Sunday morning the festival went on with keyboardist Gregg Karukas, he was supported by the house band and the great local saxophonist Miguel Ramon, who blended well in with his smooth and restrained sax playing. They started their show with some original material, first they did "Wildwood", followed by "Nightshift" and "Severna Park", all featuring the impeccable playing by this awesome pianist. Next was "Girl In The Red Dress", having the audience clap along, the song built up nicely and featured several burning solos by various band members, the groove continued with "Riverside Drive", a smashing number with a catchy melody, that went down very well. To slow things down, he did a solo piano version of "Sound Of Emotion" which was very moving. The band joined in for the laid-back "Daylight" that featured more nice sax work by Miguel Ramon. He strapped on his keytar and played some new material from his upcoming album, some even untitled and performed live for the very first time, like a great head bopping funky track that is destined to become a future hit, one more mellow song that boasted his melodic playing style, and a groovy latin track that was off the hook. The show was finished with his own twist on the Beatles classic "Come Together", during this song Günther Asbeck got one more opportunity to funk it up, having everybody get up. This was another memorable show by a consummate artist.
After that, it was time to get back to business with guitarist Peter White, he kicked off his show with a groovy song featuring his great guitar playing, segueing into "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love". He was supported by the house band with Stephan Sagurna on drums, plus two young local horn players from the band Saxophobia Funk Project who did a great job. Next was the cool Isley Brothers classic "Who's That Lady" with special guest Gregg Karukas adding some wicked keys, jumping around on the stage with his keytar strapped on, while Peter took the song to the next level with his distorted guitar sounds, segueing into The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", which is always a crowd pleaser. He slowed it down with "Desert Nights" with a decidedly Flamenco feeling, just accompanied by Greg Karukas on the keys, which was simply beautiful. Then he did his rendition of "I Can See Clearly Now", followed by one his own compositions that featured a great soprano sax solo, and the breezy "Costa Rica" from his current Here We Go album, with a great drum solo by Stephan Sagurna. To get us some rest, the was a solo guitar interlude that included among other tracks the Bee Gee's "How Deep Is Your Love". The groove picked put with his rendition of "Walk On By" with special guest Shilts doing a great sax solo, plus bassist Günther Asbeck funking it up seriously. With the energy up, "Bueno Funk" was the appropriate choice to keep things moving along, Shilts contributed some more smoking sax to this one as well. Then he put his sunglasses on, doing the James Bond theme, before the went into Bob Marley's "Get Up Stand Up" with Jessy J being added to the proceedings, by now the stage got seriously crammed with a veritable all-star band. With all players of the night on stage, they wrapped up the show with "San Diego", after that they were asked back for an encore and did the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On", where Spencer Day was also invited and did some great singing, bringing a truly special night to a rousing end.
Saturday night, the festival continued with Spencer Day, a crooner in the vein of Michael Bublé and Frank Sinatra, still doing his own thing. As usual he was backed by the house band with Andy Pilger on drums, he kicked off his show with the mellow groover "Missing Tonight" featuring his strong velvety voice. Next was "Naturally", a brand new song with a country and western touch, followed by his first radio hit "'Til You Come To Me" and "The Movie Of Your Life" that kept the laid-back groove going on. He did a couple of covers, "Runaway" and The Young Rascals' "Groovin'" done to perfection, which marked an early highlight for me. "Something Wicked" followed with a decidedly 60ies feeling, followed by "Shadow Man" that was another perfect vehicle for his velvety voice. He did an uptempo Nancy Sinatra song, before turning his attention to sad love songs, starting to sing one in Spanish just accompanied by his piano playing, before he did his own "You Don't Know You're Lonely" covering the topic. He concluded his show with "The Mystery Of You", the audience asked for more, so they got the encore with the Frank Sinatra song "One For My Baby", just him singing at the piano. The show was well received, most of all by the ladies in the audience that probably got dragged along by their jazz loving partners, now getting something more up their alley.
