Thursday night, the 20th Anniversary Berks All-Star Jazz Jam took place in the Crown Plaza ballroom, I was pleased to see that this star-studded event took place in the early evening allowing us to enjoy the concert to the fullest. Hosts were guitarist Chuck Loeb and trumpet player Rick Braun, who led through the concert announcing the players and leading through the songs.
They started out with all players on stage with the well-known Charlie Parker standard "Now's The Time" allowing each one to present him or herself with a short solo. The lineup was incredible, on the crowded stage were drummer Rayford Griffin, bassist Gerald Veasley, keyboardists David Benoit and Joe McBride, saxophonists Eric Darius, Mindi Abair, Andrew Neu, Richard Elliot and Shilts, guitarists Chuck Loeb, Nick Colionne, Chieli Minucci and Peter White, trumpet players Rick Braun and Jim Culbertson, plus surprise guests Brian Culbertson on trombone and Selina Albright on vocals. Next was the Freddie Hubbard tune "Little Sunflower" featuring Andrew Neu on sax, Chuck Loeb on guitar and David Benoit on piano, having everyone soloing extensively. Then Brian Culbertson, Shilts, Joe McBride and Nick Colionne played a smoking version of the Crusaders' classic "Put It Where You Want It", it was especially cool to see Brian Culbertson stretching out on the trombone on this track. Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" got a funked up treatment by Rick Braun, Eric Darius and Rayford Griffin who arranged the song and happens to be Clifford Brown's nephew. Then Rick Braun led through "My Funny Valentine" along Chuck Loeb and Peter White on guitar and Mindi Abair on sax, Rick Braun's sensitive singing was moving and Mindi Abair's extensive solo was deeply felt and the highlight of the whole evening for me. Next David Benoit, Chieli Minucci and Richard Elliot delivered "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", additionally Gerald Veasley played a mean bass solo and Richard Elliot showed off his skills on the EWI.
After the intermission surprise guest Selina Albright, lovely daughter of saxophonist Gerald Albright, stepped on the stage to do the TOP classic "What Is Hip", a song she asked to do. She delivered it with ease and was supported by a heavy horn section, definitely doing it justice. Joe McBride slowed things down with his solo version of Seal's "Kiss From A Rose", just supported by Chuck Loeb on guitar, before the groove picked up again with Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" populating the stage with band again, Richard Elliot played a great tenor solo and later used his EWI as a vocoder to a cool effect. The heat was further turned up with a great funk medley, with Gerald Veasley slapping his bass, going from Sly & The Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" right into Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" with Brian Culbertson jumping around the stage blowing a mean trombone, supported by Mindi Abair on sax. A special part of the concert was the rendition of Chick Corea's "Spain" by four guitars and drums, Rayford Griffin moved one drum in the center of the stage and was surrounded by Chieli Minucci, Chuck Loeb, Nick Colionne and Peter White, everyone was able to show his impressive chops. They wrapped up the All-Star Jazz Jam with Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mr. Magic" giving everyone another chance to groove along and play some solos. The cheering crowd didn't let the artists go, so they played one more, it was Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" bringing everyone to their feet.
This was an excellent concert by a world-class band of players that I truly enjoyed.