Every city in the United States has a number of favorite jazz musicians. In the case of Houston, Texas, the crowd pleasers have always been Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler, Richard Elliot and Peter White. Collectively, their performances have always been a cornucopia of musical delight and showmanship. At various times, these guys have performed individually or as members of the 'Guitars & Saxes Tour' to the delight of thousands of Houston jazz enthusiasts. Recently, a tour of a different sort passed through the city featuring the above mentioned musicians, otherwise known as a 'Jazz Attack.' At the end of the night on the campus of the University of Houston, anyone within earshot of this fearsome foursome's display of smooth jazz dynamics left the Cullen Performance Hall with a renewed appreciation for the type of music these guys had to offer.
To set the stage for a hot night of prolific jazz, saxophonist Joseph Vincelli served as the opening act for the so-called 'Jazz Attack Tour' that fell upon the University of Houston. With Joseph serving as the opening act, a hotbed of jazz-oriented funk ensued. Although he had been to Houston at various times during his career, I had not had the luxury of seeing him during a live performance. Having said that I must admit I was quite impressed with Vincelli's remarkable talent. First and foremost, Joseph is one of the most intense funkmeisters around today, yet he also has the innate ability to tone his sound down to a sensual melodic groove. His high octane opening was dynamic, energetic and rhythmic by any measure; on top of that, as a stand alone performer he can truly hold his own. By the time he finished his act, the capacity crowd in the Hall was fully prepared for what was to come thereafter. A fully prepared table of some of the most prolific jazz around today was a sound worth hearing, as well as a sight worth seeing, especially when experienced in the guise of Joseph Vincelli.
After a hot pre-opening act, the antics of Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler, Richard Elliot and Peter White blew onto the stage. Individually, all four of these guys are the creme de la creme of today's jazz scene. Whenever they appear in Houston, they leave a satisfied group of fans completely overwhelmed by the sheer nature of their special talent. They are the epitomy of perfection as well as the ultimate showmen. Each in his own way carries the other to the next level whenever they work together; however, as solo artists they leave little to the imagination. The first person on stage was Rick Braun and it was immediately known what the full course would be throughout the night. He cavorted across the stage and into the audience with an enthused level of energy. From the very start the crowd had already been left standing by Joseph Vincelli, and was out of breath by the time Peter White came on board. With help from Braun, Peter's trademarked sound and comedic overtures gave the audience yet another view from the top. Then came Richard Elliot and Jonathan Butler to add additional spice to an already high impact night. What was just as special was the intimacy of the Cullen Performance Hall. Small by most standards, every seat in the venue provided an up-close and personal perspective of the concert. That is why this event turned into a long overdue well-rounded jazz extravaganza, where every seat in the Hall provided a strategic view. In addition, the smallness of the venue provided an intimacy that had not been seen since the days of the famed Rockefeller's.
Once all four of the members of the 'Jazz Attack Tour' were collectively introduced, each one alternated as an individual or as a duo. First it was Rick Braun and Peter White or Jonathan Butler and Richard Elliot. The finale featured all four closing the show. Together they performed hits from their solo efforts that was often augmented by clown-like onstage antics. Not only was there comedy in the mix, the quality of the music was stupendous. Although jazz was the offering, the next best thing would have to be the personalities on stage. Seldom is the chemistry as prolific as was seen with these guys. The evening was a beautifully moving experience that was filled with the heart and soul of smooth jazz's best known artists. Even the sidemen were a treat. Special guest keyboardist Bobby Lyle came onto the stage from the audience to strike a pose with Braun, Butler, Elliot and White. In addition, participating on the tour were guitarist Dwight Sills and drummer Rayford Griffin. All three artists are definite solo recording musicians in their own right, along with a resume that reads like a "Who's Who in Jazz." Their presence on the tour added another dimension to the show and gave the crowd more than they expected for the price of a ticket.
As a KHJZ 95.7 Smooth Jazz Radio sponsored event, the overall effect of this type of concert is always critical. The station's decision to bring these guys to Houston as an ingredient of their concert series throughout the year was crucial. In many ways, jazz has often been a hard sell by most standards; however KHJZ has been quite adept at bringing the best quality artists to the city with a high degree of success. The 'Jazz Attack Tour' is but another heralded accolade that is sure to enhance Houston's future jazz endeavors.