I interviewed flutist Bradley Leighton (http://www.bradleyleighton.com) two years before for JazzReview.com (http://www.jazzreview.com/article/review-4263.html). Leighton records for Pacific Coast Jazz (http://www.pacificcoastjazz.com). I had never met Leighton but his executive producer, Donna Nichols, who made the trip with him, suggested that I stop by the stage and introduce myself. Leighton and I chatted for a bit about the festival, the impeccable weather, and the sound. He excused himself to check out a few things and get ready for the show. Opening for an evening that included Joyce Cooling, Pamela Williams, and Gerald Albright is not an easy task but one I could tell Leighton was looking forward to.
With puffy white clouds, colorful blankets and coolers everywhere, Leighton and his standout band featuring drummer Cesar Lozano, bassist Cecil McBee, Jr., keyboardist/percussionist, composer and arranger extraordinaire Allan Phillips, and Fattburger guitarist and solo artist Evan Marks, took the stage around 4:30pm. Leighton opened with "Runaway," the first cut off his new CD "Back to the Funk." Right from the beginning we got a taste of his funky roots and inspirations with Phillips laying down some thick and tasty piano behind Leighton’s lofty melodic sound.
Alternating between baritone and alto flute, Leighton continued his way down a winding path of musical landmarks. First with his smooth and fast take on Stevie Wonder’s "Love Light" and then were treated to a high energy version of the Crusader’s "Put It Where You Want It" that began with Marks’ bright lead-in guitar and transcended to Phillips’ ecstatic keyboard playing, with all of it anchored by Lozano and McBee.
Leighton brought it down a notch and took us back to the softer side of the 70’s with his cover of Bread’s, "Make It With You." Sitting there listening while the breeze caressed our faces and toyed with the cotton-candy clouds overhead, I realized this was probably an arrangement that David Gates never imagined. For the thousands like me on their blankets and chairs, it was the perfect soundtrack moment.
It’s always interesting to see how an artist is going to make the transition from that moment of "ahhhh" to that moment of "wow!" Leighton did it by adding some distortion and stepping off the stage, playing notes that echoed across the expansive green, up over the capital’s dome, and beyond surrounding office towers. For those like me who still miss our long hair, that sound was distinctly reminiscent of Chris Woods from Traffic. Leighton acknowledged the audience as he walked toward the sound tent. He stopped and played briefly in front of a little girl, mesmerizing her as he did the everyone else in enthusiastic crowd. He returned to the stage just as the band ripped into "Flow," one of my favorite tunes from his new CD. Everything was clicking for the guys. Marks’ aqua Fender blazed from his side of the stage. Phillips moved from keys to timbales and congas and back again and again while Lozano and McBee continued their unrelenting support. The song rocked to a climax with Leighton’s flute taunting Marks’ Fender until it all ended in a final distorted crescendo.
Leighton and company finished out their one hour set with two more covers, the old Bobby Gentry hit "Ode to Billy Joe" and War’s, "The World is a Ghetto." He recently recorded "Ode" with Jason Miles and the cover can be downloaded from his site. The arrangement echoes the original but their live version adds new life with its R&B foundation, flashy guitar, and Leighton’s understated flute. "Ghetto" simply rocked and the tune gave Leighton and everyone in the band a chance to stand out. Endings are always a little sad but not when both performers and the audience are smiling.
Bradley Leighton can be heard on Rhapsody and several Internet radio stations including SmoothJazz.com and SkyFM. Call your local radio station to add him to their playlist.