gown, wearing dark glasses and guided by a friend. And now after three decades of performing, she gleefully acknowledged the applause by bowing so deeply to the audience that her head almost touched the floor. Affection spilled out over the footlights in both directions.
Seated on a stool and backed by pianist Alan Broadbent’s quintet, Diane kicked into an up-tempo “’S Wonderful” and moved easily into Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” Suddenly it seemed like it was 1985 again. Deedles scatted through “I’ll Remember You” and then wrung our hearts so intensely with “Didn’t We” that Broadbent and his band, Ernie Watts (sax), Larry Koonse (guitar), Scott Steed (bass), and Clayton Cameron (drums) joined the audience in applauding her!
For a finale surprise, onto the stage walked Diane’s old pal, singer Steve Tyrell, and together they winged it on “How High The Moon” with Diane going stratospheric on the last note before she and Tyrell took a final bow to another standing ovation.
There are all kinds of beauty in the world. Certainly Diane Schuur doesn’t possess the physical beauty of the Alicia Keys cadre, but what spirit, gumption, and tenacity she’s displayed over the years! That’s another kind of beauty — and whether it’s Deedles with the Count Basie Orchestra back in 1987 or with Alan Broadbent’s combo today in 2013, she’s given the jazz world a bounty of beauty and meaning with her songs.
A special word is in order about Alan Broadbent who arranged all the songs for Schuur in this KJazz concert. Alan is that rare artist who provides marvelous support for a singer without overshadowing her with his own spectacular talent.
Note: Alan’s extraordinary piano work can most recently be heard on his solo album, Heart to Heart, (available on Amazon.com and on the CD Baby online music store) in which he dazzles with such complex and intricate keyboard work that without overdubbing, it still sounds as if he were playing duets with himself – probably with his rumored twenty-one fingers and a couple of toes!
In the KJazz Concert, Alan and his combo of all-stars provided solid backing for Schuur: Ernie Watts taking a particularly cool sax break on “I Remember You”; Larry Koonse’ guitar solo perfectly attuned to Diane’s bluesy feel on “Didn’t We”; Scott Steed’s bass solo providing a complex and nuanced reprise of the melody on the same number; and throughout Diane’s set, the reserved but tasty brush work of drummer Clayton Cameron.
And to end Diane’s set with a pyrotechnic change of pace, she and the band invited brush master Cameron to explode on “For Once in My Life” with a thunderous and mesmerizing drum solo featuring brushes and sticks on snare and bass drums, tom-toms, timbales, on an array of sparkling cymbals, and with the rarity of brushes played on bongos. Each percussion instrument was played with different combinations of brushes, drumsticks, timpani mallets, and pom pom sticks — each brush or stick set discarded onto the floor after its particular use. At solo’s end, a joyous Cameron sat atop of a mound of his exhausted and discarded brushes and drumsticks. This is a percussionist who is as much fun to watch as he is to hear.
In the concert’s finale, pianist David Benoit and his smooth jazz quintet paid homage to Benoit’s early idol, Vince Guaraldi, with a take on the “Charlie Brown/Peanuts” theme. But a surprise was in the offing as guest artist Christian Scott joined the ensemble with his crackling trumpet reminding so much of Freddy Hubbard’s aggressive drive on “Walking in Space.” Scott lifted Benoit’s band into unexpected funky territory. Guitarist Grant Geissman caught fire on his solos with the feel of down-home, country blues. Tenor man David Sills, urged on by Benoit and Scott, began to wail. Bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tate followed suit. With his piano lines becoming more muscularly baroque than his expected decorative rococo, Benoit was into robust stride piano licks by evening’s end, and he and his quintet ended the concert up-tempo and gutsy.
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