May 20-22, 2011, the first issue of "Smooth Jazz In The Cube" took place, organized by Christian Bössner, the man behind the "Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg. This event took place in a design hotel called "The Cube", located in Biberwier-Lermoos, in Tyrol's Zugspitz area, near the German border. We had the breathtaking mountains around us, a cool spot to hang out and enjoy the concerts, and a first-rate lineup of some the very best US smooth jazz players. There were around 600 smooth jazz fans from all across Europe gathering to have some fun and get their healthy dose of smooth jazz. Festivities consisted of two double shows Friday and Saturday evening plus an All-Star Smooth Jazz Show with brunch Sunday morning, additionally noted DJ Ralph "Jazzcrusader" Schulz from Düsseldorf, Germany, entertained the crowd with his well-selected sets of smooth jazz and R&B.
Friday night was opened by guitarist Nils who hails from Germany, but lives in Los Angeles since the mid-80ies. He brought Clydene Jackson on keys & vocals and Oliver Brown on percussion with him, they were supported by the house band featuring Lutz Deterra on keyboards, Günter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Martin Weiss on guitar. This band supported each of the headliners and did an outstanding job, all those players were top-level pros adapting to every situation very quickly. Nils kicked off the show with "Georgy Porgy" and continued with his radio hits, among them "Pacific Coast Highway" (the song that really ignited his career in 2005) and "Jump Start", his latest radio hit from his current CD What The Funk?. He also played a great latin track called "Brazilian Dance" from his debut album. His singer/keyboard player Clydene Jackson provided some great songs - especially "California Blue" - and took things to a different level with her soulful voice. Nils is an excellent guitarist and writes great songs, his catchy tunes went down very well with the audience and provided just the right start for the evening.
Next was Brian Culbertson who is one of the absolute smooth jazz super stars. I was very interested to see how he would fare outside the familiar setting of his touring band and was pleasantly surprised. This artist is not only a charming person, but also an incredibly talented player who took over the stage with authority and aplomb. He had Felix on trumped and Rocco Ventrella on sax in the horn section, they delivered some precise and funky horn charts, supplementing the keyboard work of Brian perfectly. He played all his familiar songs - like "Go" and "Let's Get Started" - and only slowed things down briefly with "Forever" playing solo on the keys. It was a high energy show that was simply stunning and flawless, his fluid keyboard playing was right on the mark, and his upbeat personality really helped the whole band to deliver a top-notch performance. Rocco Ventrella, who lives in Bari, Italy, got his solo spots as well and showed his prowess on the horn, he had a lot of fun with Brian who played the trombone along with him. He also did "On My Mind" complete with playing the keys from the opposite side and caressing his instrument, which is always a highlight of the show. We all were blown away by this incredible artist and he sure won some new fans that night.
Saturday was a nice sunny day and we spent the day hiking in the mountains, before the concerts continued in the evening with saxophonist Jackiem Joyner, who belongs to the younger generation of smooth jazz players. He was supported by Lutz Deterra on keyboards, Günter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Martin Weiss on guitar, plus Rocco Ventrella on sax. He played with his sharp and precise style, often playing very quick staccato parts alternating with ultra soulful lines. I particularly liked the latin flavored "Dance With Me" and his great and deeply felt rendition of "Summertime" that gave me goosebumps. He also did his biggest hit "I'm Waiting For You" among more material from his catalog, putting us in the right mood for the rest of the night.
Guitarist extraordinaire Nick Colionne followed and he made no prisoners, taking part two of the evening to a whole new level with his high energy playing and stage personality. He looked great in his yellow suit and hat. Among the songs played was "Keepin' It Cool" and "Hurry Up This Way Again" which is always a highlight of the show, Nick went into the audience and took his time to seduce and delight the ladies, while the band provided the funky backdrop and adapted to every move of the leader. Great was also his rendition of "Rainy Night In Georgia" showing his velvety voice, another vocal was the bluesy "Hard Line". His guitar playing was incredible, moving between Wes inclined lines to heavy funky stuff, at the end of the show he summoned his fellow players onto the stage and with Nils, Jackiem Joyner and Brian Culbertson on trombone, ended the show with "Godfather J" in a wild funk frenzy having everybody on their feet.
Sunday morning, we had a nice brunch and an all-star show that reunited all the players of the weekend on the stage one more time. Rocco Ventrella started the proceedings with Grover Washington's "Mr. Magic", followed by Sinatra's "My Way" (which was completely spontaneous as Rocco later told me, Lutz Deterra started on the keys and Rocco just followed) and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish", before the other players joined him on stage. They didn't prepare this concert too much, they just gathered to jam and see what happens, which was fine with us. They did "This Masquerade" with Jackiem Joyner taking the lead on sax, with all the others soloing in between. One song was even coordinated right before our eyes with Nils giving some instructions, but soon things were nicely flowing along and everybody did his part. Later Brian Culbertson was asked to sit on the keyboard delivering more of his magic, before sitting behind the drums for a funk finale having us groove along. This was a loose, fun concert that didn't take itself too seriously, yet was on a good level. As an encore, the house band got a chance to perform one more track, it was Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" that featured guitarist Martin Weiss, bringing a great weekend of smooth jazz to an end.
This was an outstanding weekend of smooth jazz by some of the genre's finest players, backed by a truly great professional band in an unusual location that provided the right setting for meeting friends, enjoying music and having a good time. "Smooth Jazz In The Cube" will be continued, so watch out for next year's date.Posted by Peter Böhi at May 24, 2011 6:51 AM