With the weekend approaching there were the first major concerts due starting Friday night with Rick Braun and Richard Elliot, both on their own ARTizen label with newly signed label mate Shilts from Down To The Bone being added to their show. As they often did in earlier shows they started to play from within the audience with the trumpet of Rick Braun and the sax of Shilts coming out of the dark to unite later on stage for the first high-energy song showing some great playing by Shilts. Chatting between songs Shilts' British accent was quite likeable and gave rise to some laughs. Richard Elliot joined Rick Braun with the second song and both feeded off the energy of the other to lead us to one highlight after the other. Rick played his hit "Notorius" while Richard Elliot played the Stylistics classic "People Make The World Go 'Round" boasting his muscular tenor sound. Then it was Rick Braun's turn with some songs from his latest CD playing some nice renditions of EWF's "Shining Star" seguing into Barry White's "Love Theme". They were supported by a great band consisting of Nate Phillips on bass, Ron Reinhart on keys, Rayford Griffin on drums and Dwight Sills on guitar. Later Shilts got the chance to play the single from his upcoming new album which was picture perfect and very groovy smooth jazz whetting our appetite to hear the final product soon. The show was concluded by Richard Elliot's trademark song "When A Man Loves A Woman" employing the full range of his instrument to the delight of the crowd. A superlative concert by some of the genre's best artists who get better and better all the time.
We headed over to the Sheraton to the late night show of sax player Najee with special guest Alex Bugnon on keys. The career of Najee spans over 20 years now and with his latest album My Point Of View he has another winner on the market. Supported by a great band he played songs ranging from his classic "Najee's Theme" to the current "2nd 2 None". Alex Bugnon came to the stage for a few songs - among them "Naima" and "107 Degrees In The Shade" - and added a great element of soulfulness and grooviness to the proceedings which was very well recieved by the capacity crowd. Najee proved to be an excellent player on soprano sax and flute often breaking the music down and exploring some subtler nuances before building it up again. Singer Lomon provided two great songs, one being the beautiful ballad "Fallin' In Love With You" where he even incorporated seamlessly an old EWF song before returning back to the original song. Lomol is a great talent to be watched in the future and a nice person to boot. For the finale of the show not only Alex Bugnon was summoned on the stage but also Joe McBride who was in the audience to give us a great and groovy jam with Najee on flute bringing a truly memorable and soulful concert to an end.