The Chrome Showroom located inside the Santa Fe Station Hotel and Casino in northwest Las Vegas was the intimate venue for an exceptional evening of contemporary jazz music as saxophone showman Michael Lington performed for a sold-out crowd. The event was a concert/party in celebration of the release of Pure, his scintillating new album.
The anticipation of the audience was clearly evident as the lights dimmed and a fog machine began releasing thick plumes of smoke onto the stage. The supporting cast of musicians soon appeared from the wings to begin laying down a heavy groove. The dapperly attired Lington strode out amidst loud cheering and joined in on his saxophone. "Still Thinking Of You," a heavily R&B influenced up-tempo song co-written by Lington with Brian Culbertson was an inspired choice to get the party started. This lively funk-filled tune was a major hit when it was released about a decade ago, making the Top 5 on Billboard's contemporary jazz charts. It still sounded fresh and powerful with sustained building intensity and was an early indication that this talented group of musicians possessed chops galore. Guitarist Randy Jacobs utilized his Fender Telecaster to put his stamp on the song with a tasty tap lead-guitar solo.
The second song played was from the new album and titled "Playtime." It featured a driving retro R&B flavored sound with a strutting bass line from Dwayne "Smitty" Smith, potent drumming from Chad Wright, and a bouncy instrumental dialog between Jacobs and Lington. Each instrumentalist played an integral role in this composition with Michael proclaiming afterwards "This song is aptly titled." In past Las Vegas performances Lington has displayed his charismatic persona via engaging lengthy personal antidotes. This evening was somewhat different, in that he was pretty much "sticking to business," eager to proudly showcase as much of his new release as possible in this restricted time allotment. The third song presented was the memorable "You And I," the optimistic upbeat lead-off track from Heat. Lington played lovely compelling long silky-smooth notes on his horn while Smitty exhibited his effective slap bass technique. Kevin Flournoy's sparkling keyboard runs added wonderful color to the familiar breezy melody. As I had mentioned in my review of Michael's last visit to the Santa Fe Station; he always brings A-list sidemen to enhance the listening experience for his loyal followers. Three of these abundantly talented musicians (Jacobs, Flournoy, and Smitty) had been part of Michael's most recent unforgettable Chrome Showroom appearance. In addition to that tremendous trio, also present on this evening was energetic drummer Chad Wright. Wright, like Lington, had been touring the world behind singer Michael Bolton. Together these five players blended into a cohesively masterful ensemble showing artistic depth and range, in addition to tons of funk.
While the band took a brief respite, Lington spoke of being influenced by jazz icon David Sanborn and making his life altering change from clarinet to saxophone. He related that his first single, "Twice In A Lifetime," was patterned after one of Sanborn's compositions on Double Vision. The smoky blues atmospheric number piloted by Lington's warm melodic drifts and glides cast an enchanting spell that ensnared the audience. The expert work by Flournoy, Wright, Smith and Jacobs were key ingredients to the smooth sashay enthrallment.
Lington's seminal album Stay With Me yielded three massive singles to contemporary jazz radio, and on this evening he was able to find time to fit all three into the playlist. The first of these played was "Pacifica." Michael poured his passionate heart out on this song, one of my personal favorites. He created a mood akin to a leisurely moonlight drive down an oceanside road with the convertible top down and the caress of warm gentle breezes in your hair.
An impromptu appeal by Michael to play "Happy Birthday" for one of his fans was met with curious looks by his band-mates. Obviously unprepared, they relented and oblige with an off the cuff, yet professional, ad lib that was spontaneous and nonetheless beautiful.
Then it was time to refocus the spotlight on Pure and the first single that was already residing in the Top Ten in the Billboard charts. "Roadtrip" is the title of the composition and the guitar mastery of Lee Ritenour is featured on the album rendering. This night the chore of matching the consummate skill of "Captain Fingers" is handed over to Randy Jacobs and his exquisite Telecaster. Jacobs and Lington square off with stunning and expressively dynamic shows of power on their respective instruments. The song is simply magnificent and the entire group is onboard for the outstanding ride. Another new song, "The Serenade," provides an opportunity to slow the pace down just a bit with a soul ballad that features a bit of Rolling Stones flavored rhythm section and guitar work. As introductions of the band were handled, Michael spoke of some the impressive guest talent assembled for Pure. Among those named were Michael Bolton, Brian Culbertson, Ray Parker, Jr., Jeff Golub, Paul Jackson, Jr., Jonathan Butler, Paul Brown, and Rickey Minor & The Tonight Show Band. Yes, the sax man from Denmark has many notable prodigious friends. He also mentioned that the album was recorded live in the studio, a "pure" process that isn't used much nowadays. That "organic" method of recording allows the musicians to feed off of each other, gain inspiration, and freely improvise to help propel the recording to fulfill its crafty potential and personality.
