March 31, 2008

Berks Jazz Fest 2008: LA Chillharmonic Brings a New Cool to Berks

by Beverly J. Packard

IMG_0676.jpgRichard Smith on guitar. Greg Adams on trumpet. Brian Bromberg on bass. Michael Paulo on saxophone. Gregg Karukas on keyboard. Joel Taylor on drums. Berks Jazz Fest Horns on trombone, sax and trumpet. Put them all together and what do you have? A new band, never before to have played at the Berks Jazz Festival. Yes, the players are all familiar names. And the sound of the band's music is enhanced by each memberís earlier performances and CDís. But this band proved, as the saying goes, that the sum is greater than its parts.

What an awesome afternoon of music Berks fans were treated to on Saturday, Day 2 of the Berks Jazz Festival. My first impression when seeing their name on the list of shows back in November was that it was a great combination of players for a one-time show. Now Iíve learned that LA Chillharmonic is more than that Ė itís a concept for a brand new band, Richard Smithís brainchild, and itís sure to leave its mark on the jazz scene. So Berks now has the distinction of being the site of the very first performance of LA Chillharmonic.

IMG_0650.jpgJazz fans love jazz jams, be they totally impromptu or planned out ahead of time or somewhere in between. This show reminded me of a great all-star jam session and thatís why it was so exciting. It was a party and Iím sure many of us wanted to just stand on our chairs and dance the afternoon away along with the band. Even the word Ďchillharmonicí is quite appropriate for these artists, all of whom are relaxed and fun players. Of course we know they practice diligently, especially Brian Bromberg, who has practiced Ďall his lifeí (inside joke you will understand only if you were in attendance) -- still, these players seem to effortlessly communicate to us their own ability to 'chill.' The result is an audience who can also manage to tune out the cares of the day and escape into the music, a place where jazz fans love to be.

The songs were a wonderful mix of original numbers, numbers that featured each artist and came from some of their former CDís, and covers of people like Herbie Hancock, Sade, Earth, Wind and Fire, etc. The title track from the CD coming out in August, entitled LA Chillharmonic, should move up the charts with no trouble. The music was upbeat, funky, with great intros, transitions from one player to another, and memorable endings. The arrangements, credited to Greg Adams, were superbly crafted.

GregandBrian.jpgGreg Adams played a great rendition of Sadeís 'Smooth Operator' from his earlier CD. Also included was Herbie Hancock's Canteloupe Island. Earth, Wind, and Fire songs which had been previously recorded were played, to the crowdís delight. ('Sing a Song', Richard Smithís Soulidify), ('That's the Way of the World,' from Michael Pauloís CD My Heart and Soul) and ('September', Brian Bromberg's You Know That Feeling ) The Crusaders 'Put It Where You Want It' was played during the encore after a rousing petition by the audience for the band to return to center stage after their last song.

So who are these players, really? Richard Smith, professor of guitar at University of Southern California who travels to Europe regularly to teach and play, mainly in Sicily, Crete, Korfu and Southern Italy. Ask him if he's Italian; he has a lot of great experiences to relate! Greg Adams, former 25 year member of Tower of Power, a veteran player who brings a lot of wisdom and has done a number of his own CD's. Brian Bromberg, who is fast becoming a Berks Jazz Fest 'staple' and is just an amazing, amazing bass player (both guitar and upright). Brian would drive for 12 hours in a snowstorm to get to Berks, just ask him. Gregg Karukas, who has quite a spunky and fun personality to complement his awesome talent. Joel Taylor was the drummer extraordinaire.

As for the Berks Jazz Fest Horns, Michael Anderson on saxophone, Rob Diener on trumpet, and John Loos on trombone, these three are becoming more and more in demand during the festival. They've been doing a great job of adding even more depth to the performances of a number of bands.

LA Chillharmonic will debut with their first CD in August on Artistry Records. Everything is just beginning for this awesome group of players who are sure to find success in offering something a little different for the jazz audience. It will be exciting to see in what directions this new concept takes them. I would encourage you to catch up with them when you have the opportunity!

Happy Jazzin',

Richard and Beverly 2.jpgBeverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, PA

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at March 31, 2008 12:30 PM