Berks Jazz Fest 2017: East Coast Jam

At 10pm, West Coast Jam featuring trumpet player Rick Braun, guitarist Norman Brown and saxophonist Richard Elliot were performing at the ballroom of the Double Tree hotel, they were backed by Eric Valentine on drums, Nate Phillips on bass, Ron Reinhardt on keyboards and Gerey Johnson on guitar, they also had a great three piece horn section funking things up. This wonderful band provided a solid backdrop for the three main players who went through material from their individual catalogs, alternating on stage, as a special guest they had singer Lindsey Webster doing "Love Take Me" from Rick Braun's current release. This was a truly great show by a bunch of seasoned players who always deliver.


Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Keiko Matsui

Friday night, Japanese pianist Keiko Matsui performed at the Miller's Performing Arts Center with her own band, we got Dave Karasony on drums, Rico Belled on bass, Jackiem Joyner on saxophone and - filling in on short notice - David P. Stevens on guitar, who did a great job. They went through a string of songs from her vast catalog (she composed over 270 songs so far), doing classics like "Forever, Forever", and new material from her current CD like "Journey To The Heart" and others. She delighted the crowd with her flawless piano playing and pretty melodies, it is always a joy to hear her play, and this particular concert was especially satisfying.

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Berks All-Star Jam

Thursday night, everybody's favourite show, the Berks All-Star Jam took place in the ballroom of the Double Tree hotel, led by bassist Gerald Veasley and trumpet player Rick Braun, a tremendous number of artists joined the stage to have some fun. Featured players were Norman Brown, Paul Jackson Jr., David P Stevens, Brian Bromberg, Gerald Albright, Andrew Neu, Everette Harp, Vincent Ingala, Eric Marienthal, Phil Perry, Brian Simpson, Andy Snitzer, Marcus Finnie, Lionel Cordew, Keiko Matsui, Chris "Big Dog" Davis, Lindsey Webster and Selina Albright (hopefully I didn't forget anyone). They went through a bunch of familiar songs like "The World Is A Ghetto" featuring Phil Perry, "Use Me" featuring Rick Braun and a beautiful rendition of "Winelight" by Gerald Albright, my personal highlight was "Give Me The Night" featuring David P. Stevens, which was simply great with tons of cool solos by all players involved and some audience participation. The show ended with the grande finale joining all players one more time for a rousing version of "Pick Up The Pieces".

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Berks Bop Night

Wednesday night, the traditional Berks Bop Night took place at Building 24, led by guitarist Chuck Loeb, it featured saxophonists Gerald Albright, Everette Harp and Eric Marienthal, keyboardist Jeff Lorber, trumpet player Rick Braun, acoustic bassist Brian Bromberg and drummer Marcus Finnie. This show gave our favourite smooth jazz players the opportunity to show off their straight ahead chops and improvisational skills, and delve into some be bop classics like "Night In Tunisia", "Ornithology", "Giant Steps", "Donna Lee" and others, especially notable was their rendition of "Body & Soul" which was nicely sung by Rick Braun. The show was well received and provided a lot of fun by all involved.

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Eric Marienthal

Tuesday night, saxophonist Eric Marienthal was playing in the SOUTH Jazz Parlor at Berks, a room in the DoubleTree hotel that was set up like a club, the show featured Gil Parris on guitar, Gerald Veasley on bass, Jay Rowe on keyboards and Vic Stevens on drums. The band was in fine form and went through a string of Marienthal's songs from his various solo albums, especially nice was a duet with surprise guest Everette Harp and some great interplay between Marienthal and bass player supreme Gerald Veasley. Everybody was in a relaxed mood, providing an enjoyable concert.

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Snarky Puppy

In the evening, one of the most anticipated shows took place at the Santander Performing Arts Center with Snarky Puppy, the band led by bassist Michael League. The band draws from a large pool of players so you never know who will be performing and how many players will be on the stage, so this is one of the things that makes it interesting. Despite some of my favourite players were missing (like Bill Laurance, Cory Henry or Bob Reynolds), we got plenty of good music in their unique style that is definitely jazz based, but draws from numerous sources, at one point I heard a little Chick Corea, then RTF, the music doesn't follow strict rules or forms, the tracks are like musical journeys with climaxes and quieter passages, with many great solos and lots of improvisation in between, particularly great contributions came from Shaun Martin on keys, Bobby Sparks on organ and keys, Keita Ogawa on percussion, Jason "JT" Thomas on drums, Mark Lettieri on guitar, Mike Maher on trumpet, Justin Stanton on keys and trumpet, and Chris Bullock on sax and flute. They finished their show with "Lingus", leaving a satisfied audience, which was remarkably mixed with lots of younger people, crossing all borders like Snarky Puppy's music.

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: The Super Band

Next was the The Super Band featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet, Dean Brown on guitar, Bill Evans on sax, Keith Carlock on drums and Tom Kennedy on bass. Dean Brown filled in for the originally scheduled Mike Stern who is recovering after an accident he suffered last year, breaking both shoulders. The band played like a well oiled machine going through a bunch of songs from each member, among them "Cool Eddie" from Bill Evans and a nice cover of "My Funny Valentine" featuring some beautiful trumpet by Randy Brecker. As an encore, they did the Brecker Brothers classic "Some Skunk Funk", finishing a good show.

Berks Jazz Fest 2017: Jazz Gets The Blues

The Sunday morning brunch this year was held at the DoubleTree hotel ballroom, the place was packed for Jazz Gets The Blues featuring saxophonist Steve Cole, guitarist Nick Colionne (who hosted the show), saxophonist Eric Darius, guitarist Clarence Spady, singers Alexis P Suter and Vicki Bell and organist Pat Bianchi, as an additional bonus, we got the Berks Horns as well. This unique show provided an entertaining mix of jazz and blues with players coming from various backgrounds, Steve Cole played "Curtis", my favourite song from his catalog, while Pat Bianchi was the featured player on a great rendition of Wes Montgomery's "Road Song". This was a totally enjoyable show you only get at the Berks Jazz Festival.

Next was Larry Graham & Graham Central Station at the DoubleTree hotel ballroom, the band provided a string of classics with Larry funking things up in his own inimitable style, a nice segment of the show was when each player revealed his personal musical influences, providing everything from Benny Golson's "Killer Joe" to BB King's "The Thrill Is Gone", things slowed down with the heartfelt ballad "One In A Million", before the pace picked up again. This was a memorable show by a classic act.

In the evening, I opted to see Jason Miles presents Celebrating The Music Of Weather Report featuring Jeff Coffin on sax, Theo Croker on trumpet, Gerald Veasley on bass, Karen Briggs on violin, Mino Cinelu on percussion, Carter Beauford on drums, Shaun Martin on keyboards and leader Jason Miles on keyboards as well. One has to admire Jason Miles who puts together those projects competently, each player is carefully selected and the choice of material shows a deeper understanding of the music. The band was smoking and each player had a ball, the concert was well received, it closed with the inevitable "Birdland", Weather Report's biggest hit. Kudos to all involved!