Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Berks All-Star Jazz Jam

Thursday night at 8pm, the traditional Berks All-Star Jazz Jam took place at the sold out Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom, due to the fact the longtime host of previous years, Chuck Loeb, had to play with Fourplay that night, it was trumpet player Rick Braun and bassist Gerald Veasley hosting the show. The night was dedicated to the late Jeff Golub who passed away this new year's eve at the age of 59. As always, there was an incredible amount of talent crammed onto the stage playing for us that night, the lineup consisted of Eric Valentine on drums, Brian Bromberg and Gerald Veasley on bass, Nick Colionne, Chieli Minucci, Peter White and Marc Antoine on guitar, Everette Harp, Euge Groove, Gerald Albright, Marion Meadows and Paul Taylor on saxophone, Bobby Lyle, Jay Rowe and Joe McBride on keyboards and Rick Braun on trumpet, plus singer Elliott Yamin. They opened their show with "Cold Duck Time" giving each player some solo space, bringing things up to speed. After that song with all the artists playing, they continued the show with varying combinations of players. Next was Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", later they did Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" featuring Joe McBride on vocals, before singer Elliott Yamin joined the proceedings for Jr. Walker's "Shotgun" with Euge Groove being the featured saxophone player, as a surprise guest, Kirk Whalum stepped onto the stage for some additional fun.

After the intermission, the show continued with Ronnie Laws' "Always There", Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island", then Nick Colionne was featured on "Nick's Blues" with some great guitar playing and witty lyrics. For a change of pace, we got an unplugged rendition of Chick Corea's "Spain" on four guitars, before Elliot Yamin came back to do Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love", which is always a crowd pleaser. As an encore, everybody came back to the stage to play "Mustang Sally", bringing another great All-Star Jazz Jam to an end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Billy Cobham

On Wednesday evening at 7.30pm, one of my personal highlights with the concert of legendary drummer Billy Cobham was due. He is touring to promote the 40th anniversary of his seminal album Spectrum which was released in 1973. The drummer is 70 years old by now but still at the height of his craft, his drumming was powerful and flawless, and witnessing his playing is an awesome experience. He had a great band with him, Ric Fierabracci was on bass, Gary Husband on keys and the inimitable Dean Brown on guitar. The ensemble went through some lengthy fusion tracks with lots of soloing, especially Dean Brown and Gary Husband were stretching out a lot. They did songs like "Stratus", the nice laid back "Heather", and - as an encore - the inevitable "Red Baron", bringing a great fusion show to an end. Accompanying this tour is a 2CD set of a live recording from this tour with the same band called Spectrum 40 Live.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Berks Bop Big Band

On Tuesday evening 7.30pm, the Berks Bop Big Band was appearing at the Building 24 in front of a packed house, boasting a first-rate lineup with Brian Bromberg on acoustic bass, Lionel Cordew on drums, Jeff Lorber on keys, Chuck Loeb on guitar, plus a 13 piece horn section, featuring saxophonists Everette Harp, Eric Marienthal, Gerald Albright, Andrew Neu, plus Chris Heslop on baritone and Rick Braun on trumpet, apart from some of NY finest trombone and trumpet players completing the band. The band also released their CD Bop that night, whose proceeds will support the Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Foundation. Lorber, a kidney transplant recipient, has PKD. The band played a large selection of be bop classics, kicking off their show with Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time", followed by others like Monk's "Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser", "Night In Tunisia", "St. Thomas" and others with spirited solos by all members of the band, delivering another exciting evening for the true jazz fan.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Dianne Reeves

At 7.30pm, songstress extraordinaire Dianne Reeves appeared at the Miller Center For The Arts with her stellar quartet. This venue provided the intimate setting that was very suitable for her music, she was totally in command of her voice and dazzled us with her flawless singing, doing songs that ranged from gospel to jazz to soul. Her sung introduction of the band members is always a very enjoyable part of the show, her band consisted of Peter Martin on piano and electric keyboards, Romero Lumbambo on electric and acoustic guitar, Reginald Veal on acoustic and electric bass and Terreon Gully on drums. She was in fine form and ended the night with "Better Days", one of her signature songs.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Gerald Albright

