Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2013 - Friday

Having established itself well over the years, the 6th annual Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg took place September 13-14 at the Parktheater at the Kurhaus Göggingen. Both nights, all the seats were sold out with only a few tickets left in the standing areas, this year's edition obviously is a success. Like every year, smooth jazz fans from all across Europe gathered in Augsburg to hear some of their favorite players, have fun and meet like-minded people. I saw many familiar faces from previous years or the Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival (which was held in May this year), talked to fellow music aficionados and musicians, in addition I made some new friends, it was like family.

Again, festival organizer Christian Bössner was able to come up with another great line-up this year, bringing some of the top US smooth jazz players to Europe. With the exception of the Pizza Express in London and Steve Quirk's occasional smooth jazz concerts in Manchester, opportunities for smooth jazz artists in Europe have been scarce for years, so the Smooth Jazz Festivals in Mallorca and Augsburg provide a welcome platform to bring over those players. The concept of a local backing band supporting the main players has been working well, so the tried and tested band of Lutz Deterra on keys, Andy Pilger on drums, Günter Asbeck on bass and Martin Feske on guitar took over the job to play four concerts with the headlining US players, learning numerous songs, rehearsing in the afternoon and bringing the music onto the main stage in the evening. As usual, they did an excellent job.

The festival was opened by guitarist Jeff Golub, who turned blind during the summer of 2011 due to collapsed optical nerves, a rare eye disease which struck him suddenly. Thankfully, Jeff continues to pursue his music career, being well supported by the music community, he is touring, plays with many different artists, and just released a new CD Train Keeps A Rolling with organist Brian Auger. In Augsburg, he was led onto the stage and brought to his chair, where he performed his show sitting. He did nice covers of "Always There" and the classic "Cold Duck Time", from his own catalog he played a groovy version of "Dangerous Curves", among other material from his catalog like "Naked City". Before he was stuck with blindness, he used to be a very dynamic performer jumping around on stage, now being confined to a chair translated to his playing, which was a bit static and less dynamic than before. Nevertheless, he did an admirable job and repeatedly created some heat with his bluesy playing, which was well received with the capacity crowd.

After a short intermission, the heat was turned up with the dynamic duo of saxophonists Steve Cole and Jeff Kashiwa, who are a well-rehearsed team being two thirds of the Sax Pack (with Kim Waters being the third member). Both players belong to the very best, they kicked off the show together with "Just A Natural Thang" and later alternated performing material from their individual catalogs. In between songs, they were joking and entertaining the audience with their brand of humor. Steve Cole did one of my favorite tracks of his, the soulful "Curtis", a tribute to Curtis Mayfield and the town of Chicago, where he put all his heart and soul into the strong performance. Another great uptempo track was "Bounce", while the cover of "Angel" slowed things down a bit. Jeff Kashiwa also draws from a vast catalog, he played some nice laid-back material next to groovy uptempo material, both players concluded the show with Jeff Kashiwa's biggest hit "Hyde Park (The "Ah, Ooh" Song)" complete with audience participation. They were asked back to do an encore, so they showed their jazz chops with a cover of Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", which brought the first night to an end.