The 16th annual Berks Jazz Fest opened yesterday at the Sovereign Performing Arts Centre with the first major concerts. The acoustic Joe Sample Trio featuring his son Nick on acoustic bass delivered a set of acoustic straight ahead jazz tracks featuring the trademark playing of the leader we came to love over the decades. Chatting between songs and giving us stories from way back hinted at his age, which must be approaching 70. Being a fan of his Rainbow Seeker period, it was logical that songs like "Carmel" and "X Marks The Spot" were personal favorites because they delivered familiar melodies and a funkier groove.
After a short intermission songstress Dianne Reeves, with her mostly acoustic band, gave us some great jazz singing. Just having won a Grammy for her "Good Night, And Good Luck" soundtrack, she was in fine form. Her band grooved a little harder than the Joe Sample trio and her singing covered a wide range of styles from straight jazz to blues to soul, with some introspective moments as well. Personal highlights were "Afro Blue" and her classic song "Better Days" which closed the concert.
After the last song I rushed over to the Wyndham Ball Room, which is located within walking distance in order to catch Pieces Of A Dream, who were due to perform songs from their brand new release Pillow Talk. I had already received a copy from their label (actually you can hear a few songs from it on the SmoothVibes Radio Channel) and was looking forward to hearing this material performed live. Founded 1975 in Philadelphia the band is celebrating their 30th anniversary. The group consisted of founding members James Lloyd on keys and Curtis Harmon on drums, along with longtime member Eddie Baccus Jr. on sax (part of the band for 11 years now), further supported by Scott Ambush on bass (a loan from label mates Spyro Gyra) and a nice female keyboard player as well as singer Ramona Dunlap who came on stage for three songs. They opened the show with a few songs from their new CD "Wake Up Call" and "Pillow Talk" before giving us some classic tunes from their back catalog featuring the keys of James Lloyd and the sax of Eddie Baccus Jr., providing smooth jazz of the highest calibre. The part featuring vocals gave us a great song from the new CD called "Those 3 Words" and the classic "Rising To The Top" by Keni Burke, which just was magical. This was a very enjoyable concert going the gamut from funky numbers to quieter soulful moments providing a good time to those in attendance.