Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Gospel According To Jazz

Sunday night at 7pm, the last concert of the festival took place at the Scottish Rite Cathedral with the Gospel According to Jazz Celebration featuring Kirk Whalum and guests. He had his usual band with Marcus Finnie on drums, Kevin Turner on guitar, John Stoddart on keyboards, Doc Gibbs on percussion and Braylon Lacy on bass. His guests were Rick Braun on trumpet, Gerald Veasley on bass, plus singers Yolanda Adams, Shelea Frazier and Candace Benson, plus the Doxa Gospel Ensemble, performing music from his current volume 4 of the series. After two solo pieces first by Kirk Whalum, then Rick Braun (doing "Ave Maria"), the band joined the stage to do the latin "Un Amor Supremo", other songs were the Wayman Tisdale classic "Sunday's Best" featuring Gerald Veasley and "Can't Stay Blue". We got some nice vocals as well, first was Candace Benson who poured her heart into it, one song was done just with her sitting at the piano. Later Shelea Frazier was featured in one song, before more instrumentals were played and more preaching by Kirk Whalum was done. The show really started for me when Yolanda Adams entered the stage, the pace picked up and one could really feel some gospel joy, especially when the Doxa Gospel Ensemble joined the proceedings. The show was concluded with the great "Love Is The Answer", after playing for well over 2 hours.

PS: During the show, they announced the first gospel music cruise that will sail in March 2016. More infos at http://www.thegospelmusiccruise.com.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: New York Voices

Sunday afternoon at 3pm, we were in for a special treat by the concert of the New York Voices who were backed by the Reading Pops Orchestra, there was almost not enough space to accommodate all the musicians on the stage of the Miller Center For The Arts, the percussion section was somewhere hidden on the side of the stage, while the band (drums, bass, piano, guitar) was hidden inside the orchestra. Leader Darmon Meader played some saxophone solos during the concert and was responsible for most of the arranging. The four singers took us through a varied selection of songs, among them "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing", "Ain't No Sunshine", "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" and others, some songs were done acapella. The highlight of the show for me was their rendition of the Queens classic "Bohemian Rhapsody" that delighted the crowd. This veteran band is together for 27 years now and their impeccable singing is a joy to behold. This was a memorable show.

Sunday morning at 10am, the Brassy Sunday Jazz Brunch took place at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom, people were seated a tables and after nice breakfast, were enjoying the show by Elan Trotman on sax, Jeff Bradshaw on trombone and Joey Sommerville on trumpet. They kicked off their show with James Brown's "Pass The Peas" and you could feel the fun and chemistry those three players have with each other. Next was the Duke Ellington classic "Caravan", before the three alternated performing material from their own releases. Joey Sommerville did "Desire" from his current album Overnight Sensation, then Jeff Bradshaw did two nice covers with "All I Do" and "Feel Like Making Love", with lots of gutsy trombone playing. Next was Elan Trotman playing his own "Smooth And Saxy" which was simply smooth jazz bliss, then he paid homage to Sonny Rollins with "Don't Stop The Carnival", supported by his two fellow players. Joey Sommerville played the funky "The Next Big Thing" from his current release, then Jeff Bradshaw slowed things down again with a nice R&B track, before Elan Trotman picked up the soprano sax to give us a some island flavor with his own "Tradewinds". The three players united to do the EWF classic "Love's Holiday" which is one of my favorites from the whole EWF catalog, with some sexy vocals by Jeff Bradshaw. The temperature was rising with "Master Blaster", having everybody on their feet, the show concluded with Joey Sommerville's own "Like You Mean It", bringing an entertaining and energetic show to an end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Remembering Joe Sample

At 10pm, a very special show put together by keyboardist Bobby Lyle tagged "Remembering Joe Sample" was taking place at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom with an all-star band, most notably son Nicklas Sample on bass and longtime fellow Crusaders member Wilton Felder on saxophone, plus J.J. Williams on drums, Randy Jacobs on guitar, Doc Gibbs on percussion, Everette Harp on sax, Jeff Bradshaw on trombone and Rick Braun on trumpet. After a short moment of silence for the memory of Joe Sample, they kicked off the show with the Joe Sample classic "Viva De Funk", before Bobby Lyle addressed the crowd with some background information about his personal relationship with Papa Joe, having lived in the same neighborhood in Houston, TX like him, being part of the family. You could feel that Bobby really tried to do his memory justice and reflect his musical persona in this show to its full extent. Consequently, he did "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" (written in 1929) reflecting Joe Sample's love for stride piano, before his connection with Marcus Miller with "Seven Years Of Good Luck" (from the Spellbound album) was highlighted. Then his seminal Rainbow Seeker album was acknowledged with "In All My Wildest Dreams", a beautiful track that belongs to the best work of his whole career. Then came singer Liz Hogue and sang "One Day I'll Fly Away" (originally done by Randy Crawford), followed by "I'm So Glad I Am Standing Here Today" (a Crusaders track originally sung by Joe Cocker), doing both songs justice with her heartfelt performance. After that, Nicklas Sample gave some information about the Joe Sample Foundation and Joe Sample Youth Organization in Houston, before the show continued with Bobby Lyle sitting at the piano doing a solo improvisation that culminated in "It Happens Every Day". The show concluded with the inevitable "Street Life", the biggest hit of his entire career, with all musicians reunited for a grand finale of a truly great tribute show to the late Joe Sample.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen

At 7pm, keyboardist Jason Miles and trumpet player Ingrid Jensen set out to deliver something Kind Of New, with an all-star band at the Miller Center Of The Arts. The lineup consisted of legendary drummer Mike Clark, saxophonist Jay Rodriguez, bassist Buster Hemphill, plus special guests Joe Lovano on saxophone and Lionel Loueke on guitar. Their new album Kind Of New - referring to Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue - had just been released and they played material from the new release. The music was definitely related to Miles Davis, the band tried to pick up from where he left, moving the music to new territory. The music performed on the stage is hard to describe; in parts I was wondering if it was fusion, avant-garde, free jazz, experimental or all of those wrapped together, backed by a funky groove provided by one of the funkiest cats in the business. With lineup changes prior to the show (the originally scheduled Gary Bartz was replaced by Joe Lovano), the ensemble might not have been as tight as it could have been, with sax and trumpet not always blending too well, bordering on cacophony. Still, the show had it merits, especially Lionel Loueke's guitar solo which was quite impressive, and the individual solos of the members were good, particularly Ingrid Jensen's whose trumpet playing was strong. At any rate, it was a show that definitely was very unique.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Nick Colionne

After an intermission, everybody's favorite Nick Colionne was due. Being the best dressed man of the whole music scene, he appeared in a yellow suit and hat which looked just stunning. He went right at it with two high energy tracks featuring his guitar, before he slowed things down with "Melting Into You" to the delight of the crowd, his heartfelt singing and soulful guitar playing make this song simply special. The speed picked up again with "Got To Keep It Moving" and "When You Love Somebody", during this song he did a lengthy stroll into the audience to get close to his fans, several of the females really took the opportunity to rub shoulders and more with the artist, to the delight of the capacity crowd. After that, it was time to get serious and channel the spirit of JB into the band, doing "Superbad", followed by "Whatta 'Bout You" having Nick to get out once more into the audience having people get up and dance, another fun filled segment of the show. After this high energy song, the show was over, leaving many happy faces.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Marion Meadows & Paul Taylor

Saturday afternoon at 2pm, the music continued with saxophonists Marion Meadows and Paul Taylor, who are touring together for the past 4 years, their horns blend very well and those two musicians are obviously on the same page. They were grooving right from the start, supported by a killer band, they had Jay Rowe on keyboards, Jabari on drums and Will Gaines on bass. After kicking off the show together, both players alternated doing material from their own catalogs, like Paul Taylor's "Supernova" and Marion Meadows' "Treasures", a fun track was "Sax And The City" which was a nice change of pace. This was a totally enjoyable show by two classy players, backed by a tight band.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Midnight Jam #3

At midnight, it was time for another Midnight Jam, the core band with host Gerald Veasley on bass, Richard Waller on drums, Donald Robinson on keys and Chris Farr on sax started the night with a groovy instrumental, before all the various guests joined in. Among the many players that I still remember were the legendary Cedric Napoleon on bass, one of the founding members of Pieces Of A Dream, bringing the house down with his funky bass playing. Then Doc Gibbs, also legendary percussion player who played with all the greats (among them Bob James) briefly popped up, among people like guitarists Nick Colionne, David P. Stevens, Marc Antoine, bassist Brian Bromberg, drummer Carl Anderson, saxophonist Erich Cawalla, keyboardists Joe McBride, Tim Gant, bassist Nicklas Sample and singer Elliott Yamin, who wrapped up the night with "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Superstitious". Those jams are always a lot of fun.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Jazz Attack

At 10pm, Jazz Attack appeared at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom. I have seen this band several times, but they manage to entertain me each time. The featured players were Rick Braun on trumpet, Peter White on guitar and Euge Groove on saxophone, plus special guest Elliott Yamin on vocals. The band consisted of Ron Reinhardt on keyboards, Eric Valentine on drums and Nate Phillips on bass. This band plays like a well oiled machine that grooves with perfection. They kicked off the show with Rick Braun coming from the rear doing his "Cadillac Slim", having the audience right in the palm of his hand from the start. Then it was Peter White's turn to do "Promenade", before Euge Groove notched things up a notch with his "Got 2 Be Groovin'" and "Living Large". Another favorite was Rick Braun's "Notorius" featuring his great flugelhorn playing and Euge Groove's gutsy saxophone. Peter White did his cover of the Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady", and while being at it, veered off into "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", which is always a crowd pleaser. Elliott Yamin came to the stage doing his rendition of the Skylark classic "Wildflower", followed by his own "Gather Round" which had people clap along, and others. Peter White did "Head Over Heels" from his Smile album, before he played "Bueno Funk", one of my all-time favorites from his catalog. Then Euge Groove had people dancing in front of the stage with his "From The Top", honoring the best dancer with a prize in the form a vinyl album of his Got 2 Be Groovin' release (yes, vinyl lives!). As an encore, they played "Grazin' In The Grass" and, as people wouldn't let them go, Bill Withers' "Use Me" with Elliott Yamin, bringing a truly great show to an end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2015: Alex Bugnon & Friends

Friday night at 7pm, Alex Bugnon and friends were doing a show called "Honoring the masters of fusion" at the Jazz Base. The band consisted of Tommy Campbell on drums, Gerald Veasley on bass, Chris Farr on saxophone and EWI, Chieli Minucci on guitar and Alex Bugnon on keyboards. The started their show with two of their own compositions, before they started to delve into the rich vault of history's fusion material. Miles Davis' "Tutu" was a great track that not only grooved hard, but also provided lots of opportunities for everybody to solo. Another highlight was their rendition of George Duke's "Black Messiah", one of my favorite tracks of his, which kept our heads bopping. Other material played ranged from Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" to Chick Corea's "Spain", the band was in fine form and played for almost two hours, providing a very nice show that definitely did the masters of fusion justice.