Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Berks All-Star Jazz Jam

Thursday evening the traditional Berks All-Star Jazz Jam took place at the Crowne Plaza Reading ballroom, this is a festival favorite and usually sold out, with tons of our favorite players joining the stage for some fun and lots of improvisation. The event traditionally is put together by guitarist Chuck Loeb, the lineup consisted of drummer Marcus Finnie, bassists Gerald Veasley and Brian Bromberg, saxophonists Everette Harp, Eric Marienthal, Gerald Albright, Kim Waters and Kirk Whalum, guitarists Chuck Loeb, Norman Brown, Jonathan Butler and Nick Colionne, plus Rick Braun on trumpet, Jay Rowe on keys, Pat Bianchi on the organ, and singer Lindsey Webster.

As usual the stage was crammed to the brim when they started the show with a lengthy rendition of "Cantaloupe Island" with everybody soloing, before they continued the show in smaller groups of players. Next was the funky JB classic "I Feel Good" featuring saxophonist Gerald Albright and guitarist Nick Colionne, followed by the Stevie Wonder favorite "Superstitious" featuring Jonathan Butler and singer Lindsey Webster both doing a great job. After that things slowed down with Kirk Whalum putting all his heart into playing "Europa", his tribute to the late Gato Barbieri, which was very moving. They finished the first set with the Miles classic "So What" featuring Rick Braun and Kim Waters, plus a host of other players.

After the intermission, they continued with a straight ahead number, the great Clifford Brown number "Sandu" featuring Pat Bianchi on the organ, plus the horn section, followed by the beautiful "This Masquerade" featuring Jonathan Butler on vocals and guitar. Another goodie was Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" featuring Gerald Albright and Norman Brown, before things slowed down again with the beautiful "I'm A Natural Woman" featuring singer Lindsey Webster sensitively supported by saxophonist Kim Waters. They concluded the show with a long version of "The Chicken" that had all the players on the stage, even saxophonist Eric Darius joined in for this final track, bringing a great concert to a rousing end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Berks Bop Night

On Wednesday evening, the annual Berks Bop Night took place at Building 24, the event is put together by guitarist Chuck Loeb and features straight ahead jazz only, drawing from the vast catalog of classics with lots of improvisation by all players involved. The band consisted of Marcus Finnie on drums, Brian Bromberg on acoustic bass, Jeff Lorber on keyboards and Chuck Loeb on guitar, plus the horn section featuring saxophonists Eric Marienthal, Everette Harp and Gerald Albright, plus trumpet player Rick Braun. They kicked off the show in high gear with "Straight No Chaser", next was Dizzy's "Night In Tunesia", Bird's "Donna Lee", Monk's "'Round Midnight" featuring Gerald Albright, finishing their first set with Sonny Rollins' lively "St. Thomas" that was opened by a lengthy bass solo by Brian Bromberg.

After the intermission they continued with Bird's "Ornithology", before they slowed it down with "Body & Soul" featuring Rick Braun on vocals, they wrapped it up with Bird's "Now Is The Time" with a little audience participation. This was as always an impressing showcase of the incredible musical talent we have here at Berks and a loose and fun night that is well worth the attendance.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Joey Alexander

Sunday night, piano prodigy Joey Alexander appeared at the Miller Center for the Arts. This 12 years old boy from the Island of Bali, Indonesia has been baffling audiences ever since he entered the scene, attracting interest and support from people like Herbie Hancock and others. He appeared in a trio setting with drummer Ulysses Owens and acoustic bassist Dan Chmielinski. He opened his show with "Smile", followed by John Coltrane's "Countdown", Thelonius Monk's "Criss Cross" and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage". I was quite fascinated by the full sound he got out of his Steinway grand piano and his accomplished piano playing, once this boy immersed himself into the piano, nothing held him back and he expressed himself in a way that was way beyond his age, it was subtle and powerful at the same time. He ended his show, which lasted a little over an hour, with a blues number, leaving an excited and impressed audience. I look forward to hear him again and see where his musical journey will lead him.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Pieces Of A Dream

