Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NAMM 2011 coverage: more from Friday

My report originally appeared on and can be viewed on the paper's Soundcheck blog.

Some of the top names in smooth jazz music performed Friday night during Yamaha’s Red Hot Sax Nite II, held at the Anaheim Marriott Grand Ballroom. Dave Koz hosted and performed. Bassist extraordinaire Nathan East, known for his extensive superstar session resume since the 1970s and stint in Fourplay, served as musical director.

The two-hour concert opened with “The Third Degree.” Then Koz joined the four-piece house band for “Put the Top Down,” which can be heard on his latest album “Hello Tomorrow” (in an all-star version with Lee Ritenour, Sheila E., Ray Parker Jr., Jonathan Butler and Brian Culbertson). This rendition found Koz trading punchy sax riffs with guitarist Ross Bolton and impressively holding a sustained note.

“If you don’t like the saxophone, you might as well leave,” warned Koz with a smile, before introducing a succession of players that included Keith Loftus, Jeff Kashiwa (whose keening melody lines informed “Blue Jeans”), Mindi Abair (she brought plenty of visual and musical sizzle) and Jeff Coffin. Whenever the sax players collaborated, their cumulative talents raised the show’s energy level several notches.

Two longtime jazz veterans - trumpeter Bobby Shew and trombonist Andy Martin - paired up on Billy Strayhorn’s dreamy jazz standard “Lush Life.” Coffin, a member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and recent recruit by the Dave Matthews Band, displayed his aggressive solo style on the New Orleans-flavored “Tall & Lanky” and free jazz of “Turiya.” East even scatted a bit.

The always smiling bassist (pictured, left) was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the instrument manufacturer and a signed guitar.

Later, Abair added a danceable party vibe and some wordless vocals for her song “Lucy’s,” as the other sax players joined in. Koz returned for the bright and fun, Dixieland-styled “Think Big” (another selection culled from “Tomorrow”) and the entire lineup performed it.

But the best was definitely saved for last: a roof raising cover of Average White Band’s popular 1974 hit “Pick Up the Pieces.”

Photos of Jeff Coffin and Mindi Abair (top) and Nathan East (bottom) by Robert Kinsler

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