After an intermission, guitarist extraordinaire Nick Colionne took over the stage, he was supported by the house band, for his set, drummer Stephan Sagurna took over the drum seat doing a great job. The show was kicked off high energy with two fiery instrumentals that showed his Wes inclined guitar playing to the fullest. He slowed things down with "Rainy Night In Georgia" featuring his velvety voice, one of the highlights of his show. Then it was time to get serious with the hard hitting "Hurry Up This Way Again", during this song he went out into the audience wandering around, doing a lengthy solo that pulled all the stops, delighting his numerous fans. One more of his groovy instrumentals, before it was time to get "wild and loose" with the ultra funky JB track "Super Bad" where he invited guests Shilts and Jessy J on sax and Peter White on guitar to join the party, while Nick Colionne did his famous James Brown impersonation going out into the audience prompting people to get up and dance, which was a riot, the house was cooking. This lengthy jam ended the show, with everybody in a state of excitement, he was prompted to do an encore, so he did his current single "Got To Keep It Moving", ending a truly great concert. Nick Colionne definitely is one of the genre's most entertaining and most consummate performers.
Friday night was opened by saxophonist Jessy J who delivered a very laid-back smooth jazz set with a lot of latin ingredients, relating to her Mexican heritage. The supporting band consisted of the tried and tested house players, we got Lutz Deterra on keys, Günter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Jörg Lenhardt on guitar. She opened her set with the nice "Remember The Night" that featured her smooth tenor sound, before she did her first vocal with the Brazilian classic "Manha De Carnaval". Next was her own "Sin Ti (Without You)", keeping things nicely grooving along, with the pace picking up again with Sergio Mendes' "Mas Que Nada" complete with audience participation, the song was also spiced up by a nice bass and drums solo with some interesting interplay between Andy Pilger and Günter Asbeck. Then she went back to her debut album from 2008 and did one of her biggest hits, the great "Tequila Moon" that suited her playing style very well, wandering in the audience to the delight of her fans. Then she invited her special guest, keyboardist Gregg Karukas, to the stage to do the easy swaying "Tropcial Rain" with her, before it was time to raise the heat with the Tito Puente classic "Oye Como Va" where she had Nick Colionne on guitar joining in to add some serious guitar playing. They wrapped up the show with her own "Hot Sauce" which segued into "Baila!", having the audience get up and clap and dance along. One encore was demanded and given, she played the Gloria Estefan hit "Conga" that brought a nice show to an end.
The second show Thursday night was by saxophonist Richard Elliot, the supporting band was the same, except that Andy Pilger took over the drums. The show started high energy with "Rock Steady", segueing into "Move On Up", bringing things nicely up to speed, followed by Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" with a nod to his idol Grover Washington, Jr. The groove continued with "Retro Boy", before things became soulful with the EWF classic "Reasons", a song he recorded with the Summer Horns last year, baffling the audience with low growling sounds from his sax. Next was "Boom Town" that gave bassist Günter Asbeck some solo space allowing him to play some mean slapping bass. No Richard Elliot show is complete without the Percy Sledge classic "When A Man Loves A Woman", a song he always pours his heart and soul into, delivering a highlight each time. Then things turned jazzy for a change with "Night In Tunisia" where Richard Elliot could show his considerable straight ahead chops, then kicking things up a notch with "Keep On Truckin'", complete with his voice overs on the EWI, plus guest Shilts on sax providing some more heavy saxophone playing, having the audience clap along. The heat was rising with saxophonist Elan Trotman and guitarist Nick Colionne joining the stage, ending the show in a frenzy. They returned for one encore, doing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", bringing the first night to a rousing end.
On May 1st, this year's edition of the annual Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival on the island of Mallorca, Spain took place as usual at the Protur Biomar Hotel in Sa Coma, a nice resort on the eastern coast of the island. For those people interested, there was pre-festival program with a gala diner with all artists, a trip to Palma De Mallorca and one more trip to Valdemossa the next day, allowing the exploration of the island and meeting artists and fellow music aficionados.
The first show of the festival was done by saxophonist Elan Trotman, a quickly rising star in the smooth jazz world, I consider him to have what it takes to make it to the very top of the genre. He appropriately started his concert with Chick Corea's "Spain", before he settled into his own material, he did "Heaven In Your Eyes" from the Love & Sax album, a nice laid-back song featuring his smooth sax playing. Next was the Bill Wither's song "Lovely Day", as a surprise guest, he brought a soulful songstress he met the night before, Evita, doing this song in style with him, the audience was also invited to participate. Next was his famous EWF medley, blending his favorite songs of this seminal band into a great piece of music that was well received. Things slowed down with his own "Tradewinds" from his current Tropicality album, bringing guitarist Peter White as surprise guest onto the stage. On more song from this album that featured every band member, the supporting band consisted of Lutz Deterra on keys, Günter Asbeck on bass, Jörg Lenhardt on guitar and Stephan Sagurna on drums, doing an admirable job as always. The show was concluded with his tropical version of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster", having Jessy J to help him out with this song, bringing the crowd to their feet.