Part two of the double bill Sunday afternoon were Pieces Of A Dream, the classic Philly band featuring founding members James Lloyd on keyboards and Curtis Harmon on drums, still going strong promoting their current release All In. Featured saxophone player was Tony Watson, plus David Dyson on bass and a second keyboard player. Guitarist Rhon Lawrence was absent. They kicked off their show with the groovy "Turn It Up", bringing things nicely up to speed. After one more track from the new album they went back to one of their biggest classics, "Mt. Airy Groove" from 1982 with a slamming bass solo by David Dyson that had him even break a string, but he kept going relentlessly nevertheless, plus a powerful drum solo by Curtis Harmon. They slowed down the pace with the melodic "Quiet Nights In The City" featuring James Lloyd on keyboards, followed by the introspective "For You", dedicated to his late mother, which was started out beautifully solo on the keys before the rest of the band kicked in. After that, we got a surprise with special guest Barbara Walker, singer on the original version in 1981, performing a funked up version of "Warm Weather" with the band. Then we got "All In", the title track of the current album, and the beautiful "Anywhere You Are", a song written by Curtis Harmon for his wife, both featuring the soulful sax of Tony Watson. The fun segment contained James Lloyd playing his keyboard the opposite way blindfolded, before they wrapped up their show with the Beatles classic "Come Together" with James Lloyd doing an extended stroll into the audience with his keytar strapped on. This band always provides an entertaining show full of great music.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Greg Adams & East Bay Soul

Sunday afternoon we got a double bill, starting with the great East Bay Soul led by trumpet player Greg Adams of TOP fame. The lineup of the band consists of two trumpets (Greg Adams and lead trumpet player Lee Thornburg), three saxophone players (Darryl Walker who also takes care of all the vocal duties, Greg Vail and Johnnie Bamont, who also plays flute and baritone sax), plus Nick Milo on keyboards (former longtime musical director for Joe Cocker), Kay-Ta Matsuno on guitar, Herman Matthews on drums, Johnny Sandoval on percussion and Dwayne "Smitty" Smith on bass (who also played with Boney James). This extensive lineup of seasoned players brought a great bunch of funky tunes to the stage, Darryl Walker provided great vocals with "Little Black Dress", one of the many songs they did from the current album That's Life. Next was a nice instrumental featuring Greg Adams on flugelhorn and Johnnie Bamont on flute, followed by the groovy "To Catch A Thief" from the East Bay Soul 2.0 album and a heartfelt rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On" featuring singer Darryl Walker. The pace picked up with the swinging "Damned If You Do" from the current album, with more great vocals by Darryl Walker, but he really killed it with his ultra soulful performance of "Going In Circles", that had people cheer and sing along. They continued with another instrumental featuring Greg Adams' mellow flugelhorn and the horn section, before delving into "Let's Stay Together" with everybody singing along. They closed their show with a lengthy instrumental giving everybody some solo space, especially guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno delivered a burning guitar solo, as expected they were called back for an encore, doing "Jump, Shout And Holler" from their debut album, complete with some audience participation. This was one of the best shows so far, my only complaint was that it was far too short.

Sunday morning we had the Smooth Jazz WJJZ Sunday Jazz Brunch with saxophonist Andy Snitzer and special guest guitarist Nick Colionne. It was held at the Inn At Reading, after a nice buffet, the music started with Andy Snitzer who was backed by an excellent band which provided the perfect backdrop for his soulful and expressive playing. He opened with "As I Was Before", followed by the beautiful "American Beauty", the title track of his brand new CD dedicated to his 21 months old daughter. Next were "Marseille" featuring a great guitar solo, "Velvet", his tribute to one of his idols, Grover Washington, Jr. and the slow burning "Passion Play", which still is a radio favorite. Then it was time to bring his special guest Nick Colionne to the stage to raise the heat a little bit with his awesome guitar playing, especially memorable was the heartfelt "When You Love Somebody". Andy Snitzer continued the show with his own "River's Road", the soulful "Next To You", a song dedicated to his wife and "Taking Off" from the Traveler album. Nick Colionne joined again to finish the show with Andy Snitzer's first hit "You've Changed", bringing a really nice and entertaining show to a satisfying end.

