Mention these two instruments in conjunction to any jazz fan, and you’re going to get a huge smile, and I have four reasons why: Peter White, Jeff Golub, Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum.
This was what awaited me tonight on the Spirit Cruises, and the fact that both sailings were sold out told me something: get there early! …didn’t happen. Line was wrapped around the corner again, and it was something that could only indicate one thing: I have to, absolutely must, get to these early because of the seating. This, I think, is the only cruise so far that I couldn’t get front row seats…or a seat at all. Which was just fine :)
Now…if there is anything I love, it’s a guitar. It’s an incredibly versatile instrument, and through all the genres of music out there, I’ve yet to see two guitarists who play the exact same way. The strings can be bent to express anything under the sun, from an intricate rippling to a tightly compressed, rousing blast. I learned to appreciate the versatility between Marc Antoine and Chuck Loeb, and when I saw Jeff Golub play at last year’s Jammin’ in Jamaica, I reaffirmed that appreciation.
What better way to kick things off than to jump right in if the water is warm? Once everyone came in and gave the audience a hearty dose of groove, they turned over the stage to Peter White, who wasted no time in introducing a favorite of mine, Bright. Those of you who have seen Peter live know the story behind this one: the late Wayman Tisdale, basketballer and bassist. Now, I’ve never met Wayman, but looking at the photos of him with everyone, I deeply regret that I never will. Even though the photos, and through whatever comes up on Pandora, the smile and the joy that he gave off was infectious. Peter playing this song is always a bittersweet experience: it captures Wayman’s joyful energy, but underscores that he had left us entirely too soon.
Jeff Golub entered the mix with his signature rousing old-school blues and blasted headfirst into Shuffleboard, with Kirk and Gerald happily accenting on the tenor and alto saxophones, respectively. If you hadn’t heard the Blues for You album – it is blues for us indeed. Old-school, New Orleans-style, rip-into-it blues, with the electric going into this low growl on the melody every once in a bit. And Jeff live – oh, he brings that growl front and center.
The song segued into a conversation about influences, and those influences were as varied as the artists. Jeff, of course, was the quintessence of blues, and with Kirk on the vocals, he served up a heaping side dish of BB King. Kirk’s influence was gospel, which he showed off with Oh Happy Day. Gerald Albright’s influence…none other than Mercy Mercy Mercy by Cannonball Adderley, which had since then become a standard, and a staple in every jam session I’ve seen so far. So where would that leave Peter White, who grew up in England and, as he put it, “had no soul, had no blues, and had no Cannonball”? The Beatles, which he covered brilliantly with Jeff.
Kirk, however, pointed out that there was a generation of music that people overlook, even though their parents listened to it. Yes, Kirk Whalum, a preacher’s son, Memphis soul, took the sax to his lips and took me right into the 1940s with In the Mood by Glenn Miller. Considering I have a deep love of big-band and swing music, this right there made my night.
Well, not quite; if it had made my night, I would stop writing, wouldn’t I?
Jeff Golub once again took to the Blues for You album and straight into Goin’ On. Now, off that album, this track always stood out and when I heard it played live, I understood exactly why: it is full of personality. Jeff’s shred on the electric is offset by Kirk’s mellow-but-sly accents. Combined together, it’s a game of complementing contrasts: Jeff loves to have fun with his sound and challenges himself to get more intricate if he can help it; Kirk is relaxed in nearly every note he plays. On a well-paced tune like this one, it’s interesting to see how well they come together.
Now…I will say this flat out: while I’m hugely picky with my saxophones, Gerald Albright is one of my favorites, easily. There is a lot of soul there, which is loud and clear on his Georgia on my Mind album. Especially live, and especially in the title track. High wails, sharp blasts on the alto, and as involving with the audicence as possible. Right before finishing off the song, Gerald gave the audience on the upper deck a glance right before blasting into the finishing riff, almost to say, “Didja catch that up there, people?” They did indeed; and the entire two decks were on their feet, applauding.
Peter White, however, truly stole the show when he broke into a classic that I am sure most people recognized as soon as he put on his sunglasses. In a concert twist that made me all but laugh and say that he is truly a quintessential Brit, Peter White gave us a great take on the James Bond theme song, complete with all appropriate dance moves.
And, for the best way to finish off, the gents turned up the Way Back Machine once again with a lively take on When The Saints Go Marching In, with Kirk doing his finest Louis Armstrong voice (very well, I might add). In what is arguably one of the best ways to exit, they cut across the packed dance floor – guitars and saxes alike – and went down to the lower deck, where they entertained everyone who was until that point watching the show on the flatscreen, and wrapped up the song as they were heading into the artists’ area. Honestly, classic.
I had an amazing time, and The Lovely Rhonda I am sure will have some amazing photos to tell the story of the second sailing.
With a special hello to Bill Z and Sam of Marquee Concerts, Rhonda and Ken of the S.J.S, and Mike C. of Long Island….good morning, everyone, and happy Thursday! :)