Historically speaking, jazz has always been about change and the pursuit of a highly evolved style of music. For well over 100 years, the genre has manifested itself into one of America's most significant art forms, yet it continues to be misunderstood and often under-rated. In the beginning, the word jazz meant controversy and in later years, bebop, cool, free as well as fusion jazz also became the topics of debate. In the latter half of the 20th century and well into the 21st century, smooth jazz has now become another hot button of considerable controversy. But this style of jazz has two distinct faces to draw from. There are the artists we hear on smooth jazz radio stations, which are often subdued and laid back, followed by those who perform in live concerts and festivals. The latter sheds a different perspective on some of these so-called smooth jazz musicians. The 'Guitars & Saxes Franchise' is an element of opportunity where artists can really show their stuff in a live setting.
'Guitars & Saxes' is a formulated consortium of various musicians that have been around for more than five years. At various times since 1998, the tour has featured Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Jonathan Butler, Jeff Kashiwa, Everette Harp, Craig Chaquico, Dave Koz and Richard Elliot. In 2004, an entirely new array of artists were presented to jazz enthusiasts who look forward to the event. As the tour indicates, this show is all about two of jazz's most dominant instruments, as well as the individuals who play them. On Saturday, September 18, 2004, another caravan of 'Guitars & Saxes' consisting of Jeff Golub, Warren Hill, Marc Antoine and Euge Groove hit the ground running into Houston's Verizon Theater. With a display of talent that supercedes the confines of smooth jazz radio, these four guys set the stage ablaze with a hot uncompromising array of funk-oriented jazz.
Antoine, Golub, Groove and Hill opened the night with some serious R&B influenced contemporary jazz, once the dust had settled, individuality became the order of the night. With a loud yell, Euge made an immediate musical statement. During his performance he acknowledged his roots as a member of the phenomenal high octane driven band known as Tower of Power, which laid the foundation for just about everything else he has accomplished during his brief solo career. He jammed on his sax in a manner whereby the crowd in the Verizon Theater was compelled to move and groove. For than 30 minutes, Euge Groove was about the business of funk in every imaginable flavor. At one point, Jeff Golub came on board with pinpoint accuracy to complement Euge's play on funk as a member of a dynamic duo of saxophone and guitar. After five minutes or more, Golub disappeared into the night, leaving Groove to the task of making his continued statement of funk. In the end, the audience could not help but anticipate more of the same kind of intensity. Following Jeff's magnetic performance came the Latin-tinged sound of Marc Antoine.
Ordinarily, Antoine has always been a mainstay of smooth jazz radio; however, in a live concert setting he too proved his ability to flex his musical muscle to the max. At 'Guitars & Saxes' Marc continued a groove that had already been etched in the minds of the audience. With his Latin sound firmly intact, Antoine made a mockery of his smooth jazz moniker. His guitar was exuberant and dynamic, while leaving lasting impressions of an era when jazz was never dull. Complemented by Euge Groove at one point during his play on jazz, the two artists collectively delved into the funk and circumstance of contemporary sax' and Latin influenced guitar. In either case, the moment between the two was magical. The inclusion of Marc Antoine into the blend of this patented formula is a novelty, especially when examining the overall chemical nature of previous members of the franchise. Antoine's music has traditionally been light, melodic and airy, with little if any R&B influences that have been closely attuned to the overall impact of 'Guitars & Saxes.' Saturday night proved that Antoine could keep the tradition of serious groove oriented jazz on tap.
As with most stories that are told, there is a crescendo or a peak and then there is a wane halfway through the scenario. With 'Guitars & Saxes,' the excitement never took a break, especially when Warren Hill jumped into the fray. The legacy left by Euge Groove and Marc Antoine had already set a course to be expanded upon. Once Hill hit the stage, he wasted no time in presenting the crowd with a moment of respite. From the onset of his performance, he more than his stage predecessors moved the show into the realm of smooth jazz that is often heard on radio. That display exhibited Warren's propensity for temptuous romantic ballads. His love songs are legendary and he proved it with an original unrecorded moving tribute to his wife. The subtleness to Warren's signature sound did not go unnoticed by the audience. Although the crowd were still riding high on the feast that was left to partake of by Antoine and Groove, they became mesmerized by the calmness of Warren Hill's saxophone. For romanticists and sentimentalists, Warren's lull served its purpose by establishing a sense of serenity before the advent of more funk and circumstance. When he began his performance, the audience settled into a groove of a different sort, but the foundation was there to take the audience to higher heights. After the unique tribute to his wife, Warren began the next phase with "Play That Funky Music White Boy." While growing up in Canada, this song was one of the primary influences that led him into quest to be a musician, especially jazz. Without a doubt, the funk was back on again. With additional play from Marc Antoine and Jeff Golub in coming back to perform with Warren. There was a seemingly endless display of R&B induced gems of musical magic, coupled with a collective statement of excellence. For 30 minutes more or less, the moment was never dull, which segued nicely into guitarist Jeff Golub.
Make no mistake about it, Jeff Golub came to Houston to do two things. First and foremost, he came to leave a musical impression, as well as admire the beautiful women of Texas. He let it be known that Texas was the place to be, even though he was happily married and loved his wife dearly. The complimentary nature of his observation enamored Jeff even moreso with the crowd, as he began to weave a musical mosaic of art. Anyone who has been within earshot of Jeff will attest to his ability to combine blues, R&B,rock and jazz into a web of fascinating distinction. He is comfortable in his own style and has no qualms about displaying his inner passions at any given time. Jeff Golub is very adept at presenting a lively energetic performance, which is definitely contrary to his smooth jazz radio image. His flip side displays a musical character that exceeds the expectations of most listeners. In a live concert environment such as the one seen in The Verizon Theater, Jeff Golub has established himself as a force to be reckoned with. He proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could hold his own with the best of what Antoine, Groove and Hill had already brought to the table. Jeff Golub's game is funk and circumstance of a different nature as well. He proved his versatility as a musician, while also conveying a sphere of influence that bodes well with old and new fans alike. To push the envelope even more, the culmination of the latest edition of 'Guitars & Saxes' started to unfold. One by one, the other three members of the show joined Jeff on stage. Together they began a climatic display of contemporary jazz at its finest. The four of them laid claim to an audience that was excited and pleasantly surprised by the sheer nature of the combined dynamics of these impeccable musicians. Smooth jazz as it has become known and presented to the general public was nowhere to be heard. Instead what ensued was one of the finest and most prolific performance in jazz today. In addition, 'Guitars & Saxes' 2004 in Houston's Verizon Theater was just as dynamic as the very first edition of this extremely popular franchise. Either way, the evolution of jazz in artistic history continues a legacy that was established more than 100 years ago.