After an intermission, our favorite saxophone player Gerald Albright was on, he had a stellar band with Chris "Big Dog" Davis on keys, J.J. Williams on drums and Ace Livingston on bass. He is such a consummate player and gave the people what they wanted with songs like "Bermuda Nights", "It's A Man's Man's World", "Anniversary" and "Georgia On My Mind". He also played the flute which was nice change of pace. Very notable was the string solo of Chris "Big Dog" Davis which was a riot and a crowd pleaser. One more great show by the G-man.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Jazz Funk Soul

The afternoon continued at 2pm with the show of Jazz Funk Soul featuring the combined talents of Everette Harp on saxophone, Jeff Lorber on keyboards and Chuck Loeb on guitar, they were backed by the awesome Rayford Griffin on drums and Ron Jenkins on bass. They did a varied and interesting show featuring tracks from their JFS release plus a few from their individual catalogs, like Jeff Lorber's Hacienda. Everyone poured his heart into their performance, I was glad to see Everette Harp back in stride again.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Urban Jazz Coalition

Sunday morning at 10am, there was the Sunday morning brunch at the tent, which offered the opportunity to hear the Urban Jazz Coalition, a jazz-funk band from Columbus, OH which was founded 20 years ago by bass player Phil Raney. They delivered a nice set of covers by Marcus Miller, the Rippingtons, Kirk Whalum and others, plus a number of their own compositions that featured the various players of the band, among them saxophonist Richard Randolph. They ended their nice show with Weather Report's "Birdland".

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Incognito

At 10pm, the always welcome Incognito under the guidance of Bluey Maunick appeared at the Crowne Plaza Ballroom, opening their show with a funky instrumental track featuring Sid Gould on flugelhorn, they had their usual three piece horn section with two new members. We got the deluxe lineup of singers with Tony Momrelle, Vanessa Haynes, Maysa and special guest Deborah Bond, bringing things up to speed with "Roots". The tested rhythm section consisted of Francesco Mendolia on drums, João Caetano on percussion and Francis Hylton on bass, plus musical director Matt Cooper on keys and Francisco Sales on guitar. Needless to say, we got plenty of soul, funk and jazz with the band delving deep into their vast catalog of classic tracks, among them the encore "Always There" inviting Najee on flute to participate on this one. This band always provides a great show.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: The Soul Of Jazz

At 7pm, The Soul Of Jazz took place in the Santander Performing Arts Center featuring a number of top-class artists, backed by a great band. They kicked off the show with Nick Colionne on guitar doing one of his tracks, with Gerald Veasley on bass and Najee on sax, before it was Brian Simpson's turn to show his skills on the keyboards. Then Maysa came to the stage to deliver some beautiful renditions of her biggest songs, like "Hypnotic Love", after that Najee played Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet" on the flute, he is such an perfect player, with lots of audience participation singing along. Then Gerald Veasley, Nick Colionne and Najee were the featured players during some slamming smooth jazz tracks, before Maysa did her signature song "Deep Water", which was pure bliss. Najee played some nice soprano sax, boasting some flawless circular breathing technique, before it was time for Jeffrey Osborne to deliver his greatest songs like "On The Wings Of Love", "Love Ballad" and the always entertaining "You Should Be Mine (Woo Woo Song)", coming out in the audience and having people woo woo themselves, which was loads of fun. People got up during "Back In Love Again", then everybody came back to the stage to do a rousing version of "I'll Be There". This was an outstanding show by a bunch of world-class artists, simply mesmerizing!

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers

Next was saxophonist Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers, her band consisted of Randy Jacobs on guitar, Third Richardson on drums, Rodney Lee on keys, Derek Frank on bass, plus special guest Sweet Pea Atkinson on vocals. As a special bonus, they had the Berks Jazz Fest horn section with them. The band played a mix of smooth jazz with hits like "Bloom", "Lucy's", a few numbers that leaned a bit more toward rock, with Mindi on vocals. Sweet Pea Atkinson joined the show in a great red suit and hat, I especially liked his rendition of "Slow Down" with the funky backdrop. Mindi's sax playing was strong as ever, she is really on top of her game. This was an entertaining show by a seasoned performer with a lot of variety, straddling the line between smooth jazz, rock and funk.