D E N I S * P O O L E
'Ruby Lane', the title cut from the brand new album from guitarist Ken Navarro. The smooth jazz sensibilities of this easy grooving tune are not only hard to beat but also qualify it as an early contender for my top twenty tracks of 2014.
'Paintings' by Edison Herbert from his soon to be released collection, 'My Favourite Tunes'. Provided in standard form (and as a bonus offering) this melodic rendition of a Joe Sample classic is raised to new heights by the addition of sumptuous piano solos from Norman Clarke and Graham Maynard respectively.
'My Phone' by Chicago based trumpeter Rob Juice. Sprinkled with funk and tempered by smooth jazz, this is a song that finds Rob walking an ultra cool line between nu-soul and urban jazz.
'Hey Lady' by drummer and percussionist Gary Stanionis. After being an integral part of Jackiem Joyner's touring band since 2006, Gary marks his debut as a solo artist with this hot, spicy and decidedly Latin radio single. It features Will Donato, Jay Gore and Greg Manning (who also produces) and deserves to do well.
Sunday night, the festival closed with The Gospel According To Jazz IV Celebration featuring Kirk Whalum and friends. The show was opened with Rick Braun playing "Ave Maria" solo on trumpet from the audience, with Kirk Whalum joining him doing "Amazing Grace" on the saxophone, then the pace picked up with the band joining in, playing "Amen, Amen" in New Orleans style with the audience clapping along. The band consisted of Kevin Turner on guitar, Marcus Finnie on drums, John Stoddart on keyboards and Braylon Lacy on bass. Kevin Whalum joined in for "Can't Stay Blue" which was a swinging jazz track with Kevin singing and scatting along. Bassist Gerald Veasley joined in for one bass led track. Next was special guest Keiko Matsui on keyboards to do "Affirmation" (which she recorded with Kirk Whalum on her The Road... album), then they played "Sunday's Best" by the late Wayman Tisdale, before Kevin Whalum did a great version of "Wade In The Water" having the audience sing along. John Stoddard was featured on his own "Put Love, Love, Love In It", then Oleta Adams joined the stage to do Kirk Whalum's "It's What I Do", followed by her own "Holy Is The Lamb", just accompanying herself at the keyboards. After that it was time for the DOXA Gospel Ensemble to come onto the stage, they did "God Has Smiled On Me" and "Holy, Holy", providing a true gospel feeling. The highlight of the show came with the instrumental version of "I Will Always Love You" featuring Kirk Whalum on saxophone and Keiko Matsui on keyboards. The show was finished with Rick Braun joining on trombone with everybody to do Todd Rundgren's "Love Is The Answer", providing a great climax and worthy end of another remarkable gospel show.
Sunday afternoon at 3pm, Keiko Matsui and the Reading Pops Orchestra appeared at the Miller Center for the Arts, and we were in for a special treat, hearing her music with a full orchestra. They kicked off the show with "Dream Seeker", just featuring the band without the orchestra, on bass was Rico Belled, on drums Dave Karasony, on guitar Austin Kruczek and on sax Jackiem Joyner (who has been touring with her for the past 8 years). Keiko Matsui wore a long red dress and looked beautiful as always at the grand piano. Next was "Black Lion", followed by "Soul Quest" and "A Night With Cha Cha". Then conductor Willis M. Rapp entered the stage and the service of the orchestra was employed for the rest of the evening, bringing Keiko Matsui's music to a whole different sphere. "The First Four Years", "The Road..." and "Bridge Over Stars" were done beautifully with the support of the orchesta, another highlight was "Forever, Forever", beautifully done solo on the grand piano, crossing Jim Brickman territory. All the musicians joined in for "Bohemian Concerto", followed by "An Evening In Gibraltar" from the Moyo album, before finishing her concert with "Antarctica (A Call To Action)". She returned for one encore, "Deep Blue", which marked the highlight of the whole concert for me, because it featured just her on the grand piano and the full orchestra, providing a real classical feeling and some nice interaction between her expressive piano playing and the orchestra. This was a truly remarkable show.