The energy level then reached new heights when Lington called out vocalist Mabvuto Carpenter to sing the Jr. Walker old-school classic "Shotgun." Lington attempted to blow the house down, and Mabvuto was downright spirited being blessed with a rare voice that blends gospel, R&B, and rock and roll into a soulful mixture that has to be heard to be appreciated. As great as the original masterpiece was, this interpretation by these inspired artists was just unbelievable. Smitty's bass was booming, Wright's drums were bashing, and Jacobs and Flournoy pushed the pulsated melody while Lington and Mabvuto vied for the limelight. Mabvuto remained on stage to sing "Baker Street," and his versatile voice showed traces of some Stevie Wonder inflections for anyone who might doubt his adaptability. Lington also shone on this Jerry Rafferty song that reminded everyone in attendance that the saxophone was indeed the forceful impetus behind that hit song.
A vigorous drum solo by Chad Wright followed that could be filmed as an advertisement for Yamaha Drums and Zildjian Cymbals. Highly visible throughout the show for his incredible power, technique, and feel, Wright used this solo opportunity to display his skill at resourceful, imaginative and commanding drumming, ending with flashy drumstick twirls at blinding speed.
A pair of Michael's all-time biggest hits (both from Stay With Me) came next. "Two Of A Kind" was greeted with loud cheers of fan appreciation after just a few notes. A mid-tempo charmer of a tune, Smitty again shined with his slap thumb bass play, as did Jacobs with a brief, but brilliant, guitar solo. Both complimented Lington's impassioned sax work perfectly. "Show Me," another Brian Culbertson composition, never fails to remain refreshing as a summer's breeze. The sax refrain is so memorable that Michael always has the audience hum along at some point in his performances of the song.
When Lington and company were applauded back for a thoroughly deserved encore, he stated that he and the band had "worked something up backstage." They proceeded to throw down a funk/jazz jam boogie-woogie that allowed each artist to solo with improvised variations on the theme. Kevin Flournoy was first to fly as he somewhat reluctantly displayed his abundant keyboard prowess for the appreciative crowd. Lington took his powerful turn with veins strained and face reddened as his full, warm and sumptuous tone is never lost, even during some dazzlingly speedy passages. Smith, who held down the bottom with his funky-grooved bass play all evening, stepped forward with a stirring blues steeped variation on the idea and literally made his bass talk. Randy Jacobs undertook his spotlight showcase with a fast strum and soon was burning up the guitar strings. He tossed off his hat and began spinning in tight circles as he became a whirling dervish relentlessly dischargeing blistering notes from his ax. After Jacobs was completed, Lington astutely remarked "now that's a hard act to follow!"
Michael arranged two stools on the front of the stage and invited the "birthday girl" to take the stage to be serenaded. The song chosen was "Everything Must Change," the beautiful standard that has become a staple of his live shows. A tender ballad, the song first appeared on the Body Heat release by Quincy Jones. Over the years it has been covered by numerous musical giants such as Barbara Streisand, Lou Rawls, George Benson, David Sanborn and Phil Perry. None of those artists can quite live up to the gorgeous loving treatment that Michael Lington always lavishes on the tune. The crystalline purity of his notes softly shimmered with a romantic excellence so soothing that time almost seemed to stand still.
Lington then proclaimed that it was time for the evening's final song and he once again sought the vocal talent of Mabvuto to join the festivities. Al Green's soul epic "Love and Happiness" was a joyous funky triumph for the ages. Long ago when I saw this song performed by David Sanborn and Hiram Bullock I thought their magnificent performance could never be topped. I was wrong. The all stops out treatment by Michael Lington and band was superlative. Preeminent professional photographer Cary Gillaspie, who was in the vacant seat beside me for the encores, took my notepad and wrote Funkieeeeeee! (capital F and lots of e's). That observation hit the nail directly on the head.
Michael Lington said during the show that he loves performing in Las Vegas and at the Santa Fe Station in particular. It's no small wonder with an excellent sound system in place there, the cozily close environment, plus the fact that Las Vegas returns the love to him at every opportunity. Michael left the audience ecstatically thrilled by his performance and his new album; and, as always, wanting more. In summation, Michael Lington came to Vegas and rolled the dice with his concert heavily stacked with selections from his new album Pure, and everyone won big.