2014 Berks Jazz Fest Concert Preview Second Weekend Highlights

by Val Vaccaro

Here are some key concert highlight picks for the second weekend of the 2014 Berks Jazz Fest.

On Thursday, April 3rd at 8pm is the much-anticipated exuberance of the annual Berks All-Star Jazz Jam at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom. The All-Star Jam showcases another fantastic line-up of great contemporary jazz musicians including: guitarists Chuck Loeb (Music Director), Norman Brown, and Nick Colionnetrumpeters Rick Braun (Music Director), Randy Breckerand Till Brönner,  bassists Gerald Veasley and Brian Bromberg, saxophonists Kirk WhalumGerald Albright, Andy Snitzer, and Eric Marienthal, keyboard players Jeff Lorber, Joe McBride, and Keiko Matsui, and Lionel Cordew on drums.  The following night Friday, April 4th at 7pm and 10pm, is a show with Jeff Lorber Fusion featuring Eric Marienthal, bassist Jimmy Haslip, Lionel Cordew, and guest Randy Brecker at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base.

On Friday, April 4 at 7pm, the Scottish Rite Cathedral presents the smooth jazz supergroup BWB. The BWB group is a triple threat with the tremendously talented trumpet and flugelhorn player Rick Braun, superbly soulful saxophonist Kirk Whalum and great grooves of guitarist Norman Brown.  Each of these three musicians is a wonderful artist in his own right, and together they put on a high-spirited, spectacular show.  In 2002, BWB released the popular smooth jazz CD Groovin' which covered R&B, pop, and jazz classics.  BWB's recent CD Human Nature (Heads Up/Concord Group, 2013) brilliantly offers contemporary jazz interpretations of Michael Jackson hits...and was inspired in part by legendary trumpet player Miles Davis' cover of the "Human Nature" title track.  The current BWB album also includes ballads like "I'll Be There," and "Man in the Mirror," and catchy, rhythmic arrangements of upbeat songs such as "Billy Jean," "The Way You Make Me Feel," a reggae-influenced "Beat It," and a Latin version of "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)."  Having seen an amazing show by BWB on the NYC Smooth Cruise last June after their Human Nature CD release, expect a thoroughly entertaining, sensational concert experience.

On Friday, April 4 at 9pm at Building 24 Live is a special show featuring the music of Tower of Power, Blood Sweat & Tears and more. This sure-to-be-entertaining and upbeat show will be performed by the Dance Hall Docs with vocalists Tom Bowes (formerly with Tower of Power and Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Ray Greene (current vocalist with Tower of Power) with the Berks Horns which include Mike Anderson on saxophone, Rob Diener on trumpet, and John Loos on trombone - plus Bob Howell on tenor sax and Bob Stoyko on trumpet. Since 2002, the Berks Horns have played with artists such as Rick Braun, Jeff Kashiwa, Gerald Veasley, Special EFX, Chuck Loeb, Greg Karukas, Jeff Golub, and Bobby Lyle.

The gifted, affable jazz bassist Gerald Veasley continues hosting two more Midnight Jam shows which are highly popular with festival attendees who will enjoy seeing surprise guest artists' creative improvisations on Friday April 4 and Saturday April 5 at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base club.  On April 6 at 12 noon at the Sunday Jazz Brunch concert in the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom, Gerald Veasley presents Generation Next with keyboard player Nicholas Cole, bassist Julian Vaughn, trumpeter Lin Rountree, and saxophonist Lebron.

On Saturday, April 5 at 2 pm in the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom there is a double bill with guitarist Nick Colionne, and The Sax Pack featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, and Marcus Anderson (who joined the group in 2012). Both shows should put audiences in a great mood with the artists' superb musical prowess and showmanship which range from sentimental smooth jazz ballads to upbeat, funky R&B-infused jazz mixed in with clever, humorous banter.  The one-of-a-kind indomitable, vivacious spirit of the sharply-attired guitarist and vocalist Nick Colionne should shine once again when he performs music from his recordings including songs from his seventh CD (2012) Feel the Heat which reached the top of many smooth jazz charts. The Sax Pack will perform music from the group's two popular CDs The Sax Pack (2008) and The Pack is Back (2009). Each member will also play his signature hit songs, and fresh music from recent albums such as Jeff Kashiwa's latest CD Let it Ride (2012), Steve Cole's recent CD Pulse (2013), and Marcus Anderson's brand new CD (his fifth) released this March, aptly titled Style Meets Substance (2014).

On Saturday, April 5 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, April 6 at 3 pm at the Miller Center for the Arts will be two wonderful contemporary jazz shows with internationally renowned pianist and composer extraordinaire Keiko Matsui.  Keiko Matsui brings her musical mastery and graceful beauty to perform in perfect harmony with her band and the Reading Pops Orchestra under the musical direction of Will Rapp.  The audience will be treated to Keiko Matsui's special blend of stirring, inspirational music which combines smooth jazz, jazz fusion, new age/world and classical music influences. Keiko Matsui's recent CD Soul Quest (2013) (her 22nd record release) deals with themes of love, loss, spirituality and environmental consciousness and features top artists such as drummer Narada Michael Walden, guitarist Chuck Loeb, saxophonists Kirk Whalum and Andy Snitzer, and bassist Marcus Miller.  She will also perform well-known compositions from her previous CDs such as The Road (2011). Keiko Matsui was one of the first Japanese musicians to top the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts and has also worked with an impressive array of artists including Miles Davis, Hugh Masakela, Bob James, Stevie Wonder, Dave Koz, and many others.   On Keiko Matsui's sheet music website page she shares her philosophy which is reflected in her beautiful music and gracious nature: "I believe that music is a gift from God or the Universe to make us feel oneness through it. I am very grateful that my music has met you."   Keiko Matsui is  a humanitarian who supports numerous causes such as The United Nations World Food Programme, Be The Match Marrow Registry, The National Donor Program and Marrow Foundation; she  also has helped with the revitalization and healing of her home country of Japan after the Tsunami and Fukushima disasters. In her website biography, Keiko Matsui shares her hopeful and worthwhile vision:  "I always want to dedicate my music to world peace and to use my music to give back to the planet."

On Saturday, April 5 at 10pm, contemporary jazz/funk saxophonist Candy Dulfer and her band will be starting the first show of their U.S. tour at the Crowne Plaza Reading Ballroom. The upbeat show is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, as it was when Dulfer performed at the 2008 Berks Jazz Festival.

The grand finale for the 2014 Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest on Sunday, April 6 at 7pm at the Scottish Rite Cathedral features Kirk Whalum's Gospel According to Jazz IV Celebration, based upon Whalum's acclaimed CD series: The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 (released in 1998, 2002, and 2010).   The show welcomes back saxophonist Kirk Whalum to guide the finale for the second year in a row. Kirk Whalum is a 12-time Grammy nominee who won his first Grammy award in 2011 for Best Gospel Song ("It's What I Do"-featuring singer Lalah Hathaway)Kirk Whalum is also an ordained minister and does a 15 minute daily bible podcast (he grew up performing in the Memphis Baptist church choir where his father Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Sr. was pastor).  The show's special guests include: pianist/vocalist John Stoddart, smooth jazz/gospel singer and pianist Oleta Adams, soulful vocalist Kevin Whalum (who often sings at his brother Kirk's shows and on his CDs), trumpet player Rick Braun (one third of BWB who grew up in nearby Allentown, PA), Philly bassist Gerald Veasley, and Reading's own DOXA Gospel Ensemble. The inspirational show will surely bring the 2014 Berks Jazz Fest to a musically and spiritually uplifting, resoundingly successful close to this year's fest.