Saturday night at 10pm, saxophonist Gerald Albright and guitarist Jonathan Butler appeared at the Crowne Plaza Ballroom. They opened as a duo with Gerald Albright playing the bass and Jonathan Butler playing guitar, singing the Bill Withers' classic "Lovely Day", before the rest of the band joined in. They were backed by a killer band (J.J. Williams on the drums) that played just perfectly. After the guitar led instrumental "African Breeze" providing an African flavor, followed by some of Gerald Albright's early tracks like "G & Lee" featuring his sharp sax playing, then it was time for a few songs, among them "Lies", one of Jonathan Butler's biggest hits. Then Gerald Albright did "Champagne Life" from his 24/7 album and my highlight of the show, JB's "It's A Man's Man's World", killing it. Then it was Jonathan Butler's turn for two more of his songs, among them "Free" from his current album of the same name, and "Living My Dream", before Gerald Albright dug deeply into his catalog with Luther's "So Amazing" and Johnny Gil's "My, My, My", then Jonathan Butler took us back to Africa with the great guitar led instrumental "Catembe", then Gerald Albright did his lengthy rendition of the bluesy "Georgia On My Mind" with turned into a funk party in the end having people get up and dance. This was really great show on the highest level of musicianship.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Jazz Funk Soul

Saturday night, I opted to see Jazz Funk Soul featuring Jeff Lorber on keys, Everette Harp on sax and Chuck Loeb on guitar, they were backed by Lionel Cordew on drums and Ron Jenkins on bass, the band sounded beautifully. They did "Speed Of Light" with great playing by all involved, followed by "Connection" featuring Everette Harp on sax, and "Hacienda", the title track of Jeff Lorber's release. Things slowed down with "Going Through Changes", a song dedicated to George Duke that gave Everette Harp the opportunity to stretch out on the sax, before they did their current single from the More Serious Business album, "You'll Know When You Know" and a track from the first album, "Serious Business" complete with some audience participation. They wrapped up their show with another funky track featuring all players, as expected they were called back for an encore and gave us one more head nodding track, finishing a truly great show, one of the best of the whole festival.

After the intermission, The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman took over the stage. The lineup consisted of Bill Heller on keyboards, Dave Karasony on drums, Rico Belled on bass and the great Brandon Fields on saxophone. Russ Freeman led the band through a string of their greatest songs soloing on guitar, they also played several tracks from their upcoming new CD True Stories, kicking off the show with "Wild Tales", followed by their classic "Welcome To The St. James Club", then "Golden Child" from the upcoming album featuring Brandon Fields, a great funky track that went down well with the crowd. Then they did a ballad medley of their most cherished tracks, before they did "Sundance" from the upcoming release and several more songs from their vast catalog. The band played beautifully like clockwork, each one is an accomplished player and it is always a pleasure to hear this seminal band.

Saturday afternoon, we got another double bill, first appeared saxophonist Jackiem Joyner with special guest Selina Albright on vocals. The two are touring together. Jackiem Joyner started the show with two great instrumentals featuring his special brand of saxophone, then Selina Albright joined the stage to do "Don't Shake It Up", "You And I" (co-written with her father, saxophonist Gerald Albright), before Jackiem Joyner continued with his own "Free". Selina Albright came back to do her heartfelt rendition of Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy", this lady definitely can sing! Next was Floetry's "Say Yes" with some beautiful sax work and a hot guitar solo by J.J. Sanseverino, and "Brighter", a song Selina Albright wrote for her husband. The show was finished with "I'm Waiting For You", one of Jackiem Joyner's biggest hits, bringing a great show to an end.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: Jazz meets James

Friday night at 10pm the highly anticipated Jazz Meets James show led by Nick Colionne was due. The 3 piece Berks Horns were with the band adding additional fuel to the music. Trombonist Jeff Bradshaw walked all over the stage playing like Fred Wesley, bringing us right up to speed, then saxophonists Kim Waters, Marion Meadows, Jeanette Harris, Eric Darius and Gerald Albright contributed some hot playing, while guitarist J.J. Sanseverino propelled things with a funky rhythm guitar. Jay Rowe played the keys, the rest of the players were from Nick Colionne's band. The selection of material was first rate, they went through their renditions of "Gonna Have A Funky Good Time", "Make It Funky", before things slowed down with a great rendition of "It's A Man's Man's World" featuring saxophonists Kim Water and Jeanette Harris, both putting all their hearts into the performance, this was a highlight of the show for me. J.J. Sanseverino was the featured player on "Cold Sweat" with some burning guitar, complete with some audience participation. The show continued with "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" and "Pass The Peas" with some great trombone by Jeff Bradshaw and the inevitable "Sex Machine". They finished their show with Nick Colionne going out into the audience doing his "Whatta 'Bout You" having people get up and dance, this was a riot as usual. This was a fun and entertaining show by a great bunch of players that did the legacy of JB ample justice.

Berks Jazz Fest 2016: BWB

Friday night, super group BWB appeared at the ballroom of the new DoubleTree hotel in downtown Reading, the band features Norman Brown on guitar, Kirk Whalum on sax and Rick Braun on trumpet, they were backed by John Stoddart on keys, Marcus Finnie on drums and Braylon Lacy on bass. With a brand new release of all original material simply entitled BWB out, they opened with a couple of tracks from it, before they played some older songs like "Ruby Baby" and "Do You Feel Me?" They did two more tracks from the new CD, before Rick Braun played his signature song "Notorious" and Norman Brown did "That's The Way Love Goes", two stunning songs that had the crowd cheering. As a little teaser for the upcoming Gospel show Sunday night, they did "Cain't Stay Blue". John Stoddart was featured with his own "A Promise Is A Promise", a beautiful track boasting his soulful vocals. Then guitarist Norman Brown was the featured player with a string of his songs, he is truly an outstanding player. They wrapped up the show with their rendition of "Groovin'" that had people dancing in the isles. They were called back for an encore and did their Michael Jackson cover of "Shake Your Body To The Ground", ending a solid show by a bunch of consummate artists.

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.