Berks Jazz Fest 2009: Chieli Minucci & Special EFX

Text: Peter B�hi and Beverly Packard
Photo: Michael C. Packard

Thursday evening, Chieli Minucci & Special EFX appeared at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom, celebrating their 25th year of touring as a band. The lineup consisted of leader Chieli Minucci on guitar, Philip Hamilton on percussion and vocals, Lionel Cordew on drums, Jerry Brooks on bass, Jay Rowe on keyboards and Nelson Rangell on sax & flute. In addition, the Berks Jazz Fest Horns (Michael Anderson on sax, Rob Diener on trumpet and John Loos on trombone) supported the band. The concert was opened with "Daybreak" featuring the amazing vocals of percussion player Philip Hamilton who really added a new dimension to the whole sound with his jazzy phrasings. Saxophonist Nelson Rangell was the special guest of the band and delivered some great contributions on sax and flute, blending well with the band. Chieli Minucci delivered his well known brand of fusion and smooth jazz on electric and acoustic guitars, giving us his longer renditions of popular chart-topping songs "Kickin' It Hard" and "Cruise Control". Also featured was "Body Beat" and long time favorite "Uptown East". Some of the tunes were extremely layered, while others were more laid-back, leaving more room to breathe and allowing the players to more fully express themselves. A highlight for the crowd was the rendition of "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" which built nicely and left the crowd wanting more. Minucci has become a real favorite at the jazz festival; he is happy to be here and considers Berks to be part of his 'family,' he delivers simply amazing solos, and he has an enthusiastic band, as evidenced by the band's focused attention on giving him what he wants, and Jay Rowe's infectious smiles and dancing during his awesome keyboard playing. The show was very well received, with a number of standing ovations on the part of some or all of the crowd.