SANBORN, SAMPLE, BONA & BLADE
This performance was another great edition of "the legends" band of Marcus Miller, Eric Clapton, Steve Gadd, Joe Sample and David Sanborn. SSBB is a great band and Sanborn always surrounds himself with the best musicians around. This band was no exception with Joe Sample-piano, David Sanborn-sax, Richard Bona-bass, guitar, vocals and Brian Blade-drums.
Feeling a bit achy and wanting still another long night's sleep, Joe Sample looked none-the-worse for wear after having just completed several venues in the U.K. with the rest of the band. I caught up with Joe at the Bel Air Hotel next to Congres Centre. It was a long way from Oakland's Earth Day celebration where I saw Joe and Lalah Hathaway perform last year, but Joe looked good and his piano playing sounded even better with the SSBB gang.
Sample is the founding member of the ' 50's Jazz Crusaders and later dropping the "Jazz," the '70's Crusaders. Joe helped define the term soul/funk jazz and was a regular recorder with Motown session musicians working with Diana Ross and the Jackson Five, then later with Tom Scott's LA Express and with Joni Mitchell. He also worked with other Los Angeles-based musicians becoming involved with songwriting for Minnie Riperton, Randy Crawford and B.B. King. Joe always hits the bull's eye and just because he carries that funky jazz labeling, doesn't mean he can't touch you with a sentimental jazz standard when he wants to. I've heard him do it.
According to the North Sea guys, Richard Bona started learning jazz when he was contracted to play jazz in a nightclub in Douala, Cameroon, when the owner sent his collection of 500 LPs to the club. He told Richard to study all the music. The first record Bona pulled out was Jacob Pastorius and the solo piece "Portrait of Tracy" changed his life. He joined Joe Zawinul and later became bandleader of Harry Belafonte. His latest album "Scenes From My Life," tells his life story.
Brian Blade debuted two years ago at North Sea. It was one of those great moments that are still talked about. He is known for his drumming with Bob Dylan, the Million Dollar Hotel Bank, Joshua Redman and Kenny Garrett and has released his second album "Perceptual" on Blue Note.
Of course, David Sanborn needs no introduction. He really makes his melodies speak and you could swear his sax even cries at times. From pop to rock to jazz, David's style is expressive and always recognizable no matter what genre he performs. It is great to listen to him, but even better to watch him perform as he puts his whole body and spirit into a song. Somewhere between jazz, R&B, soul, fusion and pop, David has found his own identity. He was outstanding as usual. His latest album "Intimate," clearly states David's lyrical warmth.
I was anxious to see this newcomer as I heard some pretty good things about her vocal ability. She debuted last year at the North Sea Jazz Festival, playing in one of the smaller halls. It was told that when people passed by that small hall on their way to other concerts and heard her voice, they went in and stayed to hear this talented new female vocalist. It was only natural that she would be invited back to perform at this year's festival as she fights for recognition like so many other talented artists. Heck, even the Mayor of Chicago and his wife came to see her!
When she opened her set with a swinging, upbeat jazz arrangement of Van Morrison's "Moondance," I said, "Wow, what a comer!" She had fantastic stage presence and a really good expressive voice, but by the second number, a spokesperson for Joan and her quartet (Jim Ryan-piano, Pat Mallinger-sax, Thomas Kini-bass and Jeff Stitely-drums) asked that the press photographers stop taking pictures and leave the area. I was surprised. There were only a few photographers, using no flash of course. Usually the procedure of press taking pictures only through the first song of the set is reserved for the big, big artists such as Tony Bennett, Diana Krall and Dee Dee Bridgewater, to name a few. I would have thought that someone fighting for recognition would have welcomed the publicity. Well, no accounting for attitude. Despite my personal thoughts on the situation, Joan is really someone to keep an eye on.
Joan cultivated her vocal ability by singing in a church choir and performing throughout her school years. It was when Ramsey Lewis recognized her vocal ability that he added her spicy vocals to his 1989 "Urban Renewal" album. She also appears on Ramsey's 1995, "Between the Keys," album and has been performing at various concerts and festivals, North Sea being a credit to her vocal ability.
THE HEATH BROTHERS WITH BUD SHANK AND JEB PATTON
Jimmy, Percy and Albert (Tootie) Heath, plus Bud Shank and Jeb Patton. . .Was this a great concert or was this a great concert? The Heath Brothers are foremost among musical jazz families and as brothers, the emotional ties make their performances extremely natural and easy-going. As Jimmy said, "It is what I don't get playing with other people." Albert agrees, stating, "We have a certain musical bond and a duty to carry on this tradition that our father and mother passed onto us." The strong family bond expresses itself through their music.
Percy is one of "the" bass players who expanded the language of music when becoming a founding member of the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). He is an exceptional bass player who's repertoire brought the bass into greater prominence. He was idolized by a generation of bass players for his outstanding performances. Before MJQ, Percy freelanced and recorded with Milt Jackson, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, Monk, Parker and Miles. He was also a member of Dizzy Gillespie's sextet in the early fifties.
Younger brother "Tootie" Heath made his recording debut with Coltrane. During the late fifties, early sixties, he toured with J.J. Johnson and immigrated to Europe in 1965, working with George Russell and residing in Copenhagen with Kenny Drew and recording with Kenny and Anthony Braxton. He returned to the states and became the original drummer of the Herbie Hancock Sextet in the late sixties, but joined the Heath Bros. group in 1975, freelancing on the side from time to time. (Information on Jimmy Heath and Bud Shank can be found in my North Sea Jazz Fest Coverage, Part Three)
The concert opened with 'Round Midnight, with Jimmy and Bud sometimes in duet, other times jokingly battling note-for-note to see which one could outdo the other. A few leg lifts and gyrations were mixed in just for fun, after which Jimmy laughingly said, "That's ONE, Bud!" They worked their variations well and transitioned into a nice Bossa tempo towards the end of the song. Jeb Patton handled the ivory well, putting down some imaginative solos himself.
When Jimmy began the introductory solo to Fat's Nostalgia, Percy yelled out, "You have to get your stuff together, Jimmy!" "Aaa-oh," cried Jimmy, "Now we have an X-rated show, ha, ha!" Jimmy's smile is as wide as the Grand Canyon and you have to smile along with him. The audience loved every minute of it. You could see how comfortable these three brothers are together, playing great jazz and having a ball. Bud and Jeb became part of the family too and the jazz just flowed and flowed. Another fab selection included the beautiful Flamingo and after other memorable standards, they topped it off with an exuberant Oleo. It was one of the better concerts of the entire weekend.