Berks Jazz Fest 2006: Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Ramsey Lewis, David Benoit

Berks2006_WhalumAlbright.jpgSaxophonists Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright are touring this year together and showed up at the Berks Jazz Festival, being happy to be invited to bring their music to the festival. They were supported by an all-star band with Melvin Davis on bass, Ricky Lawson on drums, Marlon McClain on guitar (of Pleasure fame) and Michael Logan on keys. Parts of the show were done together while other parts were exclusively devoted to each saxophonist. After both opened the show with "Groverworked and Underpaid" it was Gerald Albright's turn playing material from older albums like Smooth and Bermuda Nights while later Kirk Whalum played songs from his current release Babyface Songbook. The cameraderie within the band was evident and they were laughing and joking around while building a good rapport with the audience with some chats between songs. Gerald Albright has a new CD coming soon called New Beginnings, marking a new chapter in his career after having moved to Denver, CO and joining Peak Records. He played "We Got The Groove" which will be the first single, whetting our appetite to hear the full album. Another highlight was the stroll of Kirk Whalum in the audience playing a lengthy solo (shaking my hand in the process which was thrilling) which culminated in standing on an empty chair in the middle of the center section finishing his solo surrounded by ecstatic fans. That's what live music is all about! Being close to Philly they made a nod to Grover and finished their show with the classic Grover Washington Jr. hit "Just The Two Of Us". This was a varied and entertaining show on the highest level of musicianship.

Berks2006_RamseyLewis.jpgIn the evening there was a special concert featuring the Reading Pops Orchestra, the Ramsey Lewis Trio and David Benoit. This unique pairing promised a special evening, and my expectations were far exceeded. The concert, opened by the Reading Pops Orchestra containing full horn and string sections and led by conductor Erwin Chandler, played a few orchestral pieces before they left the stage for Ramsey Lewis. Ramsey Lewis and his trio were warmly welcomed by the crowd and played a selection of straight jazz pieces from the vast catalog of the leader, culminating in a great rendition of his hit "Wade In The Water". Ramsey Lewis must be over 70 but he had his act completely together and was in total control showing some fine playing at the piano.

Berks2006_DavidBenoit.jpgAfter a short intermission, David Benoit supported by a rhythm section and the Reading Pops Orchestra were on providing another highlight of the festival. David Benoit played vividly at the Steinway Grand, while at the same time conducting the orchestra sitting next to him, at times standing at the piano waving his hands which yielded magical musical moments. He opened his set with "Linus & Lucy" and played songs from his orchestra albums American Landscape and Orchestral Stories and an orchestra arrangement of "Rebach" from his classic CD Every Step Of The Way and a groovy version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man". The grande finale included the Ramsey Lewis trio together with the Reading Pops Orchestra conducted by David Benoit playing a great version of Ramsey's hit "The In Crowd" which brought a great evening to its rousing end.