In 1995, Bob Engel and John Harrington launched one of the most celebrated jazz acts of its kind ever observed in recent history. What has since become a multi-talented touring package made up of a wide and varied group of artists commonly referred to as "Guitars & Saxes" is now one of the most phenomenal franchises in performance history. At various times during eleven years of existence, "Guitars & Saxes" has featured such artists as Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, Steve Cole, Warren Hill, Mindi Abair, Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum. In 2006, another element was added to "Guitars & Saxes’" highly evolved repertoire of musicians with the inclusion of saxophonist Gerald Albright. Since the group’s inception eleven years ago, other bands have been formed to try and mimic the success of "Guitars & Saxes." Historically, we have seen the formation and demise of the Fantasy Band, Super Band and Urban Knights. The only caveat to that vantage point has been the Urban Knights, that particular band continues to exist today, but without the original personnel consisting of Ramsey Lewis, Omar Hakim, Victor Bailey and Grover Washington, Jr. Because of the enduring presence of "Guitars & Saxes," audiences throughout the United States and Great Britain have experienced some of the best and most popular jazz artists around to date. Houston, Texas has been at the forefront of that experience. Over the years, the city has served as a frequent stopover point during "Guitars & Saxes" long-standing multi-layered touring schedule. On June 9, 2006, another installment of this so-called super group returned to Houston’s Verizon Wireless Theater. This year’s aggregation of "Guitars & Saxes" brought the patented skills of Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, Jeff Golub and Peter White to the city for another stellar evening of entertaining jazz music.
Although the four presiding members of the 2006 addition of "Guitars & Saxes" have individually and collectively been through Houston many times over, each in his own way is a city favorite. Fans of these musicians have come to know and love the intimacy of Gerald Albright’s alto saxophone, Jeff Golub’s fusion influenced guitar, coupled with the funk and circumstance of Richard Elliot’s tenor saxophone, which is intuitively offset by Peter White’s melodically correct acoustic guitar. When all of the combined elements of this stellar quartet came together, it was a serious party going down. Adding a heaping helping of spice to the evening, the inclusion of former Yellowjackets drummer Ricky Lawson as well as rhythm specialist Dwight Sills on guitar conspired to complement the two additional sidemen assigned to "Guitars & Saxes." The overall atmosphere of the evening set the stage for one of the better jazz experiences for Houston in a long while. One of the more sobering points concerning jazz in the city is the lack thereof. Concerts of this type are few and far between; however, when there is a solid performance scheduled jazz connoisseurs revel in its arrival. As always, the ever-present support of KHJZ 95.7 "The Wave," Houston’s most supportive jazz station served as a primary factor towards bringing these artists to the city. The radio station is in its fourth year of operation and since its arrival, the quality of contemporary/smooth jazz has been thoroughly enhanced.
"Guitars & Saxes" is always a surprise waiting to happen, especially with the multi-layered array of artists who participate in the tour’s success. During the franchise’s eleven years of prominence, two of the more prevailing constants have been Richard Elliot’s funk-laden saxophone and the acoustical brilliance of guitarist Peter White. These two guys are somewhat of an enigma because both of them have alter egos. In Elliot’s case, his robust rhythmic style of play is his trademark; however, he also has the ability to tone his music down a bit with romantically correct grooves such as "When A Man Loves A Woman." On the other side of the spectrum is Peter White, one of the true cover song specialists in jazz. His ability to interpret some of the most memorable popular and R&B tunes is noteworthy; contrasting that, Peter has the ability to employ sustained heat as well. Jeff Golub is just as adept as a jazz guitarist, but brings with him a rock induced musical personality. His fusion style of play pushes the envelope of perception with his rhythmically endowed specialized antics. When Jeff breaks out with his spirited interpretation of "Cut The Cake," a vision without parallel ensues. He presents an infused array of licks that calls upon the spirit of Jimi Hendrix to make his point. Alternatively, Gerald Albright’s soulful sax’ presents a view seldom heard on his recordings. As a smooth jazz journeyman of many years, Gerald is primarily noted for finding the sweet spot. Many of his albums are etched in the areas of romance, but during the performance of June 9th, he too exhibited an ability to throw down on a bit of funk-oriented dynamics. One of the more provocative moments occurred when Albright picked up a bass guitar through a medley of Sly and the Family Stone flashbacks. The rendition was totally unexpected and the audience was definitely enthralled by this display of diversity. He and an accompanying side bass member of the band blew the roof off the Verizon Wireless Theater. The sold-out capacity crowd settled in for the unknown, without realizing just how well they would be entertained in the process. They were not prepared for the ebb and flow of the superlative level of enjoyment "Guitars & Saxes" would provide throughout the night. When the group put their jam face on with such tunes as "Ain’t Nothing But A Party," "Gonna Have A Funky Good Time" and "Sing A Simple Song" to name a few, that was a party bursting at the seams. Even in the band’s more subtle moments, they provided a moment of solitude in a well-choreographed installment of musical brilliance. By the end of the concert, the entire group was wringing wet with perspiration and the audience had been well served with a dynamite performance. On that night, this was contemporary jazz rarely seen by any other measure.
"Guitars & Saxes" is comprised of what many radio personalities actively describe as smooth jazz artists. By most standards of what this type of music is about, the format does not lend itself to the highs and lows of contemporary influences. The cadre of artists who participate in the franchise created by Bob Engel and John Harrington are musicians first and smooth jazz specialists second. With that being said, in a live setting the true nature of their talent prevails, without the confines of a stylized format. Although KHJZ 95.7 "The Wave" is established as a smooth jazz radio station, their support allows contemporary jazz to be heard from a much broader perspective. The input provided by the station’s Maxine Todd, Donna McKenzie, Donna Franklin, Greg Morgan and Larry Jones duly serves as a springboard for even more effervescent jazz entertainment, "Guitars & Saxes" with Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, Jeff Golub and Peter White just happens to be one of the best thus far in 2006.