Every musician seems to have his characteristic sign of bliss while playing his instrument. Gerald Veasley was the first to reveal this quite clearly -- his tell-tale head-bobbing, front and back and side to side, can’t be missed. No doubt all artists eventually exhibit this sign if we’re paying attention, and Chuck Loeb is no exception; there is an unmistakable sign of the fun he’s having. After just a few minutes of getting warmed up, it’s not long before he begins swaying back and forth with his guitar, first side to side, then up to one side and down to the other side, and by the time Chuck is going straight down to the floor in order to play his guitar the way he means to, it’s all over – he’s in guitar heaven. From then on, the rest of the show seems even more fun for him than it is for his audience, and that’s saying a lot!
Chuck Loeb is such an accomplished guitar player; he’s done so much in a varied career that goes beyond being a successful recording artist to include wide acclaim as a composer, arranger, educator, and producer. Loeb is so well known, has played with so many artists, has produced, encouraged and helped so many to get where they are today, that by now he’s in that elite category of ‘mentor extraordinaire.’ Watching him as the arranger and bandleader for ten or more uniquely talented musicians each year at the Berks Jazz Fest All Star Jam, one can’t miss his ability to bring together a team of players, his willingness to step into the background and enhance the contributions of others, and his competent leadership on stage during the performance.
During this year’s Berks Jazz Fest, fans were able to witness an equally accomplished side of Chuck Loeb. There was opportunity to watch what he does when he takes the stage with his own band. It was an exceptional performance, and it gave us a chance to see the side of him that confirms his heart is still at the place where it began at the start of his career -- playing the guitar for the sheer enjoyment of it.
It was no surprise that Loeb and band members Brian Killeen (bass), Matt King (keyboards), and Josh Dion (drums) were included in the line-up for the Berks Summer Jazz Series. These band members, immensely talented yet young enough to greatly benefit from Loeb’s years of experience, seem to afford him a perfect combination -- at the same time Chuck is enjoying himself so much, he has a chance to influence and shape the performance of those getting firmly anchored in this genre of music. This band is phenomenal together, and to watch all of this in the intimate setting of a place like Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base ranked up there among the best of live music.
It seems there is no separation between Chuck Loeb and his guitar: they operate as one. It’s not just the swaying, but he holds it close to him, as he would a dance partner, totally engrossed in his plan for it and taking it along with him where he wants to go. Ever the leader, he is first and foremost leader of that guitar. Yet he remains aware of everything else that is going on. As he stops playing for someone else to solo, he might get busy taking care of all kinds of things. It almost seems the whole show is just a practice session for him, he’s so relaxed as he walks from side to center stage (unobtrusively, really), and of course we all know that it's not a practice session. By definition, practice is not synonymous with perfect, which this show surely was! With his ability to multi-task, no wonder he can organize a bunch of musicians with seeming ease and with the amazing results of shows like the Berks All Star Jazz Jam as well as this show featuring his own band.
Chuck has the respect of his players, who look to him to confirm they are right where he wants them. There is no confusion, something that’s attributed to his clear leadership as well as their individual abilities. Band members work hard at giving a flawless delivery of what Chuck wants – he stretches them beyond what they might think they are capable of, only to find that he was right, the talent was there all along to follow through with what was needed. It’s fascinating to see how Chuck’s trust in their ability at certain demanding points of the performance take them all right over the top. One could see the intensity of the bass player when this happened, and the ever-so-slightly questioning look of the keyboard player, both of whom quickly picked up on where Chuck was taking them. As for the drummer, he appeared ready for every minute of every song -- he had ‘carte blanche’ on the performance and he seemed to know it. (He’s been with Chuck the longest of the three, so that by now he and Chuck form a oneness that’s quickly coming with the other two players).
All three band members have remarkable talent. The keyboard player, the newest member of the band, obviously had a lot of fun and did a superb job of following Chuck, staying with him through every song, and the bass player's quality of concentration served him well. He appears to be the kind of player who will go on to even greater heights of bass playing. The drummer was quite interesting to watch; he somehow seems to crawl over the entire drum set while he’s playing, and so he’s playing with his entire body. Throughout the evening, the ending of each song was amazingly crisp and often surprising, again the mark of a carefully orchestrated plan by a capable leader in Chuck Loeb and the incredible response of the band.
Joining the band for a few songs were Gerald Veasley himself and also the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, including Mike Anderson on sax, Rob Diener on trumpet, and Bill Miller on trombone. Veasley and Loeb have an easy comaraderie, and the Berks Jazz Fest horns rose to the occasion every time with some memorable soloing.
The first set included 'Balance' from the CD of the same name, then three cuts from his latest CD, When I’m With You, including 'Double Life,' 'Uppercut,' and 'Brother Ray' with the Jazz Fest Horns and Gerald Veasley sitting in, followed by his popular current hit, ‘Tropical,’ during which there was an unbelievable solo by Loeb.
The second set began with the upbeat 'Jump Start' (When I’m With You), continued with the beloved Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia,’ which featured the drummer as vocalist in an entertaining and memorable performance, then ‘Sarao,’ (All There Is) and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints,’ which featured Veasley, ending with 'Billy’s Song'(In A Heartbeat), a medley that includes, ‘eBop,’ ‘Pocket Change,’ and ‘Just Us.’ The encore was a reprise of ‘Jump Start,’ and by the time it ended, the audience was on its feet for the second or third time!
Chuck explained earlier the meaning of 'Sarao,' a Spanish word for ‘a kind of party, where you hang out with friends’ – Chuck’s solo on the song was a party all its own! The entire performance was the stuff of live CD recording sessions, complete with fervent appreciation of the audience, lending credibility to the notion that ever since Veasley himself recorded a CD at the Jazz Base, the venue may have taken on an identity of its own. Loeb also declared his keen fondness for Berks as a place to play, mentioning that it’s so relaxed and happy here. It’s fair to say Berks fans are ready for a 'Sarao' any time Chuck Loeb feels like taking the stage!
Gerald Veasley summed it up best when he said, “….. the show was fantastic. Chuck inspires me as a composer, bandleader and musician. It's always a pleasure playing with him.”
Visit Chuck Loeb’s website at www.chuckloeb.com to learn more about him, his latest CD, When I'm With You, and his enormous contributions to the music world.
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo Credits: Michael PackardPosted by Beverly J. Packard at July 13, 2005 5:35 PM