Saturday night's Midnight Jam led by bassist Gerald Veasley was another great musical experience. He was backed by his usual core players as the night before, among the string of players joining in were saxophonists Andrew Neu, Greg Vail, Andy Snitzer, Elan Trotman and Art Sherrod, drummer Third Richardson, keyboardists Rob DeBoer and Bobby Lyle, bassist Brian Bromberg, guitarists Chieli Minucci, David P. Stevens and Nick Colionne, who brought the house down with his famous "Dirty Dishes Blues", plus a few more players that I cannot name right now. It was another memorable and entertaining night. There will be two more Midnight Jams at Building 24 next Friday and Saturday.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Phil Perry with Howard Hewett

At 10pm, two of the best soul/r&b singers on the scene were due with Phil Perry and Howard Hewett. Phil Perry had a killer band laying down a smooth and still grooving musical carpet with 3 great background singers (with Lori Williams and Vanessa Williams), he started the show ripping through his catalog with songs like "You Send Me", "Say Yes", the pace picked up with a great cover of Christopher Cross' "Ride Like The Wind", followed by "The World Is A Ghetto", delivering another great vocal performance. Then Howard Hewett joined the stage, doing "Stand Up", a song he recorded together with Phil Perry, before his own segment of the show took place. Howard Hewett went through some of his most cherished songs, this guy is pure magic and his singing is simply mesmerizing. Then Phil Perry came back and continued with songs like "A Better Man", "La La Means I Love You" and "Love Don't Love Nobody" among others, a special highlight was singing "Where Is The Love" with his wife Lillian Tyles Perry, which provided some moving moments. This was a great show by two consummate singers providing many magical moments.

In the evening, Four80East led by keyboardist Rob DeBoer and percussionist Tony Grace performed at the Building 24, with special guests guitarist Matt Marshak and saxophonist Art Sherrod. They created their continuous carpet of cool grooves that had us nodding our heads, interspersed with great solos by all involved. Matt Marshak on guitar blends very well with this unit, while saxophonist Art Sherrod injected a lot of fire into the proceedings. They had me in the palm of their hand right from the start. They kicked off the show with the title track from Positraction, then the guests were featured with Matt Marshak doing his song "Lifestyle" and Art Sherrod doing "Nobody Greater" from his latest spiritual release. Next were "Sandbar", "Cadillac Kid" featuring Matt Marshak, "Smooth Groove" featuring Art Sherrod, both showing their tremendous skills. Then some audience participation was in order with "To The Eastside, To The Westside", which is always fun. Matt Marshak played the great "Teddy P", one of my favorites from his catalog, before Art Sherrod did his rendition of EWF's "That's The Way Of The World" with "My Cherie Amour" thrown in as a bonus with some more audience participation. The groove picked up with some more Four80East classics like "Eastside", the song that put them on the map, having people get up and dance. This was a great and very entertaining show with some of my favorite musicians, definitely one of the many highlights of this festival for me.

Next was saxophonist Michael Lington who originally hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, but now resides in the US for many years. He belongs to the top of the smooth jazz genre and delivered another great show backed by a killer band plus a 2 piece horn section courtesy of the Berks Horns, kicking off with some songs from his current album Second Nature, before special guest Taylor Dayne joined to sing "I Can't Stand The Rain", then going back to sing some of her early hits. Michael Lington featured more songs from his brand new album, which was recorded in Al Green's studio in Memphis with members from Al Green's band plus remaining members of the Stax band, plus the Dap-Kings in NY, plus Booker T, oozing the spirit of this era. After that segment, he did a beautiful rendition of "Everything Must Change", wandering around in the audience, which left a remaining impression. Taylor Dayne came back to do a few more songs, among them the Barry White classic "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe" plus more of her own, before Michael Lington wrapped up the show with his rendition of AWB's "Pick Up The Pieces", having people get up and dance. They were called back for an encore, first Michael Lington did a heartfelt cover of a Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song", then Taylor Dayne joined in to do the Rufus classic "You Got The Love", finishing a great and varied show.